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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 expensive purchases that we’re proud of. But what about those purchases we regret?

Our new study found that 192 million Americans, or 78.3%, have made a money mistake in their lifetime. 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 a study of 2,245 Americans. 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. 78.6% of females admit to having made one of the following money mistakes, sitting slightly above men who came in at 77.6%.

Men, however, are more critical of their investment choices, with nearly 1 in 4 (24.5%) naming bad investments as a money mistake, compared to 11.4% of women. Men are also more than twice as likely to name gambling as a money mistake (14.7%) compared to women (6.3%).

Mistake Female Male
Dropping out of college 20.2% 20.1%
Letting my partner control our finances 16.3% 13.2%
Having children 8.1% 7.2%
Paying too much for a wedding 6.2% 9.4%
Putting it all on black: too much gambling 6.3% 14.7%
Caught in an online scam 6.9% 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%

Generation

In terms of generation, it’s nearly a level a level playing field. Gen X 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%).

Have our mistakes changed in a year’s time?

Last year, our research survey showed a variety of financial mishaps abundant. 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%)

Take control of your finances: Tips for the future

We offer a three 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.

Budgeting and money-saving apps

Need some help getting a budget in place to kickstart your savings? We rounded up a few apps that can put you on the path to financial freedom.

Brand Features
PocketGuard
  • Link your credit cards, savings and checking accounts, investments and loans to see all of your finances in one place.
  • Categorize your purchases to see what you’re spending money on and discover opportunities to save.
  • Automatically build a personalized budget based on your income, bills and financial goals.
  • Get suggestions on where you can save, like by switching service providers or opening a high-interest savings account.
  • Available for free on iOS and Android devices.
Goodbudget
  • A digital version of the envelope money-saving strategy.
  • Budget your everyday expenses into envelopes, and create special envelopes to save money for things like vacation funds, holiday gifts and more.
  • Enter your transactions into the appropriate envelopes to see where your money’s going each month.
  • Sync your budget across multiple devices so you and your partner can manage your spending and savings together.
  • Available for free on iOS and Android devices.
Mint Budgeting
  • Link your credit cards, savings and checking accounts, investments and bills to manage your finances.
  • Set reminders to pay your bills and get alerts when your funds are low.
  • Get suggested budgets based on your spending that you can adjust to fit your needs.
  • Get a free credit report and daily monitoring whenever TransUnion receives new info from your creditors.
  • Available for free on iOS and Android devices.
JouleBug
  • Discover ways you can make your everyday habits more sustainable, like by recycling or drinking less bottled water.
  • Join local and national challenges to compete and see who’s the greenest.
  • Follow your friends and neighbors to see how they’re making a difference in the community.
  • Track the impact you’re having and how you’re saving money in the process.
  • Available for free on iOS and Android devices.
Mvelopes
  • Link your savings and checking accounts, credit cards and other financial accounts to easily manage your finances in one place.
  • Use the envelope money-saving strategy to create a personalized budget tailored to your unique situation.
  • Track your finances to see where exactly your money is going and places where you can cut back to save.
  • Meet with a personal finance trainer quarterly or monthly to get guidance and feedback on your progress.
  • Available to purchase on iOS and Android devices. Plans range from $4 to $59 a month.

Past America’s biggest money mistakes


For media inquiries:

Jennifer McDermott

Consumer advocate helping people improve their personal finances.

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