(BPT) - “I'm going to regret this in the morning.” Whether it was capping a high-calorie meal with a decadent dessert or agreeing to read just one more pre-bedtime book to an overtired toddler, nearly everyone has had reason to utter those words at some point in their lives. When it comes to money decisions, however, the last thing you want is regrets.
Yet many of us have them, according to a recent poll by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). In fact, the poll of more than 2,200 people revealed five common financial regrets, including overspending (53 percent), not saving enough (18 percent), not preparing for retirement (14 percent), failing to buy a house (10 percent) and having bought a house (5 percent).
Fortunately, it is possible to avoid the kind of money decisions that lead to those regrets. Here are some basic steps that can help you make better financial choices and, hopefully, live regret free:
Control your spending
It may be easier said than done, but keeping control of your spending is critical. Do whatever it takes to rein in overspending, especially if you rely on credit cards to fund this bad habit. Creating a budget and sticking to it can help. Knowing exactly how much you have to spend each month and having a plan to allocate that money can help you avoid impulse or reactionary spending.
Having a handle on your credit can also help you avoid overspending. Monitoring your credit regularly and knowing how much you owe can help you make better decisions about how much more you should spend. And using credit wisely now will make it easier to get additional credit later when there's something you really need - like a new car or house.
Boost your savings
Building your savings is a multi-layered process. You need to know what you're saving for - an emergency fund, retirement, your child's college education, your dream vacation or a down payment on a house or car. Whatever your goal for saving (and most of us have more than one), treat it like any other debt that you must pay. You wouldn't shirk paying your rent each month, and you shouldn't be lax about paying yourself, in the form of savings, either.
Increasing the amount you save often involves trimming the amount you spend. Look for ways to cut costs and make your budget as lean as possible. Saving more could be as simple as making coffee at home every morning instead of buying from a pricey coffee chain. Or, you may take more drastic steps like getting a second job.
Plan ahead for your golden years
Once you retire, it will be nearly impossible to build more savings, so the time to fund retirement is long before it occurs. If your employer offers a 401(k), you should contribute the maximum allowed. If you don't have access to an employer-funded plan, explore your options with individual retirement accounts. There are also tips available online to help you plan a debt-free retirement.
Bringing it all home
What does it say about the Americans that the fourth and fifth most common regrets in the NFCC poll relate to buying a home? And that they are opposites of each other? Homeownership is a big decision. It is an essential part of the American dream, and if you forego buying a home, you may regret it. Conversely, if you get in over your head financially in order to buy a home, you could regret that, too. So what's the solution?
First, decide if home ownership really is right for you. It's not for everyone. If your personal or financial circumstances mean buying a home doesn't make sense for you, then don't do it, no matter what anyone says about property being a great investment.
If buying a house is a reasonable goal for you, then go about it wisely. Save for a down payment (this could take several years), monitor your credit and take steps to ensure it will be in good shape when you apply for a mortgage. Explore your mortgage and housing options thoroughly before signing on the dotted line, and never allow your heart to rule your head when it comes time to make a purchase.