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Don't be a fool with your money

Regrets? We've had a few, according to a new survey. But financial goofs can usually be fixed -- or prevented.

By Donna_Freedman Apr 1, 2013 1:21PM
Logo: Shopping bags (Photodisc Red/Getty Images)According to a recent survey, 49% of U.S. residents are happy with every financial move they've ever made.

April Fool!

In fact, a new survey from indicates that 49% of adults in this country have made at least one "foolish financial mistake" that they wished they could take back.

What's the No. 1 regret? If you guessed "buying unnecessary items," you'd be right. No foolin'.

Buyer's remorse afflicted 49% of the more than 2,200 people interviewed. I wonder if the remaining 51% were liars?

Maybe some can't admit that the paraffin hand spa or the pocket hole drill that seemed like such great deals have been used seldom, if ever. Or maybe they answered in the affirmative to some of the other categories, such as the second biggest (28%) regret: "not using coupons." Coupons aren't just for groceries (more on that below), so I can see why people would wish they'd been a little smarter.

Some other major mistakes:
  • Overdrafts, 24%
  • Making only minimum payments on credit cards, 22%
  • Paying credit cards late, 20%
  • Making late payments on basics such as rent or utilities, 18%
  • Lending money to family or friends who didn't repay, 17%
Mistakes are understandable. You're only human. Yet some future mistakes are preventable. 

Keep your receipt

The biggest slip-up is both the easiest to prevent and the toughest to resist. In an ideal world you wouldn't buy things you didn't need. But we're buffeted by omnipresent advertising and the message that spending = happiness.

How to fight back? Some people literally freeze their credit, i.e., they keep their cards in blocks of ice in the freezer. Others apply a less literal cooling-off period: They acknowledge the desire but delay pulling the trigger until they've had some time to think about the purchase.

Maybe you could vow to avoid shopping online (way too easy to buy), to pay cash only (saving up for a big purchase is its own cooling-off period) or to discuss a purchase three times with partner or pal before actually buying it. Do whatever it takes to keep from feeling the sting (or the body-slam) of buyer's remorse.
What works for me is applying a filter to every potential purchase: Will having it make a difference in my life? Is there something I already have that would suffice? Can I find a way to spend less?

More often than not, I decline to buy. But saying "no" means that I can say "yes" without stress later on. Saving where you can so you can spend where you want is a smart use of funds.

P.S. Keep your receipt: Unless you shop clearance, returns are usually an option.

There's an app for that

Overdrafts? Late payments? Minimum payments only? Technology can address all three issues.

First off: If you opted in for overdraft protection, opt yourself back out. Sure, it's embarrassing to have your debit card declined. The alternative? Paying up to $35 for each overdraft. Don't try to shop with money you don't have.

Next: You can't miss a payment if the money goes out automatically. Scheduling your bill payments makes sense -- unless cash-flow issues might sometimes keep the money from being there the day the bills go out. (Greetings, entrepreneurs and freelancers!)

In that case, plug your finances into a money management site or app like or Pageonce and set bill-pay reminders. Even if money's too tight to pay in full, you'll be reminded to make at least the piddly minimum and thus avoid late fees.

A real eye-opener

Since 22% of you regret the habit of making only the minimum payment, use money management sites such as or LearnVest to get a handle on where your paycheck is going. This eye-opening exercise can help you send funds in smarter directions -- like paying off your consumer debt in much bigger installments.

Another option is the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling, which can set you up with counselors in your region. These professionals will work with you to set up a budget that fits your personal situation.

Note: Be wary of debt settlement companies, especially those that make blanket promises in their ads. That industry is "largely unregulated and full of perils for the consumer," according to MSN Money columnist Liz Weston.

The Federal Trade Commission offers some guidelines on debt settlement (.pdf file). Read them.

To loan or not to loan?

Lending money to family or friends is a tough one, as at least 17% of you already know. It's natural to want to help when Sis or BFF asks, especially if it's an emergency such as a layoff or illness. But in some cases you may be enabling them. (Hint: If this is the fourth time BFF has asked for help with a car payment, she needs to take a long look at her finances.)

Never put your own security at risk. It's self-defeating to gut your emergency fund or borrow against your retirement so that your brother can start a DJ business.

How do you say "no"? Here are some possibilities: 
  • "Sorry, that money's not in my budget right now."
  • "I can't afford to give you cash, but I'd be happy to help you brainstorm alternatives."
  • "I can't make any loans, even to family."
Or just say "maybe": If blindsided by a request, say "I'll need to look closely at my budget to see what's possible." Wait a day, then email one of the above responses.

If you do decide to lend, get it in writing -- either an actual signed document or one of those "virtual debt collector" sites like SplitwiseOpnTab or WhoseBill, which will keep track of monies owed and maybe even send out gentle reminders.

Remember: The old saying "never lend more than you can afford to lose" is spot-on. Even if the people toy loan to really want to pay you back, they might not be able to do it. Frankly, some might be unwilling to engage in the self-sacrifice it would take. Either way, you're out the dough.

And the other big (28%) regret, "not using coupons"? Take this one to heart. If you don't get the Sunday paper, you can print grocery Qs from sites like and You may also be able to download coupons to your store rewards card.

As for bigger-ticket items, don't purchase anything without doing a coupon search on a site like, RetailMeNot, or, yes, An amazing variety of savings can be yours -- everything from contact lenses to airline tickets to dating websites to Mother's Day flowers.

What money mistakes do you wish you could take back?

More from MSN Money:

Good philosophy to live by, is if you can't eat it, or resell for a profit, do not buy it. Toilet paper being the exception.
Aug 21, 2013 12:36PM

I know a couple families that were raised on welfare. as were there parents. it shouldn't be a way of life.


Apr 2, 2013 2:51PM

Please sign and pass this link on to anyone who wants to help sign a petition to end welfare and EBT fraud. Thank you!
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