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10 Money Mistakes Everyone Makes at the Beginning of the Year

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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When it comes to one’s finances, bad decisions can have a snowball-like effect. If you start off the year forgetting a payment here and there, being disorganized with your taxes or failing to contribute to your retirement accounts, you’re setting yourself up for a disorderly financial life in 2019.

There are a handful of common financial mistakes people make at the beginning of the year that can be prevented with just a little effort and foresight. Start the year off on the right foot by avoiding these common missteps.

1. Not having a plan in place.

Luis Rosa, a certified financial planner with Build a Better Financial Future in Henderson, Nev., said one of the biggest financial mistakes people make at the beginning of the year is not planning ahead.

“People just fail to plan overall sometimes,” Rosa said. “[If] you don’t have a plan, then you’re just like a ship without a rudder … at the beginning of the year, sit down and see what the goals are that you want to accomplish.”

Kristi Sullivan, a certified financial planner based in Denver, said she often gets phone calls at the beginning of the year from people who might have contacted her months ago, but never followed up for an appointment. “They want to start the year off right,” Sullivan said.

Whether it’s by yourself or with the help of a financial planner, figure out what you want to accomplish in 2019. Do you want to save more money? Pay off a significant amount of student loan debt? Purchase your first home? Build up your emergency fund? Whatever your financial goals are, January is the perfect time to set them.

2. Not reassessing your automatic savings strategy.

Sullivan said January is the perfect time to reassess any automatic savings you’re making, and increasing them, if possible. “If you put another 2% in your 401(k) at the beginning of the year, that’s done for you,” she said. “You don’t ever have to think about it again — you implemented a good savings habit.”

You could also increase the amount you move each month from your checking account to your savings account. “Just set up those automatic good behaviors so you don’t really have to think about them, and watch those actions build over time,” Sullivan said.

3. Ignoring your retirement account contributions.

Rosa said people will often fail to realize that certain retirement account contribution limits have changed. For example, the Roth IRA contribution limit is now $6,000 as opposed to $5,500, so somebody who has a Roth IRA could raise his or her monthly contributions at the beginning of the year to plan ahead, Rosa said. (For 401(k)s, the limit will change from $18,500 to $19,000 in 2019.)

Automate your retirement savings at the beginning of the year to ensure you’re putting away the maximum amount possible each month. Rosa notes that on the IRA side, you do have until the tax deadline to contribute to the prior year. “But life gets in the way,” he said. Organizing your contributions in January will give you peace of mind for the year ahead.

The beginning of the year is also a great time to reassess your 401(k) allocations, Rosa said. For example, you might have initially allocated 60% for stocks and 40% for bonds in your portfolio.

“During the year, things change, so maybe stocks went up and bonds went down,” Rosa said. “At the beginning of the year, it’d be a good idea to go back in there [and] see how your account performed for the year.”

If necessary, you can make any changes that will get your portfolio closer to what you want.

In addition, Rosa recommends taking advantage of your company’s employer match if you haven’t already.

“Sometimes, it’s a good idea at the beginning of the year to be like, ‘OK, this will be one of my goals: to increase to at least the employer match,'” Rosa said. “And just get it done starting with the next pay period.”

4. Putting off your taxes.

There’s no harm in getting an early start on your taxes. Gary Schaider, a certified public accountant and manager at Weiss & Company LLP in Glenview, Ill., said one way you can be proactive is by getting organized.

Account for anything that might affect your tax situation that you didn’t get in the mail from the government. This could include things like business expenses, charitable contributions and anything else that might be deductible.

5. Not adjusting your tax withholdings.

Schaider said one of the immediate things you can do in 2019 is look at your tax withholdings. “One of the things I think most people don’t look at enough is what you’re doing as far as your income tax withholding at your job,” Schaider said.

This is imperative because of the new tax laws and the ways in which rates, exemptions and withholding amounts have changed, he said. “People need to revisit company exemptions they’re claiming on their W-4 and what their withholding looks like,” Schaider said.

Make sure you’re not taking out too much or too little. “You should probably do that early in the year rather than late in the year when it’s too late to do anything about it,” Schaider said.

In addition, sometimes people will have a major life event, like a marriage, divorce or the birth of a child, that can affect their tax bracket, Rosa said. If this applies to you, fill out a W-4 form in January to make any necessary adjustments.

6. Not checking your life insurance beneficiaries.

Perhaps you got married in the previous year. Did you remember to change your life insurance beneficiary from your sibling to your spouse? Or maybe you had a child or got divorced. The beginning of the year is a great time to double-check that your beneficiary is correct.

“I’ve met several people that have their brother or sister on their life insurance, and they get married and just completely forget to add their spouse,” Rosa said. “So it’s a good time to reflect on what changed this year.”

7. Staying disorganized for yet another year.

Sullivan said the new year is a great time to finally get your accounts organized. Perhaps you have an old 401(k) and various other accounts scattered about. Take 2019 to get your money organized.

