7 Bad Financial Habits You Need to Break Right Now

Bad money habits are more difficult to steer out of than other automated behaviors like driving a car. Why? Financial peace of mind is a much more subtle reward than the satisfaction of navigating a half-ton piece of metal through city streets without death or injury.

Still, every person who is good at money learned good habits, which means you can, too. “What we know from lab studies is that it’s never too late to break a habit. Habits are malleable throughout your entire life,” Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” told NPR.

Here are seven financial habits you should break before you go broke.Young Millennial in red hoody running down an empty road

1. Stop spending more than you earn

Who do you think you are, the U.S. government? America’s fiscal deficit is projected to be $559 billion in fiscal year 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

How is your own personal deficit? About one in five Americans spend more than they earn and 38% break even, research from the National Financial Capability Study shows. Your goal must be to join the 40% of Americans who spend less than they earn.

2. Stop ignoring your bills

Here’s how not to handle your obligations: When a collection agency calls, you pay the bill. This kind of financial firefighting only guarantees you’ll veer from crisis to crisis as your credit score burns.

Payment history carries huge weight on your financial future; more than one-third of your credit score is judged by your ability to pay your power bill, car insurance and credit cards on time. If you can’t, work out a payment plan with your creditor before it goes to collections.

3. Stop using your credit cards like free money

Credit cards are a weapon in your financial arsenal. Like all armaments, they can be used in strategic defense or to shoot yourself in the foot. Too often, it’s the latter — the average U.S. household with credit card debt has $16,748 of it.

Lady looking in windowThat plastic in your pocketbook is the greatest enabler of bad money habits, allowing you to spend on a whim and forsake all budget plans. Sticking to a budget should be your most faithful money habit.

4. Stop thinking you’re not smart enough

Today, consumers must take control of their own financial lives, whether it’s understanding health insurance or guiding their own 401(k) plans to invest for retirement. Even so, during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, many consumers struggled to understand basic health insurance terms such as “deductible,” a survey by the Kaiser Foundation found.

Learn the lexicon of finance to manage your money better.

“I used to catch myself saying, ‘Investing is hard. I just don’t understand it.’ This gave me permission to avoid learning how to invest,” wrote Ann Marie Houghtailing, author of “How I Created a Dollar Out of Thin Air.” “Now I say, ‘Investing is a skill. You just have to start small.’”

5. Stop making it hard to save

Old habits die hard, and one of the oldest habits is using checks to pay bills or make savings deposits. “Personal finance habits take longer to change than the way you might switch from one smartphone to another. That’s because money is so important to us,” Fred Davis, a professor of Information Systems at the University of Arkansas, told Marketplace.

Set up automatic transfers for bill payments. Also automatically have 10% or more of your paycheck sent directly to your savings account. These two steps will go a long way toward building good money habits and credit scores with little effort.

Two young men giving Spock Live Long and Prosper s

6. Stop complaining about your paycheck

Whatever energy you’re spending complaining about the size of your paycheck takes energy away from finding ways to improve your bottom line. Think you’re being underpaid? Negotiate a raise or at least talk with your boss to understand what’s needed to see a bump in pay. If you’re valued, your supervisor will see the implicit threat that you may leave for a higher-paying job. Start looking for that more lucrative gig while you’re at it.

In the meantime, investigate ways to build other streams of income and seek ways to improve your skills.
7. Stop thinking more cash brings happiness

OK, money does bring happiness, but only to a point. Purchasing experiences and giving to charity have a much longer shelf life for our well-being, research suggests.

Replace bad habits with good ones

Breaking your go-to financial routines will take time and effort. Subbing in habits that improve your bottom line — paying bills on time, using technology and Woman sewingincreasing your income and savings — will be worth the work in the long run.

 

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5 Financial Resolutions for the New Year

A brand new year provides the perfect opportunity to make meaningful life changes, including improved financial wellness. These five financial resolutions can help get your year off to a promising start.

Piggy bank and coins

1. Get on budget

Take charge of your finances by creating a budget. Start by calculating after-tax income and subtracting fixed monthly expenses. Then allocate portions of the remaining income for savings, important goals and a few things that just make you happy. If this sounds complicated, relax; today’s user-friendly budget apps can take a lot of the pain out of the process. To further simplify money matters, consider setting up automatic bill pay, an automatic savings plan and separate savings accounts for specific goals.

2. Build an emergency fund

Without a solid cushion, any unexpected job loss, medical challenge or serious property damage could lead to lasting financial hardship. An emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of expenses can protect your standard of living and offer peace of mind. Commit to making consistent deposits to this fund even if you can only spare a small amount each month. Because you may need to tap into emergency cash at a moment’s notice, choose a vehicle that gives you easy access, such as a savings or money-market account.

3. Prepare for retirement

Retirement may not be on the immediate horizon, but when the time comes it may well last 20 years or more. You’ll probably need somewhere from 70 to 90% of your final-year income for each year of retirement, and it’s unlikely that Social Security will be sufficient. Saving such a sizeable sum takes decades, so it pays to start early. Put as much as you can afford into tax-advantaged Roth or traditional IRAs, and if your job provides a 401(k) plan, contribute the maximum employer-matched amount.

4. Improve your credit

You likely know that credit scores affect financing approval and interest rates. But the influence of those three little numbers actually stretches much further. Prospective employers and landlords frequently check credit, so low scores may mean missing out on the best jobs and apartments. Credit scores also may affect insurance premiums, mobile phone offers, vacation costs, and even whether utility hookups require a cash deposit. For top scores:

  • Pay all bills on time.
  • Keep credit card balances at no more than 20% to 30% of the credit limit.
  • Carry a mix of debt types such as credit cards, auto loans and personal loans.
  • Monitor credit to catch and correct any errors or problems.

5. Knock down debt

Even with a great job, high-interest debt can sabotage financial health. To dig out from under this burden, consider concentrating efforts on your highest interest debt first while continuing to make timely smaller payments on all other obligations. When the first balance is satisfied, focus on the most expensive remaining debt and continue this way until you’re debt-free.

If debt from multiple sources is unmanageable, debt consolidation may help you regain control. This approach streamlines debts into one payment, often with reduced interest and a lower monthly cost. Depending on your individual situation, home equity financing, personal loans or zero interest balance transfer credit cards may be effective debt consolidation choices.

Smart money resolutions boost financial stability not just immediately but over the long haul as well. The bonus takeaway is the confidence that all life’s remarkable milestones and challenges won’t break the bank.

 

Another great blog from our friends at Nerdwallet!

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