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3 Debt Payoff Tactics You Might Reconsider

Source NerdWallet –

Paying off your debt is an admirable goal and a great move for your financial health.  But some ways of doing it might hurt more than they help.  Withdrawing from your 401(k), draining your emergency fund or ignoring your monthly bills in the name of paying off your credit card debt may seem like good ideas in the moment, but they can have adverse consequences in the long run.

Dipping into your 401(k)

There are plenty of reasons not to use your 401(k) to pay off debt, but let’s start with the potential financial ramifications.  If you take money out early — that is, before age 59½ — not only will that money be taxed at your current income tax rate, but you’ll also pay a 10% penalty.

If your 401(k) has a loan provision, it is a more affordable way of paying off your debt. However, 401(k) loans also have downsides.  For one thing, any money you borrow won’t be earning a return until you repay it.  If you quit or lose your job before repaying the loan, the entire balance will come due soon after.  And if you can’t pay it off in full, it will be treated as a distribution — meaning you’ll incur the taxes and penalties of an early withdrawal. It’s a risky move.

Finally, by using your retirement funds to pay off your credit card debt, you’re potentially setting a dangerous precedent.  You’re making tapping into your retirement fund an option for sticky financial situations, which could help you justify withdrawals in the future, even if they aren’t absolutely necessary.  Unless you’ve exhausted all other legal options, try to leave your retirement savings alone for Future You.

Draining your emergency fund

Because of high interest rates on credit cards and low interest on savings accounts, it isn’t wise to keep a large cash reserve while carrying credit card debt from month to month.  However, it’s also not a good idea to drain your cash reserves completely to wipe out your debt.  Emergencies happen, and you need to have some savings in place to deal with them because a credit card isn’t an emergency fund.

The amount of emergency savings you should keep depends on your personal situation. As a starting point, everyone should have $1,000.  Some people — like small business owners, custodial parents or sole breadwinners — may need more, while a single young professional without a mortgage will probably be fine with a small fund.  Any savings greater than what you need for emergencies can be put toward debt, but don’t drain your entire rainy-day fund.

Neglecting your current bills

When you’re anxious to get rid of your debt for good, it may be tempting to cut corners elsewhere to pay it off as soon as possible.  But ignoring your monthly payment obligations to pay down debt isn’t a sound approach.  You’ll likely get hit with fees, and your late payments may be reported to the credit bureaus and remain on your credit reports for seven years.

Instead, pay your bills and minimum debt payments first.  Then, provided you have a small emergency fund already, put the excess toward extra debt payments.

The bottom line

Pay down your credit card debt aggressively, but don’t hurt yourself financially by withdrawing from your 401(k), draining your emergency fund or ignoring your monthly bills.  Instead, aim to bring down your debt by making more or spending less, and allocating the extra funds to your credit card bills.

Erin El Issa is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet.

40 Ways Your Budget is Full of Holes

Many budgets are like leaky buckets — they are full of holes. Most holes are small and hardly noticeable, but those little drips can add up over time. Well, it’s time to patch up your leaky budget and start saving a greater chunk of your paycheck. Here are 40 ways you’re mindlessly blowing through your hard-earned money every day.

See the 10 reasons you’re still living paycheck to paycheck >>>

1. Paying Too Much on Housing

Since housing is likely your biggest monthly expense, this is where you can really make or break your budget. Personal finance experts recommend spending no more than 30 percent of your income on housing. You can spend even less and save more by getting a roommate or moving to a different neighborhood or a city where it’s easier to save money.

2. Spending Too Much on Car Costs

Aside from housing, transportation is likely your next biggest expense. Buy a reliable and affordable used car, try to live close to where you work and consider taking public transportation to cut down on gas and maintenance costs.

3. Wasting Energy

Utilities can eat up about 7 percent of the average U.S. household’s budget, reports Lifehacker. You can lower that number by conducting an energy audit on your house to find energy leaks such as old windows or water heaters. Even renters can improve their energy efficiency by using insulating curtains and unplugging appliances. Every little bit counts.

4. Buying Movie Theater Popcorn

Movie theaters don’t actually make the bulk of their profits from movie ticket sales — concession sales are the real moneymakers, reports Yahoo Movies. Eat before you head to a show. Or if you’re a little more daring, sneak in your own snacks.

