When you think about personal finance, you probably think about how to save, how to best invest your money, and how to trim your budget for optimum efficiency. However, what a lot of people don’t think about are financial risks outside of investing and just how easy it is to “lose” your money (sometimes all of it!). There’s only so much emergency funds and taking out loans on things like 401(K)s can do to help in a pinch (and for the record, loans on retirement accounts are almost always a terrible idea). From home burglaries to getting a little too loose with your money every Friday during happy hour, forget saving: Are you throwing money away?
Every year, Americans “lose” money that could have easily been preserved. However, financial savviness isn’t innate, it’s not intuitive, and you can’t be expected to be an expert with no training. That’s what financial advisors are for, and many times these experts are free to consult. Here are some of the most common ways Americans are losing money in the US:
1. Becoming unnecessary victims of theft
Few people follow expert (police) advice to prevent burglaries, break-ins and vandalism. From “showboating” your goods in the window to actually leaving doors unlocked on a regular basis, professional burglars know the exact red flags to watch out for. Start with Reader’s Digest’s tips for preventing home invasion, but don’t forget about car theft, purse theft, and office theft, too. Even if you have homeowners/renters insurance, and you should, it’s still a nightmare that’s often preventable.
2. Getting generous while drinking
You don’t have to be an alcoholic to feel the impact of even a single drink during your traditional Friday happy hour. Alcohol lowers inhibitions of course, and that includes just how generous you become. It feels great to buy your friends a round, but that round could easily be $100 with a tip, expensive tastes, and a larger group. It might be a good idea to stop drinking at the bar completely with advice from Drink Aware, or moving the party to homes can seriously save on cash.
3. That occasional lottery ticket
If you don’t play, you can’t win, but the odds of winning those prizes that actually make lottery tickets worth it are right on par with getting a modeling contract. However, if addiction isn’t an issue and you really enjoy the occasional lottery ticket, remember this: Gambling losses are a tax write-off. Proof of a losing ticket, such as a scratch-it ticket or lottery-based ticket, can be used as a deduction for your adjusted gross income. Save that proof for your CPA.
4. Choosing convenience over frugality
You know the routine weekly purchases that really add up: Your morning coffee, groceries, gas and the like. You don’t have to give up these luxuries (although that’s what they are in excess), but if you’re not seeking out the most affordable prices in relation to distances, you may as well leave piles of money around town for the taking. It doesn’t take much work to check out the (perhaps almost) equally close bargain grocery store once and see if you could be saving.
5. Not contributing 100% to your 401(K)
This is assuming, of course, that your 401(K) includes an employer-matching benefit. If you’ll get more in your account the more you contribute, you should be contributing 100 percent. Anything less is basically telling your employer, “No thanks, I don’t want any more money.” Talk with your CPA to find out all the tax-saving benefits, too.
There’s a difference between saving and losing money, although they’re often connected.