Features

Five little financial mistakes

Personal Finance | Left unfixed, they are anything but small

Issue: "Return of the Lion," May 17, 2008

The last two issues covered a list of common problems in investing that I called "the six big financial mistakes." But many of the things that affect you and me in our day-to-day financial lives are not necessarily investment-related, and sadly many of us are ill-prepared. You will find many of these issues are anything but "little."

1. Living without a budget

Many people, some of significant means and some of modest means, do not live with an income and expense budget. People have created more debt by trying to "wing it" than anything else. Developing an intelligent estimate of your monthly inflows, then setting your expenses to be in line with those, is an absolute prerequisite to financial organization and health. Take the time to do it-adjust it periodically as needed-but do it!

2. Failure to keep good records

I do not receive a commission when people purchase Quicken or Quickbooks software, but that does not stop me from touting these powerful programs. At the heart of a healthy financial life is the ability to know where you are, to track progress, to make changes based on past patterns, and to be on top of income and expenses. I have rarely seen people who keep diligent records overdraft their accounts. The software is easy to use, and the scope of what it can do is amazing.

3. Carelessness with one's identity and privacy

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Do you still have paper statements and financial information coming to your house, even though virtually all financial institutions make them available online? If so, do you shred them before you discard them? Do you walk around with your Social Security card in your wallet or purse? Identity theft has become a multi-billion-dollar disaster in our country, and 95 percent of it is the direct result of one of the above infractions. If you are even moderately computer savvy, look into utilizing the technology available to you. Never discard papers that give away account numbers or personal financial information without shredding them. Be vigilant.

4. Poor communication

For married couples (and I would add, engaged ones as well), few issues complicate the relationship more than poor communication on finances. But even beyond the marital damage, bad habits of communication result in terrible financial consequences as well. Talk to one another about your income, your spending, your investments, your plans. Have systems in place that each spouse respects and understands. Obviously, every married couple will approach this subject differently, but approach it nevertheless! A lot of pain and suffering can be avoided if you do.

5. Too many credit cards

If you do not have large credit card debt, and have one credit card from a good financial institution with a credit limit sufficient for your monthly needs, cut up and cancel the other cards that have annual fees. If you have cards with $0 balances, and they do not have annual fees, give consideration to whether or not their mere existence is a temptation to you. I am all for the use of a credit card to manage one's monthly spending and cash flow, and in fact, I believe the various rewards and airline mile programs that exist these days can be quite opportunistic. But credit cards pose more risk than they do reward. Be wise.

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