Save or Swim

DANGER: THIN ICE. Few people would ignore this advice and risk their physical safety. Yet when it comes to their finances, many Americans rush past the warning signs and disregard cracking sounds that signal danger. We consistently spend more than we earn €“ nearly half of America's families carry a credit card balance, owing on average over $2,200 each month.1 By living this way, we encounter unexpected threats to our financial peace, fail to reach our life goals, and experience additional stress in our marriages.

Surprises Hamper Us

Cars die at the most inopportune times. Furnaces quit in the dead of winter. Children require visits to the emergency room. On the other side of the ledger, companies "downsize" and leave us jobless. Extended illnesses prevent us from earning a paycheck. These are just a few burdens that most of us will eventually face. When we don't build a "rainy day fund" to protect ourselves, we stagger under the load of our monthly obligations. Unfortunately, most Americans find it too difficult to establish one:

  • Slightly over one-quarter of Americans report they have "no spare cash" leftover after taking care of essential living expenses.2
  • Only 41 percent of families say they regularly save.3
  • Just over half of households save at all.4
  • Americans as a whole spent more than they earned for the first time since The Great Depression.5

Our Life Choices are Restricted

Imagine the ability to travel to far-flung places across the globe. Imagine going back to get the education you've always wanted or investing in your child's future. Imagine taking a lower-paying job doing something you love. By neglecting to save, we fail to achieve our dreams, both now and down the road. While few of us anticipate toiling away at a fast-food restaurant or a megastore in our golden years, financial necessity can drive us there if we don't prepare for retirement. Kevin Lansing, Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, warns, "Failure to boost saving in the years ahead may lead to some painful adjustments in the future €¦.Today's workers could face difficulties maintaining their desired lifestyle in retirement."6

Our Marriages Suffer

You've likely heard that money is the top reason spouses divorce. Glenn Lutjens, a marriage and family therapist at Focus on the Family, maintains that couples burdened by debt do have an additional conflict that can create havoc in their relationship, but adds, "It's not finances that cause divorce, but unhealthy communication patterns and disagreement over spending priorities." A survey by researchers also reveals that partners who name money as their primary source of strife "have higher levels of negative communication and conflict than other couples."7 No doubt healthy finances don't guarantee that you'll never clash over money, but they'll definitely help you focus on your spouse, rather than your bank account.

While any of these problems may tempt us to adopt a bleak outlook, there is hope. Whether you're nervously perched upon the thin ice of financial instability or feel like you've already fallen into the frigid waters of despair, financial advisers such as Dave Ramsey ( and organizations like Crown Financial Ministries ( stand ready to assist those who are serious about putting their finances on a firm foundation.

1 €śRecent Changes in U.S. Family Finances: Evidence from the 2001 and 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances €ť at
2 €śLarge Number of U.S. Consumers Continuing to Live Paycheck to Paycheck €ť at
3 €śRecent Changes in U.S. Family Finances: Evidence from the 2001 and 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances €ť at
4 Ibid.
5 €śAmericans Have Negative Savings Rate €ť at
7 Stanley, S.M., Markman, H.J., & Whitton, S. €śCommunication, Conflict, and Commitment: Insights on the Foundations of Relationship Success from a National Survey €ť at

Background Information

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Other Things to Consider

Transitions: Changing Jobs, Moving

Relationships: Communication Gaps

Parenting Teens: Communication Problems