3 Common Saving Mistakes You Can Fix Right Now

Investing, Retirement Planning
3 Common Saving Mistakes You Can Fix Right Now

There’s a little-known fact about investing: You don’t have to be good at it. You just have to do it.

And by do it, I mean put money into a diversified portfolio on a regular basis. Consistency, rather than skill, matters most here.

But that’s part of the issue: It’s a struggle to find that money, and even when you do, parting with it for a far-off, incredibly vague goal like retirement can be psychologically difficult. Is that because we’re doing it wrong?

Maybe. It would be offensive to gloss over the obvious; that is, there are real struggles that affect our ability to save. Wage growth has been slow. Debt is growing. But with less than half of Americans saving automatically outside of workplace plans and one in four workers missing out on employer matching dollars inside of those plans, we can also do better.

Here, three common saving mistakes you might be making that can actually be fixed — without additional income:

1. Going into this whole thing blind

Less than half of workers have even attempted to calculate how much money they might need for retirement.

Let’s look at this another way: Would you buy a car without knowing how much it costs? Paint a room without looking at the color you’re using? Step on a plane without knowing where it’s going?

The answer to most of those questions, for most people, is no. So in the same vein, don’t blind-date your retirement. If you want to plan for it and save for it, you have to have a rough idea of how much it is going to cost.

A retirement calculator can help you here — especially one that gives you a monthly savings target, rather than one that spits back the total nest egg you’ll need to build. That big number is intimidating and frankly unhelpful; a monthly goal is something realistic you can work toward (and, if you want to get really granular, you can then divide that into weekly and even daily targets).

2. Pinching pennies rather than dollars

Call it the coffee-and-coupons effect, but somewhere along the line, we started nitpicking our finances, and, quite honestly, it hasn’t helped us all that much. Cutting out your morning coffee might make you feel virtuous, but the reality is it’s not adding a whole lot to your bottom line. Depending on how often you buy and how much syrup is involved, you’re probably saving less than $800 a year.

Is $800 a lot of money? Absolutely; I’d take it. And if you can and want to make your coffee at home, please do. But if that daily caramel macchiwhatever brings you joy, know that you could cut $800 and then some by making some bigger changes. My first suggestion: investment expenses.

On average, 401(k) fees will cost a median-income, two-earner family nearly $155,000 — roughly one-third of their investment returns — according to Demos, a public policy organization. That cost includes administrative expenses — over which you have little control — but also expense ratios, which many employees can reduce by choosing low-cost index funds over mutual funds and target-date funds.

If your 401(k) has high expenses or a poor investment selection, you can also max out employer matching dollars and then open an IRA for any additional contributions. Then look for other big-money sources of savings: Lower your insurance premiums, or consider that you might have too much car or too much house.

3. Spending before you save, rather than saving before you spend

You might think there isn’t a difference between the two, and if you had unlimited money, that might be true. But I’m guessing you don’t, and the reality of most financial situations is that if you don’t save first — commonly referred to as paying yourself and one reason why employer retirement plans with automatic salary deferrals are so successful — you might not save at all.

In 2016, I don’t have to tell you that your bank allows you to make automatic transfers to a savings account or to an IRA, nor do I need to tell you that you should take them up on that miraculous technology that moves money through the air without your lifting a finger. You know that.

But here are two things you might not know: One, many employers will now auto-increase your 401(k) contributions each year, which means you don’t have to make the decision to save more each year. Ideally, you won’t miss the money; if you do, you can just dial it back — no big deal, you can always try again later.

And two, the timing of an automatic transfer between your checking account and a savings account or IRA might matter. The earlier in the month you schedule this, the better. Not only will you be looking at, and mentally budgeting from, an after-savings balance from then on, but you won’t get three weeks into the month, feel short on cash, and dial back — or cancel altogether — that contribution.

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Arielle O’Shea is a staff writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.