America Saves Week

Are you middle class? How can you tell?

It seems the Great Recession has redefined the terms “middle class” and “modern family.”

A new survey of 4,500 Americans by financial products company Allianz drew two major conclusions last week: American families are more diverse than ever, but many have something awful in common.

They’re nearly broke.

“Today, just 19.6 percent of U.S. households are married heterosexual couples with children, a big shift from the 40.3 percent of traditional families counted in 1970,” Allianz reports in its LoveFamilyMoney study. 

For those “modern families” — which include single parents, same-sex couples, and “blended” families — the financial news is terrible. Allianz concludes…

A staggering 57 percent of modern families say that they are either making ends meet, struggling financially, or poor, a full 10 percentage points higher than their traditional family counterparts. Moreover, 49 percent of modern families say that they currently live paycheck to paycheck, versus 41 percent of traditional families, and 25 percent are not saving any money at all.

Yet despite these numbers, 85 percent of modern families believe they live in middle-class America. Why?


What middle class really means

To Allianz — and to me — middle class means, “a status that has traditionally afforded a level of financial security.”

I’m not sure why so many Americans believe middle class now means “barely making ends meet.” My best guess: The recession decimated so many of their friends and family, they consider it a victory just to keep a job and a roof over their heads.

The LoveFamilyMoney survey asked those modern families why they were just getting by, and 85 percent said, “covering current expenses takes priority over planning for the future.” However, another telling statistic was this:

Only 34 percent  of modern families believe that they have “excellent/above average” financial planning knowledge/expertise, compared with 44 percent of their traditional counterparts. 

Both of those numbers are depressingly low to me — because learning how to manage your money is the easiest way to climb out of debt. Why? Because it’s free!


A cheap way to save big bucks

I have no doubt that, as news of the LoveFamilyMoney survey spreads, the media will focus on the differences between traditional and modern families. To me, there are more similarities: Namely, more than half of both types of families have below-average financial planning skills.

When it comes to managing money, it doesn’t matter who lives under your roof. It matters what happens inside your head. You can get yourself out of debt with our step-by-step guide to get out of debt. We’ll also tell you what not to do when seeking debt relief. This advice is proven, and it’s free. You do it on your own, but if you’re overwhelmed, you can also get professional debt help — a free debt analysis for whatever ails you.

Next year, I hope Allianz reprises its LoveFamilyMoney survey, and the results show that more than half of all families feel they’re financial acuity is well above average. That would mean is doing its job.

Howard Dvorkin, CPA is the Chairman of and the author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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