While bad financial decisions can set you back, it’s important to remember that mistakes can also be an opportunity to learn and grow. While you can’t go back and undo the things you’ve done (or do things you didn’t do), you can acknowledge where you went wrong and change your behavior moving forward.
Below, we look at some of the most common financial missteps people make, as well as what you can do to overcome them.
15 Bad Financial Decisions
Here’s a look at where things can go wrong, and how you set them right.
1. Not Paying Down Your Credit Card Debt
Just making the minimum payment on your credit cards each month can drain your pockets and damage your credit. The reason: When you carry a balance, interest keeps on building, making the total balance higher, and even more challenging to pay off. Debt also shows up on your credit report and can have a negative affect on your scores.
To break the pattern, consider putting any extra money toward the card with the highest interest rate, while paying the minimum on the rest. When that card is paid off, you can tackle the next-highest interest debt, and so, until you’re out of debt.
Recommended: Creating a Credit Card Debt Elimination Plan
2. Putting Important Financial Decisions off to the Side
Delaying important financial decisions, such as saving, investing, and paying off debt, can cost you money and put your goals further out of reach. A good way to stop the procrastination cycle is to break down your financial goals into small to-dos that feel manageable. You might want to set aside time once a month to check in on your finances and make one small change that can help you get closer to your goals.
3. Not Protecting Personal Financial Information From Fraud
Identity theft and financial fraud is all too common these days, and not taking a few steps to protect your personal and financial information can come back to haunt you. The financial damages caused by fraud can last for months or even years. What’s more, the recovery process usually isn’t easy, and may even involve working with the IRS or Social Security Administration to clear your name.
To protect your information, it can be smart to regularly check your credit reports (and report any suspicious activity immediately). You’ll also want to avoid entering your data on websites you don’t trust or giving your account numbers or social security number to someone who contacts you by phone, email or text.
4. Overspending While You Are Young
Overspending means you’re spending everything you earn (and not putting anything into savings) or, worse, you’re spending more than you’re bringing in. This can be a costly financial mistake that puts your goals further from your grasp.
To change course, you may want to take a look at the last three months of financial statements and assess exactly how much you are spending each month and on what. This can be eye-opening, and you may immediately see some easy ways where you can cut back. Any money you free up can then be put toward savings, and little by little, it will add up.
5. Not Having Any Backup Options
A recent Bankrate study found that 56% of Americans could not afford an unexpected expense of $1,000. Without an emergency cushion, many Americans are at risk of going into high-interest debt should they face an unexpected bill or any loss of income.
It’s generally recommended to have enough cash set aside to cover all your living expenses for three to six months. In some situations, this amount should be as much as 12 months. To get there, you may want to put a percentage, say 10 percent for example, of your monthly take-home income into a high interest savings account or online bank account (online banks often offer higher interest rates than traditional banks). If that doesn’t seem doable, it’s fine to start smaller and gradually work up.
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6. Paying High Amounts on Multiple Monthly Subscriptions
Subscription streaming services, box deliveries, and apps that bill on a monthly basis can add up to a significant sum. And, since these service providers typically bill automatically, you may not even be fully aware of what you are paying for each month, or that you may be overpaying for some of these services.
To cut down your monthly bills, it can be a good idea to go through your statements and tally up everything you are currently paying for on a recurring basis. Can anything go? Could you get a better deal on some of these services? It never hurts to shop around or call up a service provider and ask for a lower price.
7. Not Investing Any of Your Money
You may think you have to be rich or an expert on stocks to start investing, but this is a common money misconception. And one that can leave you ill prepared for the future. If you’re not making your money work for you in the market, it may be difficult for you to achieve your long-term goals.
While investing can be intimidating (and does come with some risk), there are easy ways to get started. If you don’t want to do the work of picking and choosing investments, for example, you might start investing with a robo-advisor. These are digital platforms that provide automated investment services based on your goals and tolerance for risk. Robo-advisors are typically inexpensive and require low opening balances.
8. Not Planning for Retirement
When you don’t plan for retirement, you forgo the factor of time that is key to achieving your goals. Giving your investments a long time to grow is vital to having a nest egg you can retire on. However, there is more to retiring than starting an IRA or contributing to a 401k. You’ll also want to consider when you want to retire, what kind of lifestyle you will want to lead, and how much money you will need. This can help you determine how much you should be putting away each month starting now.
9. Making Unnecessary and Frivolous Purchases
An iced cappuccino here, a pay-per-view there. These little extras may not seem like a big deal, but they add up. Consider that spending just $50 a week eating out costs you $2,600 a year. That sum could go a long way toward paying off your credit card or car, and help you make a big step toward achieving financial freedom.
To curb impulse buys and cut back on spending, you might want to set a weekly spending limit for “extras.” To keep to your limit, consider taking out that amount of cash at the beginning of the week and leaving your credit card at home. That way, when the money’s gone, you can’t spend any more.
10. Allowing Your Credit Score to Drop
A low credit score can keep you from obtaining loans, credit cards, housing, and even employment. Poor credit can also be costly, since the financing options available to you will be more expensive.
To start building a better credit profile, you may want to put all your bills on auto-pay, so you never make a late payment. Paying down any credit card debt can also be helpful, since how much of your available credit you are using also factors into your score. If you have an old credit card you rarely use, it can be a good idea to still keep that account open, since the length of your credit history is another factor that impacts credit scores.
