How do I keep working on my money goals when my income’s been reduced?

So many things feel uncertain to us right now. Some of us are wondering how we’ll pay the bills on time this month. Others of us are wondering what’s the best way to use our stimulus check. And many of us are still trying to figure out when (or if) we’ll even get that relief money. 

If you’re in a tricky spot financially, we hope to be a resource for you in this uncertain time. 

One question we’ve been asked is “How do I keep paying off debt and keep saving when my income’s been reduced by 20%?”

It makes sense to ask questions like this, and depending on your own circumstances and situation, it may be possible for you to continue working towards your money goals and debt payoff plan even with a reduced income. For some of us, the reality is that essential spending on things like rent and groceries will take up the bulk or all of our available income, and that’s okay. (Focus on making a lean budget and finding resources to help fill the income gap.) We all are working with new limitations that mean we’ll have to do things a little differently to adapt our spending, saving, and giving to this new normal. 

In this post, we’ll give you some ideas on how you can continue working towards your money goals and debt payoff plans if you’ve had a mild to moderate reduction in income. This isn’t a list of things you must do from top to bottom. Instead, you can mix and match some of the suggestions to find a solution that works for you. 

Define Your Priorities 

Even when budgeting in “normal times,” many of us budget by prioritizing our spending, saving, and giving around what’s important to us. In doing that, we often find that while we can’t afford everything we want, we can afford what we need and some of the things we want. And when our incomes are reduced, that same process of prioritizing can help us laser focus our budgets to work toward what’s most important. 

So what’s most important to you? Of course, it’s important to make sure that you have space in your budget for necessities, but if you have room left over, what goals are top of mind that you hope to keep working on? What goals are less important that you don’t mind pausing for a bit? By pausing on some of your lower priority goals, you’ll have more funds available to spend on necessities and the things that are most important to you. 

If you need some help figuring out what’s most important, Goodbudget 201: Budget with a Why is a great place to start. 

Cut Expenses

Even when income is a little lighter, one of the ways we can still actively pursue our goals is by cutting unnecessary spending where we can. By cutting expenses, you can still make progress on things like saving to buy a car in cash.

There are some tips you can try for cutting or reducing some expenses quickly. If that’s not enough, go through your budget and think of areas of spending that you don’t mind cutting or reducing (that’s called creating a lean version of your budget). You might even find some unexpected places where you’re naturally spending less, like on gas if you’re working from home. 

No matter what you do, know that proactively cutting back on expenses where you can will give you more money to put toward your goals — and that’s awesome. 

Raise Income by Picking Up a Side Gig

It’s true that this isn’t a workable option for some. Some of us may be doing unpaid work as caregivers, or we may be asked to work our regular schedules even though our salary is reduced. That means there isn’t extra time to pick up side gigs or other part-time work. But for those that do have the ability, this might be a great course of action. 

By adding some work hours to your schedule, you’ll be able boost your income, which gives you the ability to put more toward your money goals. This may even mean that you won’t have to cut expenses. But keep in mind that cutting back in a few places might help you reach those money goals even faster. 

Adjust Your Goals

When we make money goals, we typically have a target date that we’re trying to save by, or a target amount that we want to save to. These are necessary markers that help motivate us. When our incomes change, it’s helpful to think about how we can adjust these targets so that they make sense for our new reality. 

If your hope is to chip away at several goals, but you’re seeing less income, try adjusting those goals so they fit better with where you’re at. Try moving out the deadline so each goal requires a little less each month. Or, think of setting the goal to a lower amount with the same deadline. For example, if you have been saving up to buy a new bed and want to be able to enjoy it as soon as possible, you might consider aiming for a cheaper bed so you can get it into your home sooner. 

With these things in mind, you may find a solution that helps you keep spending on necessities while you also work towards your most important money goals. If you find that you need to divert all of your income towards essential spending, that’s okay too. You can always reconsider your spending, saving and giving as things change.

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