Personal finance can be overwhelming, especially when you know something has to change, but you don't know how to change it. Pitfalls creep in through daily habits, avoidance, and simple lack of knowledge, but they don't have to rule your money.
Everyone has his or her own weaknesses when it comes to finance. These 7 Deadly Sins of Personal Finance are some of the most common, but you can take control and find a straighter path.
Waiting to Save for Retirement
By its very nature, retirement may seem light years away. It's easy to think there's plenty of time to plan for it, but the sooner you start, the better retirement will be. The Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts explains, "The money one can save from 55 to 65 isn't nearly as important or significant as the money one could have saved between 35 and 55."
If you think your finances are too skimpy to add to a retirement fund, that's more reason to start saving early.
Waiting to Save, Period
Everyone needs savings. Whether you call it a rainy day fund or emergency backup, a savings account can rescue your finances if the unexpected should happen. Jobs are lost, businesses have off periods, freelance clients pay late, and vehicles break down three days after the warranty expires.
Your expenses don't have a pause button for times when income trickles in slowly or not at all. But a savings account with at least four months of income can carry you through the uncertain times.
Not Checking Your Credit
Your credit report determines a lot about what you can and can't do. Aside from the obvious, which is the ability to obtain new credit at a reasonable interest rate, people with low credit scores might have difficulty finding a job, or renting a house or apartment.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires all three major reporting agencies to provide consumers with a free credit report copy once a year. TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian have a central website, AnnualCreditReport.com, where you can get yours.
Discretionary Spending Run Amok
A soda here, a specialty coffee there, and five fast food lunches a week -- a lot of small purchases add up quickly. Discretionary spending is especially situated to wreak havoc on a monthly budget because the purchases seem so small on their own.
Even if a $7 burger lunch doesn't come dear, the weekly and monthly totals might equal more than a monthly bill that you plan for. Discretionary spending isn't inherently bad, just be aware of it and keep it in check. A few small changes could free up more money for savings.
Choosing the Wrong Investments
Investments are tricky, but some are safer than others. Given the choice between mutual funds and stocks, Jack Otter, the executive editor of CBS Moneywatch.com, says mutual funds win by a landslide. Michelle Singletary for the Washington Post explains that Otter's take on investments is safer than stocks. As an individual investor, you're up against major corporations, and the odds are not in your favor.
That said, not all individual stock investments are bad. Some risk can yield high gains. After some money is more safely invested in mutual funds, then you can weigh the risks and perhaps play the stock market.
Putting off a Budget
Knowledge is power, and people who don't have a budget only see part of the picture. If your bills are paid on time and there's money in savings, you might think it's unnecessary.
The truth is that everyone needs a budget. You'll see where your money goes, which can be a startling revelation, and be better equipped to make sound choices. Budgeting doesn't have to be difficult. The first steps might be a challenge, but once it's set, you only have to stick to it. The longer you resist, the longer you lack financial control.
Not Asking for Help if You Need It
Anyone can draft a rudimentary budget on paper. But if the goal is financial control, you might need help.
Poor credit scores don't have to be permanent, but some consumers aren't sure about how to repair them. A free credit counseling service can help with that. You might also need guidance when investing and planning for retirement. If you want a budget that does more than show what you earn and where it goes, it's time to look at the possibilities with Mint.com.
For almost every financial goal, Mint has a solution. Not only can you set up a workable, simple-to-use budget, you can keep track of everything in one place. Link savings accounts to your budget and watch your money grow. With alerts, you'll know when a bill is due so your credit stays tidy. Special budget features let you know when discretionary spending goes over-budget, and you can even keep an eye on investments.
There's no better time than now to take advantage of everything Mint has to offer. Sign up for free!