There’s a lot of talk these days about how hard it is to get a well-paying job. It’s true, and income is important, but we’ve been broke for far longer than the current economic situation. No, the main reason most Americans are broke is something completely different: Consumer culture.

It’s a normal part of life in the states to have a lot of things. We have big houses, (multiple) big cars, big wardrobes, big appetites. We’re consumers to the core, so much so that when we talk about cutting back, someone in a 1500 sq ft house and with two $15,000 cars is often convinced that they’ve cut back as far as is reasonable. We think that it’s normal to pay $800 or more every year or two for a new phone, and then pay another $120 a month to use that phone… even while most of us have next to nothing saved for emergencies.

When we’re stressed, we go on the internet and buy another thing that we think will help us feel better. And the mere act of purchasing does make us feel better, for a moment. By the time the delivery arrives, the moment has long passed.

When a major appliance breaks, there’s a part of us that dreads the cost of repairing or replacing it… and there’s another part that is secretly (or not-so-secretly) thrilled to have an excuse to get a newer, bigger, better one. We say “fixing it will cost half as much as getting a new one!” as if that justifies the purchase. And then we go buy one that costs even more, because what’s another few hundred dollars on top of an already expensive purchase–especially if it’s “on sale”?

Not all of this may ring true for you, in your life. I sincerely hope you can legitimately claim to be better with your purchases and financial lifestyle choices. And yet for most of us, most of this does ring true. If you think this isn’t you, there’s an easy way to tell. You’ll know you’re different not because you feel different. Not because you’re sure your better than all of this. No, you’ll know you’re different because you have three to six months of expenses saved in an emergency fund. You’ll know because you have an IRA or Roth IRA and max out your contributions every year. You’ll know you’re different because you don’t carry credit card debt month-to-month. You’ll know you’re different because you found a way to make all of that work even if your income is $15/hr.

Meanwhile, even though more than half of American households earn more than $27/hr (that’s combined as a household, for a yearly income of about $58k), less than 25% have adequate emergency savings.

The good news is that you can change this:

  • You can surround yourself with evidence that you can live well below your means.
  • You can make the hard choices to downsize your house, your car, and your closet.
  • You can choose to ignore Prime Day and Black Friday, because you know you already have enough stuff and no sale can make having extra stuff a good financial choice.
  • You can use the amazing resources available to us in 2018 to quickly and easily diagnose that your refrigerator needs a new $150 logic board, instead of buying a new fridge that costs ten to twenty times as much–even though you really wanted to upgrade to one with an ice-maker.

Live like your future is worth more than push-button ice.

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