Report: Over 60% of Americans Are Not In Their Best Financial Shape

If you're looking to see how your resolutions line up with ones your friends and neighbors may have made, you'd be in good company if your list included go-tos like to eat better, to get more exercise and to save more and spend less.

These may be expected, but what may not be – and we were surprised when we realized this – is that these three resolutions (four if you're an Oxford comma fan) are not just a list of things we imagine will help us create our better selves; they are also part of the same thread: health.

What people told us about money and their health

You may have already known that financial health and stress go hand-in-hand, but this health story is bigger than having stress about money.

Our "Aha!" moment came thanks to a stack of stats from a December online survey we conducted of 1,006 people, which gave us insights such as:

  • 37 percent spend more time thinking about their finances than their weight.
  • 40 percent said their finances keep them up at night.
  • 67 percent would rather cut back on spending than go on a diet.

The kicker: 88 percent said they think their financial well-being has an impact on their overall health. In other words, money is weighing on wallets and health for all but about 12 percent of the people we asked.

Managing money: we have goals

The headspace for all of this is kind of interesting. For example, 32 percent of participants described their financial personality type as having a goal and a plan, but needing some future proofing because something always seemed to pop up. However, 44 percent said their ideal financial personality type would be someone who’s cruising thanks to a balanced approach, but want to find opportunities to let their money earn its keep while still being accessible.

What we see here is hope. But the results also show the hurdles between who we are with our finances and who we'd like to be.

For example, budgets: Heard about them, love them or hate them, budgeting and tracking expenses can feel like pretty generic advice, but generic doesn't mean ho-hum: 59 percent said tracking and budgeting expenses was more stressful than activities like opening a new savings account or trying a new workout.

What we’d do to erase debt

If opening a savings account is stressful, we’ve got one number that may not be a surprise, and another that might: over 60 percent said they are not in the best financial shape they could be; and of the respondents who had credit card debt, 55 percent said they'd run a half marathon – 13.1 miles – if it meant they could erase a credit card balance.

Just think about this tradeoff: these may-be runners would consider running nonstop for anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, not including the time it would take to train for the race – a pretty significant effort to get rid of debt. (FYI, 67 percent also said they'd give up carbs for a year if it would significantly reduce their credit card debt and increase their savings.)

Credit card balances stayed about the same in 2018

As for how they’re ending 2018 compared to 2017, of those who had credit card debt, 59 percent said they have more or the same amount of credit card debt than they did a year ago.

Saving better in 2019 is just one common goal

Looking toward 2019, 36 percent said their list of resolutions would include financial ones and 30 percent said they'd be making fitness resolutions. In terms of follow-through, 31 percent said they expected they'd meet their financial resolutions, but just 23 percent thought the fitness resolution would stick.

Tracking spending looks like it will remain a point of tension in 2019; it made it onto the list of financial goals of just 23 percent of the people asked.

While budgeting, tracking and savings may feel like they are one and the same, they aren't, and the survey results show this. "Saving better" in the new year was a goal for 40 percent of the people we asked.

As for the debts being juggled, people have plans for that, too:

  • 31 percent said they planned to pay off their credit card debt
  • 11 percent said they plan to pay off their cars
  • 6 percent said they plan to pay off their student loans
  • 5 percent said they plan to pay off their mortgages

Commit to the year, not just January

How these will come to fruition was not part of the survey, but Elisabeth Kozack, Vice President of Product Strategy and Customer Experience at Marcus by Goldman Sachs, told us that the key to this is to have a plan to back up the desire to get something done.

"Resolutions are really about the long game: it's not just what we can do in January and February,” she said. “It's about making a plan we can follow through from one January to the next. Find a goal – a reasonable goal. Meet it and build from there."

If you are among the 40 percent looking to get better at saving, or are just curious about what it takes, look to sources you can trust and suggestions you can build on, like these financial fitness plans from Marcus.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.