In trying to be smart with our money, sometimes we damage our long-term financial future. Here are some such common mistakes, and how to go about avoiding them.
We all intend to do the right thing with our money but sometimes our decisions and actions harm, rather than benefit, our financial situation. Typically this happens when you are in a hurry, or have not thought it through or not tailored a financial action to your specific situation. Here are some common situations where the end result may not be what you wanted, if you don’t take the trouble to do it right.
A budget too tight
You decide to streamline income and expenses to increase savings. But you overdo things and create a budget that may be designed to fail. The typical errors are to overlook tracking the expenses for a few months, so that you don’t know where you spend and don’t know your level of expense for each category of expense. Without this information, you could fail to allocate adequate resources for your expenses. These errors can derail your budget. A very tight budget, to save more, could prove to be unsustainable so that you may not be able to live with it. This would cause your budget to collapse, leading to your savings targets not being met.
If you are not used to living by a budget, ease yourself into it. Start by imposing broad upper limits. At this stage the focus should be on developing the discipline to account for expenses and to limit them. Once that happens, the next stage would be cutting the expenses, in a realistic manner. Don’t get discouraged if you slip a few times. You will learn with experience.
Going long term too early
You realize the importance of accumulating funds for long-term goals and start putting all your savings into provident fund or other long-term investments. This would be a good decision if you have taken care of liquidity and have an emergency fund. Long-term products typically have restrictions on withdrawals. Growth-oriented investments, such as equity, have volatile values that may mean that you incur a loss if you had to redeem them at short notice.
Thus, providing for long-term goals is good if you have made provisions for immediate liquidity needs. Build an emergency fund and invest for short- and medium-term needs along with long-term goals. This will ensure that your long-term goals are not put at risk by a need that was overlooked.
Saying no to debt altogether
You may think that you are protecting your finances by staying away from debt completely. But it may not be so. You may need to take on some debt to meet goals like buying a house. You could choose to stay on rent, but that comes with the risk of inflation pushing rentals beyond your means. A mortgage would also come with tax benefits, which would lower the cost of debt.
Having some amount of debt also means that you can demonstrate responsible debt behavior to get a good credit score, lack of which can result in higher costs if you need a loan urgently.
However, include credit and debt into your finances with discretion. Use debt to leverage your finances. Use facilities like credit cards for regular expenses, to built a credit history.
Penny wise pound foolish
Very often, we focus on one aspect of a decision and ignore its larger impact. Very often we end up cutting costs by cutting corners. For example, if you buy a durable good that is cheap but of poorer quality, you could end up paying more due to frequent replacements. There are also decisions you may consider clever now, but which could cost you dear later. These could include: avoiding insurance, believing that premiums are a waste of money; not maintaining an emergency fund believing that keeping funds in liquid but low-earning products is under-utilization of money; adopting a do-it-yourself approach, believing that paying an adviser is a waste of money. Not to forget: holding all your funds in low-risk products that earn low returns, ignoring the impact of inflation.
Standing guarantee for others
Be sure of financial standing of the person for whom you are standing guarantee in a loan or giving an add-on credit card to. This act of kindness can damage your own finances. You would be responsible for the repayment if a primary borrower defaults on the payment. You could be saddled with repaying a loan that you neither benefited from nor can bear the burden of. Your credit score will be affected by this loan, and you may even find it difficult to access credit when you need it. Excessive spending on an add-on credit card too will strain your finances, apart from affecting your credit history and score.
Keep in mind the consequences to your own financial situation before you seek to offer financial assistance to others. Consider if the primary borrower can service the loan herself without difficulty. Give due consideration to your own ability to bear the stress if the obligation passes to you. Similarly, to protect your finances, consider the option of footing the family member’s credit card bill up to a reasonable amount instead of giving an add-on credit card. The person is then liable for all actions and omissions on the credit card and your responsibility is limited to the amount you have offered to foot.
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