The Average American Makes 91 Financial Fails Per Year. Here's How to Avoid Some of the Big Ones

Now that's sobering.

Maurie Backman
Maurie Backman
Feb 4, 2019 at 5:03PM
Investment Planning

Life offers a host of opportunities to mess up financially. You might head out shopping in search of milk and eggs only to come home with $80 in apparel unexpectedly. Fail. Or, you might pledge to pack your own lunch for a week, but instead get tempted by the smell of the delicious deli down the street from your office. Fail.

Like it or not, it's pretty easy to fail financially, whether it relates to overspending or not being mindful of our savings. But new data from ValuePenguin reveals that the average American experiences about eight occasions where he or she makes a poor financial decision each month. All told, the typical American suffers 91 financial fails each year, which can easily lead to a downward spiral of money-related upheaval. Here are three key areas where U.S. adults are falling down financially -- and what to do about them.

The word fail stamped in red letters


1. Not saving enough money

An estimated 38% of Americans fail by not saving enough money on a regular basis. How much is "enough?" Generally, you're supposed to sock away 15% to 20% of each paycheck for either emergency savings or the future (you should focus on the latter once the former is dealt with). If you're not currently hitting that goal, one of the best things you can do is create a budget for yourself. That way, you'll see where you're spending too much and where you have room to cut back.

For example, if you're supposed to be saving $200 a month as per the aforementioned formula, but you're only saving about $20, you can look at your budget and figure out where that missing $180 is going. Maybe you're blowing it on rideshares and takeout, or you're using it to pay for a cable package you hardly ever use. Mapping out your expenses will help you improve your savings game, thereby eliminating some of the fails you might have previously fallen victim to.

2. Spending more than you earn

An estimated 20% of Americans regularly spend more than what their paychecks deliver. Clearly, that's a recipe for disaster, because without savings, that excess spending is going to come in the form of credit-card debt. And that can be costly, not to mention damage your credit score for a long time.

Once you have the budget we just talked about set up, you can see where you're overspending and buckle down on non-essentials, like restaurant meals, non-work clothing, and leisure. And if you've truly pared down your spending and are still exceeding your earnings, you might need to boost your income. That doesn't mean marching into your manager's office and demanding a raise (though asking for one nicely might help), but rather getting yourself a side hustle. That way, you'll have extra money on hand to cover the expenses your regular paycheck can't.

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3. Not saving for retirement consistently

You've probably heard that it's important to save for retirement on a regular basis. But are you actually doing that? An estimated 69% of working adults aren't contributing to an IRA or 401(k) consistently, but when you fail to fund whichever of those accounts you have, you not only limit your savings, you also lose out on the growth the money you should've contributed would've produced.

Remember, the money in your retirement plan doesn't just sit there, doing nothing. It gets invested, and from there, it usually grows into a larger sum. And since you're not liable for taxes on your investment growth along the way with an IRA or 401(k), you get to reinvest that growth and turn it into even more wealth.

If you're not in the habit of saving consistently for retirement, do yourself a favor and automate your savings. Sign up to have a preset amount of each paycheck allocated to your 401(k), or find an IRA with an automatic savings option and initiate a similar arrangement. The key is to make sure that money lands in savings right off the bat, so you're not tempted to spend it elsewhere.

No matter how many financial fails you've been known to make in the course of a year, you should pledge to reduce that count going forward. If you adjust your approach to saving and spending, you're more likely to meet your goals than fall short and feel bad about faltering.