Americans’ paychecks are getting smaller.
That’s because the “fiscal cliff” bill didn’t extend the 2 percent Social Security tax holiday we’ve had since 2009. The payroll tax now returns to the more traditional 6.2 percent, up from the 4.2 percent we’ve been paying. As a result, if you earn $50,000 annually, you’ll see $1,000 more withheld from your paycheck this year – about $80 a month. If you earn $113,700 or more (the max income you pay Social Security taxes on), you’ll take home $2,274 less – close to $200 monthly.
But don’t fret just yet. Because with a little imagination and dash of determination, you might find ways to overcome that paycheck shrinkage. Examples…
1. Adjust your tax withholdings
If you typically get a big tax refund every year, try changing your tax withholdings to get more take-home pay. Just use the handy IRS withholding calculator to help you determine the proper number of exemptions you should be claiming. Once you’ve got it, give your employer a new W-4.
But be careful: Not having enough withheld could mean writing a check in April, or worse, paying a penalty. And if you count on a windfall every April, realize it might not be there next year.
2. Ditch PMI
Private Mortgage Insurance, known as PMI, is mandatory insurance for many borrowers who put down less than 20 percent of the purchase price when they buy a home. But when you reach 20 percent equity – either by paying down your mortgage or appreciation – you might be able to stop paying it.
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco estimates the average homeowner could save between $250 and $1,200 per year by eliminating PMI. Unfortunately, you often have to jump through hoops to do it, like paying for an appraisal. But if you think you’re close to 20 percent equity, call your lender and ask about the process.
3. Double your deductibles
Raising what you’re willing to pay out of pocket on your insurance policies could lower your monthly cost substantially. A quick phone call to your insurance companies – home, health, and car – will tell you exactly how much, but expect to save 10 to 15 percent by raising your deductibles from $250 to $1,000.
4. Track your spending
Financial sites like PowerWallet.com allow you to track your spending and know where your money goes every month. Use it to create a budget and stay on track. The site also tailors coupons and saving deals based on your purchase history.
5. Look for places to trim
Notice it’s trimming and not cutting. You don’t want to cut your spending so severely you feel like you’re being punished. Do that and you won’t stick to a spending plan.
Do you like to stop for coffee on your way to work? Even cutting out one of those stops each week adds up. If you spend $5 each time you stop there, you’ll save $20 a month by cutting out one day a week.
Instead of hitting the vending machines for a mid-afternoon snack, try bringing a snack from home instead. You’ll save the cost of the mark-up on prices for those vending machine goodies.
6. Start a change jar
At the end of the day, do you have loose change rattling about the bottom of your pockets or purse?
Take that change and stow it in a jar on your dresser. You’ll never miss the change, and you’ll get a pleasant surprise at the end of a month when you see how the coins add up.
If you’re more of an aggressive saver, try putting $1 and $5 bills in the jar as well. You may be less likely to spend if you have to “break” a larger bill.
7. Round up in your budget
When paying the monthly bills, round up in your check register to create ”secret savings.”
Say you have an electric bill of $145 and a water bill of $60 – pay those amounts to the utility companies, but in your check register, mark them down as $150 and $75 respectively. You just saved $20. If you get into the habit of rounding up, there will be a cushion in your bank account for unexpected expenses.
8. Borrow or rent instead of buying
Before plunking down cash to buy a movie, book, video game, or album, ask yourself if you really need to own it.
Local libraries, Redbox, Hulu, and elsewhere let you get movies, games, and books at prices ranging from free to cheap. Through sites like Amazon, iTunes, and eMusic, songs can be bought individually without having to buy an enire album.
Subscription sites like Rhapsody also allow unlimited playback through their cloud storage programs.
9. Minimize your minutes
People use data more than voice on their phones these days. If you have more talk minutes than you need – especially if you have a rollover plan – consider downsizing to a cheaper plan.
10. Bury the landline
11. Find beauty on a budget
In our TV news story 10 Tips to Save on Makeup, we interviewed a makeup artist who said many of the items at Walgreens were just as good as their department store cousins at a fraction of the price. You can get the last bit of mascara by heating it with your hair dryer or warm water. You can also extend the life of your liquid foundation and concealer by using half as much and mixing it with a dab of facial lotion.
12. Work your way out of the gym membership
The average gym membership is now about $42/month. Exercise your right to keep in shape at home. Join a free site like Livestrong or SparkPeople to plan exercise activities, plus track your calories and diet. You can also look for free or cheap used exercise equipment on Craigslist or Freecycle.
13. Pay less for clothes
Clothes are something that can not only help you spend less – you can add to your bank account by selling the stuff you no longer use. Go through your closets and remove everything you haven’t worn in a year. Now, take them all to a local consignment shop and put them up for sale. What they don’t take, drop off at a charity store and get a tax deduction. And if that’s not enough, here are 23 Tips to Save on Clothing.
14. Take a vacation from high travel costs
Staying local during your time off is one way to save big. Plan some weekend getaways and day trips instead of extended vacations – you’ll get to see and do more, more often, for less.
15. Find food deals that won’t take a bite out of your budget
If you’ve got the space, try to stock up on nonperishable groceries at wholesale or when there are buy-one-get-one-free deals. You get the best prices this way and make fewer trips to the store, which saves on gas. When you’re at the store, try more generics. You can also check for nearby salvage grocery stores. There are dozens of ways to save on food. Don’t believe it? Check out 28 Tasty Tips to Save on Food.
Use some of these tips, and in no time, you won’t be feeling that cut in take-home pay. And if you have any tricks of your own to share, don’t be shy. Tell us on our Facebook page!