Borrowing

Are You Repeating Your Parents’ Money Mistakes?

Nancy Mann Jackson

If you’ve never asked your parents to divulge their biggest financial regrets, you may be making a mistake of your own. According to a 2017 survey, Gen Xers (ages 36-50) have largely fallen into the same negative money patterns as their Baby Boomer parents—like overspending on nonessentials, racking up debt and not saving enough for retirement.

Luckily, if you’re under 36 (or even a Gen Xer), there’s time to reverse that trend. Here’s how.

1. Start talking.

It’s pretty common for families to stay mum about money. So unless your parents’ financial mistakes are painfully obvious, you may not know unless you ask. If they’re uncomfortable talking real numbers, say you’re just seeking out lessons they’ve learned.

Of course, you can also learn from mistakes you’ve seen play out in your family. If your parents are working longer than they’d hoped because they didn’t save enough for retirement, it’s a good time to make sure your own retirement plan is on track, says Certified Financial Planner Tim Hewitt of Wiley Group.  (See #4.) If they panic-sold stocks during the Great Recession, and missed out on the market’s recovery, take time to educate yourself on the dangers of timing the market.

2. Get clear on your own expectations and values.

It’s easy to allow our money choices to be driven by what peers or pop culture tells us is important—from bling to big homes. Chances are, some of your parents’ money mistakes were a result of following the pack instead of making spending decisions based on their own values and budget.

Instead of trying to keep up, write down the goals you actually care about (and stop spending money on things you don’t) and create a savings plan to reach them. You’ll not only feel more in control, but the exercise can help keep you from overspending by being more conscious of where your money is going.

3. Live below your means.

Your parents probably told you this one. But putting it into practice can be challenging when you’re not making a lot of money.  If that’s you, try one of these relatively low-effort ways to save more, like buying in bulk or negotiating a few household bills and being mindful of your energy consumption. If you’re particularly prone to overspending on nonessentials—the top regret amongst Gen Xers and Boomers—remember these shopping hacks each time you hit the store.

4. Pay your (future) self first.

According to a 2016 survey, 42 percent of millennials haven’t started saving for retirement.

The good news is it doesn’t take much to get started. “The sooner you can save even a small portion of your salary, the better, because compound interest is how your savings can grow substantially,” says Rob TeKolste of Sammons Financial Group. Starting small and inching up your 401(k) contribution a half or full percent annually as your income grows—or setting up a small automatic transfer to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) on pay day—can help ensure you don’t end up having to play catch up in your 40s and 50s.

5. Get educated.

Whether your family opens up about their money mistakes or not, remember there’s a wealth of free information and advice available at your fingertips. Getting educated about money doesn’t need to be a complicated or time-consuming exercise, either. Even reading a few articles a month and familiarizing yourself with key money terms can help you make better money decisions that’ll benefit you in the long run.

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