Managing your money can be stressful, so good financial advice is always welcome if it makes the process easier. The only problem is, not all of the advice you hear is good advice. In fact, there are some very common tips out there that could actually lead you astray when it comes to smart money management.
What kinds of advice should you avoid? Here are four examples of tips you've probably heard a lot but may not want to follow.
1. Saving 10% of income is enough for a secure retirement
You've probably heard that you should set aside 10% of your income for retirement so you'll have enough to live on during your later years. Following this rule is tempting because it's easy to figure out what 10% of your salary is, but it's hard to know how much you'll actually need for retirement.
The problem is, saving 10% of income isn't likely to produce a large enough nest egg for most people -- especially if you start saving later in life. Instead of relying on a percentage rule, take a few minutes to determine how much income you'll require as a retiree and work backward from there to calculate how much of it will come from Social Security and how much savings you'll need to provide the rest.
2. Student loans and mortgages are good debt
Most financial experts divide debt into two categories: bad debt and good debt. Bad debt is debt you acquire for consumer goods or everyday living expenses, while good debt is debt that's supposed to help you improve your net worth -- such as student loan debt and mortgage debt.
The problem is that sometimes borrowing for a school or a home can lead to financial disaster. This can happen if you aren't ready to buy a home because you don't have a big down payment or an emergency fund, but you purchase one anyway. Or if you borrow to go to a school that's too expensive or lacks credentials, causing your income after graduation to not provide enough to repay your loans.
It makes sense to borrow for a home only if you're buying a property well within your budget and you're financially prepared for homeownership. And it makes sense to borrow for school if you're getting a degree that will boost your earning power. Otherwise, mortgage and student loan debt can be as much of a problem as any other type of debt -- or bigger if you end up getting foreclosed on your home or defaulting on your student loans.
3. Focus on cutting spending when your budget doesn't work
When you can't make your income stretch far enough to cover spending and saving, you'll probably find lots of advice about how you can slash your spending to the bone. But you can only cut so much. And if you try to strip all fun expenditures out of your budget, you probably won't be able to stick to it for a long time.
A better plan when you have a consistent budget shortfall is to look for ways to increase your income. This could mean looking for a better job, asking for a raise, or trying out a side gig in your spare time. You can increase your income an unlimited amount, so you're much more likely to be successful at making the numbers work if you focus on ways to boost your paycheck.
4. Paying off debt ASAP is always a good idea
Becoming debt-free is a good financial goal, and you've probably heard you should devote tons of extra money to paying off what you owe. The problem is, focusing on debt payoff isn't always a good idea if doing so comes at the expense of other important financial goals.
If you owe money but have no emergency fund, for example, you may be better off making only minimum payments on the debt until you've saved up at least a small amount for emergencies. Otherwise, any unexpected expense could leave you reaching for the credit cards again right away, creating a cycle where you start to climb out of debt but end up in deeper.
Likewise, you may not want to devote extra money to your debt if you aren't contributing enough to your 401(k) to get your full employer match -- or if your debt is at a low interest rate and you could earn a better return on investment by putting your money into the stock market rather than paying off debt early.
Instead of just defaulting to the conventional wisdom that aggressive debt repayment is a good idea, think about what else you need to do with your money and what priorities are best for you.
Consider financial advice within the context of your own situation
As these examples show, following common advice about money doesn't always make sense for everyone. While you can take expert opinions into account, always do your own independent research so you can make smart money moves based on your current financial situation.