5. Not Planning Meals Ahead of Time

Keep your grocery budget under control by planning out your meals and shopping accordingly. One of my favorite meal-planning apps comes from Food.com. It combines meal planning and money saving all in one app.

6. Grocery Shopping Without a List

Maintain a running list of what you need to pick up at the grocery store to avoid making any unnecessary purchases. You’ll know exactly what needs replacing, and you won’t have to do any guesswork.

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Save Money on Your Next Grocery Run

7. Buying Coffee

America’s love affair with coffee shows no signs of slowing down. A 2012 survey found that the average American worker spends about $1,100 a year on coffee. Break this habit, learn how to make your favorite coffee drink at home and watch your savings soar.

8. Carrying Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt is one of the most expensive types of debt you can carry. Those minimum payments might seem low now, but they can cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars in interest. If you have credit card debt, make a debt reduction plan. For example, try transferring your balance to a low-interest credit card, and commit to paying it off for good.

9. Paying for Cable

Now is a great time to cut the cable cord. There are plenty of online streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, which cost a fraction of the standard cable service price. To save even more money, share a Netflix or Hulu account instead of getting an individual account for each streaming service.

10. Buying Brand-Name Products

Consumers find comfort in using brands they know and love, but oftentimes generic brands work just as well as their brand-name counterparts. Step away from brand names, and try a few generics. For example, you can save money by buying store-brand medications and Kroger breakfast cereal.

Read: 10 Generic Items That Are Exactly Like the Brand Name

11. Running the Thermostat All Year

There’s no reason to keep your thermostat running at the same temperature all year long. Ideally, you’d only turn it up a few degrees in the summer and down a few degrees in the winter. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, turning your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours during the day can save you 5 to 15 percent a year on your heating bill.

12. Ignoring Your Phone Bill

Check your phone bill to make sure you are not getting charged for services you don’t use. You might be paying for things such as unlimited data, texting and other features you don’t really need.

13. Drinking Bottled Water

In 2013, Business Insider reported U.S. consumers were spending on average $1.22 per gallon on bottled water, which was 300 times the cost of tap water (though the number could be even higher). If you’re still drinking bottled water every day, consider buying a water filter to save money.

Related: How Much You Can Save by Skipping Bottled Water

14. Using Regular Light Bulbs

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) might not be the most flattering bulbs out there, but light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs are surprisingly beautiful. They are also incredibly energy efficient. There are some upfront costs, but LEDs tend to last longer than traditional light bulbs, which can help you save money in the long run.

15. Smoking Cigarettes

This little habit can cost you big bucks. Quitting smoking can save you more than $8,200 a year — just think of what you can do with all that extra cash.

16. Buying Lunch at Work

You’ve heard it before, but buying lunch at work is a huge waste of money. Buddy up with your co-workers, and try “brown bagging” it at work. You can end up saving a good chunk of cash.

17. Eating Out for Dinner

Having dinner at a restaurant is a great luxury, but it can wreak havoc on your finances. Be mindful about how often you eat out. Even something as simple as eating dinner earlier in the evening can help you eat less and save more.

18. Ordering Appetizers

Restaurant portions are huge, so why order an appetizer when the entrée is already going to be more than enough? Eat a light snack about an hour before you eat out, which can help you resist the urge to order a starter.

19. Using Out-of-Network ATMs

When you use an ATM that is outside of your network, your bank and the ATM might charge you a fee. Find a bank that has plenty of ATMs in the places you frequent or a wide network of partners.

20. Requesting Faster Shipping

It’s hard waiting for your online purchases to arrive, but paying extra for expedited shipping is a waste of money. Patience is a virtue, but if you really just want everything now, sign up for a service such as Amazon Prime, which includes free two-day shipping on most items.

Read: 25 Ways to Save Money on Amazon

21. Withdrawing Too Much Money at the ATM

Overdraft fees cost customers $225 a year, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Track your finances daily, or consider switching to a bank that doesn’t have any overdraft fees at all. (Yes, those do exist.)

