“Show me an income, and I'll show you how to live above it.” That was what one of my high school teachers used to say.
He wasn't wrong.
From the most meager incomes to the millionaire movie stars, making ends meet isn't always easy. Think you could make due on $150 million? Tell that to Nicolas Cage, who made that much in 15 years through 2011, just before filing bankruptcy.
Making ends meet on a much more limited budget is much more challenging for the rest of us.
Making ends meet may mean trying some crazy ideas to put your finances back on track
You've tried everything. Cut every expense possible, skimped where you could, and it's still not enough to meet your expenses.
Sometimes everything isn't enough. So if you've tried everything, maybe it's time to try a few crazy ideas to make ends meet.
What Does Make Ends Meet Mean?
The saying “make ends meet” means spending as much as you make. So you've got your income at one end and your spending at the other. Making them meet is about making more money to meet your expenses, budgeting to meet your income, or both.
I looked all over the internet for an origin to the saying make ends meet. I found a bunch of made-up explanations, some as old as the 17th century, and the ropes on ships. The fact is, this one might not really have an origin.
It's just something that people say.
More important than some lame origin of the phrase is how to make ends meet.
How to Make Ends Meet When You Don't Make Enough Money
I wanted to offer something more for this post, ideas maybe you haven't tried to save money and cut spending.
I'll warn you, some of these ideas are pretty far out there. Some are good for a joke but might save you only a few dollars. However, some others I tried saved a surprising amount of money and cut our monthly budget by 16%, saving us hundreds a month.
1) Find a haircut and style you can do yourself.
This tip is an easy one for me because I shave my head. But, even if you like long hair, there are styles you can learn to do quickly or someone in the family can do them easily.
The average cost of a cut and style for women is $43 and $28 for men. That means a couple can save $142 a month on this do-it-yourself challenge if they go to the stylist twice a month.
2) Drive under the speed limit
Old habits die hard, and it might take a while to relearn how to drive, but this one can save a lot more than you expect.
The Department of Energy estimates drivers can save as much as $500 a year just on gasoline by driving 55 mph instead of 65 mph on the freeway. That's because fuel efficiency for most cars peaks at about 45 mph and decreases as you speed up.
The savings may be even higher for city driving. Driving the speed limit or even a little slower means less braking and fewer accidents.
3) Use bills and junk mail instead of toilet paper!
Ok, this one is a stretch, but how great would it be to wipe your ass with that credit card bill?
Toilet paper doesn't cost much, so this one was more or less just for shits-and-giggles. I had to get the pun in. You can save money by buying two-ply toilet paper and using one ply at a time.
You can save even more money on toilet paper by installing a bidet.
4) Dumpster diving
I know many of you are probably gagging a little right now but don't knock it. Checking out what others have thrown away can be a goldmine, especially around college dorms during the move-out day.
Drive by apartment complexes in high-scale neighborhoods and college dorms. Though I wouldn't do this in my own neighborhood, you can find some like-new furniture and clothes for free.
5) Donate clothes and other items to charity, then buy them back
This one only works if you itemize expenses on your income taxes. That means adding up your mortgage interest, charitable contributions, state and local taxes to take them off your income. If the total is more than your standard deduction, it could save you thousands in income taxes.
The tax value of donated goods is almost always higher than the resale amount. I've donated clothes for a deduction of nearly their new value and then repurchased the same clothes for less than one-tenth the amount.
It works best in the 25% tax bracket or higher. Let's say you get a charitable deduction of $1,000, which saves you $250 in taxes. You're getting a great deal if you can buy your clothes or similar ones for less than that.
6) Turn your budget upside-down
This tip is my favorite budgeting trick, but it also works for making ends meet. Most people work through their budget by taking their expenses out of income first and then saving the rest.
What happens, they always have something left over to save. But, even if they have just enough to cover their bills, there's never any motivation to save.
Instead, try taking something for savings out before your expenses. Start with your income and try taking 10% out for savings and retirement. Then start taking money out of your income for your expenses. If you don't have enough money to cover everything, start cutting expenses until you make ends meet.
This reverse budget will not only force you to cut unnecessary expenses, but it will also force savings.
6) Fast for a day per week
A friend of mine recently turned me on to fasting to lose weight. The idea is that you stretch out the time you go without eating, starting at just a few hours but working up to ten hours of not eating.
I've failed more diets than I can count, but I can say that fasting worked for me. You can eat as much as you want outside your fast hours.
Not only did I lose weight, but I saved a lot of money while fasting. According to the Department of Labor Statistics spending survey, food accounts for 13% of the average household's spending. That's nearly $7,000 a year, and a lot of it is spent on snacks and eating out. So this is one area where you can save a lot of money.
8) Spending challenge
I love spending challenges as a way to save money. There are a couple of ways you can do a challenge.
- Try spending only the bare necessities for a month. You will drastically cut spending on entertainment, eating out, cable TV, and everything outside of shelter, food, and transportation.
- Try cutting just one expense out of your budget for the month.
I prefer the second type of spending challenge. It's less drastic but can still help you save money. You'd be surprised how many expenses you'll find that you don't miss at the end of the month.
9) Take a hard look at your ‘must-haves'
This one relates to the spending challenge but deserves its spot. It's easy to get used to spending on things we don't need.
If you list your must-have expenses, would they include cable TV or eating out every month? These things may not cost a lot, but they add up fast. So if you're struggling to make ends meet, it may be time to evaluate what you need.
How to Make More Money to Make Ends Meet
Making ends meet isn't just about spending less. Sometimes it's just as easy to focus on the other side of ‘the ends.'
That means making more money. Fortunately, it may not be as difficult as you think.
I created an entire blog to share my experience working from home and doing side jobs to make more money. I've been freelancing for over a decade and working full-time from home for four years.
It still surprises me how much someone can make blogging and freelancing while wearing flip-flops and a t-shirt.
How much do I make every month from different work-at-home jobs?
- $1,800 per month from self-publishing books
- $4,000 per month from blogging
- $1,200 per month freelancing as a writer
Those are just averages and don't include projects I take every once in a while. There are many quick ways to cover a cash squeeze and longer, term ways to make money to make ends meet.
Making ends meet can be a struggle for any family. Even the people we see as ‘well-off' have to watch their spending at times. With some creativity, ways to save, and a few extra income sources, you'll be able to meet your spending and income.
About the Author
Joseph Hogue is a financial expert and investment analyst. After serving in the Marine Corps, he started his career investing in real estate before becoming an investment analyst for some of the largest private investors. He's appeared on Bloomberg and on CNBC as an investment expert and has published ten books in personal finance. Now he helps investors reach their financial goals and invest in the stock market with some of the same advice he used when working for the rich.