If your relatives or close friends constantly complain about their personal finances or always experience money problems, you might vow with every ounce of your strength to never be in their situation. However, a secret to making sure your finances remain on the right track is learning how to recognize small money habits that can trigger serious money problems.
The truth of the matter is, the majority of us don’t have a manual for managing our personal finances. A lot of what we know about money is through trial and error. As young adults, we make a bunch of costly mistakes. And then we spend the next few years recouping from these mistakes. But you don’t have to learn smart money management the hard way.
Here’s a rundown of seemingly small bad money habits that can cause long-term financial problems.
1. Not budgeting your money
You may feel that budgeting money is optional, and rather than balance your checkbook and create a spending plan at the beginning of each month, you might go with the flow and hope for the best. This approach might work for now, but it can gradually cause problems with your personal finances.
If you don’t have a budget or spending plan, there’s no way to know for sure where your money goes. The risk of overspending is higher if you don’t budget. But understandably, budget might be an ugly word as it implies restrictions. However, if you take a look at your income, and compare this with your expenses, you’ll know with certainty how much you have available for extra spending each month, such as recreation, transportation and miscellaneous shopping. As a result, you’re less likely to overspend on non-essentials.
2. Keeping up with the Joneses
You may be independent and have a mind of your own, but when it comes to personal finances, you might fall for a common trap: keeping up with the Joneses — or more specifically, your relatives, your coworkers, your friends or your neighbors.
This might not seem like a big deal, but it really depends on how far you’re willing to go to give the impression that you have more than you actually do. Maybe you live in a region where a lot of the residents are high earners, such as New York City or certain parts of California. If your friends or coworkers have disposable income to shop on a regular basis, eat out several times a week or take nice vacations, you might feel pressured to keep up with their lifestyle. This is a costly bad habit that can lead to serious debt, and if unable to reign in spending, a bankruptcy attorney might be the only hope for getting your finances back on track.
3. Cosigning a loan
If you have excellent credit, friends or relatives may hope to benefit from your high rating — but don’t let them. It might be difficult to say no if someone you care about asks you to cosign a loan for them. But at the end of the day, you have to protect yourself. Therefore, you need to be realistic about the situation. Cosigning a loan or credit card is a huge deal, and as cosigner you’re equally responsible for any debt or balance the other person incurs. This person might agree to make every monthly payment, but there are no guarantees. And if this person defaults, guess who’s responsible for the payment — you.
4. Shopping to feel better
If you had a bad day at work, got into a fight with your best friend or broke up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, a little retail therapy might boost your spirits. But if you get into a habit of shopping whenever you’re feeling down, this can lead to serious problems with your personal finances. You might slowly increase your credit card debt, or you might spend money designated for bills.
Treating yourself to something special might provide immediate happiness, but it doesn’t last. So, look for other ways to lift your spirits when you’re feeling sad — cheaper ways. Go for a walk, explore your creative side or call up a friend.
Maintaining control of your money can protect your finances. But to do this, you have to recognize habits that can complicate your personal finances and make it harder to reach goals.