Rethinking the value of a day: How Americans measure time and money

Only one third of Americans feel financially free — but how they define that freedom varies considerably.

That’s according to a new survey conducted by OnePoll and commissioned by Experian.

A total of 2000 adults, across all generations, defined financial freedom most often as no debt (54%), a substantial emergency fund (33%), or the ability to pay bills for six months without worry (33%). One quarter said they’d just be happy not having to spend so much time concerned about their finances.

But the questions probed deeper. Time is money, and the majority of Americans believe the average day is worth $134 — outside of their jobs. The dollar amount is tallied from respondents estimation of the value of the time spent cleaning, cooking and driving. The average person spends about $35 a day.

Nearly four out of 10 say they wish they had an additional source of income, estimating an additional $270 a day would leave them financially secure. Without a side gig, that’s essentially hoping your boss approves a $34 an hour raise.

Of the 48% who feel financially restricted, 42% would love not needing to stick to a budget each month; 38% say they still monitor their bank account before or after every purchase and would like to stop. And 29% would just like an “excellent” credit score.

What does financial freedom mean?

Currently, the average American makes a salary of about $65,000 ($65,054.20) — only about two-thirds of the average salary they'd need to make in order to feel financially free ($102,950.10).

This may be why only 21% of financially restricted respondents actually hold on to hope that they’ll eventually be free. Those respondents estimate that freedom will come only about 10 years before retirement age, or around 54.

“While financial freedom can be defined differently for different people, the one common denominator is people want to live more financially empowered lives,” says Christina Roman, Experian’s consumer education and advocacy manager. “Financial literacy is key to achieving this. Accessing tools and resources that you can trust is the first step to increasing your financial knowledge and navigating your individual situation.”

Financial literacy is a fundamental tool for navigating personal finances. It involves understanding how money works, how to manage it, and how to grow it. Gaining an education about personal finance through credible resources can empower individuals to make informed financial decisions.

While there are many places available online to get free financial support and education, it's always best to seek out the support of professionals, especially when it comes to understanding the reasons behind spending habits or making plans for the future.

The burden of debt and financial restraints

The survey also looked at the debts Americans have. One quarter have no debt at all. Nearly half (47%) maintain a credit card balance. Surprisingly, only 23% have a mortgage or home loan, while vehicle loans and medical debt round out the top five.

The journey to being debt-free is not a short one. Respondents who hold debt estimate it will take an average of six years to fully pay them off — 7% feel strongly that their debt will outlive them.

The average American thinks about debt and finances about 120 times every month or roughly four times every day. This worry influences how many Americans manage their finances.

Three in five respondents have been more cautious about their spending habits in the last five years. Part of that is due to saving up for larger purchases, like a vehicle or a down payment on a home. Home renovations and family vacations also are popular reasons to cut back and save up.

The average respondent believes they'll be able to make those purchases within the next four years.

Steps toward a financially free future

In 2024, Americans are taking steps toward financial freedom, including working to pay off their debts (58%), spending less on nonessentials (50%) and putting money into their savings account every month (42%).

“Financial freedom is a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” explains Roman. “Whether you’re managing existing debt, building credit or saving for a house, it’s important to research and identify the steps that will put you on a path to becoming more financially independent and achieving your goals. There are resources for consumers looking to improve their financial health, regardless of what stage of the financial journey they’re on.”

The journey toward financial freedom is unique for everyone, requiring patience, strategic planning, and continuous learning. By understanding and applying financial management principles, Americans can improve their financial health and move closer to realizing their financial goals.

• This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

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