22. Paying Unnecessary Bank Fees

Banks are desperate to get new customers in their doors. Shop around, and compare the offerings — you’ll likely find better and cheaper banking services somewhere else.

23. Collecting Stuff You Don’t Need

Does your baseball card, comic book or Star Wars collection add value to your life, or would you find greater value in cashing out? Even just trimming down a valuable collection can reduce clutter and give your bank account a boost.

24. Spending More Money on Snacks

Nielsen data showed Americans spend more on snacks such as protein bars, chips and beef jerky than they do on real food. If you plan your meals and shop with a grocery list, then you won’t need to fill up on unhealthy and expensive snack foods.

25. Signing Up for a Gym Membership

Once January hits, many of the treadmills at the gym are usually occupied, and the Zumba classes are bumping. But just a few months later, the place looks like a ghost town — what a waste of money. Skip the pricey gym membership, and try joining an exercise club. Or, download a cheap fitness app to get in shape.

26. Throwing Your Child a Huge Birthday Party

Your child will forgive you for not throwing them an expensive birthday bash. Many children don’t need a lavish, over-the-top birthday party. If you’re strapped for cash and still want to plan an unforgettable birthday party for your child, research creative DIY tips on how to build a cake, make party favors and more.

27. Shopping Impulsively

If you are considering making an impulse buy, wait 30 days and ask yourself if you still want or need that item. You might even forget about the item completely, which pretty much answers the question for you.

28. Buying Books

Paper books are definitely something to be cherished, but if you burn through books faster than a California wildfire, consider using a service such as PaperBackSwap.com to cut down on the costs. You’ll get to swap your collection with others online and get new titles mailed to you for free. You’ll just have to pay for postage for the books you send out.

29. Driving With a Dirty Air Filter

Did you know that driving around with a dirty air filter can reduce your gas mileage by 7 percent after 5,000 miles, which can cost you at least $100 a year? That’s according to TheSimpleDollar.com, and it’s recommended that you look at your car’s manual to learn how to clean the air filter yourself.

30. Buying “New” Instead of “Used”

Thanks to the internet, you can find pretty much anything you need in good, used condition at a fraction of the price. Not everything should be purchased used, but pricey items such as sporting equipment and furniture are great used buys.

31. Skipping Breakfast

Eating breakfast gets your day started on the right foot and can keep you from buying a huge, expensive lunch. Try cheap breakfast foods, like oatmeal or eggs, which will likely keep your stomach (and wallet!) full.

32. Paying Multiple Student Loans

Interest rates are still relatively low, so it could be a good time to consolidate your student loans. By consolidating, you might even be able to lower your monthly payments and extend your repayment period.

33. Ignoring Your Credit Reports

A good credit score can help you save money on everything from personal loans to a mortgage. Use a credit monitoring service to keep an eye on your score, and work toward building your credit.

34. Not Using Your Benefits Package

Some employers offer awesome benefits, like discounts on car insurance, free tickets to events, education reimbursement or personal improvement seminars. You work hard, so make sure you are reaping all the benefits you are entitled to.

35. Driving Around With Flat Tires

It’s advised that you read your car’s manual to find the recommended PSI and fill up your tires at your local gas station. The attendant can usually help if you need assistance.

36. Manually Paying Your Bills

A big piece of money-saving advice that many people don’t follow is automating your finances. Put your bills on autopilot to avoid any late fees or dings on your credit report.

37. Hitting the Bars

According to NPR, out of every $100 American consumers spend, about $1 of that goes to alcohol. Most of that money is spent at bars and restaurants, but the number could be far less if you host happy hour at your house instead.

Related: How Much You Can Save by Skipping That Extra Cocktail

38. Throwing Out Leftovers

In 2012, Americans threw out 35 million tons of food, which was nearly three times more than what they discarded in 1960, reports The Washington Post. Keep your food waste to a minimum by learning to use your leftovers. Or better yet, bring them to work for lunch the next day.

39. Buying Basic Items at the Grocery Store

Many warehouse clubs will give you the best bang for your buck on staples such as toilet paper, trash bags, laundry detergent and diapers. Bulk items usually offer better prices per unit — you’ll just have to figure where to store 140 rolls of paper towels.

