If the titans of Wall Street can squander tens of billions of dollars on toxic investments, then it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that average investors (that's you) can screw up, too, albeit on a much smaller scale.
If you take the time to learn about some of the most common personal financial pitfalls, you're far more likely to avoid or overcome them.
Here are five common money mistakes and how you can rise above them:
Mistake No. 1: Careless spending and so-called "flexible" costs lead to a drain on your overall budget. If you feel like you're always stretched thin, there's a good chance the culprits aren't your essential monthly expenses (rent or mortgage, car payments, groceries, etc.). It's far more likely the flexible and non-essential costs of things like dining out, clothing and entertainment are setting you back month after month. Take a close look at how you spend your money. Keep a spending diary for a week or more, to be accurate, and consider using cash for your flexible expenses. People always tend to spend less when they're paying with cash. For long-term help, use our savings goals calculator at BankingMyWay.com.
Mistake No. 2: Failing to pay off credit-card debt. When you use a credit card, always pay your monthly bills in full. If you pay only the minimum monthly payments on your credit card bills, it may take years and thousands of dollars in interest to pay off the balance. If you find yourself already in the hole and struggling to reduce existing debt, cut the number of cards you use, negotiate a lower rate and/or no annual fee. And as soon as possible, pay off that balance in full.
If you have the money to pay off all of your card debt, contact your card provider and ask for a “payoff amount.” Chances are it’s a lot less than that big number on your credit card statement. If not, ask to negotiate a lower final payment. Card companies are starving for cash and are willing to deal. BankingMyWay has a comprehensive payoff credit card calculator you can use to figure out how much you need to pay, for how long, in order to settle your debt.
Mistake No. 3: Lack of savings in emergency funds. Especially in this economic climate, nobody likes to think about getting laid off or finding yourself suddenly unable to work for health reasons. That said, anything is possible. A good rule of thumb is to set aside three to six months of living expenses. You should also make sure you are properly insured, so your health and property are adequately protected in the event of an emergency. Easier said than done, right? If you don’t have the cash for a rainy day fund, cut spending or consider a part-time job. BankingMyWay's emergency savings calculator can help you plan.
Mistake No. 4: Cashing in a 401(k) plan when leaving a job. Tempting, sure, but a big mistake nonetheless. Regardless of any quick fix influx it may offer, spending the money in your 401(k) may cost you early withdrawal penalties and income tax. Plus, you forfeit the tax-deferred compounding of your 401(k) earnings. Never withdraw, even if you can't keep the plan through your former employer. You should always opt to roll your 401(k) into an IRA or some other retirement savings account.
Mistake No. 5: Putting your financial needs last. This is a big parental problem. Most moms and dads struggle to find the right balance between saving for retirement and funding their children’s education. Although your love and support of your children is wholly admirable, experts advise that it's far more important to make saving for retirement your top priority. College financial aid available is more available now than ever. (They don't offer retirement scholarships yet.) Start now by investing in a 401(k) or IRA.
When it comes to money, we all make mistakes. Learning from the experiences can save us from major financial heartaches and set the stage for major financial rebounds.