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The Cost of Being an Average Joe in America

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During the 2016 presidential election both candidates discussed turning around the economy. It was the one topic that all Americans seemed to agree on. In 2014, the average American family earned $53,657 a year. CNN Money reports that this was the third year that the median household income stagnated. As Americans were not seeing a speedy recovery (we seem to forget the lesson of The Tortoise and the Hare) despite “[the] improving economy and falling unemployment [rate]…” they voted for someone who promised to cut their taxes in half and bring back jobs, but it’s not that easy.

Bills, Loans and Debt—Oh My!

According to U.S. News and World Report, there are five things preventing Americans from keeping their heads above water, we’re going to take a look at four:

  1. Student Loan Debt

Close to 70 percent of four-year degree graduates are in debt, including the writer of this article that you’re currently reading. The federal student loan balance is over $1.1 trillion and has quadrupled over the last decade. American adults aged between 18-34 years old are unable to buy a house, bringing the mortgage shares of this age group down to a 30-year low. Young people are unable to move out of their parents’ house upon graduation, with 36 percent still living with their parents as of 2012.

  1. Credit Card Debt

With the average credit card interest rate being just over 15 percent, it’s no wonder the average American household owes an average of $7,281 in debt, but, excluding the households that don’t carry debt, the average outstanding balance quickly spikes to $15,609. Time Magazine reports that it is in fact unusual for Americans to pay off their credit card bill in full. As the remaining credit card balance increases, Americans find it harder and harder to pay the bill at all.

Image source Flickr

Image source Flickr

Let’s breakdown how Americans are spending their money annually:

  • Food: $6,602
  • Housing: $17,148
  • Transportation: $9,004
  • Entertainment: $2,482
  • Healthcare: $3,631

This comes to a total of $38,867. Now subtract this number from the average American family’s take-home pay, and you have $14,790 leftover. What if you experience an accident? What if your car is totaled? What if your house burns down? What if your apartment is burgled and vandalized? You can’t prevent accidents from happening. If you forgo insurance to pay for other things, can you afford the repairs and replacements?

While there are services out there that offer less than the average cost of auto, homeowners and renters insurance, bills are still bills. To afford what we need, we need to examine closely what it is we’re spending our money on.

  1. Über Consumerism

Every time Apple comes out with a new commercial about the latest iPhone, you might find yourself listing off reasons as to why you need to upgrade your plan to get it. When your friend gets a new car, you might question why you’re still driving a 2005 Honda Accord. The idea of needing the newest and best thing now is what gets us into trouble. We swipe our cards for purchase before we understand what it is we’re really getting into: bigger bills, more debt.


  1. Car Loan Debt

It’s okay to drive a vehicle that is 10-years-old. If it has low mileage and you perform regular maintenance checks, your car is going to continue to purr like a kitten for years to come. Why would you trade in a perfectly good vehicle for a newer model? Some argue it’s for the better safety features, others argue it’s because it won’t be long before parts stop being made for your car, making maintenance impossible. Here’s the thing: car loans are rising and the value of your vehicle depreciates over time. Is it really worth getting a $25,000 loan when your car won’t be worth even that in two years?

It costs money to live, but you shouldn’t be drowning in debt. Take care of yourself by taking care of your finances.