Here’s a little homework: ask a parent, grandparent or your older next-door neighbor about a financial regret they have. No matter who you ask, they’ll have at least one story to share. Somewhere in that story you’ll undoubtedly hear something along the lines of, “I should have known better,” “I didn’t know what I was doing,” or, “I didn’t think about the long-term.” In every story of past financial woe, there’s a lesson to be learned for those of us that have yet to make that misstep.
The following five financial decisions are ones that a lot of people (unfortunately) make, for one reason or another, and end up regretting down the road. This guide hopes that it will help prevent you from making the same mistakes as others and make the right changes towards a better financial future.
Decision #1: “I didn’t start budgeting soon enough.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that likes to budget, but it is a necessary step towards a brighter financial tomorrow. Arguably, the main reason people don’t budget soon enough is that they don’t know how to develop a budgeting plan or don’t understand what budgeting is for and how it can help them. Other people just can’t find the time to commit to sitting down and creating a budget. Unfortunately, the longer you wait to begin budgeting your money, the longer you’ll be investing your money poorly, which may hurt your financial situation in years to come.
Budgeting does take time, and there’s no way around that, but the exercise can be advantageous. When you sit down and look at where your money is being spent and to what degree, you can quickly find areas of over-spending that you didn’t even know were there. This allows you to free up some money and reinvest it towards other, more critical areas.
Decision #2: “I didn’t pay attention to credit card interest rates.”
A lot of people struggle with credit card debt. It’s easy to get approved for a card (or multiple cards) and tell yourself you’ll make payments later. By the time you look up from your spending spree to assess your credit situation, there’s a good chance you’re already amassing a suffocating amount of interest. You want to take a look at your credit card statement(s) to see how much interest you’re being charged each month. This will motivate you to pay the card off quickly, which will limit how much you spend on interest in the long run.
Decision #3: “I took a bad loan.”
Let’s first preface this section by saying there’s a difference between a bad loan and loans for bad credit. Bad loans can happen to people that have good credit, especially if they aren’t careful. Loans for people with bad credit may have higher interest rates and other stipulations, but that’s because it is a high risk for the lender. In either scenario, it is essential that you do a lot of research before getting locked into any loan. This was a struggle for older generations, as they were restricted by the lending institutions in their immediate area. Today, however, we have the Internet and online lenders, which not only means we have more options than past generations, but also access to more information about our potential lenders.
Don’t choose the first lender that promises you a loan. Instead, research some different lenders and see what past borrowers have to say about them. This will allow you to make a smarter and safer decision.
Decision #4: “I didn’t think about retirement soon enough.”
If you’re in your twenties or thirties, retirement seems like it’s lightyears away. It does for a lot of people. This leads many individuals only to begin thinking about retirement later in life. Unfortunately, this is after the point where you can make a significant dent in your retirement savings. The earlier you begin committing savings towards your retirement, the more you’re rewarded. In other words, putting $1,000 into your retirement savings at age 25 is a lot more impactful than even twice that amount at age 50. Thus, it is essential to begin thinking about retirement (and saving for it) as soon as you can.
Decision #5: “I wasn’t ready to have a financial emergency.”
Preparing for the unexpected is hard. And, you can’t guarantee that your preparations will even be enough, especially when it comes to the very worst financial emergencies. But, you should be making some effort to put money away into an emergency fund. It’s better to be caught with your pants down than to be caught with no pants at all! By placing a small, comfortable amount of money into an emergency fund each month, you’ll slowly build up enough savings for even the worst rainy days.
It’s smart to put these funds into an account that’s separate from your other savings, so you won’t accidentally dip into it for non-emergency expenses.
You want to make smart financial decisions throughout your entire life. Sometimes, to know how to make the right choices, it’s good to look at times when bad financial decisions were made. As always, learning from your mistakes (or the mistakes of others) is an integral part of growing and becoming a better and more responsible spender.