40. Paying Too Much for Auto Insurance

Auto insurance companies are constantly offering new ways to save on coverage, so do an annual audit of your policy and shop around for better rates. Just like that GEICO commercial always says, “15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance.” 

This article originally appeared on GoBankingRates.com: 40 Mindless Ways You’re Burning Through Your Paycheck

It’s Time For A Vacation

How desperate are you for a vacation?  New research shows that some Americans would put their finances in jeopardy to go away.

Twelve percent of Americans are willing to forego paying their bills to be able to go on vacation, and four percent are even willing to skip a mortgage or rent payment, according to a recent consumer survey conducted on behalf of Tripping.com, a vacation rental search engine that aggregates listings from HomeAway, HouseTrip, FlipKey, and other travel sites.

 “It definitely surprised us to hear that people would skip out on important financial responsibilities, such as a mortgage, in order to finance their vacations,” said Jen O’Neal, founder and CEO of Tripping.com.

J.D. Roth, founder and editor of the personal finance blog GetRichSlowly.org and the author of Your Money: The Missing Manual, believes it’s important to spend money on what you’re passionate about while at the same time cutting back on the things you don’t care about. But he says he would never advocate not paying your bills. “That sounds like misplaced priorities.”

The survey, which was conducted among 1,500 American adults in early January 2015, honed in on what prevents people from taking their ideal vacation as well as what they’re willing to sacrifice in order to travel.

Across all age segments, financial security—or the lack of it—was cited as the number one obstacle to taking a vacation.

Yet differences emerge when you look at responses across the range of age groups. For example, when asked what was preventing them from taking their ideal vacation, older millennials age 24-34 cited the cost of accommodations and transportation as top obstacles, while adults age 45-54 cited the lack of financial security and lack of time off.

Unsurprisingly, 35 to 44 year olds—a segment made up of many parents with younger children—felt most strongly that children and pets restricted their travel plans.

When asked what they would be willing to sacrifice in order to take their ideal vacation, more than half of respondents chose a vice, such as alcohol, cigarettes or coffee, or said they would be willing to downgrade their personal technology.

Yet, again, the survey responses revealed differences among age groups. Younger millennials age 18-24 were more willing than other segments to lie to their employers to get time off work, while adults age 45 to 54 year olds were more likely than other segments to be willing to forego paying their mortgage or rent.

“Human nature tends to favor immediate pleasures over long-term gains. So it’s understandable that some people may choose to make an extravagant purchase over taking care of their financial responsibilities,” said O’Neal. “Unfortunately, they don’t always realize that doing so may risk their credit and can seriously impact their ability in the future to buy a home, get a loan, and so on.” 

The results suggest that many Americans are not managing to save for vacations. “At different times, we’ve spoken with Tripping.com users to understand how they finance their vacations,” said O’Neal. “Our take is that people want to save for a vacation but life gets in the way; it’s difficult to save when so much of their budget necessarily goes towards housing, transportation, and education.

“Rather than risking your personal credit to finance that trip to Hawaii, look for travel options to make your trip more affordable options, such as a vacation rental, so you won’t need to worry about bill collectors calling when you get back from your relaxing vacation,” suggested O’Neal.

Roth counsels that financing a vacation you can’t afford by not paying your bills is a very slippery slope. “That kind of thing is what leads people into debt,” said Roth.

“I feel like most people in the United States are focused on the present. They live within their means. They’re not saving a whole bunch but they’re also not falling behind. But when people get into debt, they’re basically chasing the past.”

Written By Suzanne Rowan Kelleher –  family vacations expert at About.com.

For Your Financial Well Being

We often hear that Americans need to save more money or plan better for retirement, but what does it mean to be financially healthy? Personal finance can be a difficult subject to discuss since everybody’s financial situation is different — hence the word “personal.” However, new research shows that there is just a handful of elements needed to establish your financial well-being.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently polled people across the country to hear what they had to say about financial well-being. While savings and income levels play a significant part, they are not always the most important elements. In short, financial well-being can be defined as a state of being wherein a person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, can feel secure in their financial future, and is able to make choices that allow enjoyment of life.

Let’s take a look at the four most important elements of your financial health in detail.

