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Are Americans Responsible With Their Paychecks?

By Daniel B. Kline - Updated Feb 13, 2018 at 3:11PM

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Many are making short-term decisions that do long-term damage.

Nearly 8 of 10 American workers, including 10% of those who make more than $100,000 a year, live paycheck to paycheck, according to an August report from CareerBuilder. In addition, almost 75% of workers say they are in debt today, with more than half saying they never expect to be debt-free.

Those are bleak statistics caused in some cases by many people simply not earning enough money to cover basic needs. You can't save or dig yourself out of debt if you don't make enough to cover food, shelter, and other necessities.

In some cases, though, workers know they're not making sound financial decisions. In fact, a new report from shows that nearly 1 in 4 Americans knows they are spending their paychecks in irresponsible ways at least some of the time.

A close up of a paper paycheck.

A lot of American workers make irresponsible decisions when it comes to spending. Image source: Getty Images.

How bad is it?

On the positive side, the survey of 1,000 employed Americans showed that 52% of respondents feel that they spend their paycheck responsibly "often" while 25% checked off "always." Only 1% said they never spend their paycheck responsibly while 4% said "not often," and 18% answered "sometimes."

That's 75% of Americans who at least occasionally know they are making a poor decision as to how to spend their paycheck but do it anyway. When one does opt to make that irresponsible purchase, it's often not a small one.

Women reported that their average irresponsible purchase cost $1,273 while men beat that at $1,510. Those numbers include the nearly 10% of the total who bought a TV at an average price of $2,000 as well as 6.5% committing $1,631 to a trip, and 4.1% who spent an average of $19,358 on a car they knew they could not afford.

Of course, not every irresponsible spending choice is a major one. Clothing (6.2%) was the third most popular irresponsible purchase and dining out (5.9%) was fifth.

Why are people making bad choices?

Buying something you can't afford or spending money you need for rent or a utility bill makes no sense, yet it's something that commonly happens. The report showed some insight as to why people make irresponsible spending choices. The top answers show that many people partaking in these bad choices feel that they deserve to be irresponsible.

  • To have fun or improve mood -- 15.1%.
  • Impulsiveness -- 10.3%.
  • An urge to spend or shop -- 10%.
  • Living beyond means -- 9.6%.
  • To enjoy dining out or food -- 9.3%.
  • To self-reward -- 8.3%.

Workers are clearly making bad decisions knowingly in order to receive in-the-moment gratification. That's easy to understand in an economy where more than half of workers expect to never be debt-free.

You're compounding your mistake

Spending money you don't have or can't afford to spend makes it even less likely you will ever get to the point where your budget loosens up. Irresponsible spending is either paid for by not having necessities (a situation that's not sustainable) or borrowing to cover shortfalls (likely on high-interest credit cards).

Not eating or having a roof over your head is obviously not a viable long-term option for anyone. Borrowing only makes sense if a shortfall is temporary. If you're about to get a raise or otherwise increase your income significantly then short-term debt may be understandable.

If that's not the case then being irresponsible may feel good in the moment, but it's going to make it harder to ever get above water. By being disciplined and forgoing short-term pleasures you increase your chances of having long-term financial stability or success.

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