Sometimes, when I look back on the way I handled money in my 20s, I want to smack myself. During that time, I built up a lot of debt — so much it led me to declare bankruptcy. My poor money management almost ruined my life.
When I really think about my attitudes toward money in my 20s versus my 30s and now my 40s, they are so different. My 20s were about spending, my 30s were focused on building up my finances and now in my 40s I’m busy enjoying them. As I look back, I noticed that I fell into some pretty common money traps.
Perhaps you, too, have fallen victim to one of these money traps. Here, I’ll share the most common ones to avoid before it’s too late.
1. Instant Gratification
We often decide we want things because they work in the moment. Look at dinner out. If you don’t feel like cooking, you go out to dinner. But the convenience of letting someone else cook for you is a trap.
To learn your own money traps, you need to create a spending plan. A spending plan can help you identify where you every cent of your money is going. Once you’ve learned how you spend, you can better determine what to cut back. (Here are 50 things to stop wasting your money on.)
2. Not Having (Or Ignoring) Your Budget
Some buy into the myth that if you have a budget, you won’t get to spend your money as you’d like. Don’t fall for this trap. Your budget is your money road map, and you get to plan your route every payday. That means you can determine the exits and detours your money will take. If you want to go out to dinner this week, no problem — just include it in your budget.
However, a budget is never “one and done” — it should be evaluated every month. The reason to look at your budget is that your spending and circumstances may change. Perhaps the cost of food went up or you received a raise. That will affect how well your budget is working.
Once a month, try to set aside time to go through your budget and make sure it still works. Update the bills and your income as needed. Make sure you still account for every single penny. If your salary has gone up, now is the time to increase your debt payments or your savings account. (Here are some quick ways to boost your emergency cash cushion.)
3. Falling for Sales Gimmicks
You see something on sale and feel you should get it. After all, it’s on sale, so you’ll be saving money. Right?
Not so fast. When you purchase something simply because it’s on sale, you’re often spending money you would not have otherwise. Before you buy the item, ask yourself if it’s something you’ll need in the next three to four weeks. If not, it might be best to pass.
While you’re at it, avoid store sales tactics such as two-for-one offers, purchase limits and quantity discounts, which encourage you to spend more.
4. You Love the Word Free
Free is one of those words that many find hard to ignore. It makes you feel as if you are getting something special. However, free does not always mean free.
For example, stores often offer free financing offers. These are tempting because you can either make no payments on your new furniture for six months or get your new television set interest-free for 12 months. The truth is, for most, that “free” period will cost more than they realize. Let’s look at both scenarios.
If you purchase something with no payments for any period, you can make the purchase and not have to worry about your budget. But what you may not realize is that you will still accrue interest on that outstanding balance.
Let’s say your loan is $500 and the interest rate is 18%. The store offers no payments for a year. Each month, you will add at least $7 to your outstanding balance. That means your $500 item will now cost you nearly $600. Not such a good deal, is it?
The same is true with 0% financing. Even though you pay no interest, your interest will still accumulate. So, if you have a 0% interest rate for 24 months, you better make sure to pay it in full before the end of the term. Otherwise, the store may revert back to the original balance and calculate your interest based on the outstanding balance, which can make the loan cost even more.
Before you make any large purchase, make sure you can really afford it. A deal is only a deal if it doesn’t cost you more than the ticket price.
5. You Can’t Walk Away
Sometimes it’s best to give up. If you have a vehicle costing you money in repairs every month or two, it might be more cost effective to get rid of it and put that money toward something newer and more reliable.
It might also be the right time to upgrade (or even downsize) your home. If you have added two kids to the family and now live on top of one another, is it worth trying to find ways to add more space? Are you paying to rent a storage unit because you can’t fit everything into your home? It might be better to move or even sell items you can’t use.
You might be trying to keep up with your friends and family. As much fun as it is to take vacations, go shopping every weekend and have the latest electronic gadgets, it may not be feasible, given your budget. Your envy could be forcing you into debt. (Debt can also be rough on your credit. You can see how by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)
Changing your lifestyle is not easy. However, it is a change you must make to get out from spending more than you should.
6. You Don’t Track Your Purchases
When I ask people why they don’t use cash, they usually say it’s because it’s too easy to spend. But the real reason is because they’re probably not tracking their spending. They don’t see where their money goes, so they spend without thinking about it.
Look at the $1 to $5 purchases you make. They don’t seem like much in the moment. But what if you make seven $3 purchases a week? That’s $21. And it’s not just $21, but $21 for which you can’t account.
When you start to keep track of every penny you spend, you force yourself to be more accountable. You become more aware of where you spend and how you spend it. Once you do that, you’ll begin to think twice before buying a second latte.
Money traps don’t have to trip you up while you’re working to achieve your financial goals. Recognize them and do what you can to avoid falling for them.