Carefully managing your money may not seem like fun, but becoming financially responsible will alleviate your stressful money worries and help you create a secure future for yourself. Unfortunately, many people make mistakes with money management that make it harder to accomplish important life milestones -- and could even lead to financial disaster.
Don't keep making money mistakes that set your future up to fail. Correcting these behaviors now will help you get on track so your finances are aligned with your priorities. Here are four huge mistakes you're probably making right now and how to change your habits.
1. Trying to live without a budget
Just 35% of people follow a strict budget and don't overspend on a regular basis, according to a survey by advisory firm Willis Towers Watson. Another 21% of survey respondents said they actively monitor their finances without living on a budget, while almost four in 10 people are either reactive spenders who spend according to events that arise or are impulsive spenders who tend to spend too much on a regular basis.
Budgeters are significantly less likely than reactive or impulsive spenders to have current or future financial worries. They're also more likely to pay off their credit card balances, and less likely to live paycheck to paycheck or have significant consumer debt.
You can become a budgeter by finding an approach that works for you. This could be as simple as a 50-30-20 budget, which caps spending on needs at 50% of income, spending on wants at 30% of income, and saves the remaining 20%. Or, if you have trouble saving enough and managing spending, it could mean making a detailed budget that gives a job to every dollar of income.
2. Failing to monitor your credit report
Half of all Americans haven't checked their credit report in the past six months, according to a 2018 survey from CreditCards.com. Among those Americans, 18% had never checked their credit report at all. Your credit report contains a wealth of important information about current accounts you have open, accounts you've applied for in recent years, and your payment history.
Not checking your credit report could mean missing signs of identity theft -- such as accounts on your report that you didn't actually open. Or there may be mistakes on your report, including late payments you actually made on time.
Incorrect negative information on your report could cost you the ability to get affordable loans, and could even interfere with your ability to rent an apartment or buy a car. Your insurance rates could also be more expensive, as insurers consider your credit as well.
Ideally, you should check your credit report at least once every four months, for free at AnnualCreditReport.com or with your bank if it offers the service. You can also use apps such as Mint, which allow you to keep regular tabs on your credit so you'll know right away if anything changes on your report that you need to address.
3. Not paying yourself first
Saving money is essential, but far too many people make the mistake of trying to save what's left over at the end of the month. The problem is obvious: Too often, you arrive at the end of the month and find there's nothing left.
Instead of putting your financial goals last after all your other expenditures, pay yourself first instead. Budget an appropriate amount to save each month for retirement and other goals, then have that money transferred automatically to a 401(k), IRA, or savings account as soon as payday comes.
Setting up automated transfers to savings accounts ensures the money you need to meet your goals isn't spent on other things. You won't have to worry about being responsible enough to keep spending low and remember to transfer spare cash every month -- you'll just live on what's left in your account after you've transferred the critical savings funds. If you get used to living on less by automating money transfers to savings, putting aside money becomes effortless and isn't something you have to think about.
4. Failing to set clear financial goals
The last big mistake is not having clear financial goals. Unfortunately, it's a mistake a lot of people are making. In fact, more than half of all Americans don't even know how much they need to save for retirement, much less exactly how much to save for all of the other things they want their money to accomplish.
You should have both short-term and long-term goals for yourself, and these goals should be specific. It's not enough to say you want to save for a home down payment -- you need both a desired amount and a deadline if you're serious about achieving your goal.
It's a lot easier to create a plan, and ensure you're on track, if you know you need to save $50,000 in two years, rather than aiming for a nebulous down payment amount at whatever point in the future.
To have the best chance at financial success, create a list of a few important things you hope to accomplish with your money. Set a timeline, figure out how much you need to save for each goal, and determine how much money needs to be transferred each month or each payday to hit your savings target. Then, try to work your budget so you set up an automated transfer for the requisite amount into a savings account.
If you find you don't have enough money to work toward your financial goals, make lifestyle changes -- including reducing spending and growing income -- so you can accomplish the things you dream of while still saving for your goals and needs.
Don't make these money mistakes
Avoiding these four money mistakes is essential if you want a satisfying financial life and more security. Take action today to correct any of these mistakes and you can get on the path to prosperity and financial freedom.