5 Signs Your Financial Future Is Dire

If you have a history of making poor spending decisions and repeating common money mistakes, such as racking up debt or neglecting to save for retirement, there’s still time to improve your future financial situation. By taking stock of long-term financial goals and saving, earning and budgeting more effectively, you can get your plans back on track.

If you’re concerned that your future financial picture looks bleak, experts suggest looking for these telltale signs, and regaining control over your finances with the following basic money-management principles.

[See: 15 Little Things That Impact Your Finances.]

Your credit card debt is increasing. “When I work with clients, the biggest sign of financial trouble is consistent or increasing credit card debt. It’s a clear sign of overspending,” says John Caserta, a chartered financial consultant and managing director at Caserta & de Jongh, LLC, a financial advisory firm with offices in Cheshire and New Haven, Connecticut.

Caserta says there can be many legitimate reasons for temporarily accumulating credit card debt, and so this doesn’t automatically mean that your financial future is grim. “But when there’s a history of transferring balances from one credit card to another without a decrease in the balance, there’s a clear cash flow problem,” he says.

The financial fix: Caserta advises consumers to take an inventory of income and expenses and create a cash flow statement in order to see how they’re spending their money. “That can be accomplished with pen and paper, free appsor even paid software. They have to choose what works for them,” he says.

In short, lower your credit card balance, and gradually pay off any lingering credit card debt each month to get your finances in order.

You don’t have enough money saved for an unexpected major expense. This may not be a sign of major financial ruin down the road, but it’s a way to assess whether you’ll have enough saved for an emergency when money is very tight.

“Unfortunately, life happens, and if you aren’t prepared for a flat tire, home repair or some other unexpected expense, it assures you’re having financial trouble,” says Amit Chopra, a certified financial planner and managing partner at Forefront Wealth Planning and Asset Management, a financial services firm in New York City.

The financial fix: Consider setting up an automatic withdrawal every month and have a certain amount of money go into a savings account. That way, eventually you will have some money to draw upon in the case of a financial emergency. It can be challenging to put money aside if you’re constantly struggling to pay bills, but it’s an important financial step. For example, you could start by diverting $50 a month, which would amount to $600 in a year. If that goes well, start setting aside $75 or $100 per month into an emergency fund to stay prepared.

You’ve raided your retirement account. If you’ve tapped into your retirement account, that’s a big clue you may encounter financial trouble down the road. “I see many people make the same mistake, which I feel is a precursor for a future financial disaster,” says Joseph Carpenito, a financial advisor in Boca Raton, Florida, at Raymond James Financial Services. Carpenito says he often will see clients with a 401(k) plan taking money out of their account in the form of a cash distribution.

“Most of these individuals are under 59 1/2 years old, and even after explaining the penalties and tax implications of taking an early cash distribution, I hear the same excuse: ‘Well, it’s only a couple thousand dollars.'”

[See: 8 Big Budgeting Blunders — and How to Fix Them.]

“Although now it only seems like a couple thousand dollars, investors are giving up growth and compounding interest potential, which over a long time horizon could be the equivalent of having hundreds of thousands of dollars less in retirement,” Carpenito says.

The financial fix: Find an alternative way to access money, such as putting money into a well-stocked emergency fund.

You barely have enough money for discretionary expenses. Do you live from paycheck to paycheck, and rarely, if ever, have extra money left over? Eventually you may run out of luck and money, and find yourself taking on more credit card debt or seeking out payday loans.

Corey VanDenBerg, a mortgage banker with Platinum Home Mortgage in Lafayette, Indiana, often sees people buy houses with the highest mortgage payment they can afford, instead of a payment that they can comfortably manage. “Many, many times, people are scrambling to find cash to close,” he says.

The financial fix: Putting money into a savings account and budgeting strategically may solve your paycheck to paycheck scenario. But when it comes to making major purchases like a house and car, get in the habit of crunching numbers and doing your research before consulting professionals. VanDenBerg says that many times clients will ask him, “How much can I afford?” Instead of asking mortgage lenders or car salespeople that question, it’s best to ask yourself how much you can afford, VanDenBerg says.

You haven’t done any financial planning. This is a troubling sign that your financial future is heading toward a frightening state, Chopra says. It may not seem like your finances are out of whack, especially if you’re living comfortably currently, but if you haven’t started saving for retirement, now is the time to kick-start planning to reach your long-term financial goals.

[See: How to Talk to Millennials About Money.]

The financial fix: Start budgeting. Make a list of your monthly fixed bills, like your mortgage or rent and your utility bills, and your expenses that aren’t fixed, such as your grocery bills and gas purchases. Track where your money is going each month. Once you have a budget in place, start creating some goals and ask yourself if you think you’ll be able to afford to pay for them in the future. For example, consider if you need to begin investing for your retirement or for your kids’ college fund. If you don’t think you’ll be able to meet your goals, that’s a wake-up call that you need to start putting money away now.

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1 in 3 Americans have less than $5,000 saved for retirement—here’s why so many people can’t save

NUP_180652_0628.jpg

Michael Yarish | NBC

 

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The vast majority of Americans, 78 percent, say they’re “extremely” or “somewhat” concerned about not having enough money for retirement, according to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study.

And for good reason: A shocking 21 percent of Americans have nothing at all saved for the future, and another 10 percent have less than $5,000 tucked away, the study finds.

That means about a third of Americans have only a few thousand dollars, or less, put away for their golden years.

Of course, some people are more prepared: A quarter report having $200,000 or more stashed away, while 16 percent have between $75,000 and $199,999. But overall, Northwestern Mutual found that Americans with retirement savings have an average of $84,821 saved, which is far from enough. Experts typically recommend trying to accumulate at least $1 million.

