As the coronavirus pandemic wears on and government aid sent at the beginning of the crisis runs out, Americans are feeling the impact of tight budgets.
One-quarter of Americans said that they felt financially stressed all the time last year, according to a CNBC + Acorns Invest in You survey, conducted by Momentive. The online survey of nearly 4,000 adults was conducted March 23-24.
Another 41% said they feel financially stressed sometimes, and 33% said they felt rarely or never financially stressed in the last year.
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The main cause of financial stress has been rising prices, as Americans grapple with the highest inflation in 40 years. Many people were unprepared to deal with these price hikes, said Susan Greenhalgh, an accredited financial counselor who runs Mind Your Money in Hope, Rhode Island.
“We don’t really know how to deal with them, and how to address them,” she said, adding that having your eyes focused on your spending is always a good strategy.
Shifting the budget
Financial stress appears to be hitting those with lower incomes the hardest.
Nearly 60% of people who had a household income of less than $50,000 said they’re under more financial stress now than they were a year ago, the survey found.
That’s compared with 53% of people in households making between $50,000 and $100,000 annually and 45% of people making more than $100,000 who said the same thing.
Those who are struggling the most may have to make some serious choices with their finances, said Tania Brown, an Atlanta-based certified financial planner and founder of FinanciallyConfidentMom.com. She recommends prioritizing the essentials before anything else — that includes, rent, food, utilities and basic medical expenses.
“In this environment, legitimately other bills may have to go by the wayside,” she said. “Depending on your income, you’re fighting just to keep your home.”
She also suggested reaching out to creditors for help and looking for programs that may lower the cost of utilities depending on income. It may also be a time to look at other monthly expenses and subscriptions to see what can be reduced or cut, including the cost of internet or cable.
There are also a few ways to find deals on gas, such as using GasBuddy, carpooling or scheduling errands all at once to avoid making multiple trips.
People can also make other changes to bring down bills, such as using heat and air conditioning less, or opting for meals without meat.
In addition, if a family must dip into their emergency savings to stay afloat right now, Brown said they shouldn’t feel bad — the point of having such an account is for such situations.
“You’re using it as intended,” she said.
Prices may keep rising
To be sure, most Americans aren’t feeling as stressed all the time about the pressures of inflation. Still, they might be in a very different financial situation now due to rising prices — some 52% said they’re under more financial stress now than they were a year ago.
Because the cost of goods is likely to continue to rise in the short term, people should be checking in with their budgets on a more frequent basis because of how quickly prices are changing, said Brown.
“You have to be a lot more proactive in reviewing your budget and actually looking at what you spent last month because the numbers may change,” she said. “Give yourself a lot more wiggle room.”
That may mean saving less for a few months, rethinking your short-term financial goals or even looking for a raise or a job that will pay you more.
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.