According to a recent poll by the Canadian Payroll Association, 59% of 2766 people polled say they would be in financial trouble if their pay were delayed by just one week. It seems that most of us just aren't wired for saving.
It's hard to interpret exactly what this poll reveals. It all comes down to what the respondents interpret “financial trouble” to mean. For some it may mean bankruptcy, but for others it may mean a relatively minor inconvenience.
In my case I wouldn’t say that delaying my pay by a week would cause me real trouble, but if it happened at the right time, it might force me to write a cheque against a different account than I normally would. This is hardly trouble, but it could be a minor inconvenience.
Setting aside the question of how many people really are living hand-to-mouth, I’m not too surprised that many Canadians’ finances are in poor shape. I don't think that our hunter-gatherer history did much to prepare us for dealing with more than a day’s worth of wealth. There was no point in hoarding meat or berries. It would rot or others would steal it.
The idea of wealth that lasts for years is a modern phenomenon. It takes some rational thinking to make decisions about wealth; we're not wired to make these decisions well. Many people tend to focus on today's cash flow and let tomorrow take care of itself. Access to borrowed money can be a disaster for people like this.