20 money mistakes you're probably making right now

Money mistakes hit you where your investments live

Money management tips
It’s the fourth quarter of 2015, and just as in the fourth quarter of a professional sports game, mistakes can multiply if you’re not keeping your eye on the ball. Sometimes, the money mistakes hit you where your investments live. Other times, your spending habits get out of whack, especially with the holiday shopping madness.

While it’s hard to shake off bad money habits, the hope comes from recognizing what you’re doing and then implementing sensible strategies.

Here are 20 money management tips and trip-ups that revolve around common money mistakes.

1. Running up balances on high-interest credit cards

This habit especially applies for frivolous purchases or shopping sprees around the holiday season when it’s all too easy to get carried away. Credit cards can put you on a hamster wheel where making minimum payments barely nibbles at the balance.

Among the worst offenders are department store credit cards. The Kohl’s credit card carries a 23.99% APR, and the Sears MasterCard has a jaw-dropping, eye-popping 25.24% APR. And this, of course, doesn’t include late fees.

2. Throwing money away on layaway

While layaway might seem like the sensible way to hold onto an object come holiday time, it’s not always the smart way to net savings. That’s because layaway locks you into a certain price and — if financed by a credit card — additional interest charges.

Also, as the holidays draw closer, stores start rolling out promotions that knock anywhere from 30 to 50 percent off early prices. If you put those items on layaway in September or October, you’re committed to that initial retail price and miss out on the promotions.

3. Trying to time the stock market

When stocks are on the rise, it’s tempting to think that you’re smart enough to know when to get in and get out to make a killing. But the experts say it’s nearly impossible to do this correctly every single time.

“You have to be right twice — you have to get out at the right time, and then you have to get back in at the right time,” said Ken Weber, president of Weber Asset Management and author of “Dear Investor, What the HELL are You Doing?”

4. Ignoring refurbished goods

It’s easy to dismiss refurbished electronics as rejects or factory failures. The truth is, many items are returned for the dumbest reasons — such as “I don’t like the color” — and are still subjected to rigorous retesting by manufacturers.

Electronics guru Kyle Wiens at iFixit.com sings the praises of refurbished items. He’s bought refurbished laptops “from my second computer at least, and I think I’ve gone through seven MacBook Pro equivalents over the years.” And the difference in price between refurbished and new usually starts at 15 percent off.

5. Closing the box on ‘open box’ savings

It’s a great idea to shop online marketplaces such as eBay to see if a vendor has cheaper, brand new “open box” versions of products, which are returned items that are “inspected by the retailer, found to be in working order, and re-sold at discount, rather than returned to the manufacturer,” according to Consumer Reports. The eBay merchant Microresellers — which has a perfect five-star rating on the site — has contributed an informative post on how to find these deals.

“Open Box items offer the best deals on eBay, but they may also present the most risk,” the post noted. “That risk can be minimized with a little common sense and good buying practices.” So, always check the seller’s rating. It’s best to find someone at or near 100 percent positive feedback after thousands of transactions.

6. Forgetting your company’s employee stock purchase plan

Your company’s Employee Stock Purchase Plan typically works by payroll deduction, with the company converting the money into shares every six months at a 15 percent discount. “If you immediately liquidate those shares every time they’re delivered, it’s like getting a guaranteed 15 percent rate of return,” said Dave Yeske, managing director at the wealth management firm Yeske Buie.

7. Paying full price for gas

Even though gas prices are somewhat low, you might not be taking advantage of three free ways to drive the bill down further, such as rewards cards. BP has a Driver Rewards loyalty card — not a credit card — that shaves money off the price at the pump, as does Shell with its Fuel Rewards card. And the free GasBuddy app still ranks as the best for finding the lowest gas prices in your driving area.

8. Paying full price for everything

With a plethora of bargain sites ranging from Groupon to DealNews, it’s a wonder why people shop at department stores or malls and pay the manufacturer’s suggested retail price on anything. Take advantage of coupon and deal sites to keep more money in your wallet year-round.

9. Paying sales tax

Sales tax can get very expensive in places such as Chicago where it’s a hefty 10.25 percent — the highest in the country, reports Fortune. But thankfully, some online vendors don’t charge a dime for sales tax. Although there are multiple bills in the works to “close the loophole that allows consumers to skip out on paying sales tax on [online] purchases,” TIME Money reported that “online shoppers won’t be forced into paying sales tax anytime soon.”

