Our Top Money Worry

…is that we won’t have enough money to meet our expenses.

Photo credit: pcglenn, CC0 Public Domain.

My first instinct, when I saw this headline, was to make a joke involving either Charles Dickens or that Steve Martin “Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford” sketch from Saturday Night Live:

This is America’s No. 1 money worry

But, when you actually click through and read the piece, CNBC makes a good point:

Nearly half, or 48 percent [of Americans], said their expenses are equal to or greater than their income, causing them a significant amount of financial stress, according to a new report by the Center for Financial Services Innovation, or CFSI, a non-profit aimed at funding projects that could improve consumers’ financial health.

And sure, expenses expand to fill the income available. But the expenses that are expanding the most are the ones related to basic costs of living, like housing and healthcare.

Plus, many of us are dealing with “volatile income,” thanks to job churn and the rise of freelance work:

From 2014 to 2015, about a third of U.S. households had volatile income — a gain or loss of at least 25 percent from one year to the next, according to a 2015 survey from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The median income gain was $20,500, and the median income loss was $25,000.

So yes, worrying about whether your expenses will exceed your income is a legitimate fear, and it’s not because we’re all out buying stuff we can’t afford.

How can we mitigate these fears? CNBC advocates for an emergency fund, as well as paying down debt and using a money management app to track spending. CNBC does not, thankfully, suggest cutting back on lattes.

But I think the larger fear has to do with this feeling like the way we earn and spend money isn’t always up to us; at any minute someone could step out of a room and say that we’ve lost our jobs, or that our rent is going up by 10 percent, or that our healthcare costs are going to be way different, and we can’t do anything about it.

And if half of us have expenses that are already close to, or more than, our income, this anxiety gets even worse.

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