Monday Morning Minute

By Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, Charles Schwab & Co.

Key points

  • From overspending to under-saving, watch out for the most common money mistakes.

  • Steering clear of small mistakes now can mean big savings in the long run.

  • These 10 mistakes are easy to overlook but, fortunately, they’re also easy to avoid.

You may think you’re safe, but watch out for some common money mistakes. In fact, the reason they’re so common is that they’re so easy to overlook. But fortunately, with a little extra caution, they’re also easy to avoid. You’ve probably seen most of them before, but I think they’re worth a quick refresher.

1. Breaking your budget

Treating yourself is fine as long as you’re not living beyond your means. To create — and stick to — a realistic budget, first make a list of your necessary monthly expenses, including savings. How does this compare to your after-tax income, taking into account any infrequent but predictable expenses? Now you know how much latitude you have to add in the extra nice-to-haves. That way, your splurges won’t come back to haunt you!

2. Being unprepared for the unexpected

Unexpected expenses do creep up on you. It’s not a matter of if, but when. To prevent a bigger disaster, plan to set aside enough money to help cover three-to-six months’ essential expenses in an easily accessible savings or money market account. That way, you can be better prepared.

3. Getting buried in debt

While using credit can be fine and is certainly convenient, too much “bad” debt — like credit cards and other high-interest, non-deductible consumer debt — can be a nightmare. Be sure you don’t charge more than you can pay off each month and if you’re carrying balances, create a plan to tackle them right away. Start by paying as much as you can on the highest interest debt, while always making at least minimum payments on the others. Work your way down until your balances are paid off — and stay that way. On the other hand, “good” debt, things like your mortgage or student loans, can work for you if you manage them wisely.

4. Losing time on retirement savings

Outliving your money is a frightening prospect for anyone. So don’t waste a minute in starting to save for retirement. The earlier you begin, the lower the percentage of your income you’ll have to set aside each year. Contribute at least enough to your company retirement plan to get the largest possible match. (That’s free money!) Try to target saving at least 15 percent of your gross salary between you and your employer toward retirement (the maximum for a 401(k) in 2017 is $18,000 or $22,000 if you’re 50 or older; these amounts will go up to $18,500 and $22,500 in 2018). You can make it easier on yourself by putting all of your contributions on automatic. And to put this into perspective, retirement savings should come first — even before saving for a house or a child’s education.

5. Being under or over insured

Opting for minimal insurance coverage may save on premiums, but it could end up putting you in financial jeopardy. Not having enough medical, auto, homeowners/rental, or disability insurance could mean big bills when you’re least able to pay. As you shop for coverage, be sure to take full advantage of all your employee benefits — from health to disability to life insurance.

On the other hand, don’t be lured into buying insurance you don’t need. Typical insurance gotchas are things like life insurance if you don’t have dependents. Long-term warranties on appliances are also generally a waste of money. Also, check your credit card coverage before you shell out for rental car or trip insurance.

6. Investing without a plan — or not at all

Market volatility might have scared you off, but long-term investing in the stock market is still one of the best ways to help grow your money. The key is to invest in a diversified mix of investments that are appropriate for your time frame and your feelings about risk. That said, don’t try to time the market and don’t bet on a single stock. But if you want the potential for financial growth, definitely do start investing.

7. Taking Social Security as soon as you can, especially if you think you’ll live a long time

Don’t jump to collect Social Security benefits earlier than you need to. The earliest you can claim retirement benefits is at age 62. For those born between 1943 and 1954, the SSA considers your “full retirement age” to be 66. This terminology is a bit misleading, though, because your benefit will continue to grow about 8 percent a year until you reach age 70. The difference can add up to a considerable amount of money, especially if you enjoy a long life.

8. Putting off estate planning

To me, there’s nothing more frightening than not having a will naming a guardian for your minor children. Beyond that, the complexity of your estate plan will depend on your personal and financial situation. But if you don’t put at least the basics in place — Wills, Powers of Attorney for Healthcare and Financial Decisions, and Advance Health Care Directives (or a Living Will) — you may be leaving your loved ones with a web of difficulties.

9. Not asking for help

You may be bravely following your own financial path, but when it comes to your financial future — especially your retirement — it’s good to have a guide now and then. Talking to a financial advisor, at least occasionally, can give you a more realistic picture of where you are and the plans you need to put in place.

10. Keeping your family in the dark

Things are always scariest in the dark, and that includes your money. Even if you generally take the lead, make sure that your spouse or partner understands your finances and participates in all major decisions. And when it comes to estate planning, make sure any adult children, as well as relevant parties — financial advisors, tax professionals, attorneys, business partners –, know what to expect.

There’s really no mystery to avoiding these common money mistakes. Just be aware and alert. By doing so, you’ll treat yourself to a more secure financial future.


About LRPC’s Monday Morning Minute

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) Monday Morning Minute is crafted to provide decision-makers with important information about the economy, investments and corporate retirement plans in a format that allows a reader to consume the information in less than 60 seconds. As an independent, objective investment adviser, LRPC has access to many sources of research and shares the best and most relevant information with its readers each week.

About Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based independent, objective Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) providing investment advisory, fiduciary compliance, employee education, provider management and plan design services to retirement plan sponsors. The firm currently has contracts in place to provide consulting services on more than $400 million in plan assets. For more information, please contact Robert C. Lawton at (414) 828-4015 or or visit the firm’s website at Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser.

Important Disclosures

This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors and is not intended as authoritative guidance, tax, legal or investment advice. Each plan has unique requirements and you should consult your attorney or tax adviser for guidance on your specific situation. In no way does Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC assure that, by using the information provided, plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations. Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. The statements in this publication are the opinions and beliefs of the commentator expressed when the commentary was made and are not intended to represent that person’s opinions and beliefs at any other time. The commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC and should not be construed as recommendations or investment advice. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC offers no tax, legal or accounting advice and any advice contained herein is not specific to any individual, entity or retirement plan, but rather general in nature and, therefore, should not be relied upon for specific investment situations. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser and accepts clients outside of Wisconsin based upon applicable state registration regulations and the “de minimus” exception.