Too many young adults who are already out of school have low levels of financial knowledge so we, as a society, need to come up with other alternatives. Employers could offer financial literacy programs or at least provide resources to help young people avoid some of these costly mistakes. Schools should offer basic financial planning classes.
If nothing else, the recession has made us brutally aware of what we don’t know. Here are some of the more common, and costly mistakes, and ways that people can avoid them.
1. Not having an emergency fund. Experts recommend that everyone have a three-month emergency fund—at least. You never know when you’re going to get a flat tire or a leaky pipe—emergencies that happen all of the time but that can become very costly if you’re not ready for them. Having to borrow money on a high interest credit card can cost you hundreds in wasted interest payments.
What happens if you lose your job and have to dip into your emergency fund? First, don’t stress. It’s ok to use the emergency fund for rent or food—for needs. It’s not such a good idea to use it for that pair of shoes you really want or a night on the town. During a recession it can be hard to have and maintain an emergency fund. That’s ok, as long as you save what you can.
2. Slow leakers. These are the people who spend money on bottled water and daily Starbucks runs. The people who use their debit card for everything, no matter how small, and then forget to include the little things when they balance their bank account or budget. Even that $2 coffee can lead to overdraft fees.
3. Bad budgeters. These are the people who forget about certain expenses and therefore don’t budget for then. Or, they don’t budget at all, then wonder why they don’t have any money.
4. Minimum wagers. Paying just the minimum on your credit card is another expensive mistake. The bigger the balance, the longer it will take you to pay off and the more you will pay in interest. If possible, only use your credit cards for emergencies and pay off the entire balance on time. If that’s not possible, pay off as much as you can each month.
5. Plastic life. Living off a credit card is one of the worst money mistakes that you can make. If you are living off your credit card this probably means that you are spending more than you’re earning, a big budgetary no-no. If you are out of work and out of money you may have to live off your credit card for a while, but, in this case, you should really tighten your belt and spend as little money as possible. In addition, try to find a credit card with a low interest rate. A credit card is like a loan, meaning that the money will have to be paid back, with interest.
6. No doggy bag. It is possible to have some money leftover from a college or personal loan. As tempting as it may be do not use this money for anything other than paying back what you borrowed. Loans have to be repaid. The longer it takes to repay them the more money you’re going to end up paying in interest. Instead of spending any leftover loan money, simply use it to pay back what you have borrowed. In fact, it’s a good idea to make a loan repayment plan and begin paying back your loan as soon as you possibly can.
7. Too much, too young. Many young people make the mistake of thinking that they need to build credit while they are still in college. While it is always good to have good credit, it is not always necessary to have credit at all. Remember, it’s a lot easier to turn your credit bad than to keep it good. Don’t open a ton of accounts just to build up your credit. In reality, it only takes three months to build credit.
No one can be perfect all of the time but if you can avoid making some of these costly mistakes you can avoid wasted time and money.