Remember when homeownership essentially made up the backbone of what constituted the American Dream? Not so much anymore.
Traditionally, the American Dream has been defined as owning something—be it a home, land or even a business. But, a joint survey results from the National Endowment for Financial Education and The Street, which surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. adults in late June, showed that retiring comfortably had overtaken homeownership as the new American Dream, with 47 percent of those polled stating the former was their most important financial goal. The latter garnered just 17 percent in comparison.
What The Street’s poll also discovered is that 57% of Americans feel like they were achieving their idea of the American Dreams, while men were more likely than women to believe they were achieving the American Dream (62 percent versus 53 percent of women). Retiring early and paying for a child’s education both garnered 5 percent when speaking about the financial goals of Americans. Other goals included paying off college loans and having money to invest (both received 4 percent); and starting a business or owning a car (both garnered 3 percent).
The poll also showed that 70 percent of Americans felt believed that the largest barrier to obtaining the New American Dream was an inability to save. The second most popular reason named in the survey was the inability to manage debt. Survey results also differed by region: 79 percent of those living in the Northeast and the Western states were the most concerned about obtaining the new American Dream as a result of an inability save. In comparison, just 69 percent of those living in the Southeast felt the same way, while 66 percent of those in the Central and Midwestern states felt the same way.
Making Your Version of the The American Dream a Reality:
Whatever your version of the American Dream is—be it saving for retirement, home ownership, or paying down your debt—setting reasonable goals is the first step towards making your dream a reality. Saving has become increasing difficult to do, especially given the sort of challenges facing people in today’s economy, but that doesn’t make it impossible.
1. Determine Your Life Values: According to the NEFE, people’s concerns in life center around four basic LifeValues: the inner (our desire for freedom, independence, and control of our lives), the social (our ability to bond with others), the physical (the concern with physical health, wellbeing and material possessions) and the financial (our beliefs and feelings about money). With respect to the last value, most individuals are concerned with whether they have enough money, how long their money will last, and how appropriate their financial decisions are. This is regardless of one’s education level or affluence. Those more concerned with how long their money will last typically have more abundant bank balances, according to the NEFE. To find out where there is room for some improvement in your life read more about each LifeValue and take a quiz where you stand on the spectrum.
2. Make a Budget: Budgeting is perhaps the most important step towards taking charge of your financial freedom. Having a good idea of where your money is going with each paycheck can help you figure out which expenses are unnecessary and can be eliminated. Once you have an idea of what your wants are (a new pair of high-end shoes) versus the things you actually need to pay for (electricity, food, rent or mortgage payments), you can eventually figure out how much you can afford to put aside in either a savings account, toward debt payments or in a retirement account.
3. Set Realistic Goals: It’s easy to spend money, but it’s always more rewarding the spend money on something you’ve had your heart set on for a long time (this is where having a budget works out well). For those non-necessary expenses like the trip to Fiji you’ve always wanted to take or expensive dress you’ve been eyeing at the store, setting a financial goal is crucial. If you’re goal is simply saving money for rainy day then determine what your magic number is and take reasonable steps to get there. Sure, you may experience some roadblocks along the way, but once you reach your particular goal all that hard work will definitely pay off. There’s a big reason that the American Dream has shifted so much, especially in recent time. Inflated property values is part of the reason our economy is as beat up as it is today. The most recent recession also ate away at about $2 trillion in retirement funds in 2008. Whatever your financial objectives are, having a full and realistic understanding of not just your finances, but your particular relationship with money can ultimately help you realize your particular version of the “American Dream.”
Carolyn Okomo is a personal finance writer and the Tuesday columnist for MyBankTracker.com. You can follow her tweets @CarolynMBT.