April 16, 2024

Inflation, economic instability and a lack of savings have an increasing number of Americans feeling financially stressed. 

Some 70% of Americans admit to being stressed about their personal finances these days and a majority — 52% — of U.S. adults said their financial stress has increased since before the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020, according to a new CNBC Your Money Financial Confidence Survey conducted in partnership with Momentive.

Anxious and uncertain about whether they can get a better handle on their money, some may be intimidated by the prospect of creating a budget or unsure of where to stash their cash to get the highest returns. Others may be wondering how to begin saving for retirement when they’ve gotten off to a late start. 

As part of its National Financial Literacy Month efforts, CNBC will be featuring stories throughout the month dedicated to helping people manage, grow and protect their money so they can truly live ambitiously.

“People are worried that the money they’ve saved won’t last and are worried they’re going to have to lean more on their credit cards and other sources of debt just to get by,” said Bruce McClary, a senior vice president at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. 

Higher expenses

The cost of the basic household expenses — rent, groceries and utilities — are all higher than a year ago, weakening consumers’ purchasing power. 

Nearly 60% of respondents cited inflation as the main contributor to their financial stress, followed by economy-wide instability (43%), rising interest rates (36%) and a lack of savings (35%), according to the survey of 4,336 adults, which was conducted at the end of March.

Bank failures weaken confidence

A former Woodmere, New York, branch of failed Signature Bank.

Newsday Llc | Newsday | Getty Images

The recent failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank and worries about the health of the U.S. financial system add to the uncertainty. Only 13% of adults said they are very confident in America’s banking system. About a third said the recent banking crisis made them much more concerned about their own financial security, and 42% said it made them somewhat more concerned. 

Increasing cost of debt

Financial security eroding 

A combination of higher prices for basic goods and services, increasing borrowing rates on credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and other debt, and little or no financial cushion is eating away at people’s sense of financial security. 

Only 45% of U.S. adults said they have an emergency fund. And, for those who do have emergency savings, about 26% polled said they have less than $5,000 saved.

High earners aren’t immune

Even those making $100,000 or more are feeling the squeeze, with the majority (57%) saying they feel financially stressed. About a third of people earning six figures said they are living paycheck to paycheck and more than a quarter said they have no emergency fund. 

“There’s almost no segment of the population that is untouched by the financial pressures that we’re experiencing more broadly at this time,” McClary said. 

What to do with a windfall

Fizkes | Istock | Getty Images

About a quarter of respondents said if they had $10,000, they would invest it in a combination of stocks, bonds and savings. Putting the money in a high-yield savings account was another popular option. Only 7% would invest in the stock market and the same percentage would spend the money. 

Meanwhile, just 4% of women compared to 11% of men would invest a $10,000 windfall in the stock market. Women are more likely to put that windfall in a high-yield savings account or a combination of stocks, bonds and savings, the survey found. 

Women more financially stressed than men

As a group, women are feeling more stressed about the personal finances than men, according to the survey, with 72% of them saying they are financially stressed, compared to 67% of men. Women are also more likely to report they are living paycheck to paycheck and have no emergency savings. 

Some women are also part of the so-called sandwich generation.

“They are juggling physically and financially with the commitments to their children and aging parents,” said Winnie Sun, co-founder and managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners, based in Irvine, California. 

Women tend to be savers and look for deals, but are more risk averse when it comes to investing.

Lindsay Bryan-Podvin

financial therapist

“We’re talking dealing with issues like long-term care facilities for a parent, while helping their child prepare for their college applications and figuring out how they will be able to pay for college,” said Sun, a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council. “It’s a lot of stress.” 

Lower pay and higher costs of child care may also add to financial stress for women. Another reason for the gender difference, experts say, may be the difference in financial education among girls and boys.

“Girls are taught about bargain hunting, the thrill of looking for sales, while boys are taught to take more risks and pursue entrepreneurial activities,” said Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, a Michigan-based financial therapist. “So when they grow up, women tend to be savers and look for deals, but are more risk averse when it comes to investing.”

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