America’s biggest money mistakes

What’s the most common money mistake made in the US? Blowing too much on fun!

We don’t often hesitate when it comes to sharing news of expensive purchases that we’re proud of. But what about those purchases we regret?

192 million Americans, or 78.3%, have made a money mistake in their lifetime, according to our study of 2,245 Americans commissioned in July 2017 and conducted by global research provider Pureprofile. Blowing too much on fun, for example, on vacations, dining out and shopping, is the number one culprit, with almost 2 in 3 (63.6%) naming this as a mistake.

Dropping out of college (20.2%) and making a bad investment, such as property or stocks (15.5%) are our next top mistakes, according to the study. These were followed by letting a partner control the finances, too much gambling, having children, being caught in an online scam and paying too much for a wedding.

Do men and women make different money mistakes?

Generally, men and women admit to making similar money mistakes. Almost 4 in 5 women (78.6%) admit to having made one of the below money mistakes, sitting slightly above men, who came in at 77.6%.

Men, however, are more critical of their investment choices, with nearly a quarter (24.5%) naming bad investments as a money mistake, compared to less than half that for women (11.4%). Men are also more than twice as likely to name gambling as a money mistake (14.7%) compared to women (6.3%).

Money mistakesFemaleMale
Dropping out of college20.2%20.1%
Letting my partner control our finances16.3%13.2%
Having children8.1%7.2%
Paying too much for a wedding6.2%9.4%
Putting it all on black: too much gambling6.3%14.7%
Caught in an online scam6.9%9.4%
Blowing too much on fun (vacations, dining out, shopping, etc)66.2%58.0%
Bad investment (such as property or stocks)11.4%24.5%


By generation

In terms of generation, it’s nearly a level playing field. Gen Xers are the most likely to admit to a money mistake (79.1%), followed by Millennials (78.9%) and Baby Boomers (74.1%).

Not surprisingly, Millennials are blowing the most on fun (70.8%), followed by Gen X (59.7%) and Baby Boomers (46.0%).

When reflecting on their money mistakes, over 1 in 4 Baby Boomers admit to making a bad investment (26.6%), followed by Gen (17.3%) and Millennials (11.4%).

How do we compare to last year?

Our 2016 research of 1,915 Americans showed a variety of financial mishaps abundant. While entertainment was excluded from the list, dropping out of college was the biggest money mistake, picked by 21% of those surveyed. Of those included, these ranked the highest:

  • Dropping out of college (21%)
  • Letting your partner control the finances (19%)
  • Having children (12%)
  • Paying too much for a wedding (9%)
  • Excessive gambling (8%)
  • Being caught in an online scam (8%)

This percentage represents 67 million Americans who regret not finishing their education, and it’s an expensive mistake to make, with the average student loan coming in at $22,700. Lower-income earners — or those who earn less than $50,000 — were more likely to pick this as an error they regretted.

Men vs. women – our money mistakes over time

Generally, men and women admit to making similar money mistakes. Of those who identified dropping out of college as their biggest mistake, 48% were female and 52% were male. Letting your partner control the finances received a similar breakdown, though this time with a split of 52% women and 48% men.

Having children was a 50/50 split for both males and females. And of those admitting that paying too much for a wedding was their biggest mistake, men were most likely to feel the burn with a breakdown of 55%, compared with 45% of women.

Men proved much more susceptible to gambling than women. Of the 8% who identified gambling as their biggest mistake, almost two-thirds (62%) were men. Being caught by an online scam was common for both males (51%) and females (49%), emphasizing the need for us to get further in the know about how to keep our transactions safe.

Last year’s money mistakes, by gender

Too much gambling38%62%
Fell for an online scam49%51%
Paid too much for a wedding45%55%
Having children50%50%
Dropping out of college48%52%
Letting my partner control our finances52%48%


Take control of your finances: Tips for the future

We offer 3 practical first steps toward financial fitness.

Compare before you buy

Whether it’s student loans, travel insurance or even flowers for your wedding, by fully comparing your available options, you’ll have a better sense of which works best for your situation.

Another great thing about comparing is that you aren’t rushing the purchase, which means that you can bypass buyers’ remorse and gain extra time to consider whether you really want to go ahead with it.

Seek out financial assistance

To get back on track, be proactive. Research online, talk to a friend or seek expert advice.

When it comes to finance, don’t be afraid to seek out help and take time with your decision. A second opinion could give you peace of mind that the unreal deal you’re looking at is actually the best one.

Get smart about online scams

The Internet is great for many things. Unfortunately, it’s opened the door to cybercrime. According to computer security company Norton, phishing, malware and other cybercrime cost Americans over $20 billion in 2015 alone. Therefore, it’s no surprise that 70% of Americans believe it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stay safe and secure online.

You can reduce the likelihood of falling prey to online scams by following a few straightforward tips: never wire money to strangers, pay by credit card (that way, you’ll have some recourse if things go awry), be wary of unsolicited email and, arguably most important, go with your gut. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Vicki Cook

Decision-Making Expert at Make Smarter Decisions

You can avoid future money mistakes by having a laser focus on your end goals – or what matters most to you. It’s fine if you value having fun and enjoying life ahead of other goals. Just be prepared for conflict if paying off student loans or saving for retirement matter too. Taking expensive vacations doesn’t align with debt reduction or boosting your investments. Reviewing and updating your goals on a regular basis will help you make smarter spending decisions.

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