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Paying Yourself First When There's Nothing Left To Save

Here are several solutions that can help you get started saving money.

Nashville, Ark. – You’ve read it a million times if you’ve read it once. Put money in savings. Pay yourself first. Save 10 percent of your income. Fund your 401(k) plan. Spend less than you earn. But what if you can’t? What if you are simply struggling to make it from one paycheck to the next on a month-by-month basis? How are you supposed to save when there isn’t enough money to pay the bills in the first place?

            Here are several solutions that can help. Ask yourself which of these solutions apply to your situation. Once you’ve figured that out, it’s a matter of taking the steps to resolve whatever it is that is making it impossible to save.

  1. 1.      Too much spent on little things. Buying coffee in the morning or lunch at a fast food restaurant three times a week really can make a difference. If pocket change spending is robbing you of long-term security, keep track of your spending – all of your spending – for seven consecutive days. If you don’t like what you see, take 10 percent off the top before you buy anything else; pay all your bills and give yourself some pocket money from whatever is left over.
  2. 2.      Too much spent on big things. Perhaps you’re careful with the day-to-day expenses, but you are carrying a huge mortgage on a house that is now too large for your needs. Maybe your insurance or phone/internet bills could be much cheaper. Take a look at the big expenses and see if you can find unnecessary holes in your budget.
  3. 3.      Lack of organization. Has it been so long since you last balanced the checkbook that you’re not sure what percentage of your income is going toward groceries and what percent is going toward fun? It is time to get organized. Find a system that works for you. You may need to make some adjustments.
  4. 4.      Too much debt. You may feel that the best use of your money right now is getting out of debt. However, if your only focus is paying off the high-interest credit cards, what happens if you hit a bump in the road and need cash? You borrow again, putting you right back where you started. Instead of putting as much as you can spare toward paying down debt, set aside at least a small percentage of your income, perhaps 3 percent, toward savings and put as much as you can after that toward debt. It’s a good habit that will ensure you won’t have to borrow in case of an emergency, and it will get you ready for the debt-free days ahead when you’ll be able to save a full 10 percent.
  5. 5.      Waiting to see what’s left after paying everyone else. If you do this, there will NEVER be anything left to put away. Pay yourself before you pay anyone else, or you won’t pay yourself at all.
  6. 6.      You’re not earning enough. Most people will quickly decide this is the category they fit into. Do you have a job? Are you paying your rent or mortgage? Utility bills? Are there any luxuries, big or small that you’re paying for? This is really a temporary category for those newly unemployed or those who have had a recent change in circumstances, such as a new baby or other additional household responsibilities. In this case, your only answer is more income.

Bottom line? Take something off the top. If you have to start with as little as 3 percent, you’ll naturally cut back on unnecessary expenses and have financial security to show for it. For more information on setting up a budget, or other financial issues, contact the Howard County Extension Service at 870-845-7517 or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse.

Recipe of the Week

            Here is a great tasting cookie recipe that is good for you. It uses whole grain flour and oats. Both are high in fiber! I made mine with dried cranberries and white chocolate.

Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¾ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup applesauce

2 Tablespoons oil (canola or vegetable)

1 egg

1 ½ cups oats

½ cup coconut, dried fruit, chopped nuts or white chocolate chips, optional

            Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Combine sugar, applesauce, oil, and egg in a large bowl. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the oats and optional ingredients, if desired. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

            Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Drop the batter by rounded teaspoonfuls on the greased cookie sheet. Make sure they are 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand on the baking sheet for 4 minutes. Then remove onto wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container.

            Yield: 30 cookies

Nutritional information per serving: Calories 60, Total Fat 1.5g, Cholesterol 5mg, Sodium 40mg, Total Carbohydrate 12g (Dietary Fiber 1g, Total Sugars 6g), Protein 1g, Vitamin D 0mcg, Calcium 16mg, Iron 0mg, Potassium 27mg.

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517


The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.