“Streamline it and consolidate accounts,” Sullivan said. “That can be one [thing] that people really want to do — almost like cleaning out their closet, [but] organizing their finances.”

8. Not paying off debt.

Right after the holidays is the perfect time to finally begin paying off debt. Perhaps you overspent during the holidays. Or maybe you’re just sick of mindless online shopping. Take January to get a debt repayment plan in place.

“You’re sick of shopping, you’re sick of spending money,” Sullivan said. “So it might be kind of a natural time to sort of hunker down and pay off some credit card debt.”

Take January to create a debt payoff plan for the year ahead. You’ll thank yourself come 2020.

9. Not reviewing your investments.

January is a great time to look at your investments and make any necessary changes.

“I think at the beginning of the year, it’s good to look at what your money is invested in,” Schaider said. “Is it all in the market? Is it in cash? Is it in safer things or riskier things?”

You should definitely look at your investments if you had a major life change in the previous year. For example, perhaps you had a child and you don’t want to be as risky with your investments in 2019. “You might want to change your strategy,” Schaider said.

10. Biting off more than you can chew.

Although the new year can leave you feeling motivated, be sure you don’t set lofty goals that will be difficult to achieve. After all, 80% of people fail to maintain their New Year’s resolutions by the second week of February.

“Don’t think that you’re going to take January and make sweeping, overarching changes to your financial life,” Sullivan said. “Pick one or two things that you can really accomplish, pat yourself on the back and move on to the next.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Friedlander
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Jamie Friedlander is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Parents often revel in the calm and quiet that comes when kids head back to school, but they aren’t likely to enjoy the excess spending that also accompanies the back-to-school season. According to the National Retail Federation, parents will set a record in 2019, spending an average of $696.70 per household on children in elementary school through high school.

 

“It was interesting to see the across-the-board increases in spending levels,” said Mark Mathews, vice president for research development and industry analysis with the NRF. “Elevated levels of consumer sentiment, healthy household balance sheets, low inflation and recent wage gains all seem to be contributing to a confident consumer who is willing to spend money on back-to-school supplies.”

If you’re planning a trip to the store before classes start, there are a few ways to curb the spending and save some bucks.

Plan ahead

No parent should set foot out the door for back-to-school shopping without first taking stock of what they already have. Plenty of old supplies from previous years might still be usable, especially arts and crafts items like crayons, pencils and pens, as well as more expensive things like backpacks, lunch boxes and calculators.

Crossing a few items off your list is a good first step when it comes to saving, but learning how to budget is also important. It’s tempting to run down the back-to-school aisle and grab every colorful notebook and snazzy pencil case in sight, but it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. Create a realistic budget based on the items you actually need, and try your best to stick to it. If possible, do most of your shopping online, since it’s easier to keep a running tally of how much you’re spending as you shop.

Be smart about sales

Although you’re bound to run into many back-to-school sales this time of year, you don’t need to buy 12 notebooks just because they’re cheaper right now. In fact, you shouldn’t assume the sales price is the best price at all, said consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. Instead, always comparison shop.

“Run a quick Google search online or on your phone to see if another store is selling the same or a similar item for less,” she said. “Most big box stores will price match, so you won’t even have to drive to another store to get the better deal.” For example, Target, Staples and Walmart all have price matching policies.

Clip coupons and shop discount stores

Coupons have definitely made a digital comeback, with countless apps and websites dedicated to listing all your options in one place. “Spending a few minutes looking for coupons can help you get a better discount,” Woroch said. “Use apps like CouponSherpa, for instance. Or, use the Honey browser tool, which automatically searches and applies relevant coupons to your online order.”

Many stores also offer discounts to valued customers who sign up for their rewards program, like Walgreens and CVS, while craft stores like Michaels regularly offer discounts. Don’t knock purchasing basics like paper and writing supplies from the Dollar Tree, either — you might be surprised by what you find, and those types of items are often the same quality wherever you buy them.

Tax advantage of tax-free holidays

On select dates throughout the year, different states offer state sales tax holidays, or days where you can purchase items without having to pay sales tax on them. You can find a full list of the 2019 state sales tax holidays here, but some upcoming ones include:

  • August 18-24: Connecticut, clothing and footwear
  • August 17-18: Massachusetts, specific items costing less than $2,500 per item

Split bulk purchases

You can usually save money by buying certain items — like construction paper, pens, pencils and folders — in bulk, but you can save even more by splitting those bulk items with other families. Not only is this a great way to share savings, Woroch said, but you can earn rewards faster by charging everything on your card and then having the families pay you back.

Redeem your rewards

If you have a cash back credit card, now’s the time to use it. “Most credit cards give you the best redemption value when you opt for statement credit or have the cash rewards deposited into your bank,” Woroch said. “You can set this money aside for back-to-school shopping.”

Alternatively, Woroch suggested checking to see if your particular card allows you to redeem points for gift cards to retailers where you plan to shop.

