Nearly half of households in the United States are "liquid asset poor," meaning they have less than three month's worth of savings in the bank, according to a report this year from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a nonprofit that tracks household financial security. Surprisingly, 25 percent of those who are considered "liquid asset poor" are in the middle class with earnings of $56,113 to $91,356 annually. What's even more surprising is that 89 percent are employed.
Statistics like these might make you wonder how we got here. The fact is, modern life has become more difficult and complicated than ever. We not only have more inconveniences and responsibilities than previous generations, but we also have more bills to pay. We work more, relax less and spend most of our time planning for the future instead of enjoying the present. Everything costs more than it did generations ago, which is another reason so many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. And when you're living a hand-to-mouth existence, it can be next to impossible to break the cycle.
Breaking the Cycle in 5 Simple Steps
But what if someone told you it didn't have to be that way? What would you do if you discovered that merely simplifying your life could help you save and prepare for a brighter future? The truth is, a simpler existence might be exactly what it takes to transition from a lifestyle of struggle into one where you're able to enjoy life a little. It may not be easy, but change might just be within your reach. Here's how:
-- Pare down your possessions. If you're struggling to keep up and feeling bogged down by life's ups and downs, it might be time to lighten your load. The truth is, many of the belongings that bring you joy could also be a source of stress either because they require upkeep, take up too much space or come with additional financial costs. So, instead of holding on, figure out what you can sell and take the necessary steps to do so. You'll not only simplify your life, but you'll also rake in some extra cash in the process.
-- Cancel unnecessary services. Many monthly bills are non-negotiable, including things such as utilities, insurance, mortgage or rent payments, and transportation costs. But the rest? You can typically do without it. If you really want to simplify and get ahead, consider canceling services that aren't necessary. This could include things such as cable television, gym memberships, expensive cellphone contracts or other monthly subscriptions. Eliminating or cutting even a few of your monthly expenses can make a huge difference in your bottom line over the months and years. Plus, who doesn't want fewer bills to pay?
-- Pay down debt. If you're like most people, you have a few lingering debts from the past. The bad news is, those monthly debt payments might be part of the reason you're struggling. They might even mean the difference between mere survival and getting ahead. Unfortunately, the only real way to escape the grasp of your debt is to make a commitment to become debt-free. Use the money you've freed up by paring down your possessions and eliminating unnecessary services to work toward becoming debt-free once and for all. It may take a while, but it will be worth it.
-- Make a commitment to save. When you're living paycheck to paycheck, one surprise bill or emergency is all it takes to knock you completely off track. That's why it's absolutely crucial to begin saving for the future and for any unexpected expenses that might arise. Saving money might seem like a lofty goal, but it can be done if you make the commitment to never give up. Your future self will thank you.
-- Make it automatic. If you're worried you'll fall off the savings wagon in a hurry, the best thing you can do for yourself if make all savings automatic. This generally means setting up an automatic bank transfer on payday or at the end or beginning of the month. Making it automatic helps you accomplish your savings goals in two ways: First, it ensures you're saving on a regular basis by forcing you onto a savings schedule. Second, it forces you to live on less than what you earn, which is required if you truly want to get ahead and stay ahead.
It's true that modern life has become burdensome and overly complicated in some ways, but it's also true that our decisions often make it worse. Fortunately, the key to escaping a lifetime of struggle is often within reach if you're willing to look hard enough. All it takes is a fresh perspective, a willingness to live on less and the fortitude to make it happen. A simpler and more prosperous life can be yours if you want it.
Holly Johnson is the founder of personal finance website, Club Thrifty, which provides tips for frugal living, budgeting, and more. Holly also writes about frugality and travel at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and her other website, Travel Blue Book.
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