Saving money can be tough, even if you’re not known to be a spender. It seems that there is always someone, somewhere who is trying to keep us and our money far apart. Sometimes, it’s even the bank we’re keeping our money in that’s actually keeping us from saving more.
Obviously, having a little money saved can be helpful for the proverbial rainy day. Having a lot of money saved is even better — particularly if you lose your job or have an unexpected emergency expense. Whether you have a lot of money saved or just a little, you might be surprised at some common mistakes even the best budgeters make.
Here are seven of the most commonly made money-saving mistakes and what you can do about them:
1. Saving what’s leftover
It’s Friday and you just got paid. You head to the grocery store and maybe pay a few bills. Perhaps you had your eye on a new pair of shoes or the kids need to have karate classes paid for. After spending what you need to, you save the rest. Believe it or not, saving what’s leftover is actually a big mistake. It can lull you into a false feeling of security and make you think you have more to spend than you do.
Instead, pay yourself first. It’s important to budget out each of your paychecks and determine a percentage or amount that can go into savings first. Taking that money right off the top means you can spend what’s left.
2. Linking your checking to your savings account
This may seem like such a smart idea because you can easily transfer money from your checking to your savings account. But what happens if you accidently overdraw your checking account and your bank dips into your savings for you — making you think you have more money than you have? Or how often is it just easier to grab the cash out of savings to keep the checking account up to date. It happens more often than many of us would like.
Instead, keep your savings account completely separate from your checking out. If you’re serious about saving, don’t even get an ATM card for that account. Make it more difficult to access that money. So, if you need it, you’ll have to go into the bank and fill out a withdrawl form — giving you the time to consider just how important withdrawing that money is.
3. Putting your savings in one pot
It’s fun to watch your savings grow as you put into one account. But is it really doing you the most good in one pot? Probably not. In fact, putting all of your savings in one account can be deceiving because you might think you have more money available to you for extra purchases than you really do.
Instead, go over the different things you are saving for. Make separate accounts for your emergency fund, down payment for your new house or car, vacation savings and new appliance saving. This way, you can prioritize where your money goes and watch each account grow separately. That doesn’t mean you should make up 40 different accounts for different things. Be specific, but not too specific and make a miscellaneous account if that helps with you with those smaller, extra purchases.
4. Saving the windfalls
If you only save big chunks of money, then you might have no problem at all borrowing it all back. It’s important to save some of a large windfall, but it’s also important to save day to day cash too.
When you get a large amount of money, budget it in just as you would your paycheck. Save a percentage of all of your income and use the rest to pay down debts, bills or other expenses.
5. Save as much cash as possible
Do you feel like it’s important to have as much cash on hand as you can? You’re not alone. But remember, if you only save the cash, you won’t be able to take advantage of compounding interest in the form of CDs, bonds, savings accounts or whatever other form you prefer.
Instead, keep some cash on hand, safely, but diversify and get your savings working for you.
6. Not keeping track of money leaks
Once you get comfortable with how much cash you have on hand and have coming in, we often feel better about spending a little here and there — giving our kid $20 for a movie, buying a few drinks at the convenience store on our way out of town, donating to this fundraiser or than charity event. These are good things. But not if that means you suddenly have no idea where the money is going.
Start keeping a little notebook in your pocket or in your car. If you have a smartphone, create a note and use that. Start writing down everything you spend money on — including the library book fines and the change for the newspaper at the gas station. Keeping track of where your money goes will illustrate to you what’s important and what you should be budgeting for.
7. Not checking credit reports
You have a perfect credit. You know it. You have a perfect score and are never denied anything. Or so you hope. On the flipside, maybe your credit is so bad that you don’t even care anymore because you never apply for any credit anyway. It doesn’t matter. Either way, not checking your credit on a regular basis is a mistake. In this day and age of smart phone purchases and identity theft, it’s imperative to check your credit report and the score at least once a month. Make a note of anything you don’t recognize or don’t understand and make the calls necessary to understand or fix it. Even small things can become big when it’s time to apply for a home loan or sometimes even get a job.