The biggest money mistakes that could change your future — and how to get ahead of them right now
Making money mistakes can be scary and seem catastrophic. Some of them do indeed have the potential to alter your future, but it’s not always a case of make or break, experts say. And there are ways to prevent, or come back from, almost all of them.
A lack of planning and not having specific goals are two of the most common mistakes, experts say.
“Research tells us that those who group their savings and investments into clear goals are more likely to stick with it,” James McManus, chief investment officer at online management service Nutmeg, told CNBC Make It.
“You might be more likely to maintain contributions or ride out short-term market volatility if that new home, dream trip or once-in-a-lifetime experience is clear in your mind,” he added.
That will also help you focus on the long term, which is crucial, Emma-Lou Montgomery, an associate director for personal investing at Fidelity International said.
“Many of the most common financial mistakes — chasing quick wins, attempting to ‘time the market’, and taking a knee-jerk reaction to market volatility — can all be avoided by taking a longer-term perspective,” she tells CNBC Make It.
Another common mistake when it comes to investing is taking an “all or nothing” approach, Montgomery says — noting that even small investments and basic knowledge can be enough to grow your wealth.
But plenty of common money mistakes are related to losing or spending money rather than making it.
Paying off debt, such as your rent and bills, should be prioritized — not doing so could have serious consequences, Myron Jobson, senior personal finance analyst at interactive investor, tells CNBC Make It.
He adds that not having a “rainy day pot” is another dangerous yet common mistake. “You need to build up a suitable cash buffer,” Jobson says.
“Holding cash provides peace of mind should something go wrong. This is the money that will cover you if the boiler packs up, the car breaks down, or you lose your job.”
Plan for retirement
Many of those mistakes may only have short-term consequences. But experts say there’s an often overlooked one that could follow you for much of your life: poor retirement planning.
“When you’re young, your retirement seems like something that’s way off in the distance, and faced with competing financial demands it’s often something we consider putting off until we’re older,” McManus says.
Almost everyone eventually retires, he points out. “At whatever age that happens, you will need to have built up a nest egg big enough to live off — so if you ignore your pension, you’re making it harder for yourself later,” he adds.
Therefore, looking into options like company pension schemes, which often see employers contribute a greater percentage than employees, and spending relatively small amounts of money on your pension when you’re young can be game changing when you do eventually retire, the experts say.
Doing that consistently and making sure you set aside more money as your income grows is crucial, Montgomery said.
Accounting for employment gaps is also key, she adds, urging women in particular to keep that in mind.
“The ‘Motherhood’ penalty is one of the significant causes behind the gender pension gap, with many women missing out on potential contributions,” Montgomery says.
‘Don’t berate yourself too much’
Making a mistake with your money can feel overwhelming — but it’s very normal, the experts say.
“Mistakes happen – and with most of them the key is to learn and avoid falling into a pattern by repeating them! Whether it’s a spending spree or forgetting to read the small print, don’t berate yourself too much,” Montgomery says.
Mistakes can often be fixed and aren’t the end of the world, the experts say.
“The starting point is to take responsibility for your own financial position,” Montgomery points out.
One way to do that is by keeping track of spending habits on a spreadsheet or through third party budgeting tools, Jobson says.
“Once you have a better idea on how you spend your money, you can explore ways to help you live within your means,” he adds.
There are also other forms of support, Jobson says. When it comes to debt, for example, you may be able to find a solution with your bank or get help from financial advice charities he suggests.
Even just having a broad understanding of your financial situation can be a game changer, Montgomery says.
“Knowledge is power and making sure you have a clear understanding of all aspects of your financial position […] will ensure you’re able to prioritise and make informed decisions that support your goals.”