Americans Are Misguided on Essential Expenses – and it’s Hurting Them Big Time

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Some expenses in life are unavoidable, like housing, healthcare, and transportation. Others, however, can easily be minimized or eliminated without impeding our ability to function as humans. It's the latter point, however, that many Americans fail to grasp.

A good 61% of Americans say that vacations are a basic necessity, according to a new survey by TD Ameritrade , while 59% say that restaurants and takeout fall into the same category. But when we step back and think logistically, it's clear that while the aforementioned items are certainly nice to have, they're by no means necessities in any sense of the word.

Unfortunately, Americans are so convinced that they can't live without these items that they're willing to compromise their financial security in the course of enjoying them. An estimated 32% of U.S. adults admit that non-essential expenses like the ones just mentioned contribute to their credit card debt, while 48% of Americans say that paying for these luxuries impedes their ability to save for retirement. If you're in the habit of spending a bunch of money on non-essentials, and your finances are suffering for it, it's time to change your ways -- and your line of thinking.

Distinguishing between needs and wants

It's a simple concept often taught during grade school -- needs versus wants. Yet many Americans fail to make that distinction in practice, and it's hurting their finances. An alarming 60% of Americans don't have enough money in savings to cover a $1,000 emergency , and a big reason boils down to the fact that U.S. adults often won't hesitate to spend their very last dime on lattes , takeout, or impromptu getaways.

Americans' skewed outlook on essentials is also impacting their retirement savings . An estimated 42% of U.S. adults aren't setting funds aside for their golden years, and again, it's often because they're failing to prioritize.

Of course, some Americans are truly struggling financially, and these are the folks whose absent savings aren't due to overspending on takeout orders, tapas, and tropical villas. But make no mistake about it: A large number of working adults are spending money they can't afford to be parting with on non-essentials they consider important, and as such, are putting themselves in a precarious position in terms of both unplanned expenses and their future.

The solution? Start making savings a priority if yours don't look great right now. Chances are, that will mean cutting back on things like vacations and dining out.

Will that impact your quality of life to some degree? Sure. But guess what? So will racking up loads of debt the next time a financial emergency you can't pay for strikes, or running out of money during your senior years.

If you really can't live without your fun trips and restaurant meals, get a side hustle to pay for them, and start setting money aside from each paycheck off the bat for emergencies, retirement, or both. But don't blame your lack of savings on the fact that your income is totally maxed out, because unless you're truly only paying for basics, you're really just lying to yourself and hurting your finances in the process.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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