 

  1. Feeling in Control

 People typically like control over their own lives. Those who have high levels on financial health feel in control of their daily and monthly finances. This means they have enough money to pay their bills on time, and generally do not have to worry about having enough money to get by. Interestingly, this is not necessarily about having a lot of money, but rather managing the money you already have in an efficient manner. This aspect of financial well-being was mentioned most frequently during the qualitative interviews conducted by the CFPB.

 

  1. Capacity to Absorb Financial Shocks

 Life is full of expensive surprises. The ability to absorb the monetary shock of an unexpected mechanic bill or job layoff is a crucial element of your financial health. Americans possessing this trait typical have a safety net of savings, insurance, or at least family members to help stop a financial shock from turning into a longer-lasting setback. Unfortunately, many Americans do not have their own rainy-day fund.

According to a recent survey from Bankrate, only 38% of Americans have enough money in their savings accounts to pay for life’s little surprises, such as a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room visit. If a financial emergency arises, 22% plan to cover the bill by reducing spending elsewhere, 16% say they will borrow money from family and friends, and 12% expect credit cards to fill the hole — potentially leading to even bigger problems down the road.

The ability to use savings for unexpected expenses improves with age, education, and income, but still leaves much to be desired. Only 44% of senior citizens have enough savings, compared with 33% of millennials. Meanwhile, 52% of college graduates have enough savings to cover financial emergencies, compared to 32% of those without a college degree. A convincing majority of 62% is only seen with households making at least $75,000 per year.

 

  1. On Track to Meet Goals

 Tony Robbins once said, “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” In addition to helping us reach milestones, measurable and attainable goals aid in building high financial well-being. The CFPB finds that consumers who set goals and remain on track to accomplish them have a higher sense of financial health. Whether these goals were part of a formal financial plan was irrelevant. Simply having a goal to work toward boasts financial well-being. Think of this as moving toward financial freedom and rewarding your future self.

Failure to plan leads to a lack of savings. Research from HSBC reveals that people with a financial plan in place save the most money for retirement. Not including money put towards mortgage payments or home improvements, people with no financial planning save an average of $77 per month. Those with some kind of informal planning such as “my own thoughts” or “my own approximate calculation” save an average of $335 per month.

If you need help creating a financial plan, there is no shame in seeking professional assistance from a qualified adviser you trust. Savers in the HSBC study who had a financial plan in place with a professional adviser had accumulated $203,228 in retirement savings, compared to only $98,005 among those without a financial adviser.

 

  1. Flexibility to Make Choices

 No matter how well you plan, life has a funny way of surprising you. Consumers with high levels of well-being have the financial freedom to make choices that allow them to enjoy life, whatever that means to them. Whether that is taking a family vacation, going out to eat, or working less to spend more time with family, these consumers have the financial flexibility to do what they value and what makes them happy. The CFPB describes this as having financial freedom in the present.

While the best things in life are often free, having a large amount of debt can restrict your flexibility. After all, borrowing today represents a loan from your future production. More debt means more interest payments, which translates to more work and less freedom to do what you really want. Sadly, the average American will pay an estimated $279,002 over their lifetime in interest payments.

Applying the CFPB’s financial well-being framework to your own financial life will help you feel more satisfied with the decisions you make. When you face a financial choice or task, consider how your actions might affect financial security and financial freedom, today and in the future.
Article from Personal Finance Cheat Sheet – Eric McWhinnie

Avoid Fraud During the Holidays

WASHINGTON, DC (December 22, 2014) – To help consumers avoid fraud this holiday season, and every season, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) released a list of helpful tips to keep their personal information out of the hands of criminals. Hackers will stop at nothing to get the personal information and card data of millions of Americans.

“With the immense number of data breaches that occurred at retailers in 2014, and a grim forecast for 2015, it’s essential to arm consumers with tips they need to protect themselves,” said CUNA President and CEO Jim Nussle. “Knowing how to protect yourself from hackers, and what to do if you get hacked, can help you keep your hard-earned money and give you piece of mind.”

