If you have financial regrets, you aren't alone. In fact, a whopping 85% of all Americans wish they hadn't made certain mistakes with their money, according to a recent study conducted by Laurel Road. And most Americans share some common regrets.
The good news is, even if you haven't been perfect in the past, you can recover from most money mistakes with a little time and effort. In fact, there are ways to bounce back from each of the top five financial regrets Americans have.
So what are they?
1. Not saving more for retirement
Insufficient retirement savings was the number one lament of people who admit to money mistakes, with 40% of people who have regrets citing this as an error they wish they hadn't made.
Failing to save enough for retirement has serious consequences throughout your life. As you get older, saving only gets harder since you likely have more financial obligations. Without years of compound interest working for you, you also have to save much more each month. And if you end up with a savings shortfall as a retiree, you'll be left struggling to cover basic costs.
If you're just starting out in your career, you can avoid regrets by automating contributions to a retirement account. If you start young, a few hundred dollars a month is enough to grow a large balance over time.
If you're older and already have regrets, it's not too late to shore up your retirement accounts. Aim to max out contributions to tax-advantaged ones such as a 401(k) or IRA. And make catch-up contributions if you're 50 or over, even if you need to work a side gig or make drastic spending cuts.
If you're already in retirement, consider relocating to a low cost of living area and opting for an inexpensive used car or no car at all, if you can swing it. Downsizing your lifestyle will help your savings last.
2. Not saving more in an emergency fund
Failing to save more in an emergency fund was also a top money mistake. Thirty-eight percent of people with regrets said they wished they'd built up this account over the past several years.
If you're facing a financial emergency with no emergency fund, try to avoid debt whenever possible. See if you can pick up some extra work or sell unused possessions to cover surprise costs. If you must borrow, explore your options carefully. A credit card with a 0% introductory APR on purchases could give you time to pay for essentials without interest, while a personal loan could offer a lower interest rate than typical credit cards as well as a fixed date you'd become debt-free if you pay on schedule.
If you aren't already in an emergency situation, get serious about building your emergency fund now. Aim to save enough to cover between three and six months of living expenses. To get there, cut your spending and even consider a side gig or extra shifts. Better to build your fund now before you have to take these steps to deal with a dire emergency.
3. Not paying down more debt
Among those with financial regrets, 31% say they wish they had paid down more debt. Repaying debt relieves you of a financial obligation and allows you to avoid interest costs that eat away spare cash.
If you're still in debt, consider the debt snowball method to pay it off ASAP. This involves paying off the lowest balance first by making extra payments on it. Once you've retired that debt, roll over the payments to the one with the next lowest balance. Keep your snowball going until you're debt-free. You're more likely to stay motivated by quick wins as you repay each debt, even if you end up paying a bit more in interest by not prioritizing loans with the highest APR.
If you don't yet have this regret, avoid getting into debt by maintaining an emergency fund and living on a budget.
4. Not investing more in stocks or bonds
Investing is essential to put your money to work for you, so it comes as no surprise that 27% of people with financial regrets wish they had put more money into stocks and bonds.
This is easy to rectify by simply buying these assets. While there's a lot of market uncertainty at the moment due to the novel coronavirus, you don't have to try to time the market to wait for it to stabilize or hit bottom. Markets always go through cycles and if you invest in a mix of diversified assets on a regular basis, sometimes you'll buy at a low and sometimes you'll buy at a high.
If you aren't sure how to choose which specific company stock to buy shares of, purchasing exchange-traded funds (ETFs) with low fees enables you to build a diversified portfolio easily. Check out some of our model portfolios to get ideas of what to buy.
5. Not paying off a loan
Finally, failing to pay off a loan was cited as a mistake by 17% of people with financial regrets. If you're one of them, prioritize loan repayment by cutting other spending and sending extra money to your creditor. Paying more than the minimum enables you to reduce interest costs and become debt-free ahead of schedule.
Act today to avoid financial regrets in the future
While you can bounce back from financial mistakes, it's best to try to avoid future errors that you'll look back on with regret. If you make responsible financial decisions now and prioritize savings, debt repayment, and investing, your future self can look back and you'll be one of the small group of Americans who doesn't wish you'd done things differently.