We all have savings goals, whether it's building an emergency fund, buying a home, or establishing a retirement nest egg. But if you're not careful, you could end up being your own worst enemy on the road to achieving those financial objectives. With that in mind, here are a few habits that'll prevent you from saving as best as you can. Consider yourself warned.
1. Not following a budget
Most Americans don't follow a budget despite the fact that it's one of the most effective money management tools in existence. But without a budget, you'll have no idea where your money is going month after month. And without that information, you're more apt to struggle with savings.
The good news? Creating a budget is easy. Simply list your monthly expenses, factor in one-time expenses (like your annual auto insurance payment or professional license renewal), and compare what you spend to what you earn. This will allow you to identify expense categories you can cut to maximize your savings efforts.
2. Spending more than 30% of your income on housing
An estimated 39 million Americans can't afford their homes, and a big reason boils down to taking on too large an expense from the get-go. As a general rule, your housing expenses should not exceed 30% of your take-home pay. If you're a renter, that threshold includes your monthly rent payment and renters' insurance. If you're a homeowner, it includes your mortgage payment, property taxes, and insurance premium. Sign up to spend more than 30% of your income on housing alone, and you'll have limited wiggle room within your budget, which means having less money available to save.
3. Falling victim to impulse purchases
Ever pass by a store window, notice a "Sale" sign, stop in to browse, and come out with $200 worth of goods? It happens to the best of us. An estimated 84% of Americans admit that they tend to succumb to impulse purchases, but if you don't learn to exercise self-control, you may come to find that your savings not only aren't growing, but are shrinking right before your eyes.
A better approach: Implement the 24-hour rule, where anytime you think of buying something that's not an ordinary purchase, you wait a full day before completing that transaction. This will help you better distinguish between items you really need and can do without.
4. Not banking your bonus cash
Some of us are lucky enough to get our hands on extra cash throughout the year, whether it's a commission at work, a generous gift from a relative, or an unexpected tax refund (technically, your tax refund isn't bonus cash, but that's another story). No matter the specifics, your first move should be to stick that excess money directly into the bank and resist the urge to spend it. Think about it: It's not every day that a windfall lands in your lap, and if you don't use it responsibly, you're basically throwing away a solid savings opportunity.
5. Not investing your money
If you're saving for a near-term goal, the best place to keep your money is in cash. But if you're saving for a far-off goal like retirement, you'll be doing yourself a major disservice by not investing your money. That's because a relatively conservative portfolio might easily deliver a 6% average annual return over a lengthy investment window, whereas a savings account, based on rates over the past decade and at present, might give you 1% a year if you're lucky.
How does that break down numbers-wise? Imagine you're able to save $200 a month for 20 years. Keep that money in the bank at 1%, and you'll be looking at about $53,000. Invest that money at 6% a year instead, and you'll wind up with $88,000. And that's a lot of potential extra cash to pass up.
Saving money is a matter of discipline, but it's also a matter of making smart choices. Avoid these mistakes, and with any luck, you'll be well on your way to meeting any goals you've set for yourself.