NEW YORK (MainStreet) — While some experts say the economy is rebounding, a recent Pew Research survey says the majority of Americans are still struggling to keep up.

Out of 1,501 people polled, just 21% think the economy is in good shape, and only 22% think the situation will improve in the next year.

Our own personal economies look bleak as well, with almost half of people – 45% -- reporting at least one serious financial struggle in the last year:

  • 24% had trouble finding or paying for adequate medical care.
  • 20% struggled to cover their rent or mortgage payment.
  • 20% had a run in with a collection agency.

Out of those polled, 56% of people said their paychecks are falling behind the cost of living, while 37% say they’re just keeping pace.

That’s the bad news. The good news: you can beat this thing. Here’s how –

Change Your Mindset

If you need to lose weight, telling yourself you’re on a diet can backfire. You become hyper-focused on everything you can’t eat. Before you know it, you’re standing in front of the freezer, inhaling a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Using phrases like frugality, penny-pinching and budgeting can have the same effect on your finances.

“People are masters of their money or slaves to their money. People who are penny pinching are slaves to their money,” says Sharon Lechter, former council member of the President¹s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, and CEO of Pay Your Family First, a financial education organization.

Instead, trick yourself with a little positive thinking. “Go from I’m frugal or pinching pennies to ‘I’m saving,’" she says. "Don’t even use the word ‘budget.' Create a spending plan instead.”

Tackle Setbacks

“Most of us get paralyzed by fear,“ Lechter says. And financial setbacks are prime examples of fear. Calls from a collection agency, disconnection warnings from your utility company and eviction notices from your landlord can have a serious effect on your stress level and your confidence. Suddenly, you feel unsure of yourself. You wonder if you’re making enough money. You wonder what you’re doing wrong.

To get back in the groove, Lechter recommends picking one thing to tackle and going after it full force, even if it’s something small like paying off a your lowest credit card balance. After you beat that, pick something else to focus on. “Those little wins, those little steps can help you feel more confident around money,” she says. And when you feel more confident, you’ll do better going forward.

Quit Feeling Entitled

For some people, discerning between what you actually need and what you feel entitled to is problematic. When you feel entitled to have the things that you want, cutting back financially can be a struggle. Lori Atwood, a certified financial consultant and founder of Lori Atwood - Fearless Finance, LLC., has seen her clients struggle with this.

“What I generally see is a lot of ‘no,'” says Atwood. “‘Can you cut spending on groceries?’ ‘No, I need my sprouted wheat bread for my health.’ Millions of ways they cannot comply with your recommendations.”

When you feel like you have a right to something, you won’t be able to make cuts in your spending to save for future goals.

To change your thinking, Atwood says to be prepared to say ‘yes’ to cutting back on anything that isn’t a need. After all, “You are entitled to the peace of mind that comes with knowing you're not going to be bankrupt if you need a root canal,” she says. And that should be your focus.

Stop Tracking so Much

While your budgeting software may let you categorize everything from utility bills to individual rolls of toilet paper, all of that work may be pointless.

“[People] don’t understand why they should care about the relationship between their electricity bill and toothpaste purchases -- there is none, by the way," Atwood says. "It is too much information." 

And when you’re suffering from information overload, you’ll either spend more time trying to sort it all out, or get frustrated and quit tracking all together – and giving up on your spending plan isn’t something you want to do.

Instead, Atwood recommends tracking two types of expenses: your discretionary income and your grocery purchases—which she says are the two categories people always overspend on—and leaving the rest on autopilot. After all, your electricity bill, rent and car payments aren’t going to change much throughout the year. Recording those payments and crunching the same set of numbers over and over won’t help you.

To make things easier, put all of your discretionary purchases in one category and your shopping trips in another. At the end of the month you’ll easily be able to tell where you went over and how to cut back.

Keep at it

Whether you have student loans, credit card bills or a mortgage to focus on, remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“Make sure that regular payment is part of your spending plan,” Lechter says. Odds are, you won’t come into a windfall of money you can throw at the problem to make it go away. While we all love the idea of instant gratification, it doesn’t happen for most of us, but “you can get past it when you start focusing on chipping away each month,” she says.

And being on the other side of a big setback – or a series of seemingly endless smaller ones – is as good as gold.

--Written by Angela Colley for MainStreet