Many Americans are not experts at managing finances and end up broke each month. The cycle of overspending leaves them poor, even if their income means they are considered above the poverty line. A third of households that bring in $75,000 or more a year live paycheck to paycheck, a recent survey from SunTrust Banks found.
A number of personal finance experts were asked the same question: What is the No. 1 reason people end up poor or in financial hardship? Read on to find out what problems they say are keeping you broke, as well as what they think you should do to improve your situation.
You’re stuck in a debt trap
“When you’re poor, it’s easy to get stuck in a debt trap because you’re desperate,” said Kristin Wong of personal finance website Brokepedia. “Whether it’s a payday loan, debt settlement scam, or even just using a credit card for an emergency, it’s easy to make rash decisions when you’re stressed, and these decisions usually keep people broke.”
You feel powerless
When you’re poor or in the middle of a financial hardship, it can make you feel powerless. But giving in to those feelings of helplessness will only hurt you, said A.J. Smith, vice president of content strategy and managing editor of SmartAsset, a personal finance technology company.
“By getting accurate, unbiased knowledge and advice, people can feel empowered and confident in their personal finance decisions,” Smith said. “They can then take steps to make a better financial future.”
You’re not making savings a priority
“In my own life, I saw the biggest financial stagnation when I wasn’t paying myself first, even when I had a nice-paying job,” said personal finance expert Philip Taylor of blog PT Money. “When you get paid, make sure you are saving those first few dollars for your future.
“Do it automatically each pay period, and you’re more likely to stick with it,” he said. “You get ahead financially by making savings a priority.”
You don’t course-correct your finances
“There’s almost always a cheaper or better way of doing something, but you have to get into the habit of questioning and challenging your current way of going about it,” said Stefanie O’Connell of personal finance website the Broke and Beautiful Life. “Use your creativity and critical-thinking skills to find and implement more cost-effective alternatives, whether it’s renegotiating your insurance rates, switching banks or planning your next vacation.”
You’re spending too much on housing
It might be time to consider moving to a smaller place. “Spending too much money on rent or a mortgage,” is the biggest reason people struggle financially, said Andy Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero, a loan comparison service. “After living in New York City for a few years, I met dozens of young people who were ‘house poor.’
“These were people who make above-average incomes but end up spending too much on rent,” he said. “As a rule of thumb, you should try to keep housing costs under 20 percent of your income, as opposed to the 28 percent to 30 percent limit that most banks allow.”
You’re investing in stuff instead of yourself
Julie Rains, personal finance writer and founder of Investing to Thrive, also said that economic disadvantages play a big part in why some people are poor, but that’s not the only thing holding people back. “Others might find themselves in crises because they have repeatedly underinvested in areas with long-term benefits — (such as) professional career and education, savings, investments — and overinvested and overextended themselves in other areas, such as luxury products and upscale housing.”
You’re trying to get rich quick
Too many people are looking for the quick and easy way out of poverty and are trying to get rich quick, said Jon Dulin, founder of Money Smart Guides. “Whether it be a hot stock, a job or business idea, too many of us chase the idea that we can come into extraordinary wealth overnight,” Dulin said.
“Sadly, it doesn’t work this way,” he said. “You have to put in the hard work to become rich. We see the rich now thinking they got lucky or made it without much work. But we don’t see behind the scenes at just how much work they put in to get where they are.”
You buy depreciating assets
“One of the main reasons that people can become poor is that they focus their time on buying depreciating assets like cars, ATVs, boats, etc.,” said Deacon Hayes, personal finance blogger at Well Kept Wallet. “Because of this, they have little resources to build wealth and, therefore, they continue to live paycheck to paycheck.”
How can people fix this problem? “Focus on buying appreciating assets like stocks and real estate, which would grow over time and eventually give them more resources so that they are no longer living in poverty,” Hayes said.
You’re paying too much for your cellphone
Lance Cothern of Money Manifesto said that the No. 1 reason people end up broke is that “they buy cellphones and cellphone plans they can’t afford.” Instead of opting for a top-of-the-line smartphone and unlimited data, he said, “People should stick with cheaper phone carriers that have affordable rate plans, no contracts and lower-cost phones that you aren’t pressured to upgrade every year or two.
“You can get phone plans that only cost $10 a month plus taxes for a simple unlimited talk-and-text plan if you look in the right places,” Cothern said. “That definitely beats $100 a month plus expensive upgrade fees to get the latest iPhone.”
You spend more money than you make
Nick Loper, founder of Side Hustle Nation, said the root cause of being broke is nearly always the same: People “spend more than they make.” “As far as I know, that’s the only cause of bankruptcy,” Loper said.
“The good news is you can tackle this from both sides of the equation,” he said. “Spend less to live within your means and work to earn more so you have more financial breathing room.”