Pay yourself first


If there’s one thing the past year has taught us, it’s to expect the unexpected. There is no doubt that Americans’ pocketbooks have suffered harsh financial effects over the last 12 months. Millions of Americans and countless Arkansans have endured extended periods of unemployment.

Many have received some sort of government assistance over the course of the pandemic. Whether it’s in the form of additional unemployment benefits, federal stimulus checks, relaxed regulations surrounding supplemental nutritional assistance or even small-business loans, a good portion of people have been able to receive some financial help.

But what do you do with the windfall when you get it? Saving money is an obvious choice, but for many people that is easier said than done.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to pay yourself first.

You might be wondering how that can even be possible, but the reality is that it looks different for everybody. For some, it might mean catching up on overdue bills or rent. For others, it might look like paying down credit-card debt. Others may choose to put some money into a savings account at the bank, an education account for their child, or maybe even a retirement account.

Each of these options is considered paying yourself first. The important thing to remember here is that you’re improving your personal financial well-being. And if you’re doing that, then you’re taking the first step.

In April we recognize National Financial Literacy Month, so I wanted to talk a bit about another way to help yourself financially: the “side hustle.”

Side hustles are jobs people might have in addition to their full-time job. Many people have figured out how to make money by using their talents in their off time. Some sew or make jewelry. Others tutor people in their area of expertise. Some repurpose and resell used furniture. Some have done so well that they’ve turned their side job into their 9-to-5.

According to a 2019 study by Bankrate, nearly half of Americans have a side hustle with an average monthly income over $1,100. Moreover, the percentage of people who depended on their side job to help pay their monthly bills was about one-third.

Of the remaining people, a little less than one-third were using their side gig to add to their savings, and a little more than one-third were using it as disposable income, or “fun money.”

As someone who is passionate about financial education and the importance of paying oneself first, I’m encouraged by the number of people (27 percent) who said they were using money from their side hustle to build up their savings.

At the end of the day, it’s important that you make your money work for you–not the other way around.

I’m proud to announce my partnership with the Central Arkansas Library System as we work to address ways that Arkansans can improve their financial well-being. We’ve put together a four-part series on financial education presented by local finance experts. These sessions–delivered virtually–will cover budgeting, saving money on taxes, preparing for a child’s education, and navigating finances during some of life’s major challenges like illness or aging parents.

This financial education series begins April 20 and runs weekly through May 11. It will be hosted by the library system’s Zoom virtual platform. The sessions are free to attend, but registration is required for each presentation. For more information, visit the Treasury’s website; the CALS website,, or call my office at (501) 682-5888.

Dennis Milligan is treasurer of the state of Arkansas.

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