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More High Earners Are Struggling to Make Ends Meet: How to Build Financial Security

Sarah Sharkey Updated: November 6, 2023 • 3 min read
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Key Points:

  • 32% of American households earning at least $150,000 a year are living paycheck to paycheck.

  • 36% of American households earning between $50,000 and $150,00 are living paycheck to paycheck.

  • Many are leaning on credit cards to cover expenses, without plans to pay off the balance by the end of the year.

It’s easy to confuse a high salary with financial security. But the numbers from a recent survey make it clear that many Americans earning more than $150,000 per year are struggling to make ends meet.

Let’s explore why many high-earners are living paycheck to paycheck and how you can build your own financial stability.

Almost one-third of American households earning at least $150,000 per year reported living paycheck to paycheck.

Many High Earners Are Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Living paycheck to paycheck can be an uncomfortable experience. And it’s not a struggle you’d expect households earning over six figures to deal with. But almost one-third of American households earning at least $150,000 per year reported living paycheck to paycheck in a recent study by Quicken.

Unfortunately, this study indicates that paycheck-to-paycheck living is on the rise across all incomes.

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Financial Struggles of High Earners

The economy has taken us on a wide rollercoaster ride over the last few years. And it’s clear that many household budgets are feeling the strain. Below are some of the factors that are likely contributing to the pinch households are facing:

  • Inflation: Inflation has been pushing the cost of living higher in recent months. As the cost of basic living expenses increases, households are left with less bandwidth for savings.
  • Higher interest rates: The Federal Reserve has been steadily increasing interest rates in an effort to tame inflation. As interest rates rise, households holding debt with variable interest rates face higher debt payments. For example, the cost of holding onto a credit card balance is rising.
  • Lifestyle inflation: Many high earners choose to spring for some lifestyle upgrades. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. But it can get expensive quickly.
  • Limited financial literacy: A high income doesn’t necessarily come with higher financial literacy. Some high earners might not know how to efficiently manage their funds.

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How to Break the Paycheck-To-Paycheck Cycle

Whether or not you are a high earner, it’s time to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. The good news for high earners is that this process might be easier with a higher income at your disposal. Here are some strategies to help you build financial stability:

  • Evaluate your spending: Take a close look at your spending. Be honest with yourself about where your funds are going. An honest look at reality might help you spot the changes you need to make immediately.
  • Focus on your biggest expenses: Cutting out your coffee runs might help your budget. But you can likely find bigger results by focusing on bigger spending categories. For example, consider creative ways to save money on housing, food, and transportation. This might involve downsizing to a smaller home or trading in your vehicle for a less luxurious ride. You might be surprised by how much you can cut out of your budget.
  • Set up a debt repayment plan: If you have debt, those payments might be trapping you in a paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. Commit to making extra payments toward debt repayment each month. Consider starting this process by paying off your debt with the smallest balance first. If managing multiple payments is challenging, consider a debt consolidation loan.
  • Build emergency savings: As you start to see breathing room in your budget, build an emergency fund. A stash of emergency savings can help you pay for unexpected expenses that life throws your way. Consider opening a high-yield savings account to make the most of your savings.

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  • Build an investment portfolio: Saving money isn’t enough for long-term wealth preservation. As a high earner, protecting your wealth through a robust investment portfolio is an essential task. Consider investment diversification as a strategy for wealth protection.


More high earners are leaning on their credit cards to meet their financial responsibilities. Unfortunately, racking up a credit card balance is not a long-term solution to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.

The good news is that anyone trapped in a vicious cycle can take action. Start by getting honest with yourself about your spending and making any necessary cuts. As you move forward, start tucking savings into a high-yield savings account to avoid the need to whip out your credit card at the next unexpected expense.

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Written by Sarah Sharkey linkedin-icon

Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer with a Master's in Management from the Hough School of Business at the University of Florida. She enjoys helping people make better financial decisions and has written for numerous personal finance publications, including Money Under 30, Business Insider, and The College Investor. Sarah enjoys traveling, hiking, and reading when she is not writing.