8 Ways to Feel Rich on a Small Paycheck

At one point or another most have been there: trying to stretch a small paycheck around bills that only seem to get bigger. And the often-parroted strategies for making ends meet are largely the same — buy second-hand, clip coupons, wait for sales, etc.

But there’s more to life than just figuring out the best way to get by. If small paychecks are just a fact of life for you (at least right now), here’s how to rethink the numbers and maybe even begin to feel rich.

1. Allow yourself small indulgences

Feeling wealthy in spite of a small paycheck is often as simple as allowing yourself small indulgences. Splurge for your favorite coffee drink on Friday afternoons, skip the spa weekend and invest instead in a 10-minute chair massage, have a good glass of wine with dinner, or carve out some time for a Saturday matinee.

Little luxuries reward our hard efforts, keep us motivated, and offer a temporary respite from constant budget-watching.

2. Barter

Get what you need without using cash. Bartering is one of the oldest forms of commerce and it’s enjoying a revival.

Instead of trying to figure out how you’re going to save enough cash to pay for X, Y or Z, brainstorm ways to use the barter system. What skills, services or unused items could be traded for what you need and would otherwise have to pay for? Could you swap childcare services on a Saturday for an oil change? Could you tutor the neighbor’s kid in algebra in exchange for snow removal services? How about trading that old moped for your friend’s unused table saw?

Bartering is all about leveraging relationships to find innovative solutions that are a win for everybody. 

3. Stay ahead of the interest game

Nothing shrinks an already small paycheck faster than interest. No matter how tempting it may be to alleviate a temporary budget crunch through the use of a credit card or worse, a payday loan, actively avoid both. The interest rate and terms on each can turn a small budget challenge into a chronic debt nightmare and leave you feeling poorer than ever.

If you’re ready to kick the credit card habit, here are some pointers to get you started.

4. Save anything you can

Get over the notion that in order for saving to really matter, you have to stash hundreds of dollars at a time.

Saving is an exercise in patience, persistence, and incremental success. You can slowly build wealth and enjoy all the psychological rewards that go along with increasing your financial security by saving $10 here and $20 there. Once you decide to do it, the key to success is simple: Stick with it, don’t waver, and don’t let temporary wants drain what you’ve worked so hard to accumulate.

5. Stagger your bill-paying cycles

Many companies these days allow customers to adjust their billing cycles. If switching your cellphone or car insurance invoice from the 15th to the 1st would help alleviate some budget stress, make a few phone calls.

You might be surprised how willing companies are to help you help them!

6. Run your own race

The quickest way to feel bad about what you don’t have is to focus on what others do.

Try not to play the comparison game; it’ll only tempt you to buy what you can’t afford and leave you feeling worse than ever. Instead, focus on where you started, what you’ve built so far, and what your goals are. Realize that every paycheck, however modest, is a another step toward strengthening your financial position and funding those goals.

7. Rethink wealth

It may sound a bit pollyanna or overly simple, but wealth comes in different forms. Instead of concentrating solely on your small paycheck and what it won’t buy, try to find the surplus all around you.

Maybe your wealth is time, and it allows you to focus on relationships, family, and building new skills. Maybe you’re surrounded by dear friends who enrich your life in countless ways. Maybe you’ve just earned a degree and have a wealth of education and training that’s just waiting to be put to use.

Sure, money’s great and who wouldn’t want to make more of it? But don’t get hung up on a number to the exclusion of your other riches.

8. Minimize the messaging

Any advice on living a rich life in spite of a small paycheck would ring hollow without acknowledging an important truth: We live in a sea of commercial messages that equate money and possessions with satisfaction and happiness.

Ads surround us every day and everywhere we go. We’re told that our teeth aren’t white enough, our breath isn’t wintry-fresh enough, our phone isn’t smart enough, and our mood isn’t happy enough. No wonder we look at our paychecks and think, “How can I correct my long list of imperfections with this little thing?”

The truth is, you can’t. But you can become more aware of how advertisers use disruption and discord to create desire. Minimize the messages you’re exposed to. Scale back TV watching; don’t make the mall the center of your social world; and find a replacement for shopping as the go-to activity when it’s time for a bit of R&R with friends or family.

One final thing: If anyone tries to sell you on the joys of life on a perpetually small paycheck, question his motives. My goal isn’t to encourage you to settle for less and just learn to love it. It’s to embrace the reality of each situation, live in the moment, and not get stuck in a cycle where your energy is depleted by a constant sense of deprivation.

The best lesson of all is to feel empowered regardless of your income and be motivated to identify and seize those opportunities that could improve your life.

What are your strategies for feeling rich on a not-so-rich budget? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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  • Mary Harrsch

    Although I am a retired technology specialist, I am still dismayed by vendors of both hardware and software who try to make you feel that you are struggling along with “old” equipment. Recently, I called my computer’s vendor to check on the wattage of the power supply so I could select an add-in graphics card to increase performance when using graphics editing programs and games. When I told the support person my model number, she admonished me that with that “old” of a tower, I wouldn’t have many choices. I had already checked the manufacture date of my workstation and it was produced at the end of 2010 and I purchased it at the beginning of the second quarter of 2011. I admonished her right back that most people can’t afford to buy a new tower every year and that mine was only two years old anyway!

    It’s the same story each time you get an email update about a new version available for the software you have. They try to convince you that you really need the features in the latest version. Often, though, this is not true. I am still using Photoshop Elements 9 (the latest version is 12) even though I’m sure Adobe’s salespeople can’t see how I could possibly be satisfied with that. Actually, it does everything I need along with third party plugins I have purchased for it over the years. Many of the “new” features in the latest versions are incorporating options I have had for years because of the plugins I have already purchased. Each time a new version is announced, I carefully read over the “what’s new” section of the website and if the new features aren’t something I use on a regular basis I ignore it.

    • Dale

      I’m with you – with one small exception. Up until 10 years ago I was still working off of the original b&w Apple all in one. I was able to get third-party software updates to keep going on the word processor. I’m a writer so that was my most important need.

      But then I began travelling more for my writing and I began to rely on Apple’s now-defunct Sherlock program. It was a great piece of software that incorporated not only travel planning but also could generate expense and other reports along with iteneraries, etc. I loved it for organizing my work life. But as hardware and software improved, the sponsors of each individual piece of this program bowed out and Apple slowly gutted the program and made it virtually useless. I was forced to update my hardware just to get the same functionality back!

      These days I update my hardware every three to seven years and my software every two years. The last computer I bought was the MacBook (the original before retina display) and before that the (half snowball) with the adjustable arm and the first thin flat screen. As an Xmas present to myself I’ve just purchased the iPad Air.

      But when I’m feeling nostalgic I turn on that old b&w little box and write up a little something…

  • Tom

    we all buy crap we don’t need, persuaded by the ad guys to get vaginal deodorant or designer shampoo or whatever. don’t be conned by corporations to line their pockets at the expense of yours.