Use discounted gift cards

Besides redeeming credit card points for retailer gift cards, you can also scour the web for cheap gift cards online. Planning a trip to Target? Scan websites like Raise, Cardpool and CardCash first. These sites buy and sell unused gift cards at a discount, meaning you can save on purchases you were planning to make anyway.

Consider having your kids contribute

Depending on your child’s age, back-to-school shopping might be the perfect time to start having them contribute to their own goods, especially if they earn an allowance or have a job. Talking to your kids about money at a young age — whether about budgeting, saving or spending — will help them develop solid money habits that will pay off in the future.

Parents already seem to be catching on to this idea. “It was surprising to see how much of their own money kids are contributing towards the back-to-school bills,” Mathews said. “Teens and pre-teens will be spending $63 of their own money, which works out to $1.5 billion overall. This is significantly higher than the levels we saw a decade ago.”

Although the news about increased spending on back-to-school supplies may be alarming, these days there are more ways than ever to save. A little ingenuity, resourcefulness and research can go a long way.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Cheryl Lock
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Cheryl Lock is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Cheryl at [email protected]

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Survey: Most Americans Have Raided Their Retirement Savings

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Successfully saving for retirement requires dedication and self-restraint, but more than half the country admits to robbing their future selves in order to satisfy today’s spending needs, according to a new survey by MagnifyMoney. While the economic pressures bearing down on workers today make their actions understandable, the hard truth is that many Americans are turning an already-difficult task that much harder by tapping into their retirement savings early.

Key Findings

  • Approximately 52% of respondents admit to tapping their retirement savings account early for a purpose other than retiring: 23% have done so to pay off debt, 17% for a down payment on a home, 11% for college tuition, 9% for medical expenses, and 3% for some other reason.
  • About 29% say there are some scenarios where it is a good idea to withdraw money early from a retirement savings account.
  • Around 60% of respondents do not know exactly how much they have saved for retirement. Just 40% know the exact amount, while 45% have a rough idea, and 15% have no clue.
  • Almost 25% are unhappy with their retirement savings. 47% are happy with the amount saved, and about 28% are neither happy nor unhappy.
  • Finally, 27% have never thought about how much money they’ll need in retirement.

Why are Americans tapping their retirement savings early?

The two main reasons respondents cited for withdrawing money from their retirement savings are as American as apple pie: home ownership and personal debt. According to the survey, 23% of those making an early withdrawal did so to help pay down non-medical debt, while 17% needed the money for a down payment on a home.

Although the housing market appears to be cooling off compared to just a few years ago, a down payment on a home still requires a significant chunk of change — experts recommend a down payment equaling 20% of the total mortgage to optimize your mortgage payments.

Personal debt, from credit cards to student loans, remains a fixture of everyday economic reality for millions of Americans. In other words, the stressors that cause workers to raid their retirement funds don’t look like they will decrease appreciably in the foreseeable future.

Which Americans are withdrawing money the most?

Breaking down the demographics, older savers are less likely to withdraw money from their retirement fund than younger savers. 54% of millennial savers say they’ve taken an early withdrawal from a retirement savings account, compared with 50% of Gen Xers and 43% of baby boomers. This stands to reason considering that many millennials have now entered the stage of life where they are getting mortgages, starting families and taking on bigger financial obligations while also being decades away from the traditional retirement age. Millennials are also more likely to say that raiding your retirement fund is justified under certain circumstances, as seen in the chart below:

Just one of many bad retirement savings habits

Tapping into retirement funds — whether an employer-sponsored 401(k) or a traditional IRA — before the appropriate age almost always comes with a financial penalty in the form of additional taxes and fees. What is more, you’re diminishing the principle that fuels the compound interest you need to meet your retirement savings goals.

Unfortunately the survey reveals early withdrawals are just one of the many bad habits Americans engage in when it comes to retirement savings. This list of less-than-ideal practices includes:

  • 35% of Americans are not currently saving for retirement. Of those who are, 37% started saving at age 30 or above, and 12% started saving when they were older than 40.
  • 60% of Americans do not know exactly how much they have saved for retirement. Just 40% know the exact amount, while 45% have a rough idea and 15% have no clue.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans don’t contribute enough to their employer-sponsored retirement account to get the maximum company match. Maximizing a company match is one of  your best ways to maximize your retirement savings. Among those with an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, just 17% of respondents contribute 10% or more of their take-home pay. Almost 5% contribute nothing at all, and nearly 6% are unclear about how much they contribute.

  • Approximately 42% of respondents have made the mistake of withdrawing their entire balance from an employer-sponsored retirement plan when changing jobs without rolling it over – and nearly 15% have done so more than once. A little more than 47% of millennials admit to this faux pas.

The most damning finding of all is that 27% of those surveyed have never thought about how much they’ll need in retirement. And while “ignorance is bliss” may hold true when it comes to some things in life, this expression should not apply to your retirement plans.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney by LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,029 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the general population. The survey was fielded June 24-27, 2019.

Generations are defined as:

  • Millennials are ages 22-37
  • Generation Xers are ages 38-53
  • Baby boomers are ages 54-72

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here