9 Things You Should Do With Your Next Paycheck To Make Sure You Get Ahead

by Mary Beth Storjohann

When it comes to the paycheck you're taking home each month, there's no question you're putting in some hard time and effort to earn that money.

You're answering to deadlines, alarm clocks, bosses, customers, clients, co-workers and more on a daily basis. So, why shouldn't you feel free to spurge a little (or a lot) when that money finally hits your account?

If you've checked the statistics lately, they may stop you in your tracks: 62 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21 percent don't even have a savings account. On top of that, one in four people have almost nothing saved for their retirement.

As a financial planner and a 30-something Millennial, I can understand the pull to simultaneously be responsible and live spontaneously.

However, having worked with clients ranging from those making $50,000 to those earning $400,000, I can say the most successful of the bunch are playing the plan-for-the-future card with a fixed allotment that allows for living in the present.

Here are nine ways to leverage your next paycheck to propel yourself and your finances forward.

1. Pay your bills and pay them on time.

This sounds like a basic one, but you'd be surprised at the number of high-income earners who also can't get a hold of their finances and are hit with late fees and penalties on a consistent basis.

Whatever the schedule for your paychecks to hit your account, create a calendar for bill payments around that timeline. If you're paid on the 1st and 15th of each month, assign bills to each pay period and back them out of the amount of your check immediately when it hits your account.

The leftover money after bills (and hopefully savings) is what you have to live off of for the rest of the period.

2. Build your emergency fund.

Emergency funds are supposed to consist of anywhere between three to six months of your must-have expenses depending on whom you talk to. I've run the numbers for clients. That can be a huge chunk of change depending on your lifestyle and is enough to terrify some people.

Accept the fact that your rainy day fund isn't going to happen overnight: Open a high yield savings account with Ally or Synchrony online and start stashing away at least $100 per month. Aim for the first $1,000 and work up from there.

Also, be clear on what constitutes an emergency. Last-minute vaycays with friends do not count.

3. Save for future you.

If your employer offers a company retirement plan that comes with a match, your paycheck (and your future self) should already be taking that into consideration. Contribute enough to your retirement account to take advantage of any free money your employer is giving you at a minimum.

If you're self-employed or don't have a company plan, opt for a Roth IRA to start (if your income doesn't phase you out) and start stashing away a fixed amount on a monthly basis. You can open an account with just $100 with a company like Betterment.

4. Pay off debt.

If you know you're only paying the minimum on your debt, you also know it's going to take you a pretty long time to reach zero on those balances.

Create a debt pay-down plan by listing out your debts from highest interest rates to lowest, and aim to put an extra amount whether it's $50 or $200 toward the highest interest rate balance each month.

Why? Because that's typically the one that's costing you the most in interest. Once that balance is wiped out, roll all of those funds to the next highest interest rate balance and so on.

5. Open separate savings accounts for separate goals.

You want a new car? Great! Traveling is important to you? That's awesome. Need a new laptop? Fantastic.

So, how do you know you're on track to get all of those things? One of the biggest hindrances to meeting your money goals is going to be a lack of clarity around where you stand, what you have and what you need.

Opening a separate savings account for separate goals will help you to keep funds organized and track progress you're making toward each purchase. In addition, you'll be able to set what amount you want to stash aside from each paycheck for each goal on a monthly basis.

6. Invest in yourself.

The most successful people know they don't know it all. Whether it's learning a new skill that can advance your career path or getting a certification that can enhance your resume, never stop learning.

With formal education costs where they are today, thankfully there are plenty of self-study, free and unique course offerings that can keep you competitive and ahead of the curve.

The internet is full of resources, articles, blogs and videos on just about anything you'd want to know. Leverage it.

7. Take a mentor to coffee or lunch.

It's not always about whom you know, but sometimes it is. Keep in contact with old professors, bosses and professionals you admire as you're building and maintain your career.

When reaching out to them or asking for advice, offering to pick up the tab for lunches and coffees is a great way to give in a relationship that can feel like it's a lot of take on your part.

8. Treat yourself.

There's no reason you can't splurge on yourself come pay day. It's simply important to have some parameters in place before hand.

Whether you're the kind of person who feels OK to spend whatever is left over after saving for goals or you're the kind of person who needs a specific fixed amount that will keep you in line, figure out what works for you and put a plan in place.

Remember to cover the bills and pay your future self first before jumping in.

9. Take a negotiating class.

An average raise of $5,000 invested over 30 years with a 6 percent return can add a whopping $395,290 to your nest egg. The numbers don't lie.

If you're not comfortable advocating for yourself, it's time to get comfortable. Take a class, practice with a friend and do what you have to to feel more at ease in this area.

Mary Beth Storjohann is a certified financial planner and author of “Work Your Wealth: 9 Steps to Making Smarter Choices With Your Money.” She is the founder of Workable Wealth and helps those in their 20s to 40s across the country create a plan for their money that helps them feel confident and secure in their financial lives. 

Citations: Most Americans have less than $1,000 in savings (MarketWatch), 1 in 4 people have almost nothing saved for retirement (CNN Money), 401(k) vs. Roth IRA — Which Is Right for You? (Workable Wealth)