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Living paycheck-to-paycheck

Nearly 28.4% of Americans rely on their next paycheck to keep themselves afloat.

How long would you be able to manage your living expenses if you lost your job tomorrow? Would you be good a week? A month? A year?

Finder surveyed 2,060 adults to learn how long the average American could survive without an income. It turns out that approximately 72.4 million employed Americans — 28.4% of the population — say they couldn’t get along financially for more than a month if their payday wasn’t on the horizon.

And an additional 24.0% can survive between two months and six months. That means an estimated 133.6 million employed Americans, or 52.3% of the population, can live off their savings for six months or less before going broke.

On the other end of the savings spectrum is a cluster of 8.7 million employed Americans, or 3.4% of the population, who say they don’t have to rely on a rainy-day fund because they have some type of income protection

Making ends meet: Men vs women

Which gender among the 72.4 million Americans who’d blow through their savings within a month is better off?

Well, some 32.4 million women (26.7% of American women) say their savings would stretch at most a month, compared to 40.0 million men (29.9% of American men) who admit to the same. Of those people, 9.7 million women (8.0% of American women) say their savings wouldn’t even stretch a week, compared to 15.5 million men (11.6% of American men) who admit to the same.

The majority of employed Americans over the age of 18 say their money would last them six months at most. About 70.7 million men (52.8% of American men) and 62.8 million women (51.8% of American women) think they’d go belly up within six months of losing their livelihood.

Yet, the nest egg would sit around a bit longer before cracking for other Americans. About 18.3 million women (15.1% of American women) believe they’d survive for more than a year if their source of income ceased to exist tomorrow, compared with 13.1 million men (9.8% of American men) who believe the same.

How long could each gender live off of their savings?

Survive a week or less 10.0% 15.8%
Survive a month or less 33.5% 40.7%
Survive 6 months or less 64.9% 72.0%
Survive 1 year or less 76.4% 82.4%
Survive over a year 18.9% 13.4%
Have income protection 4.7% 4.2%

Which generation is waiting on payday?

Younger generations are the ones who look to payday most often to cover necessities. 31.9% of adult Gen Z-ers with a job can survive a week or less compared to 11.8% of the silent gen and 13.0% of baby boomers who say the same.

The oldest generations are able to last the longest off of their savings. 32.4% of the silent generation and 27.9% of baby boomers say their ready-money reserve could see them through a year without working. Compare that to only 5.6% of adult gen Z and 9.8% of millennials with jobs who say the same.

How long could each generation live off of their savings?

GenerationSurvive a week or lessSurvive a month or lessSurvive 6 months or lessSurvive 1 year or lessSurvive over a year
Gen Z 31.9% 53.1% 85.0% 90.6% 5.6%
Millennial 17.9% 41.7% 76.8% 87.9% 9.8%
Gen X 16.6% 37.0% 69.5% 81.1% 14.9%
Baby Boomers 13.0% 25.5% 52.7% 64.5% 27.9%
Silent Gen 11.8% 26.5% 45.6% 58.8% 32.4%

What are the top emergency expenses Americans should save for?

Some living expenses are unavoidable. Main expenses you should be saving for according to investment management company Vanguard include:

  • Housing. This is your mortgage payment, rent or any other cost that goes toward keeping a roof over your head.
  • Food. Setting aside enough money to nourish yourself and your family is a budgeting-must for everyday living.
  • Health care. Covers visits to the doctor or dentist, any type of health insurance and medicine purchased at the store.
  • Utilities. Keeping the water, lights, heat and gas on means putting enough money aside each month to cover these bills.
  • Transportation. Your method of getting around could include a monthly car payment, insurance, gas, public transportation or rideshare costs.
  • Personal expenses. Rather than think about entertainment and dining out, focus on building the extra cushion for that broken hot water heater or flat tire.
  • Debt. Avoid sinking your credit with timely payments on credit card bills, personal or student loans, medical debt and other bills.

8 tips to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle

Pulling yourself out of paycheck-to-paycheck starts with baby steps toward your savings goals.

1. Create a budget and stick to it.

Look at your monthly income against all of your monthly expenses. Add to them expenses you pay once or twice a year to avoid a surprise when they creep up. After you know where your money is going, you can allot specific amounts to different categories and effectively track your spending.

2. Start an emergency fund.

The goal is getting to a point where you’ve saved enough money to cover expenses for a month, and then six months and then ultimately a safer nine months. Consider setting up automatic deposits from your checking into savings for a set-it-and-forget-it nest egg.

3. Put money where it’s difficult to access.

To reduce the temptation of tapping into your savings, consider tucking away your automatic deposits into an online bank account or somewhere other than your main bank. Look for an account without a debit card for insurance against easy indulging.

4. Pay off or consolidate your debts.

Use any leftover cash from your budget to chip away at your debts. Many people claim success with the snowball, avalanche and other methods of paying down debt. Compare 0% APR balance transfer credit cards or debt consolidation loans to save on interest and simplify your bills.

5. Take up a side hustle.

You may be able to turn extra time into extra money by:

  • Driving for Uber or Lyft
  • Putting your skills towards freelancing
  • Selling your stuff online
  • Doing odd jobs
  • Renting out your apartment on AirBnb
  • Participating in paid surveys

6. Invest in your future.

If the company you work for offers a 401(k) or investment alternative, sign up for the opportunity to passively save for retirement — especially if there’s a company match. Start small with 4% and increase your contribution with future salary increases.

7. Shop around for stronger deals.

Compare cheap car insurance rates to see if you’re paying too much in monthly premiums. See if you can keep your grocery budget under a set amount by sticking to buying what’s on sale. If you get creative, you may find you’re squirreling away enough extra cash to get ahead of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.

8. Teach your kids strong financial literacy.

Start early by teaching your children healthy financial habits to set them up for success, helping them avoid the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle altogether. There are plenty of debit cards for kids designed to teach them finances, and some are even free.


Finder’s data is based on an online survey of 2,059 US adults born between 1928 and 2003 commissioned by Finder and conducted by Pureprofile in April 2021. Participants were paid volunteers.

We assume the participants in our survey represent the US population of 254.7 million Americans who are at least 18 years old according to the July 2019 US Census Bureau estimate. This assumption is made at the 95% confidence level with a 2.16% margin of error.

The survey asked respondents how long they could live off their savings if they lost their job with the possible selections of: less than a week, one week, two weeks, three weeks, one month, two months, three months, four to six months, six to 12 months and more than a year. We then extrapolated larger categories from that data, presenting the most relevant information.

We define generations by birth year according to the Pew Research Center’s generational guidelines:

  • Gen Z — 1997–2003
  • Millennials — 1981–1996
  • Gen X — 1965–1980
  • Baby boomers — 1946–1964
  • Silent generation — 1928–1945

Past surveys

Richard Laycock headshot

For all media inquiries, please contact:

Richard Laycock, Insights editor and senior content marketing manager


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Written by

Kyle Morgan

Kyle Morgan is SEO manager at Forbes Advisor and a former editor and content strategist at Finder. He has written for the USA Today network and Relix magazine, among other publications. He holds a BA in journalism and media from Rutgers University. See full profile

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