It’s a common question asked during Presidential elections — are you better off now than you were four years ago? Being used by both political parties, the question implies the impact of the government on both our successes and our failures. While government policies do have an impact on our employment opportunities, taxes and the cost of most of American life, ultimately consumers must take responsibility for much of their financial condition. How the question is answered is a matter of perspective and how you define ‘better off.’ Are you better off? Your answer will depend on a few factors:
Expert vs. Personal Perspective
Economists and financial advisers take your total income and expenses to calculate the bottom line and use that number to give a diagnosis of your financial health. If your income dropped in the midst of an economy with rising fuel, food and general cost of living expenses, your financial health would be seen as ailing. An expert’s prediction of a harsh financial future, unless you make some changes, would be wise to take into account.
When you do your own analysis, you may be kinder in accessing your financial health. How you feel about your own situation isn’t as cut and dry as numbers on a spread sheet. You may be bringing home less, but it may inspire you to live a simpler life. You may be ‘better off’ when you stop making non-essential purchases and eliminate habits that cost more than you realized, like that daily cup of coffee from the drive-thru.
It’s about emotions as much as financial security
Whether you see your situation as ‘better off’ than four years ago has much to do with how the rest of your life has been impacted by your finances. Money can’t buy happiness. Your emotional state can instill a sense of dissatisfaction no matter how much money you have:
- Worry: If you stress about how you’re going to pay your bills, even when you make enough to cover those debts, your emotional state is sabotaging reality. Learning to accept your current situation while working to improve it will result in better days.
- Insecurity: If your job that is under threat of elimination, it would be hard to see your life as better off. And the same is true for your housing situation if you’re facing foreclosure. In today’s volatile political environment, insurance offers an important source of security; those who go without may not see their life as ‘better off’. Without health insurance, we’re more susceptible to financial crises.
- Stagnancy: Being better off includes having a sense of purpose. If your job provides little creativity, you will be less satisfied with your life, in general.
Being ‘better off’ is about more than an adequate paycheck. It’s being paid for a job that is meaningful to you, another matter of perspective. One person is fully satisfied as a hotel maid, while another person finds purpose in managing a bank – perspective. How is your job satisfaction compared to four years ago?
Relationships are seldom considered a factor when the question of being ‘better off’ is asked. But the health of your personal life has a direct impact on your financial health. People who struggle to maintain a relationship often use money as a tool and end up in financial trouble. Divorce, for example, is one of the most destructive financial blows that can happen to two people; it lowers living standards and results in a sense of dissatisfaction.
Keys to being ‘better off’
The obvious start is to get your finances in order by working to pay off debts and begin investing for the future. Keep spending at reduced levels, shop carefully, save for large expenses, learn do-it-yourself home improvements and enjoy local vacations.
Variety is the spice of life and the key to a sense of satisfaction. Finding purpose in all areas of your life – home, work, athletics, place of worship, etc. will help change your perspective to one that focuses on the good things in life and less on what’s missing. Volunteer in ways that help those in need and you’ll be rewarded with a sense of well-being no matter what financial struggles you may be experiencing. You may not be rich in income but wealthy in relationships, ideas and experiences.
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