Americans are the most cash-strapped among consumers in 38 international markets, according to an online consumer confidence survey taken in May by ACNielsen.

The survey, which gathered 21,000 responses from North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, found that 28 percent of U.S. residents claimed to “have no spare cash” after covering their monthly living expenses.

After Americans, those most likely to say they lived from paycheck to paycheck were residents of Portugal (24 percent), Brazil (23 percent) and Chile (21 percent).

At the other end of the spectrum, responses that some might consider counterintuitive found that only 5 percent of Russians said they had no spare cash at the end of the month.

Also surprising were the other markets with the lowest percentages of consumers who said they lived from paycheck to paycheck: Indonesia, Spain, Mexico, Ireland, India, China, Taiwan and the Philippines.

It’s important to note that the poll was taken online and thus reached only consumers who had access to the Internet, which probably means that people on the lower end of the economic scale were not proportionately represented.

But, Matthew Bell, a spokesman for ACNielsen, said: “The other factor to consider is that high incomes do not necessarily correlate with high levels of spare cash. Americans have higher incomes than people from most other countries, but they also carry very high levels of debt. As financial planners will tell you, it isn’t just how much you make that matters, it’s how you manage what you make that matters.”

Among Americans who said they had money left over after meeting basic monthly living expenses, the most likely use of that money was to pay off credit cards, loans and other debts, the survey found. Thirty-seven percent gave that answer when asked how they “normally” spent their spare cash.

“On a daily basis, Americans are exposed to two competing messages: “A strong economy is dependent upon strong consumer spending’ and “Your consumer debt levels are too high,”‘ said Tom Markert, ACNielsen’s chief marketing officer, in releasing the survey results.

“Historically, the first message has driven consumer behavior more so than the second one. Lately, it seems, the second message is starting to get some traction.”

Americans also ranked low according to how much they save or invest. The United States ranked 33rd out of the 38 nations surveyed in the percentage of survey respondents (37 percent) who said they put spare cash into savings, stocks, mutual funds or retirement accounts.

Only Brazil, Chile, Portugal, Poland and Greece reported lower savings rates.

The international markets with the highest percentage of consumers who said they saved or invested each month were, in order, India, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and Austria.

About 1,000 persons were surveyed in each of five nations: the United States, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. There were about 500 respondents from each of 33 other countries surveyed. The survey’s results had a margin of error of 3.3 to 4.4 percentage points.

The international consumer confidence results may be read online at

Are you living paycheck to paycheck?

To fight the paycheck-to-paycheck blues, financial planners recommend:

Create a household budget and stick to it. Avoid off-budget, impulse purchases.

Plan for periodic big-ticket expenses such as real estate taxes or insurance payments.

Set up an automatic savings plan with a mutual fund, bank or credit union and deduct savings from your paycheck before you can spend the money.

Invest in your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan if one is available to you; those pretax contributions lower your taxable income.

Reduce your high-interest debt by finding the best credit deal, consolidating your debts or working with credit counselors to lower your interest rates.

Live beneath your means. Eat out less often. Save to buy big-ticket items with cash. Shop at discount stores. Use coupons. Don’t buy into the “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome.

(c) 2005, The Kansas City Star.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-06-17-05 2016EDT

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