How to Escape the Middle Class Trap

The working middle class is in danger. The rich are getting richer and the poor, well, poorer. All fingers point towards the rich for this alarming situation. I beg to differ. The middle class is responsible for endangering itself. If this is shocking to you then perhaps you are caught in the Middle Class Trap.

With the social pressure to appear successful and the media influencing us to live like the rich and famous, the tendency to look up the ladder and wish we were better and had more is common and normal. Whether you’re poor or rich, there’s always someone higher on the food chain to look up to.

It’s when people start living above their means and getting used to a standard of living they can’t afford that it becomes a problem. Oftentimes, it’s a series of bad decisions that make people unable to keep up financially. Because the middle class is perceived to have just enough buying power to live comfortably and afford a certain level of luxury, and due to its reliance on working hours for income to make ends meet, it is the most at risk of driving itself to the ground financially.

This is one of the reasons the middle class is slowly disappearing. It isn’t because the rich are stealing the money from the poor, it’s because those below the rich try to live like them. The definition of success perpetrated by the media and the pressure to be a part of this standard is extremely high. As a result, the middle class ends up living on loans and credit with little to no savings, living paycheck to paycheck in order to pursue a lifestyle they feel entitled to but can’t sustain.

When you live to pay off your maxed out credit cards, mortgage, car payment, and monthly bills — while continuously building an increasing amount of debts from buying more material, fancy dining and luxury items — you become poor trying to live like the rich. This is the Middle Class Trap.

The Trap is Treacherous

The more you earn, the more credit you can get, the more you can buy, and therefore the more debts you can amass. Should anything happen to your source of income, the consequences can be dire. Still, the people responsible for creating this situation are abusing their buying power without shame or fear of consequences until everything falls apart. Nobody forces you to waste your money on all this useless stuff and luxury but you chose to do so. And so, what is initially a decent purchasing power becomes hindered by the increasing overhead of debts.

It can get to a point where the income itself isn’t enough to make up for minimum payments anymore. The rich and society are not to blame for this. No amounts of salary increases, better work conditions, lower prices and easier access to luxury will solve this problem or save the middle class. This will only help the poor and middle class to spend even more and dig an even bigger hole for themselves.

I consider I have been in the lower middle class all my life. I’ve been near poverty and at times flirted with the upper levels of the middle class. I fell for it, hard. I worked very hard to drive myself down to ground financially without realizing it. It took a job loss and a fear of ending on the streets to wake me up. I knew very well I was to blame for my frivolous life style and that I would pay dearly for it. Instead of pointing the finger away, I look long and hard at my situation and decided to make a change for the better. I was determined to escape the trap and regain a quality of life.

Comfort and Instant Gratification are the Enemy

No matter how deep you fall into the trap, it’s possible to make it out. But you must make major changes. You have to be willing and prepared to be uncomfortable. Sacrifices must be made and your ability to self-control will be brought to its limits. If you really want to regain your buying power and living without stress, you must forego constant instant gratification and pleasure. Instead, focus on long term security and growing passive income. Every excuse you will come up with will keep you trapped. Prepare to give up what made you comfortable.

In 2015, I came up with a plan to escape the trap. I gave up nearly everything and sacrificed my life quality in order to build my way back up and clear out my debts. Over time, I managed to save enough money to clear it up and build a safety cushion. It was at this point that I stopped being stressed living paycheck to paycheck. That was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life and I’m glad I did it. This is like a diet. You don’t just stop once you’ve reached your goal weight. This is something you keep doing all your life.

It Doesn’t Happen Overnight

There are days where my urges come back, but I have learned to control my impulses enough to not give in to buying expensive stuff I don’t need. It doesn’t mean I became a miserable minimalist who lives in a shed with no electricity. I simply learned to be satisfied with less material, and not to be influenced by the pressure of my peers and society to determine my social status through my belongings. Going back to frivolous spending would be falling back into the trap. I’m much smarter than this and so are you.

Here are a few tricks I learned and applied in order to improve my situation and to help improve yours:

  • Consolidated all my debts to greatly lower my monthly minimum payments.
  • Gave up my condo in downtown Montreal for the cheapest place I could find.
  • Aside for a minimal survival budget, my entire salary went towards paying my debts.
  • Gave up my cable and any other monthly service I barely used if at all.
  • Reverted to the most basic phone and internet services.
  • Stopped buying anything other than the most basic necessities like food.
  • Didn’t go out to party or to restaurants instead choosing to do free activities and learn online
  • Sold every valuable item lying around that I didn’t use or almost never used and put that money towards paying debts.

I’m much better off than I was when I started in 2015. Did I escape the Middle Class Trap yet? No. I still have some way to go. I’m sharing my initial results here. I am looking forward to report further progress and new findings to escape the trap.

It’s Not Easy, but Keep Going

There is no excuse or exceptional situation that can prevent you from making it out of this trap. I won’t lie, it’s difficult. It’s like smoking or trying to lose weight. It’s hard to stop and it’s easy to go back to them in a moment of weakness. I’ve been there as well but I made it. It’s incredibly rewarding. What you think is stopping you doesn’t matter. If you’re willing to improve your life, you will find a way to make the sacrifices required to do so.

Start by identifying where all you money is leaking. Establish a plan to eliminate as many of these leaks as possible. Sell as much as you can if you have to and make life changing decisions to get back on track. What other tricks have you come up with to escape the trap?