Many people have yet to face reality when it comes to their finances. If you’re in that camp, consider this your firm, but friendly, wake-up call.
If any of the following signs apply to you, it’s time to rethink your approach to spending and managing money — before you dig yourself into a permanent hole.
1. You’re living paycheck to paycheck
If you’re currently living paycheck to paycheck, it’s time to cut back on at least one major expense to buy yourself some wiggle room for the unexpected. Maybe that means downsizing to a smaller home, or going from a two-car household to sharing a car with your partner. Either way, the key is to take your resulting savings and stick that money directly into the bank.
You also might consider getting a side hustle to build some emergency reserves. At a minimum, you should have enough money in the bank to cover a three-month period of unemployment. Now, if you’re starting with $0, that won’t happen overnight, but if you’re willing to work a second gig that puts, say, an extra $500 a month in your pocket, you might get there within a couple of years.
2. You’re not saving for retirement
If you’re one of the many US households that have nothing saved for retirement, then it’s time to start prioritizing your future before you lose out on critical years of growth. Ideally, you should be saving 15% or more of your income for your golden years, but if you’re used to saving nothing, you’re not going to go from 0% to 15% right away.
What you can do, however, is pledge to set aside $50 a month from this point onward and increase that number as your salary goes up. Keep in mind that if your employer sponsors a 401(k) plan and offers a match, contributing enough to get that free money will work wonders for your nest egg, as well.
3. You’re carrying credit card debt
Most of us are familiar with debt — we finance our homes by taking out mortgages and pay for college with loans. But while the aforementioned types of debt are almost a universal necessity, credit card debt is a completely different story. Simply put, credit card debt is the worst kind to have, and the longer you carry it, the more money you end up losing to interest. If you’re saddled with credit card debt, it’s time to rethink your habit of whipping out that plastic and consider moving to a cash-only system until your balance is whittled down.
4. You have no idea what your credit report looks like
About half of adult Americans haven’t checked their credit report in the last six months, according to a recent survey. A large number of credit reports contain errors that could bring down your score and make it costlier to borrow money for things like a home or a vehicle.
If you’re clueless about your credit report’s contents, obtain a free copy and study it carefully. And if you spot a mistake, take steps to correct it before it does further damage.
5. You don’t have a budget in place
Most Americans don’t follow a budget, even though it’s probably the easiest and most effective money-management tool out there. Without a budget, you’ll have a hard time seeing where your money is going and where you have room to cut corners, so take an hour out of your day and create one immediately.
If you list your monthly expenses and find that they exceed your income, you’ll know you’re in trouble — but without that budget, you may not realize the extent to which you’re overspending.
Maintaining poor financial habits is a good way to dash your dreams of ever feeling secure in your lifetime. If your finances need some attention, stop what you’re doing and carve out the time to get back on track. You’ll be thankful you did in the long run.
CNNMoney (New York) First published May 1, 2018: 11:42 AM ET