Let's concede from the start that it is very difficult to save money in this economy. Prices keep rising, despite what the official inflation figures say, and incomes have become stagnant.
But that's all the more reason to maintain best practices when it comes to personal finance. Bad habits with money not only make it harder to save but can keep you in a constant state of being broke.
Cameron Huddleston, who writes for Kiplinger, recently compiled a list of behaviors that tend to keep consumers' bank accounts empty. While not all apply to everyone who finds themselves always short of cash, just one or two can provide a financial headwind that is difficult to overcome. The first on her list is not finishing school.
Some might take issue with that since millions of young people graduate from college with staggering debt and no job. But while they may struggle in the short term they often make up for it over the long run.
“The fact is, according to the Census Bureau, a worker with a bachelor's degree will earn $1 million more over a 40-year career than a worker with just a high school diploma,” Huddleston told ConsumerAffairs.
Avoid peer pressure
Keeping up with the Joneses is another route to staying broke. In fact, marketers often rely on peer pressure to boost sales.
“You see a colleague with a new car and you think, 'Hey, if he can buy a new car I should be able to buy one too,' or a neighbor leaves your neighborhood and buys a very large home – you see people around you with something and you feel entitled to it too,” Huddleston said.
But what if that colleague is simply trying to keep up with someone else? It's possible they can't really afford it either and if you follow them without determining whether what you are buying is affordable, you'll both end up broke.
While it is true that pay raises are harder to come by now, advancing in your career is more important to your financial health than most people realize. Huddleston says it requires your best effort every time you report for work.
“If you take the attitude that you aren't going to do something if it isn't in your job description you're not going to get ahead,” she said. "You aren't going to get a raise or advance.”
Not only that, you could be first in line if the company decides it must reduce its workforce.
Another place where consumers run into financial trouble is when they spend too much money on their vices – things like lottery tickets, cigarettes and booze. It may not seem like much money but it adds up quickly.
“A pack of cigarettes costs, on average, about $6,” Huddleston said. “If you are smoking a pack a day you're spending about $2,000 a year.”
Even hanging out with the “wrong crowd” can keep you financially deficient. Good habits tend to rub off on others, but by the same token so do bad habits. Associating with people who have their financial act together can help you keep your resolve to meet your financial goals.
Not having financial goals, on the other hand, makes it harder to save money. Huddleston said having a reason to save, and not spend, makes it more likely that you'll actually be able to put a few dollars away.
“Why would it matter to you if you were spending $100 a week on lottery tickets if you don't have a better use of your money?” she asked.
Improving your financial well-being, it turns out, isn't all that different from losing weight or improving your health. It doesn't magically happen by itself. Huddleston says it takes an honest look at all the things you might be doing to contribute to your money woes.