Is the American Dream still within reach despite challenges faced in today’s tough economy?
With challenges from high tuition to stagnating wages, we wanted to know if Americans felt they could achieve financial independence. We polled over 1,100 financially active Americans to ask about their perspectives on financial independence and the America Dream.
Financial Independence & Debt. What does financial independence and the American Dream look like for families today? 70% of Americans believe you have to be debt free to be financial independent. How close are you to achieving independence? 43% say they’re not even close; 35% say they’re almost there; 17% are confident they have long-term stability; 5% are there now, but worry about the future.
What does financial independence mean to you?
For most people, financial independence is closely tied to indebtedness. The emotional and mental burden of debt holds you back from real independence.
“Waking up each morning to a new day with a spirit that feels free and light. No burdens of wondering where my money is going or worry if I will have enough to live a normal, carefree life.”
“I also believe I should be able to assist others, by participating in the meals ministry, giving above the Tithe, and being able to provide support without the emotional burden of debt.”
“I equate financial independence with a feeling of freedom. It feels great to pay your debts and still have money left to do whatever you want for you and your family.”
People also believe that savings is key to long-term financial independence. That includes savings for emergencies now and long-term savings for retirement.
“For me it’s taking an honest part in our household finances, being honest with my husband and being able to retire in a couple of years.”
“Financial independence means owing less than I make, but also putting money in savings and not having to touch it. It’s being able to deal with emergencies without debt.”
Aspiring to achieve the American Dream today
For the most part, people believe the American Dream still exists and that you can achieve it. The dream most people define still involves elements of the classic American Dream defined in the past:
“The American Dream is available to anyone willing to put forth the effort to get it. You can own a home, attend school and get a good education. Jobs are plentiful if you don’t mind working from the bottom up.”
“The American Dream is having a roof over your head, good health and happiness. I believe I have achieved it.”
“It’s having a home, family, savings for retirement, and still having some left over to enjoy life.”
However, people often point to debt as the most significant challenge standing between them and achieving the American Dream:
“It’s living somewhat comfortably and not stressing day to day, week to week, paycheck to paycheck. It mean haves a good roof over your head, something to drive, a decent job and friends and family to enjoy time with. Debt stress keeps one from achieving the dream.”
“I am working in the position I have always dreamed of having. We have our house almost paid for, with 2 of 4 kids through college so far. This is living happily. I do, however, have huge student loans.”
“The American Dream is achieving your goals in life, after years or honest hard work. I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’m trying to develop the financial discipline to achieve it.”
“The dream is to be debt free and be able to set money aside. I’m still in the process of achieving it. I’m getting my debts down so I can look into buying a home.”
Still others believe the American Dream hinges on a higher education and the right job:
“It means I’m able to live a financially stable lifestyle without worry that if something happens I could lose everything. I feel like the American Dream is still to be able to own your own home and car and not have to worry about finances. I haven’t achieve this yet, but I’m working towards it every day. I start an RN program I a new and once I’m done I’ll be one step closer.”
“It’s about being debt free and earning more than I spend and get taxed. I’m trying to build my business in order to clear my debt. Then I’ll have it.”
Doubt in the dream
While most feel like the American Dream is still within reach, others aren’t so sure. Debt and other roadblocks have left many feeling like it either doesn’t exist or it’s out of reach.
“I have given up on the America Dream. Despite being highly skilled, I can’t seem to get out of the hole I am in. The way it was for my parents is not how it is today. I have to settle for less. I am so overwhelmed with debt. I love what I do, but I’m dissatisfied with my situation.”
“Before individuals could work hard and be able to provide for themselves as entrepreneurs, In today’s time, employers dictate how we live, where we live, what we eat and do for recreation. No one has time to dream up ideas and pursue them. And politics now dictates that a “higher” education is required. I believe if individuals are allowed to succeed on merit instead of just on a fancy degree, the US would be a lot better off.”
“The American Dream is slowly vanishing, so that is not important for me. I just want stability in my life. No need for the latest model car or the house of my dreams. In essence those things are unproductive and distracting. I just want financial freedom, health, spiritual belief and family.”
“To mean it’s not having to worry about how I’m going to manage from paycheck to paycheck. I thought when we got our mortgage at a good interest rate that we were on our way. But I can’t get out of debt. Every time I get it paid, I keep having to turn around and charge back up for something else. I am sick of living like this.”
“In my opinion, the original version of the dream has morphed into something else. I’ve owned my own home, but we were so cash-poor we couldn’t afford repairs or improvements without credit cards. Presently I rent a 500-square-foot apartment and earn less than $30K even with two Masters Degrees. I face age discrimination when I apply for new jobs. It’s depressing if you think about it too hard. My new American Dream is that I will at least be able to afford a new car and a better place to live once I get out from under the burden of my last credit card debt.”