Editors' pick: Originally published June 30.It seems nobody can afford bad money habits. Whether talking about the very young or very old, experts agree that having good habits about money is essential to living well, avoiding financial worry and retiring comfortably.
But what are the habits of people who are good with money? Do they ensure that no penny leaves their grasp without fingernail marks? Do they buy bonds? Sell stocks? What?
Real consensus seems elusive. The non-profit National Endowment for Financial Education's Smart About Money program includes creating an emergency fund, reducing expenses and increasing 401(k) savings on a short list of daily decisions for people who want good money habits.
A U.S. Mint guide to teaching kids good money habits urges them to learn to shop sales, clip coupons and save up for big purchases instead of putting them on a credit card. A guide for workers distributed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises developing habits of budgeting, tracking spending and living within your means.
Although these habits seem to be all over the map, some patterns do exist. Individuals who work directly with people who have money often identify habits that are similar.
Living within their means, budgeting, tracking expenses, contributing to employer-sponsored retirement accounts and planning for major purchases are all on the list offered by Dara Luber, senior manager of retirement for TD Ameritrade.
Luber says people who are good with money also set up automatic monthly deposits into savings and pay off credit card debt as quickly as possible. "Individuals who are good with money often view themselves as more of a saver than a spender," she says.
So what about risk? Are people who are good with money risk-takers or risk-avoiders? "They are not averse to risk, but they understand what their risk tolerance and time horizon are and build their plan accordingly," Luber says.
Money-smart folks, it seems, don't put all their eggs in one basket, and then watch all those baskets carefully. "A financially responsible individual will have a multitude of savings and investing vehicles including a brokerage account, emergency savings account and retirement savings," Luber says. "They will check the performance of their 401(k) and IRA accounts regularly to ensure they are on track to meet their goals."
A different view of habits of people who are good with money comes from Tiffany Welka, a wealth advisor with VFG Associates, a Livonia, Mich. insurance and investments firm. Welka sees the separation between the money-wise and the rest of us as based partly on psychological differences.
To begin with, the money-smart don't get worked up about money. "They're almost sociopaths," Welka says. "It's easier for them to disregard emotional events that usually cause normal investors to worry and panic and sell. They watch their investments fall and shrug their shoulders, versus the other types of investors that panic."
Money-wise people also tend to think very long-term, Welka adds. "They care about time periods that most people can't really fathom," she says. "The longer term, the better, because most of the time you get a higher interest rate and other benefits that you don't get with shorter-term products."
When it comes to risk, those with good money habits have a two-fold approach, in Welka's view. A core portion of their wealth is kept in very safe investments. They only expose non-essential funds to volatility and risk. "They're not going to put everything they need into something that's risky," she says.
Awareness of and sensitivity to taxation is another habit shown by the money-wise. Average investors often look only for growth and may wind up paying more taxes than necessary, Welka says. People who are good with money include both tax and growth considerations. "They don't pay more than their fair share of taxes," Welka says.
If you're not quite sure whether you are or could be good with money, you might find a clue in how you handle other issues. Good money habits may tend to correlate with other good habits.
"We have found through prior research that people who consider themselves to be good with money display discipline in other areas of their life," Luber says. "For example, they take the time to ensure their health and wellness are up to par by regularly visiting the doctor and exercising."