Money mistakes are very common. In fact, 76% of Americans responding to a recent Bankrate survey indicate they have some financial regrets.
Unfortunately, financial mistakes can make it harder to accomplish goals in the future. If you're currently making them, changing course ASAP is important. And if you haven't made them yet, you can learn from mistakes others have made to avoid them in the future.
So, what are the key things Americans wish they'd done differently when it comes to their finances? Here are six of them.
1. Waiting too long to start saving for retirement
Delaying retirement savings was the biggest regret for the majority of Americans, with 27% of survey respondents indicating this was the No. 1 financial mistake they made.
It comes as no surprise this mistake is the top one people wish they hadn't made. Waiting to save for retirement can put you at risk of running short of funds as a senior. It also means you need to save much more later on to end up with enough money for your golden years.
To avoid this mistake, start saving for retirement now if you haven't already. Even if you have to start small, saving something is better than nothing. And the sooner you start, the sooner your investments start compounding and growing. If you've already made this mistake, beginning to invest now will still help you to rectify it -- especially if you're willing to cut your budget or work a side gig to put away a larger amount each month in your retirement accounts so you can catch up.
2. Failing to save up a sufficient emergency fund
For 19% of Americans, failing to save up enough money for emergency expenses was their No. 1 financial regret. This mistake can come back to haunt you when emergencies inevitably arise. Research has shown the majority of American families face unexpected expenses each year, with median costs of these expenses around $2,000. If you don't have money saved for emergencies, and surprise expenses crop up, you could be forced to borrow to cover unexpected costs.
To avoid this, begin setting aside money for emergencies right away. Although your ultimate goal should be to save an emergency fund with between three and six months of living expenses in it, even a mini-fund of $1,000 or $2,000 can go a long way toward protecting you from bumps in the road.
If you're already facing a financial emergency, and it's too late to save, look into ways to avoid borrowing such as selling unneeded items to fund emergency costs. If you must borrow, try to find the most affordable way to do so -- such as a 0% APR credit card -- and pay off the debt ASAP.
3. Going into too much credit card debt
Sixteen percent of Americans said going into credit card debt was the money mistake they regretted most. When you've borrowed more than you can afford to pay back, you'll likely come to regret it because of high interest costs. Plus, money you have to devote to monthly payments can't be used for anything else, so you have to put off other financial goals.
Avoiding credit card debt simply involves limiting the amount you're charging to a sum you can repay when the statement comes. Living on a budget will help you to do that. If you're already in credit card debt, debt consolidation using an affordable personal loan or balance transfer credit card could help you to repay it faster, provided you have a payoff plan and are committed to not borrowing more.
4. Borrowing too much to go to school
Student loans are a major albatross for those who take on too much debt. Unfortunately, 11% of people indicate that borrowing too much to go to school is their biggest financial regret. While student loans may seem like good kind of debt, you're likely to end up regretting taking them out if you've borrowed more than you needed, or if the degree you earn doesn't enable you to earn enough to easily repay what you owe.
To avoid this mistake, research job opportunities in your field, and avoid going to school for a degree unlikely to pay off. Explore scholarship opportunities and work-study programs whenever possible, and borrow only the amount you absolutely need to fund your education. You can also consider a community college or school close to your parents so you can live at home to save money.
5. Failing to save enough for your children's education
Many parents wish they hadn't left their children unprepared for college costs, with 10% of survey respondents indicating their biggest regret is that they saved too little for their children's education. Unfortunately, sometimes parents in this situation could feel forced to borrow or to compromise their own retirement security to pay for college -- which can compound your regrets and make your financial situation much worse.
This mistake can be avoided by beginning to save in a college savings plan as soon as your kids are born, or as soon as you possibly can. If it's too late, help your children qualify for federal student loans in their own name. If you want to borrow yourself to fund your children's education, make sure doing so won't jeopardize your own future, especially if you have a limited amount of time left to prepare for retirement.
6. Purchasing a home that's not affordable
While a home can be a good investment, homeownership isn't always a blessing. For the 7% of Americans who indicated that buying an unaffordable home was their biggest financial regret, their home likely wasn't one of their best purchases. An unaffordable home could result in foreclosure, or it could make accomplishing other financial goals more difficult due to high housing bills.
You can avoid this error by making sure you keep your total housing costs below 30% of your income. Buying a less expensive home and saving up a larger down payment can help you do that. If you already own a costly home, consider downsizing or getting a roommate to help you cover the costs.
You can fix your financial regrets
The good news is, when you identify the errors you've made in handling your financial life, you can often correct them. If you've saved too little or waited too long to save, you can take steps now to cut your spending and set aside more for the future.
Knowing what you've done wrong is half the battle, so take the time today to identify your own financial regrets as well as a way to change course going forward. Now is the time to start, as you don't want to be looking back facing the same financial regrets again in the future.