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Three years after the economic crisis led many Americans to re-evaluate their financial picture, economic uncertainty is still the norm. While there's little you can do about the shaky economy, you can help stabilize your own finances over the long term by evaluating what you're doing right ... and wrong. There's no guarantee, but avoiding these four money mistakes may help you survive and ultimately thrive in any turbulent economy.
Mistake 1: Jumping on the bandwagon
Are you letting economic news--good or bad--control your financial decisions? For example, are you selling gold because you've heard that prices are at record highs or buying real estate because you've heard that prices are at record lows? Have you decided to pull most of your money out of the stock market because you've seen headlines warning of a possible financial crisis?
Unless you're basing your decisions on your own needs and circumstances rather than on the opinions or actions of others, you can't be sure you're doing what's right for you. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to your finances, no matter what economic news you're hearing or what other investors are doing.
Revisit your tolerance for risk and your own financial goals, and try to prepare yourself for a variety of scenarios. Avoid basing money decisions on emotion, or you may find yourself facing unanticipated consequences down the road.
Mistake 2: Only saving what's left over
Do you continue to worry that you're not saving enough? Do you routinely rely on credit rather than cash to pay for the things you want or need? Rather than blame your financial inertia on your income, look a bit deeper, because the real culprit may be the lack of financial priorities. If you don't know exactly how you're spending your money and you haven't set financial goals, it's unlikely that you'll see much financial progress.
Go back to basics by preparing (or reviewing) your budget. If you tend to save only what you have left over every month, you can put yourself on a more disciplined course by having a fixed amount taken out of your paycheck automatically for retirement. Or, you can set up automatic transfers from your checking account to a savings or investment account.
Mistake 3: Not having an emergency fund
One lesson that you may have learned over the past few years is that the job market isn't stable. That's a major reason why one of your savings priorities should be an emergency fund. While it isn't glamorous, this underappreciated workhorse really pulls its weight during hard times.
Having cash on hand that you can use for an unexpected expense, or to pay bills if you lose your job, is vital because it can help you avoid having to rely on credit or tap your retirement savings. If you don't have emergency savings to fall back on, a minor money shortfall can quickly turn into a major cash crisis.
Mistake 4: Not asking for help
Even if your finances are in good shape right now, you may be overdue for a checkup. Reviewing your finances is especially important during periods of volatility because it can help reveal potential strengths and weaknesses, and identify changes you might need to make to adjust to the current economic climate. And if you're already in financial trouble, don't let fear or shame prevent you from asking for help.
Facing financial problems early may help you make a full recovery. Many creditors are willing to work with you, but this may be much easier while your credit is still good, and while you still have time to turn things around.