Working with a financial planner is not always about what I actively do for my clients. Sometimes, it’s about what I stop them from doing. ANd, that can be even more powerful when it comes to your financial future.
I’ve prevented a lot of people from making a number of small mistakes that would create a big impact on their wealth over time.
Most people know when they’ve made big money mistakes. They’re hard to miss — which means it’s easier to do something about them because you know about them.
It’s the little things that can go unnoticed. These money mistakes can literally sneak up on you. And. if you’re not even aware you’re making the mistake, then it’s really tough to fix it, even if it would be quick and easy to do so.
Here are some common ones that I see. Browse this list and see if it’s possible that one of these errors crept into your own financial life — and if it has, don’t panic or beat yourself up over it. You can’t change what happened in the past but you can make a change right now.
Here are a few to look out for:
Mistake #1: Not Taking Care of Your Most Important Asset
Is your biggest asset the cash you saved in your bank account? Is it your house? Your six-figure investment account?
Nope. None of these, although the last one might be getting close.
Your biggest asset is your income, and your ability to continue earning that income. Your income is what allows you to generate the savings you need to fund your life and fund things like investment accounts for retirement one day in the future.
Without that ability to generate money through your work, talent, or knowledge, you can’t do much financially. That’s why it’s important to protect that asset with a simple, easy fix: getting the right insurance.
In this case, this means an appropriate disability insurance policy. I’m a fee-only financial planner which means I don’t sell products or any kind of insurance, but I do help my clients analyze what kind of protection is appropriate for them (and I help them avoid buying too much coverage, which allows them to save money and get a good deal on the right amount).
Your employer may offer disability, but it’s important to carefully evaluate that policy to make sure if covers what you need. Many policies offered as part of a benefits package don’t give enough protection, so you might be better off insuring your income through a private policy — and you definitely need to explore this route if you’re self-employed. And, if you do have employer coverage and you leave your job, you lose it.
Mistake #2: Sitting on a Lot of Cash
This might not sound like a mistake at all, but it’s a huge one that I see a ton of smart, successful people make. I go into a lot more detail on this in both my ebook (that you can download a free copy of here) and in this article on Business Insider, but here are the key points:
- Not investing because it’s too risky? Staying in cash poses risks, too. Inflation will erode the purchasing power of that cash and likely leave you unable to maintain the lifestyle you want in the future.
- Your money is only “safe” in a bank account up to a certain point. FDIC insurance only insures up to $250,000 worth of cash in a single account. Should anything happen to our economy and banks start failing, any amount over what the government insures is at risk.
- Unless you’re making millions per year, you’re hamstringing your ability to grow wealth. Even if you’re a six-figure income earner, you’ll struggle to build wealth if you try to do it by socking away cash. Harness the power of the market and let your money work for you by earning compound returns.
The easy fix is to create a smart investment strategy and set up automatic contributions to the appropriate accounts so you can start growing wealth.
Mistake #3: Exercising Your Stock Options (Without Knowing What Kind They Are)
Stock options are a great benefit that you may enjoy as a high-performing employee at a successful company. But if you don’t create a financial plan around your options, that equity could cost you a lot.
I mean that literally. Exercising the wrong options at the wrong time could trigger huge tax ramifications that leave you owing a massive amount of income tax when you file next year.
Every kind of option has a different tax law or rule written around it. Whether you have ISOs, NQs, RSUs, or other incentives, when you exercise and sell matters. And no, your coworkers aren’t a reliable source of information on the right thing to do here.
First, talk to a financial planner who can evaluate your entire financial life and help you create a plan of action on how you can best leverage your options to take care of what’s most important to you. Then you may want to take that plan to a CPA or tax professional and work with them to figure out the best combination of actions around your options that could leave you with a smaller tax bill.
Mistake #4: Having a Financial Plan… But No Estate Plan
I know — you don’t have an estate with a mansion where a butler opens the door and gardeners maintain a rolling, multi-acre lawn. But you don’t have to own an actual estate in order to have a need for an estate plan.
Skipping an estate plan is pretty common for professionals in their 30s and 40s — even among people who have the right insurance in place and may have done some financial planning in the past.
They assume they don’t need a plan because they don’t have a certain amount of wealth yet. Or they may have some aspects of a plan (like a will), but lack other important documents (like healthcare directives or durable powers of attorney). They may be waiting until they have kids to worry about this, but don’t realize being married is reason enough to get an estate in order.
Bottom line: if you’re reading this, you probably need to do some estate planning. It protects not just your wishes and your stuff, but also your loved ones that may face a tough road and unnecessary stress if you die or become incapacitated without creating some key documents that an executor (or healthcare proxy) can use to carry out your wishes.
The decisions about what happens to your stuff, your money, and your property will be made by a probate court judge. Probate court becomes a matter of public record, which might be hard on your family — and it drags out the process of handling your affairs once you’re no longer here. There’s also a chance of increased litigation if a relative disagrees with a probate court judge’s ruling on your estate. Plus, it could cost extra money to work through the court system.
This is especially scary if you have kids. Without an estate plan in place, probate court can decide who gets guardianship of your surviving children. That’s not a decision you want to make your family go through probate court to settle (or a decision you want some stranger in a courtroom to make for you).
You might not like to think about it, and it may seem like an expensive chore, but getting an estate plan is a responsible step to take that will provide you and your family peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be respected and carried out should you pass away or become disabled.
Mistake #5: Ignoring Your Personal Finances… Or Thinking You’ll Deal with Your Increasingly Complex Financial Situation “Later.”
If you’re ignoring your personal finances, it’s time to start paying attention. Putting the structures and plans you need in place isn’t restrictive — it’s incredibly freeing in a lot of different ways.
If you know how much you need to save and invest and you set up automatic contributions to address those needs… then you can start spending without guilt, knowing you already took the responsible action for your future.
If you know what’s really important to you, you can focus your resources (including time and money) on getting more of that in your life.
If you eliminate uncertainty around what to do with your money to get what you want, the clarity you gain will help you make better decisions that leave you more satisfied.
More money can create more time and freedom.
Budgeting, saving, and investing should be top priorities not because they’re necessary chores, but because they’re tools to help you make smarter financial choices. And making the best choices now means faster access to the freedom and flexibility you want to enjoy.