Most Americans aren't better off financially today than they were two years ago, according to new data from Bankrate. Despite the fact that unemployment levels are at a low, tax reform is in full swing, and the stock market, though on rocky ground this month, has seen some sizable gains over the past couple of years, just 38% of Americans feel their finances have improved since 2016. Meanwhile, 17% say they're worse off financially, while 45% feel they're doing about the same.
Not surprisingly, higher earners have the most positive news to report. A good 54% of Americans earning more than $75,000 think they're better off today than they were two years ago, but among folks earning less than $30,000, that percentage drops to 21%. If you're one of those people who's been at a standstill over the past couple of years, there are some things you can do to improve your finances -- even if you're not a particularly high earner.
1. Build an emergency fund
It's estimated that 58% of U.S. adults have less than $1,000 in savings. And that's a frightening prospect, since we're all advised to have a minimum of three months' worth of living expenses tucked away in the bank. Saving more money will not only bring you closer to that important goal but also give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing you're covered should an unplanned bill land in your lap.
2. Get a side hustle
If your finances aren't where you want them to be, an instant income boost might do the trick. And that's why it pays to work a side hustle, even if just for a few hours each week. Of the 44 million Americans who hold down a second job, 36% bring home more than $500 a month extra as a result. Having that additional money is a good way to not only boost your savings but buy yourself more financial flexibility in life.
3. Fight for a raise at work
Asking for a raise means putting yourself out there and subjecting yourself to a potentially uncomfortable conversation with your boss. But that's no reason to stay quiet if you feel you're underpaid. With the economy being in such a strong state, you should feel more confident than ever going after a salary you're worth, and as long as you do your research to determine what that number is, you shouldn't hesitate to ask for it if your current earnings are falling short. Incidentally, only 37% of workers say they've stepped up to ask for a raise, according to data from PayScale, but of those who do broach the topic, 70% succeed in snagging a boost. Therefore, it pays to, at the very least, have that conversation and see where it leads.
4. Put some money into the stock market
The past couple of years have been strong for the stock market, and while October has been overwhelmingly volatile, that's no reason to stay away. If anything, now's a good opportunity to buy some quality stocks on sale so that when things settle down and the market picks back up, which it's statistically likely to do, you have the potential to realize some nice gains. That said, don't expect to dump some money into stocks and cash out a few months later. The best way to profit from stocks is to invest in strong companies and hold onto those stocks for as long as you can -- ideally, 7 to 10 years or more.
If your financial picture hasn't changed much in the past couple of years, it's time to take steps to improve your outlook. It's a better bet than sitting back, doing nothing, and waiting for some sort of magic to happen.