Ask Chuck: Avoiding the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Trap
I read an article recently about how many Americans live paycheck to paycheck and question how many really have to live that way. I don’t want to be calloused, but I wonder if they just need to be told to “Grow up!” Doesn’t the Bible tell us not to live that way?
Dear Financially Secure,
I hear you, but the Bible not only gives us a better way to live, it also tells us not to cast stones!
Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with people caught in the paycheck-to-paycheck trap for multiple reasons. But compassion is so important because many are there due to circumstances beyond their control, including tragic health issues, job loss, unwanted divorces, and basic financial illiteracy.
A 2016 report by the U.S. Federal Reserve stated: “A key consideration regarding household finances and overall economic well-being is the ability to withstand financial disruptions.” A lack of emergency funds is the onset of financial suffering for many. With little or no margin, an unexpected expense or loss of income throws their finances into chaos.
A 2017 report by the U.S. Federal Reserve revealed the following issues that contribute to the paycheck-to-paycheck problem.
Dealing with Unexpected Expenses
- 4 in 10 adults, if faced with an unexpected expense of $400, have a problem. They would either be unable to cover it or would find it necessary to sell something, borrow from family or friends, or carry a balance on credit cards. (This is an improvement from half of adults in 2013.)
- Over 1 in 5 adults are unable to pay their current month’s bills in full.
- More than 1 in 4 adults skipped necessary medical care in 2017 because they could not afford the cost.
- 3 in 10 adults have family income that varies from month to month.
- 1 in 10 adults experienced hardship because of monthly changes in income.
- Nearly 25% of young adults under 30 and 10% of all adults receive some sort of financial support from someone living outside their home.
- On average, people answer fewer than 3 out of 5 basic financial literacy questions correctly.
- Lower scores fell among those less comfortable managing their retirement savings.
What To Do
There are emotional stories of those living paycheck-to-paycheck, but, like you, I question how many are willing to change their lifestyles, to adjust priorities, and make some sacrifices to protect themselves from financial disaster.
People rely on debt because it’s easy and “everyone” does it. It is certainly easier to buy a new car with low-interest rates than saving to pay cash. After all, saving means you have to forfeit (or postpone) a bigger house, the latest fashion, a new phone, or eating out; but easy is ultimately the more costly option.
In the long-term, sacrifice has its rewards, and it isn’t all that painful once the decision is made to take control rather than letting the world dictate how to spend money. Learning to discipline oneself eventually becomes habit, and a way of life. Before long, the thought of carrying consumer debt becomes ridiculous.
I think most people who are experiencing the overwhelming burden of carrying credit card debt would tell you the small sacrifices upfront are worth it. By the way, if you’re dealing with overwhelming credit card debt, contact Christian Credit Counselors. They can help!
The trick is to develop a mindset of tight control over your income. With a budget in place, progress can be made toward getting people off the financial cliff so they CAN withstand financial emergencies.
Self-control, accountability, hard work, living contrary to the rest of the world, and ignoring the availability of credit are some basic steps I recommend to anyone wanting to become financially secure.
Learning to wait is a great discipline. Pausing and praying for a need allows us to see God provide. Credit robs us of that blessing. Just this week I saw God provide a car for one of our employees in a gift that far exceeded their dreams. It will impact their family for years!
God wants us to be good stewards of what He provides for our good and for the benefit of others.
We are living examples of His goodness and offer hope to the hopeless. When we manage our finances the way He tells us, we have the freedom to live out our purpose and glorify Him in the process.
Dr. Anne Bradley, with The Institute for Work and Economics summarizes this beautifully:
Good stewardship leads to flourishing, which is characterized by well-being, thriving, and abundance. It is the way God created all things before the fall, as well as what he will restore when Christ returns. In the parable of the talents, Jesus teaches that everyone is to maximize the gifts that he is given in order to contribute to the flourishing of the world (Matt. 25:14-30).
…Each of us is created uniquely by God to contribute something to his kingdom. We have a special opportunity to use our particular interests and abilities to do something significant.
This larger view of stewardship encompasses every aspect of life. That job that one takes, where you live, how many children you have, and where you send your children to school all involve stewardship. Those options require us to make choices with our scarce resources, as each tradeoff presents us with a cost and becomes part of the calculus of stewardship. Our efforts can bring delight to us and to the Lord and allow us to serve the common good.
So let’s not disparage those who are struggling to make ends meet. Let’s work to help them discover and understand that God has a better way. Ultimately, we not only want to see them get out of the pain and stress of living paycheck to paycheck but to be prepared to stand before the Lord and hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”
Originally published January 11, 2019 on the Christian Post