Meanwhile, a new survey from Bankrate finds that 13 percent of Americans are saving less for retirement than they were last year and offers insight into why much of the population is lagging behind. The most popular response survey participants gave for why they didn’t put more away in the past year was a drop, or no change, in income.

“That’s consistent with federal data that show real wages have barely budged in decades,” Bankrate reports. According to the Pew Research Center, the average paycheck has the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago.

Day-to-day costs continue to soar, and salaries don’t go as far as they once did to cover the necessities, author and executive director of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project Alissa Quart tells CNBC Make It. That makes it more difficult to set aside money for the future.

Still, the longer you put off planning for your golden years, the farther behind you’ll fall.

The good news is there are ways to make progress without feeling cash-strapped or committing to any drastic lifestyle changes. Here are three effective strategies:

1. Start ASAP. The sooner you begin putting your money to work, the less you’ll have to save each month to reach your goals, thanks to the power of compound interest.

If you start at age 23, for instance, you only have to save about $14 a day to be a millionaire by age 67. That’s assuming a 6 percent average annual investment return. If you start at age 35, on the other hand, you’d have to set aside $30 a day to reach seven-figure status by age 67.

Here's how much you should save at every age

Here’s how much you should save at every age

2. Automate. If you automate your retirement savings — meaning, you have a portion of your paycheck sent directly to a retirement account, such as a 401(k), Roth IRA or traditional IRA — you’ll never even see the money you’re setting aside and will learn to live without it.

Ideally, you’ll want to work your way up to setting aside at least 10 percent of your pretax income, but if you’re only comfortable with setting aside 1 percent, start there!

Check online to see if you can set up “auto-increase,” which allows you to choose the percentage you want to raise your contributions by and how often. This way, you won’t forget to up your contributions or talk yourself out of setting aside a larger chunk when the time comes.

If you can’t find the feature online, call your retirement plan provider to find out what’s possible.

3. Bank any surplus money. Whenever you come across any extra cash — a bonus, birthday check or small windfall — rather than blowing it on a new pair of shoes or a vacation, send at least a chunk of it straight to savings.

To resist the temptation to spend any surplus money, deposit it right away, so you never even see it.

Five financial habits you need to change ASAP

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Group of people playing slots.

gilaxia | E+ | Getty Images

Good financial habits don’t just happen. Like washboard abs, most people have to work to develop them.

Racking up monthly charges on your credit cards without paying off the balance is a common bad financial habit. Not reviewing credit card statements is another.

But other, more subtle behaviors can be tipoffs to a disorganized financial life.

Getting caught with a late fee because you lost or forgot about a bill points to a too-loose approach to finances. Avoiding financial decisions because you don’t know enough is another warning bell.

Sometimes an otherwise good financial decision – such as making extra mortgage payments – doesn’t make sense at a specific time. For people with student or credit card debt, for instance, that extra mortgage payment may not be a great choice, says Todd Hoffman, certified financial planner with Steward Partners.

Five habits you may think are no big deal can, in fact, make a difference when you want to accomplish financial goals.

1. You don’t have a budget

It may feel old-fashioned, but a budget is essential.

“There is no good excuse for not having a budget and keeping track of expenses, period,” said Elias Janetis, founder and CEO of Squeeze.com, a financial services comparison website.

Know that, even with a budget, you can still leak money. “Watch out for expenses like unused gym memberships with fine print that makes cancellation costly,” Janetis said. Another potential trap: free trials that require credit card info. Make sure these don’t turn into unwanted paid subscriptions.

A budget can prevent you getting too far off track, Hoffman says. If you regularly review expenses, you’ll see that something may be an actual problem and not just a onetime occurrence.

Get in the habit of consistent tracking, Hoffman says. You’ll know there’s a problem if your bank balance is dipping rather than rising at the end of the month.

2. You shop without a list

Spur-of-the-moment purchases are just one way to shop unthinkingly.

“People who don’t think through their purchase plan will get into financial trouble,” Janetis said.

When it comes to essential and recurring services such as cell phones, internet and cable, you need to compare prices and look for deals.

Make lists and do your due diligence to make sure you don’t spend more than necessary and possibly more than you have — whether it’s for a suit or a service billed monthly.

Check Consumer Reports and comparison websites, or talk over decisions with a knowledgeable friend who has already done the research.

3. You use a credit card daily

If credit card debt is starting to mount, you may want to take a second look at how you use cards. Don’t accumulate debt on everyday expenses. For groceries, gas money, daily purchases and the like, stick to a debit card.

Credit card negotiation

Credit card negotiation  

The money comes right out of your checking account, so you must limit spending to what’s available. You also won’t accrue any interest charges or late fees.

“Try keeping your credit cards at home to resist the temptation of a quick credit card swipe or use cash to make purchases,” Williams said. “It will quickly become clear where you can avoid overspending.”

4. Your finances are a forbidden topic

While not necessarily a bad habit, staying silent on financial matters may hurt you rather than help you, says Marissa Savino Williams, a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual.

The way to become confident financially and reach your goals is to be willing to learn — and that means learning from your mistakes. “Read books [and] articles and talk to a financial advisor who can lead you in the right direction,” Williams said. “Your money is too important not to talk about.”

5. Your head’s in the clouds.

You are oblivious to your finances.

You don’t know your credit score. You don’t know all your company’s benefits. If your company offers a 401(k) plan and you’re not participating, you’re in denial about the fact that you’ll want to retire someday but you won’t have saved enough. Or you are saving through the 401(k), but you’re not saving enough to get the company match.