11. Not Making Budgeting an Important Priority in Your Life
Budget may sound like a bad word. But not tracking how much money you’re making versus how much you’re spending can be a bad financial decision with many repercussions, including never getting ahead and feeling constantly stressed about money.
Practicing budget management on the other hand, can mean the difference between staying in debt vs. getting out of it, remaining in your apartment vs. becoming a homeowner, and working overtime vs. going on vacation. Convinced? You can start budgeting by assessing what’s currently coming in and out of your bank each month, and making a plan for how you want to allocate your income, making sure that some money goes to savings each month.
12. Financing for Purchases Rather Than Saving
While some purchases, such as a house, usually require financing, many others can be achieved through saving instead of going into debt. Whether you want a new laptop or a high-end refrigerator, financing can make that purchases more expensive. Plus, the ease of buying on credit can make you think you can afford a lot more than your income allows.
A wiser strategy is to determine what you want to buy, how much it will cost, and when you, ideally, want to get it. You can then start putting money aside each month and when you meet your goal, buy the item with cash.
13. Using Savings to Pay Off Debt
It may seem counterintuitive, but paying off debt with your savings is not always a good idea. Draining your bank account can leave you vulnerable to financial emergencies, causing you to plunge back into debt.
A better strategy is to use a debt repayment method such as the snowball method. This involves putting extra money toward the smallest revolving debt balance each month, while continuing to make minimum monthly payments on your other debt. When the smallest balance is paid off, you can move on to the next-smallest balance, and so on. This can help you start saving money right away and motivate you to keep going.
14. Withdrawing From Retirement Early
It can be exciting to watch your retirement account grow throughout your career. And, it can be tempting to want to touch that money before you are officially “retired.” However, taking early distributions from your retirement account can be among the worst money mistakes you can make. For one reason, you will likely have to pay penalties and income tax on the amount you withdraw. For another, you will lose the opportunity to continue making gains on that money.
Remember: The main benefit of a retirement account is to let your money compound and grow over time. When you take that money out, you lose that opportunity to secure your future and take a big step backward.
15. Falling For Money Scams
You may think you’re immune to money scams, but a recent study by the Federal Trade Commission found that younger people report losing money to fraud more than older people. Some common scams include:
• Fraudulent pet purchases
• Emails claiming to be from Amazon asking for new payment information
• Fake job postings requiring personal information and advance payments for training
• Fake loan forgiveness offers
To avoid unknowingly falling for a scam, you’ll want to be suspicious of any email or offer that seems too good to be true, and avoid clicking on any links in an email or text claiming to be from one of your financial institutions. A smarter move is to call customer service or log onto your online accounts to see if the information in the email or text is correct.
Tips for Recovering From Bad Financial Decisions
If you’ve made some poor financial decisions, it might feel embarrassing or scary. It can help to remember that one accident or blunder doesn’t spell doom for your financial state forever. Here are some ways you can start turning things around.
Acknowledging Bad Financial Decisions and Taking Action
Even if you’ve made one of the worst money mistakes, a smart first step is to simply acknowledge your misstep, take a step back, and – at first – do nothing. A rash attempt to fix a problem can actually make it worse. Once you’ve accepted and assessed the damage, you can put a recovery plan into action.
Taking Steps One at a Time
Repairing your credit or paying off a mountain of credit card debt won’t happen overnight. And, if you set our sites too high, you might be tempted to give up before you even get started. A better bet is to break your larger goals into a series of small, achievable steps. Each time you accomplish one of these mini-goals, you’ll likely feel a sense of accomplishment. This can motivate you to keep going and, little by little, make it to the finish line.
Do Not Shame Yourself, but Forgive Yourself
Everyone makes mistakes. Even if you have been doing your best, it’s possible to have a credit card balance get out of hand or have your identity stolen after you accidentally clicked on a fishing link in an email.
Forgiving yourself is crucial to your emotional health and will help you take positive action to undo your mistake. A bad decision doesn’t have to define you; instead, it can be something you learn from and overcome. The mental energy spent beating yourself up can be better used to help address the problem.
Improving Your Money Mindset
If you have a positive outlook on money, you will likely make better money decisions. Having a negative view, on the other hand, can keep you from setting goals and taking positive action. For example, if you think you will never get out of debt, you may not feel motivated to even try. However, putting a positive spin on the situation – that, with a plan, you will be able to one day be debt-free – can motivate you to start (and keep) attacking your debt.
Managing Your Finances With SoFi
Though everyone tries to do their best with their money, mistakes happen all the time. No one likes losing money, but it’s vital to remember that one, or even several, financial slipups can be overcome by keeping a positive mindset and taking the recovery process one step at a time.
If you want to gain better control of your finances, help is available. With a SoFi Checking and Savings account and direct deposit, you can earn a competitive APY on your money, take advantage of automatic savings features, and avoid paying any account fees.
What are the consequences of poor financial decisions?
Poor financial decisions can lead to a low credit score, lack of savings, and overreliance on debt. It can also make you vulnerable to financial emergencies and limit your access to loans and credit cards with favorable rates and terms.
Do bad financial decisions lead to bad financial habits?
Yes, if left unaddressed, bad financial decisions can lead to bad financial habits. Not putting money aside for emergencies, for example, can cause you to rely on your credit card to cover a large, unexpected expense, and lead to a cycle of high interest debt that can be hard to get out of.
Can bad financial decisions be overcome?
Yes, you can overcome bad financial decisions by recognizing where you went wrong and coming up with a realistic plan to address the problem moving forward.
Photo credit: iStock/bob_bosewell
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