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70% of Americans say they don’t earn enough money


Are you earning enough money?

If you’re like most Americans, you probably feel like you’re not. You may also feel like you don’t have enough in the bank, that your cost of living is rising, and that it’s harder to make ends meet lately. Now more than ever, amid economic uncertainty and rising inflation, it’s hard not to worry about financial sufficiency.

So, what exactly is ‘enough,’ and how many people feel like they don’t have it? We surveyed over 1,000 Americans to find out.

Key Findings

  • 70% of Americans feel like they don’t earn enough money, and 72% feel like they don’t have enough saved or invested.
  • 82% of Americans feel they don’t have enough money for at least one essential spending category.
  • 66% of Americans feel they don’t have enough money for health-related expenses, 55% for housing expenses, and 37% for food.

What Does it Mean to Have ‘Enough’ Money?

Everyone’s needs may be different, but most folks share the same struggles to meet them.

With a majority of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, making ends meet is a monthly endeavor for most of the country. So how much does the average American need to meet their needs? Here’s what we found out.

Overall, a remarkable 70% of respondents believed they don’t earn enough money. Considering that research has shown the cost of living to have gone up an average of $276 for most families, it’s no wonder that people feel they’re not making enough.

While the 2020 U.S. census measured a median household income at $67,521, our average respondent felt a sufficient income would be nearly $7,600 above that figure.

When broken down by gender, our research showed that 76% of women and 53% of men felt they didn’t have enough money coming in each month, while 76% of women and 60% of men felt they hadn’t accrued sufficient financial wealth. Among other potential factors, this disparity certainly speaks to the broader issue of the gender pay gap

Inflation was the most common reason why people felt they didn’t have or earn enough money, followed by inadequate pay and housing costs. With inflation showing no signs of stopping soon, all three factors are likely to become even more challenging.

Stagnant Wages and Inflation Make it Hard to Get By

Certain needs are essential, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to pay for. In fact, a majority of our respondents felt they didn’t have enough money for bare necessities.

Our findings confirmed that the day-to-day costs of life are still a struggle for people, with 92% of respondents facing an increased cost of living. In fact, more than half said they experienced a “significant” rise in their cost of living.

The average monthly minimum that respondents said they need for essential expenses was $1,970, and a whopping 82% said they feel they don’t have enough money for these essentials. In an economic climate where inflation “could get out of control” according to the Federal Reserve, those figures may likely change for the worse.

Health was the expense that the largest portion of respondents felt they couldn’t afford (66%) on their current income. Interestingly, a 2021 survey found that 66% of Americans were afraid they’d be unable to pay for health care. For women, these concerns were even more pronounced—70% reported insufficient income to spend on their health, compared to 56% of men.

Amid historically high home prices and rising rent, a majority of Americans also cited insufficient means to afford housing-related expenses. Experts often recommend allocating no more than  36% of income to housing expenses, a recommendation that many Americans might find hard to follow.

When Money is Tight, Savings Suffer

Regardless of your financial situation, money management and long-term financial thinking is within reach. But with a majority of Americans struggling to meet their needs, it’s no wonder that so many feel like they can’t afford financial betterment.

Investment was the most common financial improvement that respondents felt they couldn’t afford (66%), followed by retirement savings (61%) and saving for emergencies (59%). In fact, a 2019 study showed that most millennials can’t save for retirement, with 55% lacking a retirement account altogether.

Sixty-five percent of women and 46% of men felt they need more money for emergencies, while 65% of women and 52% of men reported needing more money to save for retirement. When you’re just getting by, it can be hard to prioritize habits like saving and investing, but they’re easy to start and well worth it, even with modest contributions.

Can’t Afford Flexibility

With essential expenses eating up such a large portion of your budget, it can be hard to afford the things you’d much rather spend that money on.

That said, indulgences are important, and there’s a big difference between frivolous spending and enjoying the fruits of your labor.

Our study showed that there are certain things respondents felt they didn’t have enough money for, but on average, the monthly minimum people felt was necessary for nonessential spending was $626. Vacation and travel was by far the top thing that respondents felt they couldn’t afford (67%), followed by entertainment (61%) and home decor/upgrades (58%). 

Considering the mental health benefits of vacations, hobbies, and time away from work to recharge, responsible spending on self care and enjoyment is arguably essential.

Insufficient Income Negatively Affects Mental and Physical Health

“Health is wealth” may be a popular saying, but there’s much more to say about the health implications of wealth. To explore this connection, we compared respondents who felt they earned enough to those who felt they didn’t.

The health implications of financial strife extend far beyond stress (challenging enough on its own) and even show impacts on physical well-being, especially at a time when many adults struggle to afford medical care, including those with insurance. 

Simply put, Americans with sufficient income were far more likely to report good or excellent health. While 78% of people who earned enough reported good or excellent physical health, that percentage dropped to 48% among respondents who felt they weren’t earning enough. Not only can insufficient income keep medical care out of reach, but financial stress alone has been shown to manifest through physical symptoms.

Among respondents who earned enough money, 86% reported a high level of life satisfaction. By contrast, only 48% of people who weren’t earning enough reported the same. Even self-image and life outlook were impacted, evidenced by fewer than 1 in 4 insufficient earners feeling capable of living a fulfilling life.

A staggering 80% of those who didn’t earn enough said their well-being was negatively impacted by their financial situation. In fact, a 2021 study found that well-being increased with income even among those earning high incomes. Money isn’t everything, of course, and 37% of respondents with six-figure incomes said their financial situation had a negative impact on their well-being.

Final Thoughts

Financial prosperity is within your grasp, no matter who you are or the circumstances you’re facing.

Living beyond the basic needs of life, or even just meeting them, often feels unattainable, but small changes can make a big difference. And no, it won’t mean sacrificing everything you love. At I Will Teach You To Be Rich, we educate people of all backgrounds to help them gain the financial freedom and prosperity they deserve.

Methodology and Limitations

For this analysis, we surveyed 1,002 respondents using the Amazon MTurk platform. Survey quotas were used to guarantee sufficient respondent counts from each generation, which were as follows: Generation Z, 248; millennials, 253; Generation X, 253; and baby boomers, 248.

To help ensure accurate responses, all respondents were required to identify and correctly answer an attention-check question. In some cases, questions and answers have been rephrased for clarity or brevity. These data rely on self-reporting, and potential issues with self-reported data include telescoping, selective memory, and exaggeration.

Fair Use Statement

Whatever your finances may look like, we hope you found this study informative and insightful, and we encourage you to share it. We just ask that you link back to the findings and that your purposes are noncommercial.

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