Lately, I’ve been hearing concerns about tough times coming back. I say that for plenty of people, tough times never went away.
Some struggle to stay afloat—getting ahead is a distant dream—and others wonder just where their money goes. If either of those situations sounds familiar, you’ll be (grimly) pleased to know that it isn’t just you. According to the Federal Reserve, our median net worth has decreased by about 21 percent nationally over the past 20 years. However, for the working class—those who earn between $23,300 and $40,499—median net worth dropped more than 50 percent.
Money woes aren’t always about greed or carelessness. Often they’re about the price of homeownership (especially upkeep and property taxes), child care (which can cost more per year than college tuition), groceries, medical treatment, utilities, higher education, automobiles and insurance.
Since most of us are expected to plan our own retirements, a chunk of earnings disappears right off the top—that is, if you’re actually able to do that. When you’re running as fast as you can just to stay in the same place, saving may seem impossible.
Fortunately, sites like Everyday Cheapskate provide tools to help us save a little (or a lot!) on necessities as well as the little things that make life better. Mary Hunt’s books also show how to make careful and creative decisions about money—choices that will keep you in the game during a crisis, help pare expenses during a slowdown or let you squirrel away dollars to reach a personal goal.
A “RICH” LIFE
As a reader of Mary’s site, you know that the smart money is on being smart with your money. That’s why I wrote my book: to help people live the best lives they can on the funds they currently have, while looking always to improve their finances and their future. That’s not always easy, especially if:
- You live in an economically depressed region
- It’s important to be home with your kids and so you live with just one paycheck
- Your home is in a high cost of living area but you want to stay near family
- You’re facing high student loan repayments—or your kids are, and have moved back home because they can’t make it on their starter salaries
Or maybe you were left holding the bag due to divorce, job loss or serious illness. Believe me: I know just how much that stinks. But unless your fairy godmother drops off a winning Powerball ticket, you have to play the hand you were dealt.
During my own difficult times (including a stint as a 21-year-old single mother with no child support and no government assistance), I would sometimes wonder, “Why me?”
Ultimately I realized the answer was, “Why not me?” Stuff happens. Life happens. It’s not personal. Maybe it feels unfair, but it’s not personal. So I worked to fix what I could and made my peace with the rest of it.
In midlife, when I was at my lowest point financially, I kept reminding myself that I had family and friends, a roof over my head, basic food, a library card and a chance to (finally!) get a college degree (on scholarship).
Sure, I wanted more than rice and beans, thrift-store clothing and part-time jobs that didn’t pay well. But I was acutely aware that having those things made me luckier than a whole lot of people in this world.
DECIDING TO CHANGE
This, then, is my two-step plan for improving your life:
- Start by looking at what you do have before you pursue the things you think are missing. Remember: A rich life is not necessarily determined by the number of dollar signs in it.
- Read personal finance blogs and books in order to build on what you have, and use every money victory as the impetus to keep moving forward.
At times this can seem difficult or even impossible. But if you do nothing, then nothing will change. Your debt won’t go away. Your job situation won’t improve. Your kids will need more, not less, as they grow. Your retirement will get closer every day, whether or not you’ve done a thing to prepare for it.
Acknowledge the dark clouds, then visualize their silver linings: If I am willing to work at it, I can almost certainly change my life.
Dare to change your life. Start today.
[callout]Giveaway Info: To enter to win one of two copies of Donna Freedman’s new book Your Playbook For Tough Times, please leave a comment here and tell us why you think you can benefit from reading it. [/callout]