10. Not having a shopping accountability partner

One big problem with holiday shopping is the lack of accountability when we’re hauling the bags and digging the deals. Spouses can do each other a favor by serving as accountability partners and asking questions such as, “What’s being spent, and spent wisely? How’s the budget holding up?” The idea here is not to play Holiday Police, but to praise your sweetie when goals are met — and gently steer things back when they drift off course.

11. Not shopping ahead for 2016

The worst time to buy Halloween paraphernalia is in the month before, and the worst time to buy winter gear is in the winter. So, why not buy your fall clothes for 2016 right now, when they’re “past season” and stores are eager to dump ’em to make way for the high-priced stuff? Buying items one to three seasons behind their price peak guarantees you’ll get a bargain.

12. Impulse shopping

It’s tempting to spend money on impulse buys when you’re caught up in the passion of sales galore. But you wouldn’t want to come home from the supermarket with a 20-pound cheese wheel you bought on a whim, right? Think long and hard about what you need before you head out and stand by that list.

You should take advantage of sales as they pop up but tally all your projected expenses for the season and set a budget for each category. Holiday fruitcakes, by the way, go under the category “lethal projectiles.”

13. Not taking advantage of your company’s 401k match

A 2014 analysis of more than 3.5 million employees eligible for defined contribution plans — such as the 401k — by human capital and management consulting services firm Aon Hewitt found that nearly 40 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds and 31 percent of 30- to 39-year-olds save at levels below the company match threshold.

The analysis provides an example of how this move can cost these workers money over time:

“Consider a 25-year-old worker who makes $30,000 annually and works for an employer that provides a typical company match: $1-for-$1 up to 6 percent. If that 25-year-old starts saving the full match amount of 6 percent immediately upon employment and continues to do so until she reaches age 65, she’ll have close to $1 million saved in her 401k.” And if they don’t? Kiss that cool million goodbye.

14. Lacking a clearly defined plan

From shopping trips to investment moves, it’s futile to sweep the numbers under the rug and hope for the best. You need a plan to get the most of your money and avoid costly errors.

“Whether it’s for retirement, education, excess wealth or any other portfolio, first determine a specific goal,” said Peter Mallouk, chief investment officer of Creative Planning and author of The New York Times bestseller “The 5 Mistakes Every Investor Makes and How to Avoid Them.” “Everything else flows from that purpose,” he said.

15. Tapping into your retirement fund for extra money

Dipping into your retirement fund to finance emergencies is one thing — financing a kitchen renovation or taking a cruise with your retirement dough is another. The penalties are stiff coming and going if you take a distribution from your IRA before age 59 1/2. On the front end, you might have to pay a tax penalty of 10 percent with the money also considered taxable income. And on the back end, that money is no longer compounding for you. That $10,000 you took out could have amounted to a six-digit loss over three or more decades.

16. Spending too much while eating out

Sure, you don’t know how to make Thai food and don’t feel like cooking dinner. But consider how that attitude drains your wallet over time. Say you eat out for lunch five times a week and spend $15 on each meal. That’s $3,900 you spend a year. By eating out for lunch just two times a week instead of five, you save $2,340.

17. Not inflating your tires properly

There are many ways to waste money when it comes to your car, and this is one. Keeping your tires properly inflated can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent, according to FuelEconomy.gov. Imagine that: A little bit of air keeps gas prices from inflating.

18. Confusing needs and wants

Whether you’re looking for discretionary cash or more investment funds, it’s too easy in the budgeting process to overlook places where you blow your dough. But, you need to understand what is a need and what is a want. “It’s amazing when I work through the numbers that some people think manicures, landscapers and maids are a need,” said Michael Chadwick, CEO of Chadwick Financial.

19. Giving to wasteful charities

The winter holidays bring out the best in people, but charities shouldn’t be painted with a broad brush, as some make much better use of your donations than others. A good first step is to check out a non-profit at the Charity Navigator website, which breaks down the particulars for thousands of charities.

20. Gambling

Gambling is an epidemic in this country, and compulsive gambling is a very real disorder affecting an estimated an estimated 2.5 million adults in the U.S., according to Rehab International. But the simple fact of the matter is that casinos and gambling parlors aren’t built because people win more than they lose. In every table game from blackjack to roulette, the odds are against you.


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