You're experienced enough in what you've been doing that you can command a decent salary for your work. Still, you're not so experienced that you need to worry much about being shown the door and replaced with younger, cheaper workers. Additionally, your kids are likely young enough that college is still a ways off and your parents are likely still largely independent, so the financial stress of being in the "sandwich generation" hasn't fully hit.
The downside, though, is that in your 30s you've likely started seeing some extra costs creep into your lifestyle. Whether it's increasing property taxes on your house, health insurance premiums rising faster than your salary, or rising food and energy prices, your money may not seem like it's going as far as it once did.
By following these four tips, you can take advantage of your 30s to help yourself much more easily cover your costs, both now and in the future.
Four Ways to Make Ends Meet
1. Track and review every dime you spend. At its core, making ends meet means having enough income to cover your costs of living. You need to be aware of where all your hard earned cash is going in order to have a chance of assuring your income covers your outgo. Use a spreadsheet, personal finance software like Quicken or Mint.com, or a pencil and paper if you prefer -- whatever works for you.
No matter how you track it, go back and review each cost. When reviewing, ask yourself whether you needed what you spent your money on, whether you really wanted it, or whether it was something you could live without.
2. Make priority calls and cut back where you can. The easiest place to cut back is to dump your "could live without" expenses. After all, if you don't need it or really want it, then why are you spending your money on it?
Once you get that out of the way, take another look at the things you said you needed and really wanted. Chances are that you'll likely be able to figure out a cheaper way to get those things covered.
For instance, we all need to eat. Still, buying in bulk, cooking from scratch, and substituting generics for name brands can be a great way to lower the cost of your meals. Likewise, you may really want Internet, cable TV and a cell phone. While those aren't true "needs," chances are you can find alternative, less expensive, suppliers or cheaper packages with your existing supplier provider.
If by cutting out your "could live without" expenses and making your spending on your needs and wants expenses more efficient, you can make ends meet, congratulations!
If that's still not enough, then it's time to figure out which of the things you really want are the ones you can best live without and cut accordingly.
3. Hold on to some entertainment. A budget that leaves no room for fun is one that you won't likely follow for very long. Once your basics are covered, make sure there's money from your income that you set aside to enjoy life, and then stick to that targeted spending level.
After you've made the switch, you'll probably find you're enjoying yourself more when you no longer have to worry about the credit card bills that show up after all the fun.
4. Figure out how to work more. Remember that your income matters as well as your spending when it comes to making ends meet.
There's nothing wrong with picking up an extra shift or two or working overtime if you're hourly or with moonlighting if you're salaried. Every little bit of extra income helps, and if that extra cash puts you over the top to where you can reliably make ends meet, then it puts you a step ahead of everyone who's still struggling.
An extra job or overtime is also a great way to start aggressively paying down your debt. The faster you retire that debt, the less you pay in interest. In addition, once the debt is completely gone, you free up the entire payment amount to put towards the rest of your life.
Get Started Now
Following these four tips can get you to the point where you're reliably making ends meet today -- and well on the path towards financial freedom for the rest of your life. Perhaps best of all, you'll quickly notice the improvement. Once you reach the point where covering your expenses is no longer a struggle, you'll feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders as the financial stress melts away.
Chuck Saletta is a Motley Fool contributor.