Some 39% of Americans say they incurred more debt in 2023 than ever, and 35% think they will be in debt for the remainder of their lives.
If you are facing financial challenges in 2023, you’re not alone. Ninety-two percent of your fellow Americans say that they are too. Less than half (45%) believe they can comfortably live on their current income.
Not surviving financially isn’t the America anyone signed up for. It isn’t the America that our ancestors flocked to from other, less prosperous, more oppressive countries with promises of a better life and a die-hard belief in the “ American Dream.”
These days, one can barely tell the difference between the countries they fled and the country that welcomed them home.
Personal Financial Goals for 2023 vs What Happened
Hope was high in early 2023 as individuals believed that the financial struggles caused by the pandemic were finally behind them. Americans set sensible goals to put them on the road to financial recovery, such as building emergency savings (38%), sticking to a budget (42%), and spending less money (50%).
But as the year progressed, higher costs impacted consumer’s plans. “I was making very good progress in paying off debt and was confident I’d be debt free in 2023. Unfortunately, grocery costs doubled, mortgage rates went up and I’ve had to reduce the amount of money that goes to paying off my debt. Cost of living is so high that I had to redo my budget for an extra six months to get everything paid off,” says Victoria Cornell of Motherhood Life Balance
Victoria isn’t the only one. As the U.S. entered the fourth quarter of 2023, 1 in 5 Americans had yet to achieve any financial goals they set for the year. Thirty-nine percent said they have done the opposite and gone deeper into debt – and most don’t think they will ever be debt-free or financially stable.
How Long Would Your Money Last?
Personal finance experts recommend saving for emergencies. The standard is having enough money to cover expenses for three to six months. While the advice is good in theory, in practice, it is only viable for some. Most Americans do not have extra money after they pay all the household expenses to put into a savings account.
Most barely keep their heads above the financial waters while more and more are drowning. In one month without income, more than half of Americans say they would run out of money. For 29% of them, that timeframe is one week or even less.
According to the survey, the length of time they would run out of money after losing their income and without changing their lifestyle is:
- Six months or less: 74%
- Three months or less: 63%
- One month or less: 51%
- Three weeks or less: 40%
- Two weeks or less: 36%
- One week or less: 29%
- One year or longer: 26%
All the Blame Shouldn’t Fall on a Difficult Economy
The United States economy is tough; there is no argument there, but the spending habits of Americans also play a part in why they don’t have any savings or are struggling to save. The truth is that 47% of Americans say that they tend to spend more than they earn. This trend is very apparent in the younger generations, with 56% of millennials and 55% of Gen Zers admitting to the problem.
The response is sobering when asked how long it would be before they ran out of money if they lost their income today without changing their lifestyle. Sixty-one percent of Gen Z and 52% of millennials would be broke in less than one month. Sixty-three percent of Gen X and 54% of baby boomers say they would be broke in three months or less.
Moreover, 49% of Americans say that they had to dip into their emergency savings or retirement in 2023, with the bulk coming from emergency savings (44%).
Treading Treacherous Financial Waters
Solutions to these issues are not very forthcoming. While it is true that inflation is a major contributing factor, Americans’ financial habits and inclinations are not exactly conducive to saving and planning for a catastrophic financial event such as a loss of income.
Even if prices were to fall or incomes to rise, lifestyle creep would likely undermine those opportunities for those sinking to get their heads above water. In this land of excess, the United States has perhaps not exactly created an inherent inclination to overspend – but it didn’t discourage it either. The “land of opportunity” is running out of opportunities after conditioning its residents to live off the fat of the land, and this is what Dave Ramsey preaches against in his baby steps.
In 2023, 93% of Americans reported reduced spending due to steadily increasing prices, with the biggest hits occurring in dining out (58%) and entertainment (52%). However, 1 in 3 said that they cut back on what they spend on groceries.
Moving into 2024, the consensus is similar, albeit somewhat more optimistic, with just 88% expecting to cut spending and only a quarter planning to reduce their grocery spending.
The old joke about depending on parents as a financial resource is no longer funny. Nearly a quarter (24%) of Americans report receiving financial help from their parents, and 46% say they borrowed money from friends or family in 2023.
Is True Happiness Contingent Upon the Amount in Your Bank Account?
The question remains: does money buy happiness? More than a third of Americans say yes. While only 23% of baby boomers and 27% of Gen X feel this is so, 50% of Gen Z and 45% of millennials believe it to be true.
Almost two-thirds of Americans say that the primary source of their stress is finances, so less financial stress would likely increase happiness, but attitudes and behaviors need to change. Forty-six percent of millennials believe that money is more important than what they are passionate about, and 41% believe that their financial health is more vital than their personal health.