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We're Getting Used to Financial Hardship

4 Ways Americans Can Shake Financial Hardship

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If you're a middle-class income earner fearing a slide into a lower economic demographic, take some steps to take to improve your situation.

A Pew Research Center says report says Americans who define themselves as "middle class" have declined from 53% in 2008 to 44%, an eye-opening figure showing how millions of average consumers have lost self-confidence.

Worse, the number of adults who admit they have dropped into a lower economic category (especially the lower middle class) has risen 15% from 2008 to 2014, from 25% of the country to 40%, Pew says.

Pew calls it a "shrinking of the American middle class" and says Americans have experienced a "lost decade" in terms of economic stability.

Another study from the American Institute of CPAs shines an even harsher light on the topic of personal economic instability. According to the IACPA, adults are actually getting more "comfortable" in their descent to a lower economic class, with 74% of those surveyed saying they are "worse off" financially than last year but have "grown accustomed to the financial pain in their lives."

"With slightly more than half of U.S. adults expressing little to no stress about their increasingly difficult financial circumstances, it seems that many Americans are reconciled to an uphill financial battle and that financial juggling and sacrifice will be a part of the foreseeable future," explains Ernie Almonte, chairman of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, which ran the study.

Almonte says Americans have a fighting chance to live comfortably.

"You can improve your situation through simple steps  many of which Americans are already being forced to do," Almonte says. "Creating a monthly budget, sticking to it and putting $50 a month into savings are small actions that can make a big difference over time."

Here is what he and the AICPA advises:

Watch your budget. Managing daily expenses can help separate your needs from your wants. "Tracking where your money goes and making sure that your spending doesn't exceed your income is the best way to stay financially healthy," the group says.

Take care on medical costs. Pay closer attention to medical costs, especially out-of-pocket health care costs, which can be largely dependent on the insurance provider you choose.

Save for retirement. Yes, money is tight all over, but you have to save for retirement, the AICPA says. The group advises estimating how much you'll need to save for your retirement by calculating your annual income in the last year before you retire and multiplying that by 16.

Get those student loans paid down. Any elimination of a debt is money in the bank for the middle class. Many people would to well to focus on student loan bills, which often come with higher interest rates. By getting rid of bigger, high-interest rate loans first, you take a critical step in getting your debt burden under control.

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