One-Third of High Earners Live Paycheck to Paycheck

Higher Income Doesn't Guarantee Fiscal Security

One-Third of High Earners Live Paycheck to Paycheck
May 20, 2015

If you are struggling to save money and think that a larger paycheck is the key to solving your problems, a new report suggests that may not be completely true. According to a recent survey by SunTrust (NYSE: STI), almost one-third of survey respondents making $75,000 per year or more live paycheck to paycheck on occasion, as do one-fourth of the respondents making over $100,000 annually. The secrets to saving are as much of a mindset issue as they are an income issue.

The survey, conducted by Harris on SunTrust's behalf, polled 518 adult respondents (ages 18 and over) in households that brought home a combined income of $75,000 or more. One-third of those households cited insufficient financial discipline as a reason that they do not reach their goals. The survey does not say how much overlap that has with the percentage of people that sometimes live paycheck to paycheck, but it's a solid bet that most high earners in a paycheck-to-paycheck situation have at least some lack of financial discipline.

The response to another question highlights the financial discipline aspect. Within the group that aren’t saving as much as they want to save because of their lifestyle choices, 68% said that expenses from dining out was the main reason for their lack of saving. The number was slightly higher among millennials (70%), but in general, this was true across the generations. Entertainment and clothing were also listed as reasons that saving was limited. These are all discretionary purchases related to fiscal discipline, regardless of income.

Do these results translate into long-term savings concerns? One-third of respondents living paycheck to paycheck say it probably does, and even some of those who are living more frugally have some concerns. Of the respondents from ages 35 to 44, 53% expect their savings will be adequate to help them live comfortably in retirement. Only 37% of those between ages 45 to 54 feel that way, suggesting that as one gets closer to retirement, either the optimism begins to fade or a realistic assessment of retirement costs sets in. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

The survey is part of SunTrust's efforts to get people to set positive goals, assuming that setting targets will help motivate people to save to meet those targets. The campaign plays on words by suggesting saving for "sunny days" instead of only for rainy days.

We think the folks at SunTrust are on to something. Fiscal discipline may be partly related to a lack of knowledge, but lack of willpower appears to be the largest culprit. Unsuccessful savings efforts fundamentally boil down to budgets. Either people aren’t making realistic budgets or they are choosing not to stick with them, and the SunTrust campaign is easing people into the concept.

Granted, it’s easy to accumulate debt through discretionary purchasing — but debt management is an important part of learning how to set a budget. If you have too much debt for the income you make, cut down on your spending and start paying down your debt. As you get used to the lower spending levels, transfer your debt reduction payments to some sort of savings.

Please consider following this philosophy if you are a high earner living paycheck to paycheck. It can be a difficult philosophy to follow, but it's certainly not complicated. While we appreciate your single-handed efforts to save the economy with your discretionary spending, let the rest of us carry the ball for a bit.

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