We’ve all made a financial misstep from time to time. This is especially true for people who are just starting out. The problem with money mistakes is that they can affect today’s finances and tomorrow’s, too. Even the worst money moves made in your 20’s can take months or years to fix, so it’s important to do what we can to avoid them. This will save you money, anxiety, and one of our other most precious resources: time.
Let’s talk about five mistakes you’re making with your money (and how to avoid or fix them):
For both beginners and experts, setting a budget and living within your means is one of the most important components of financial health and efficiency. It’s easy to lose control of your funds when you don’t have a solid budget in place. It’s just as easy if you have a budget and you’re not following it. When you take the time to create your budget, you know exactly where your money is going and you can easily identify the things that can be cut out, like old subscriptions or the gym membership you haven’t used in a year. It’s also easy to identify other areas where you’re overspending that may not be obvious at first. Those daily lunch orders really add up.
Financial experts suggest having enough emergency savings to cover three to six months’ worth of your living expenses. Yet, most adults in America don’t have enough to cover even one month. Not planning ahead can be catastrophic. If you don’t have emergency savings, you’re much more likely to rack up credit card debt or borrow money. What could have been covered upfront with emergency savings may now take years to pay off.
And if the thought of several months of savings is what’s scaring you off, it’s much simpler than it sounds. Start out by adding up all of your monthly expenses and calculating what you’ll need. From there, you can set monthly, weekly, or even daily goals to help you get there. There are plenty of financial tips and tricks out there that’ll help you when you start building an emergency savings fund.
Missing a payment or two may not seem like a big deal at first, but it may get you stuck in a cycle that’s difficult to get out of. When you make late payments, you’ll add late fees (and maybe some other charges, too) to your original balance. Each time this happens, you’ll fall farther behind. As this continues, the cycle can drag your credit score down and make it harder to get approved for things like credit cards, loans, and mortgages. Financial fees can knock you off track and make it hard to climb back on. Keep your new budget somewhere that you’ll see it so you don’t miss any payments. And consider cutting some unnecessary expenses to help you make on-time payments, too.
This is one of the biggest mistakes that beginners make. Credit cards feel easy because you get to buy now and pay later. This is a slippery slope. Credit cards should be used cautiously and for necessities. The balance should be paid off in full each month for you to benefit from them. When you’re in a rough spot and using your credit card is your only option, that’s one thing. But if you’re racking up debt to order takeout every night, that’s a different story. Paying off credit card debt (and avoiding it in the future) is a huge move in the right direction. And the first step is to stop using those cards altogether.
Checking your credit score regularly can help you in a few ways. First, it’s essentially providing you a snapshot of your finances. Here, you can see what you’re doing right and where you can improve. Are you making all of your payments on time? How much of your credit limit are you using? It should be less than 30% of your total available credit. Are there any errors? Errors can lead to denial letters for credit cards and loans and drive up the amounts you’ll pay if you are approved. Free services like Credit Karma allow you to check your credit score and dispute any errors you find. Second, watching your credit score go up as you eliminate your debt, make on-time payments, and use less of your credit limit can help you stay motivated on your financial journey.