8 Ways to Tell If You’re Living Too Close to the Edge

We’ve all had those scary moments when we’re cruising on the highway and suddenly realize we’re driving a little too close to the road’s edge or another vehicle.

Emergency lanes and buffer zones are there for a reason. They provide drivers with extra room and a little time to correct themselves before something terrible happens.

Managing money is no different. To reach your destination safe and secure, you need the financial equivalent of seat belts and airbags in place. Do you know how you’d handle an unexpected medical emergency if it came up today? How many months would you be able to keep up with your mortgage if you were to suffer a layoff from your job next week?

There’s no such thing as an emergency-free life. And when inevitable troubles come up, you can’t afford to face them without the shock-absorbing power that can only come from consistent budgeting, wise investing and a big, healthy emergency fund.

How can you tell if you might be living too close to the edge? To find out, take our quiz. Your answers should give you a pretty good idea whether you’re staying in your lane or veering into the danger zone.

1. How often do you find yourself living paycheck to paycheck? If you regularly run out of money well before payday, that’s a red flag.

2. Do you borrow to cover routine expenses? If this is happening, look for ways to add margin in the budget.

3. Is your emergency fund running on empty? One thousand bucks is the bare minimum you should have here. Anything less than that is like driving on bald tires. Eventually you’ll want to upgrade to a full three-to-six months’ worth of reserves.

4. Are you a regular budgeter? Expecting financial success without budgeting is like thinking you can get to an event on time without even knowing the address. You’re going to be running late, assuming you ever even arrive.

5. What kind of plan do you have to reduce debt? The brand-new car you bought might get you from point A to point B for a time, but that shiny vehicle isn’t getting you anywhere if you’re unable to invest because of large payments.  And no amount of airline miles is worth the hassle and pain of carrying around high-interest credit card debt.

6. Where are you in your progress toward retirement? This one’s non-negotiable. Absolutely everyone, including you, will someday find it necessary to stop working. Pretending otherwise is not an option.

7. Do you know the types of insurance and coverage you need? There are some life events that can’t be navigated in any other way than through the use of insurance. Be sure you have adequate auto, life, health and disability insurance in place today.

8. Gut check: Does the thought of money give you a peaceful feeling or a wave of heart palpitations? Sure, there’s a range of more moderate responses to money talk, but be honest about how it makes you feel. Many Americans are suffering from money stress, and that’s a sign they need much more margin in their lives.

How are you feeling after taking the quiz? If you’re as confident as ever, good job! But if you have more worries now than you did before taking it, you’re not alone!

Being broke is normal in America. We’ve found that Americans send about a quarter of their monthly income to consumer debt payments, 70 percent live paycheck-to-paycheck, and nearly two-thirds would be unable to cover a $1,000 emergency without borrowing if it happened today.  That’s a lot of people living way too close to the edge.

But there’s good news you can put to good use: You can improve your financial outlook today. SmartDollar participants, start by taking our wellness survey here. Once you have your score, review the Baby Step lessons that can get you moving in the right direction, putting some healthy distance between yourself and the edge. If you have trouble logging in, please visit our Help Center.

If your company does not offer SmartDollar as an employee benefit yet, read more about bringing SmartDollar to your organization here.