CUNA is the country’s largest credit union advocacy organization, representing our nation’s state and federal credit unions, with over 100 million memberships. CUNA site www.stopthedatabreaches.com contains a list of helpful ways for consumers to remain vigilant and protect their personal data when shopping in retail stores and online, including:

  • Don’t respond to email, text or telephone calls asking for personal or financial information
  • Frequently review account activity and immediately report unauthorized transactions
  • Place an initial fraud alert with credit bureaus if fraud has occurred
  • Enroll and opt-in for transaction monitoring
  • Use card on/off switches (if available)
  • Enroll in Verified by VISA / MasterCard Secure Code

In 2014 there have been over 744 data security breaches, a 24.8 percent increase over 2013 which saw 596 breaches.  In fact, a recent poll conducted by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News found that nearly half of all Americans have been notified by a credit card company, financial institution or retailer that their credit card information had possibly been stolen as part of a data breach. Staples announced just last week that it has suffered a breach which affected 1.16 million customers. In the case of a data breach at a retailer like Staples, credit unions are limited by law in disclosing many of the circumstances of the breach and often they are not able to disclose the merchant responsible – yet the credit union is left to clean up the mess when a retail data breach occurs by informing its members of the breach, protecting their members from fraudulent charges and reissuing new credit and debit cards.

Credit Card Tips To Consider

Some people agree that using a credit card to pay for day-to-day purchases is a smart idea, if you have control over your spending habits. After all, credit is safe, convenient and rewarding. Plus, if you’re responsible, you’ll also be building a solid credit score with every swipe.

But are you really making the most of your plastic experience? Here are 5 credit card tips everyone should know:

 

  1. Balance alerts can help you keep your spending in check

Keeping a watch on how much you’re spending with your credit card is easier than ever before. Most issuers allow you to set up balance alerts so that you’ll receive a text and/or an email whenever your total spending hits a certain threshold that you’ve set.

Sign up for this service so that you’ll get a notice when your credit utilization ratio is approaching the 30% mark – this way, you’ll know to make a payment before you jeopardize your credit score.

 

  1. Spending analysis tools make sticking to your budget a cinch

One of the most underrated online banking features offered by most credit card issuers these days is the spending analysis tool. This allows you to see a breakdown of how much you’re spending with your card in different categories (restaurants, travel, general merchandise, etc.). You can usually choose to view this on a per-month basis or take a look at your spending patterns over time.

Be sure to look around for this tool the next time you log into your card’s online banking platform. It can provide some helpful insights into where you’re doing a good job sticking to your budget, and where you might need to cut back.

 

  1. Mid-cycle payments could improve your credit score

Every month, your credit card issuer sends a report about your account to the three major credit bureaus. Included on this report is your balance, which is used to calculate your credit utilization ratio.

However, this data isn’t necessarily sent over after you’ve made your monthly payment – it could be reported at any point in your billing cycle. If you tend to charge a lot to your card each month, getting into the habit of making a payment mid-cycle will keep your credit utilization ratio low. This, in turn, will help 30% of your credit score determined by amounts owed.

 

  1. Moving your due date could help you avoid missing a payment

Missing a credit card payment is bad news for your FICO credit score, since 35% of it is determined by your history with making on-time bill payments. If your credit card billing due date comes at an inconvenient time during the month, consider switching it. You can usually do this online or by placing a call to your issuer. This one simple move could go far toward preserving your good credit.

 

5. APR promotions could save you big bucks on interest

If you’ve gotten into some credit card debt or need to make a big purchase that you don’t have the cash to cover, capitalizing on a credit card APR promotion could be just the ticket. By picking a card that’s offering a long 0% rate on purchases or balance transfers, you can dodge the sky-high finance charges that would come with using your usual card.

Just watch out for balance transfer fees, and be sure to make your payments on time. If you don’t, your deal might get canceled and you could end up paying interest after all.

 

Source – Nerd Wallet Finance

By Lindsay Konsko on November 17, 2014 | posted in Hacks and Deals

 

10 Mistakes to Avoid – When Trying To Save Money

Addressing the issue of saving money is the most fundamental, yet neglected, aspect of personal finance in the U.S. today. According to a 2012 survey by Credit Donkey, almost 50 percent of Americans don’t have more than $500 in their emergency savings accounts , which not only puts a kink in savers’ finances in the event of an unforeseen expense, but also creates undue stress for failing to prepare a safety net adequately.

