Half of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
Which means you are not alone.
This information is really quite radical. It means, really, that the expected plunge of New York Stock Exchange didn’t directly affect every single working American, because those who live from paycheck to paycheck rarely, if ever, actually save or invest money. Because they don’t have enough money to do so. And the survey attests this to this, by reporting that one out of every four Americans never saves any money, and of the three-out-of-the-four who do save regularly, a third of them saves less than $100 per month.
So half of all Americans spend every week waiting for their next paycheck.
And that waiting becomes a prolonged and heavy game of frustration, and that frustration builds until a family may buckle beneath the pressure of their debts. And those debts can be quite large.
The latest figure, published in August, states that the average American lives with $16,635 in credit card debt alone, and that excludes all other debt, such as automobile payments, mortgages, or medical bills. Between 1992 and 2001, the average credit card debt grew by more than fifty percent. Moreover, the average American with credit cards has access to almost a $20,000 line of credit from their cards alone. And almost a third of those in this type of debt have admitted that it is growing increasingly difficult to pay the balance on these debts.
And, to me, the most shocking bit of information is this: the total amount of credit card debt, owed by the sum of all Americans with credit card debt, is almost $1 trillion. To put a tangible item to this amount, $1 trillion is enough to buy two 73′ flat-screen HDTV’s for every household in America.
And it’s also equal to the amount costing the United States government to fight the war in Iraq.
So now, maybe we understand why half of us live from paycheck to paycheck. The debt we’ve accrued through our credit cards is taking up a rather large space in our budget.
Americans have forgotten the radical idea that we should live within our means. And because of our forgetfulness, our credit debt has enlarged what our budget should be.
So we’ve either found ourselves in a place where we need to earn more money, or do without some things we believe are now necessary. But don’t be fooled into believing more money will solve your financial crisis. The same survey quoted above also found that one out of five Americans who earn at least $100,000 per year also admit to living paycheck to paycheck.
And why is all of this important?
I am not a financial officer, so I have no financial advice. But I do know that the biblical narrative is full of stories and examples of stewardship, and making wise decisions concerning your income. Of the most prevalent is the example of giving ten percent of your gross income, or the tithe. The amount was mentioned often in the Hebrew scriptures. Later, in the writings of the New Testament, it was never required to give a percentage of income. If anything, though, it was implied that what is given should exceed ten percent, through numerous references of laying down your life, or the story of the feeble widow who had given a relatively small amount, but had actually given all she owned.
And, even in popular culture, giving, of all things, is still a prerequisite for leadership. We want to know if a leader believes in the very principles he or she espouses, and does so with their own financial means. It is much easier to believe in someone who cares for a commitment, and readily supports it. (You can find current charitable contributions by the current candidates here and here.)
So again, I will not offer financial advice. But I will offer financial encouragement.
Give. Give more than you think you can. Sacrifice. Forgo a credit card necessity, and instead, give away money. And you may also find that your gift may make you happier than the items you’ve purchased on credit.
Giving is what we lay at the altar. It is the animal of the Hebrew sacrifices. It is what is most precious to us. And it is the purest act of faith and worship, for it is the surest way to test the existence of God, only to then to watch the return of what is the truest form of investment.