Fixed Costs Are Driving Americans To The Poorhouse

annoyed girl

[credit provider=”Quinn Dombrowski via flickr ” url=””]

Thumb through any personal finance book written over the last five years and chances are you’ll come across at least a handful of chapters on how cutting daily luxuries like coffee and cable are the key to financial discipline. It’s that kind of finger-wagging criticism that’s rubbed so many hardworking people wrong –– the idea that they wouldn’t be in this position if only they’d watched less TV, traded in their car, or tried cooking more meals at home. 

In case you’re in need of a reminder of the bigger picture, Personal finance expert Helaine Olen nails the issue right on its ugly head in her forthcoming book, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry


“The problem was fixed cost, the things that are difficult to “cut back” on. Housing, health care, and education cost the average family 75 per cent of their discretionary income in the 2000s. The comparable figure in 1973: 50 per cent. 

And even as the cost of buying a house plunged in many areas of the country in the latter half of the 2000s (causing, needless to say, its own set of problems) the price of other necessary expenditures kept rising. The cost of medical services continued to increase at numbers far exceeding the rate of inflation with the price of health insurance doubling in the period between 2001 and 2011, even as that insurance required steeper co-pays and deductibles from families.” 

Couple that with the 40 per cent surge in the cost of raising a child over the last decade, and soaring college tuition costs, and you’ve got a recipe for financial disaster any average consumer would have trouble thwarting. 

Now, for the final blow: 

“At the same time, household income was falling. According to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, the median income for families in the 35 to 44 age bracket fell by 14 per cent between 2001 and 2010, from $63,000 to $53,900. This was not a problem of relative youth. Median income for Americans ages 45 to 54 fell from $66,800 to $61,000 in 2010.”

Need more proof? See how much it costs to be a consumer in the U.S. today >