So, in our latest Money Mistakes series, we highlight the top 10 money mistakes Americans make when it comes to saving money.

 

Not budgeting

There are a number of philosophies on the best approach to take when budgeting your money; but at times, the thought of sitting down with statements, bills, and an expense sheet is just too stressful. This mind-set is an easy trap to fall victim to, but is one of the worst money mistakes to make if you want to grow your savings fund.

Hope A. Rising of Clearwater, Fla., learned this lesson the hard way. “Rather than make savings a part of my life I ‘lived for the moment’ and now have virtually no savings for emergencies,” Rising said. “For example, my car recently broke down and I had to borrow money to have it fixed, rather than just being able to take the money out of the bank.”

 

Saving too little

It’s commendable that about half of Credit Donkey’s survey participants had saved up some cash; but often, individuals don’t save enough money to carry themselves through a challenging and sudden financial crisis. A common recommendation when it comes to the appropriate amount to save in a nest egg is about three months’ salary, or six months worth of expenses (i.e. mortgage, auto loan, utility bills, gas, etc.).

For instance, the average American in 2013 made $42,693 before taxes. Take away about 25 percent of that income for taxes, and the average person walks away with $32,020 annually. Three months of net income (the ideal emergency fund amount) is about $8,000 to help keep you comfortably afloat in an emergency.

 

Not setting specific goals

Determining what exactly you’re saving for, and when you need to save by, is a helpful motivational guide to follow. It acts as a constant reminder of what you’re working toward, and lets you know when your efforts have been successful.

Examples of this include saving money for a down payment on a car in the next six months, or getting more specific like committing to saving $200 per month for the next six months, to achieve this goal.

 

Failing to track spending

Creating a budget is the start of the savings process and setting a goal is the end of it, but there has to be a quantitative way to follow your progression in the time between. Tools such as Mint.com  or even a simple spreadsheet are great ways to avoid this money mistake.

 

Living paycheck to paycheck

When budgeting your spending allowance, don’t stretch your money to the last dollar. Not allowing yourself about a $100 per month buffer sets you up for disaster, as small, seemingly harmless purchases quickly add up.

 

Overdrawing an account

Overdrawing a checking account is usually the result of making one of these other money mistakes, but expensive overdraft fees are a cost you have complete control over. A $35 overdraft fee might not sting now, but as more pile up on your account statement, the damage can become apparent in a short period of time.

Simply put, overdrawing is a money waster and an entirely avoidable circumstance if you stay diligent with your savings plan.

 

Claiming the wrong tax withholding

Claiming the lowest withholding allowance when it comes to your federal taxes is a mistake that Americans commonly make. When you do so, the government takes away more income taxes throughout the year, and you’re left with a fat tax return check.

Don’t let this windfall fool you — what you’re doing is essentially giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan and getting nothing back in return. Instead, you can claim the withholding allowance you rightfully qualify for, and use the extra cash in each paycheck to grow your savings fund in a high-interest savings account.

 

Signing up for low deductibles

One way to increase the amount of cash you can save each month is to lower your premium and raise your deductible for auto and health insurance. This means you assume more risk up front by paying a lower monthly premium, with the expectation to pay more out of pocket in the event you have to file a claim (which should be no problem if you’ve saved that emergency fund).

 

According to the Insurance Information Institute, increasing your deductible from $200 to $1,000 can lower collision and comprehensive coverage premiums by at least 40 percent.

 

Buying name brands

More customers are employing frugal tactics like passing on branded products in lieu of a generic version. Similarly, retailers have caught onto the fact that shoppers are looking for a frugal alternative in today’s challenging economic times.

That’s not to say you should never splurge on a brand that’s worth it, but most generics are the same product as their pricier counterparts. Look for generic products on the lower shelves of grocer’s aisles.

 

Waiting

One of the worst money mistakes you can make is procrastinating on getting started with your savings plan, since achieving a savings goal can take longer than you might expect. Paying $500 per month toward an emergency fund at the income outlined in mistake No. 2, for example, would take the average American 16 months to save up three months’ income.

 

The article 10 Huge Mistakes to Avoid When Trying to Save Money originally appeared on Fool.com.

 

 

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