3 Financial Mistakes That Will Haunt You for Decades

Kailey Fralick, The Motley Fool

We all make mistakes with our money from time to time. It may be choosing the wrong investment or spending a little too much on a shopping trip. If we've been responsible with our money up until this point, we can probably recover from these small mistakes. But some bigger financial missteps can be harder to bounce back from.

Here's a quick look at three devastating financial mistakes that you don't want to make, along with advice on how to fix them if you've already started down that path.

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Image source: Getty Images.

1. Only making the minimum credit card payment

One of the major appeals of credit cards is that you can buy now and pay later. But this can get dangerous if you're spending more than you can afford to pay back at the end of the month. The average credit card interest rate is just shy of 17%. If you're only making the minimum payment each month, this can end up costing you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars extra.

Say you owe $5,000 on a credit card with a 17% interest rate. You're currently paying the minimum payment, which is 2% of the card's balance, or $100. This may appear to be the better choice if money is tight for you, but you'll find this is not so if you do the math. At this rate, it would take you over 30 years to pay back what you owe, and you'd pay over $10,000 in interest. This is also not including any additional charges you make to that card during this time.

It's always best to pay your credit cards in full each month. But if you've already fallen into the trap of credit card debt, you have a few options. Consider transferring a balance to a new card with a 0% introductory balance transfer rate and do what you can to pay it off before the balance begins accruing interest again. You could also try getting a personal loan to consolidate your debt.

2. Not saving for retirement

About one in five Americans don't have any retirement savings, according to a Northwestern Mutual study. Another 10% have saved less than $5,000. Social Security will provide some income in retirement, but it only replaces about 40% of your pre-retirement income, and this may not be enough for you to live on. That's why it's crucial to set aside some money on your own.

If your employer offers a 401(k), that is a good place to begin, especially if the company offers matching funds. If you don't have access to a 401(k), you can open an IRA on your own. Ideally, you should be contributing 10% to 15% of your income to retirement savings if you can afford to do so.

It's best to start when you're young because then you'll be able to take advantage of compound interest. A $1,000 per-year investment may not seem like much, but that can grow to over $125,000 in 30 years, assuming an 8% interest rate.

If you weren't able to get an early start on retirement savings, you can still take advantage of catch-up contributions. These are designed to help adults 50 or over boost their retirement savings. They can contribute up to $24,500 to a 401(k) in 2018 and $6,500 to an IRA, compared to $18,500 and $5,500, respectively, for those under age 50.

3. Not saving for a rainy day

Everyone should have an emergency fund that covers at least three months of living expenses. Six months is even better. You never know when a major home appliance might break or when you might get laid off. If you don't have anything saved, you may have to take drastic measures like paying bills with your credit card or dipping into your retirement savings in order to cover living costs. This can put your retirement at risk and cost you thousands of dollars in interest on your credit cards.

Start an emergency fund now by building it into your monthly budget. First, figure out how much three months of living expenses would be. Add up the cost of your rent or mortgage payment, utility bills, groceries, and any other regular monthly payments that you make. Living expenses typically don't include extras like going out to eat or paying for subscription services, but if these are essential for you, add them in as well. Then, figure out how much of your monthly income you can save and put as much of this toward your emergency fund as you can comfortably afford. Keep doing this every month until you reach your savings goal.

Being responsible with your money is all about understanding how the decisions you make today will affect you in the future. The three mistakes listed above could derail your finances, but as long as you plan carefully, you can avoid them and absorb any unpleasant shocks that may come your way.

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