A recent Gallup poll revealed that Americans are among the most stressed people in the world. One of the largest factors? Personal finances related to income. This is true for military families, seemingly successful business owners, students, and masses of ordinary citizens.

According to Gallup, “Income…plays a role with worry and stress, with the lowest income Americans carrying more of the emotional burden than the highest income Americans. Nearly seven in 10 Americans in the poorest 20 percent of the population said they experienced stress the previous day, compared with less than half (48 percent) of Americans in the richest 20 percent. Similarly, 56 percent of Americans in the poorest group said they worried a lot, compared with 41 percent in the richest group.”

Basically, the poll indicates that while a larger number of poor people experience stress, even rich people experience it at a surprisingly high percentage. While there are countless influences that affect the financial situation of every individual and family in America, our culture has become one that accepts personal debt as if it’s a normal part of our lives—instead of the cancer that it is. We’re targeted with ads and marketing campaigns that make debt seem like the smart option that everyone else is embracing.

In some cases, wealthy people earn exponentially more than the typical poor person, but they’re often just as stressed and, in many ways, actually broke because of debt. The main reason is they don’t live within their means, even though they have a high-income level. The true issue is not necessarily where the money is coming from or how much is being earned, it’s how it’s being spent.

I’ve interacted with wealthy businessmen over the years in professional settings who shared their personal financial issues with me. In one case, a millionaire owned so many automobiles and homes that he put his company at risk by not spending money on important projects because his own money was tied up in excessive material items. I’ve known people who can’t afford to eat lunch some days because if they do, they’ll have their overpriced car repossessed for missing payments. Some people are so focused on stocking up on guns and ammo in order to “be prepared” they overlook the fact that if they lost their job tomorrow, they wouldn’t be able to afford the home that contains all of their gear.

Military families are particularly at risk if they don’t take the proper corrective actions due to the additional stresses that accompany deployments and separation. This affects our nation’s readiness.

We’re all guilty in some capacity of making a poor or impulsive financial decision that we’ve regretted later. But if you’re looking to cut back on some stress in your life, get a plan together to free yourself from the financial burdens weighing you down. Ultimately the change will come about by making small choices that turn into major victories. If you want to travel more, change careers to do something you enjoy, start your own business, or just enjoy life—take control over your personal finances. We live in the freest country in the world, but many of us are missing out on truly enjoying our freedoms and lives.

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