The U.S. Financial Health Pulse 2019 Trends Report asked Americans about four buckets of financial health — saving, spending, borrowing and planning — and compared responses from the same individuals to what they reported in 2018.
Here's how people reported their financial health:
The report finds that people are saving less than they were a year ago, with 12% of respondents saying they do not have one week of living expenses stashed away. Income is also becoming more unpredictable, the report finds, especially for people 26 to 49. And almost 20% of people earning between $30,000 and $100,000 per year reported spending more than they earned in the 12 months prior to taking the survey.
It's not all bad news: More Americans reported paying their bills on time in 2019 than in 2018, and more people are confident that they will pay off their debt in five years.
Still, this financial precariousness is decades in the making, Jennifer Tescher, founder and CEO of the Financial Health Network, tells CNBC Make It. Tescher says that as housing, medical and education costs have increased dramatically in recent years, wages have not kept up. That's making it difficult for many Americans to save and feel secure.
Tescher says it shows that economic figures like the unemployment rate aren't telling the full story about the "complex ﬁnancial reality" for most Americans.
As financial experts and news anchors talk about a potential recession, many individuals are feeling more stressed about their finances than they were a year ago. That's particularly true for women, the report finds: Over 20% say they are routinely stressed about money. Only 13% of men say the same. Over half of women, 51.2%, report not having enough money in savings to cover three months of living expenses.
Tescher says this is because not only are women on average earning less than men and dealing with systemic gender discrimination, but because they often take on other responsibilities inside and outside of work that compound the stress they are feeling.
Women's income became more unpredictable in 2019, and men's did not, the report found, which Tescher says can be partly attributed to the fact that women are more likely to leave the workforce to take care of a child or other family member than men. That, too, is one of the reasons women feel more stressed, she says.
"It's the stereotype of the woman who works and takes care of her family, and and and and," she says. "And even with husbands helping more, they're not doing as much as women are. This creates a financial picture of the same social phenomenon we hear about. There's a real financial consequence for who shoulders responsibilities."
To help more people feel secure with their money, Tescher says financial experts should change the conversation from "do these four things" and you'll be fine forever, to teaching people how to be resilient over the long term so that they can "bounce back" from any financial set backs.
The survey, she says, really drives home how much a person's finances can change in a single year: People who reported being financially stable in 2018 didn't necessarily report the same this year. And fluctuations in circumstance could be dramatic.
"Financial health is not a point in time but a journey across your whole life," she says. "It's not like we can hope to get people to a certain point and then they'll stay there forever. It changes."
Even people who are watching their spending, saving for retirement and checking the rest of the personal finance boxes may not feel stable 100% of the time. But as long as you have a plan, Tescher says, the better off you'll be.
"Life is going to be filled with ups and downs, and the most important thing is to make sure you're prepared to manage the downside, and you're in a really good position to take advantage of the upside," she says.
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