You may think you and your spouse have a good handle on your finances, but even smart couples make money mistakes. Get beyond “getting by” and learn how to manage your money! Stacy Morrison, editor-in-chief of Redbook magazine, has smart solutions to the top money mistakes that couples make.
Mistake 1: ‘We don't know where our money goes’ Money-smart solution: Track your spending and start a budget
- The fear of money management can lead to poor decisions and prevent you from tracking your problems. You must face your fear and debt in order to get back on track. Set up a budget. Track all your expenditures and categorize in groups. Free online budgeting tools are available at Kiplinger.com. While some items, like a mortgage, will be nonnegotiable, there is some wiggle room in groceries and utility costs.
- You should sit down and make a budget of the money that comes in and the money that goes out. It's really recommended that you track every little thing that you buy. Go back and look at a month's worth of receipts so that you can capture everything.
- Once you uncover extra cash, every penny of it should go toward paying down your debt. And going forward, you need to have weekly meetings as a couple where you go over your finances and pay bills together.
Mistake 2: ‘We've been tapping our 401(k) to pay the bills’
Money-smart solution: Look for ways to increase your income
- Don't borrow from your 401(k) account except in the case of an absolute emergency.
- Take on a part-time job (at least temporarily) to make up for the "lost" income.
- What it comes down to is either cutting expenses so you have enough coming in — or earning a little more money. Ideally, you should do both.
Mistake 3: ‘We haven’t paid our credit card debt in a year’ Money-smart solution: Face creditors head-on
- Don't get yourself into a situation where you haven't paid credit card debt. Failing to pay bills and ducking collector's calls can devastate your credit. It's better to be more direct with your creditors, rather than putting your head in the sand.
- Call credit card companies and collection agencies and try to negotiate repayment or haggle for the lowest rate. Tell them your lowest rate and ask them if they can match that. Sometimes creditors will also accept a percentage of the full amount or work with you to set up a reasonable repayment.
Four things you should never do with your credit card
Don't make only the minimum payment This stretches out your payments and, thanks to the interest, significantly increases your overall cost. The mistake people make when using credit cards is that they use them for indistinct purposes and within an indistinct time frame. You should never use your credit card like cash! The benefit of credit cards is that you can make a major purchase and then pay for it over a short period of time. Don't carry too many cards Multiple cards make it easier to rack up debt because it's harder to keep track of your spending. Having lots of cards isn't necessarily bad for your credit, but misusing them is.Limit your plastic to two national cards that you can manage carefully: one card for major purchases and one for short-term purchases that you can pay off every month.
Don't miss payment due dates
Not only will you be hit with a late fee — as high as $39 on some cards — but your interest rate could also jump. Sign up for online banking or pay over the phone if you're up against the deadline. If you are perpetually paying late, it can affect your credit score rating. Missing a mortgage payment will trigger bad credit as well.
Don't take cash advances This is the single most expensive money mistake you will encounter. These advances generally come with sky-high interest rates and service fees, making them a far too expensive way to get cash. Your best bet is to call your monthly bill holders and ask for extra days to pay your bill. The next step is to immediately slash your household expenses. Sometimes you need to because it will get you out of debt. It really is a good time for people to sit down and make a budget and slash extra expenses so you don't have a short-term cash crisis.
For more money and finance tips, visit Redbook.com