First Person: I Lost My Disposable Income

Yahoo Contributor Network

When someone in my family loses their car keys or watches, I can find the lost items in a flash. What's more perplexing lately, though, is the matter of my lost disposable income. It's taking me a lot of time to figure out where exactly my extra income has disappeared to in the past year. Evidently, I'm not alone. According to a recent article by Yahoo Finance, American consumers are having a bad year when it comes to their disposal income. Disposable income growth fell to 2.4 percent in the past three months. Not including the Great Recession years of 2008 to 2009, that's the lowest the disposable income growth rate has been in the past 50 years. It's no wonder so many of us are skeptical about the so-called economic recovery. I was used to living paycheck-to-paycheck in my 20s. Now that I'm in my 40s, I expect to have more money leftover at the end of every month.

Struggling in the middle class

It used to be people who enjoyed the middle-class status could enjoy a night out to the movies or a new outfit on occasion. However, after filling up the gas tank and shopping for groceries, I rarely have enough money to afford dinner and a movie. If I'm struggling on a six-figure household income, I can't imagine how difficult it will be for those on food stamps. According to the Yahoo piece, 1 in 7 Americans will receive 5 percent less in food stamps when the temporary increase soon expires. Of all the public assistance programs, I think food stamps create the greatest good. Politicians who begrudge SNAP recipients are simply heartless in my opinion.

Having another frugal holiday

A lot of retailers are complaining that the recent government shutdown is guaranteeing a bleak holiday shopping season. Even though I'm not a government employee, I work for a company that required its employees to take furlough or unpaid days off this year. Unfortunately, my paycheck will be smaller again this Christmas. I know my disposable income is smaller due to a smaller paycheck, but it doesn't explain why I'm broke at the end of the month. I expect to trim my Christmas shopping list this year due to less spending money.

Finding the leaks in my budget

Although I can blame a smaller paycheck and higher prices at the gas pump and grocery store, I also have to blame myself. I had to go through my online banking statements and credit card statements to figure out the leaks in my budget. It turns out I am not making the necessary tradeoffs to balance my budget. I used to forgo my hair cut if the dog needed to see the veterinarian for a checkup. I think I had too loose of a definition of the word "need" and "necessity."

After working at a full-time job for the past 11 years, it's discouraging to feel as though I'm treading water in the middle class. I don't just want to spend my discretionary money not only on eating out, shopping and presents. I also want to have the extra money to save for retirement or to pay down my home. Since I'm not a shopaholic or a secret spender, I know I only share part of the blame. My only solution is to keep living below my means even if that means roughing it like I did in my 20s.

More from this contributor:

Tricks to Pay Down our Mortgage

Making the Leap from My Money to Our Money

We Live Like we Have One Income

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