Becoming, and staying, part of the middle class is a lot harder these days. At one time, being in the middle class meant you were doing quite well financially. Nowadays, it often means you’re barely making ends meet.
In a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 85% of respondents who described themselves as middle class said they feel it’s harder to maintain a decent standard of living now than it was 10 years ago. Even a family trip to Disney World is becoming out of reach for many middle class families, as it requires months of planning, saving, and sacrifice. Nothing comes easy anymore.
Today, we live in a society of haves and have nots. You’re either doing really well, or you’re struggling to put food on the table. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground. Here are 11 secrets the middle class needs to know about surviving.
1. Accept child care help from friends and family
Average cost to raise a child: $233,610
One reason the middle class is struggling to survive is the high cost of child care. Raising a child can get expensive. Food, clothing, education, and other care expenses add up in no time.
A middle-income, married couple with two children is estimated to spend $233,610 to raise a child born in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you want to cut back on these costs, your best bet is to reach out to friends and family for help. Roughly 40% of upper-middle class parents surveyed by Zillow said they rely on extended family for child care, compared to 29% of low-income parents.
Next: The days of being loyal to an employer are over.
2. Change jobs
Average pay increase when changing jobs: 10% to 20%
If you stay at the same job for your entire career, you won’t make salary gains as quickly as you would if you left and sought employment elsewhere. If you stay at the same job, you can expect only about a 3% pay increase per year, according to research by WorldatWork, an organization for human resources and business professionals. However, if you decide to change jobs every couple of years, you can expect an average a pay increase of between 10% and 20%.
Next: Sharing is caring.
3. Seek alternative living arrangements
Number of millennials living with mom and dad: 22.9 million
If you’re single, who says you have to live alone? Don’t rule out alternative living arrangements, such as taking on a roommate or living with your parents or extended family members. As the cost of living continues to rise, living alone has become a luxury. You could also consider transitioning to a living situation where you reside in shared housing with a group of people. Known as co-living, it is a great way to save money (depending on the neighborhood you choose) and expand your social circle.
If you’re hesitant to stay a little longer with your folks, don’t worry. It’s not as much of a stigma as in years past. In fact, more millennials are living with their parents than with a spouse. Living with parents is the No. 1 living arrangement among millennials, according to Census Bureau research. In 2016, 22.9 million (31%) young adults lived with their parents.
Next: Stay focused.
4. Use work time wisely
Percentage of employees who shop during work time: 53%
One of the easiest ways to make sure you survive financially is to do your best to preserve your primary source of income. So if you find your mind wandering while you’re supposed to be working, don’t sit back and relax — or worse, shop online. Get up, and grab a cup of coffee or take a short walk around the office.
A Career Builder survey found a whopping 53% of employees use time at work to do their online shopping. This isn’t such a wise use of your time. If you’re caught, you’ll most likely lose your job. That means no money to pay for your little shopping spree. Nearly 1 in 4 employers say they’ve fired an employee for using the internet for non-work-related activity.
Next: Get what’s yours.
5. Take advantage of company benefits
Jobs requiring candidates to have a certification: 1 in 5
Don’t forget about some of the ways your employer might able to help you save some cash. If your company offers tuition reimbursement, for example, take a work-related course and learn something new. You’ll not only improve your knowledge in a particular area but also make yourself a more valuable employee. This way, you’ll put yourself in a position to possibly get a pay raise and promotion. Currently, 1 in 5 jobs requires candidates to have a certification in addition to the standard requirement of a bachelor’s degree, reported the Education Writer’s Association.
If you’re not sure about what your company offers, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The last thing you want is to shell out cash for a class you didn’t have to pay for.
Next: Trim the fat.
6. Take a closer look at your grocery costs
Average monthly grocery bill: Between $380.10 and $758.20
As most American families know, grocery bills can wipe out your budget. According to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a couple between the ages of 19 and 50 racks up a monthly grocery bill of between $380.10 and $758.20, depending on how frugal or liberal they are. For couples with children, the cost can rise as high as $1,268.10 per month.
Being more mindful about your grocery spending can significantly shave down your monthly costs. One way to do this is by going online to compare prices before actually going to the supermarket to shop for food. Most supermarkets feature online circulars. You can also look for inexpensive and healthy alternatives to pricey grocery items, such as meat and dairy.
Next: Don’t let your eyes do the shopping.
7. Don’t buy more house than you can afford
Number of households who can’t afford their housing: 39 million
This is a common piece of financial advice, but it can save you a lot of heartache. Think about it. Do you really need a six-bedroom home if only you and your partner will be living there? It’s wise to purchase a residence you can afford and that makes sense for your current living arrangement. Unfortunately, not a lot of people are following this advice. Close to 39 million households can’t afford their housing, according research from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Next: Think about tomorrow.
8. Find ways to save for retirement
Percentage of workers who participate in a retirement plan: 32%
Start saving for retirement as soon as you can. You might think you have time, but before you know it you’ll look up and be halfway through your career. One of the easiest ways to start saving is to contribute to your employer’s retirement plan. Sign up as soon as you’re eligible. Close to 80% of Americans work for an employer that offers a retirement program, however just 32% of workers participate.
Next: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
9. Find additional streams of income
Percentage of workers with a side job: 29%
When it comes to weathering financial storms, you should always be thinking about the “what ifs” in life. What if you lose your job? What if your partner loses his or her job? How would you make ends meet if you had to take a pay cut? The world of work is unpredictable. That’s why it’s in your best interest to have more than one stream of income. According to a Career Builder survey, roughly 29% of workers have a side hustle.
Even if you’re a good worker and everyone at your job likes you, that doesn’t guarantee employment. Some ways to bring in extra money are to start a side business, get a part-time job, or rent a spare room in your home.
Next: Don’t get stuck on the debt mountain.
10. Understand your student loan options
Amount of student loan debt held by those ages 60 to 64: $38.35 billion
If you’re having a difficult time keeping up with your student loan payments, you’ve got company. Surprisingly, even some baby boomers are still struggling with payments. Boomers have racked up billions in student loans, so they can help their children finance a college education. The 60 and older age group is now the fastest-growing segment of the student loan market, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
If you’re in a tight spot with educational loans, you don’t have to suffer in silence. There are plenty of repayment options available to you. It’s important to do your research because in certain situations you might even be eligible to have your debt completely discharged. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found 9 out of 10 borrowers who were at the highest risk of defaulting on their student loans were not enrolled in an affordable payment plan.
Next: Prepare for a rainy day.
11. Don’t neglect emergency savings
Percentage of Americans without savings: 24%
Last but not least, make sure to sock away as much cash as possible for emergencies. Things might be comfy for you right now, but it won’t always be that way. If you haven’t had a financial emergency, don’t get too relaxed about building a cash cushion. It’s just a matter of time before you run into a situation where you’ll need some quick cash. Roughly 24% of Americans age 18 or older said they have absolutely nothing saved for emergencies, according to Bankrate. If you want to avoid a total financial disaster, don’t become one of them.
Follow Sheiresa on Twitter @SheiresaNgo.