About five years ago I made a big “oops” on my tax returns and I'm still paying for it.
While there’s definitely a learning curve to managing finances effectively (just like there’s a learning curve for managing anything effectively!) some common mistakes are more devastating than others.
These five financial mistakes can linger on for years, affecting both your financial future and your peace of mind. Luckily, there are some wonderful free (or dirt cheap) tools that can help soften the effect of a financial mistake already made—or prevent you from ever making it!
1. Failing to make your budget before taking out a loan.
This first mistake is especially challenging—reason being, you actually have to MAKE a budget before you have a budget to consult! I went for years thinking that "my budget" and my monthly expenses-to-income reconciliation where one and the same.
The truth is, a real budget encompasses far more than a passive detailing of what you spend each month. A real budget includes paying off debt, saving for the future, upcoming big expenses (car, home, baby), and most importantly, a PLAN for your finances.
Where the budget and the loan mistake meet is when you take out a loan that is more burdensome than you can actually afford. Here, depending on the loan size and lender, you’re at risk for late payments (and a lowered credit score), default and even bankruptcy.
2. Failing to file your taxes—or filing them improperly.
As I shared at the start of this post, this particular mistake is one I know intimately….unfortunately. The first year I transitioned to working as a fully self-employed professional, I didn't know about filing quarterly self-employment taxes. But at tax time, the IRS didn't seem to care about my ignorance—they just wanted their money. I'm still paying them back….and regretting every fine-laden penny.
Resource: Tax Preparation: 8 Ways to Cut the Costs
3. Allowing credit card debt to pile up unaddressed.
I’ve had friends who haven't fared so well in this department. Left unattended, credit card debt can become burdensome over time. It can impact your ability to get loans for life's big transitions, and it can even lead to the need to declare bankruptcy.
Resource: Get Out of Debt with Coupons
Resource: The Best 3 Free Debt Snowball Tools
4. Declaring bankruptcy without exploring all your options first.
Today there are a number of truly fabulous non-profit financial debt help centers that strive to help folks like you and me to find the most minimally impactful path to resolving ongoing debt and credit issues.
This means that declaring bankruptcy today should be considered an absolute last resort, not a first step towards resolution. Declaring bankruptcy may be appropriate in some situations, but it can also have a difficult ripple effect that follows you throughout life.
Resource: American Bankruptcy Institute
Resource: Springboard Bankruptcy Counseling
5. Not taking out insurance when you start a family.
My primary motivation for making my will and buying insurance is my family. I want to know for a fact they will be taken care of if anything happens to me. The truth is, we just never know what a new day will bring, and that is what insurance is designed to control.
So whether it’s a natural disaster that spares you and your family, but takes everything else, or the day comes when your dependents must fend for themselves without you—insurance will give you some peace of mind when nothing else really can.
Resource: How to Save on Life Insurance
Resource: 9 Ways to Save on Homeowners Insurance