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Do not be oversmart with your money

In trying to be smart with our money, sometimes we damage our long-term financial future. Here are some such common mistakes, and how to go about avoiding them.

We all intend to do the right thing with our money but sometimes our decisions and actions harm, rather than benefit, our financial situation. Typically this happens when you are in a hurry, or have not thought it through or not tailored a financial action to your specific situation. Here are some common situations where the end result may not be what you wanted, if you don’t take the trouble to do it right.

A budget too tight

You decide to streamline income and expenses to increase savings. But you overdo things and create a budget that may be designed to fail. The typical errors are to overlook tracking the expenses for a few months, so that you don’t know where you spend and don’t know your level of expense for each category of expense. Without this information, you could fail to allocate adequate resources for your expenses. These errors can derail your budget. A very tight budget, to save more, could prove to be unsustainable so that you may not be able to live with it. This would cause your budget to collapse, leading to your savings targets not being met.

If you are not used to living by a budget, ease yourself into it. Start by imposing broad upper limits. At this stage the focus should be on developing the discipline to account for expenses and to limit them. Once that happens, the next stage would be cutting the expenses, in a realistic manner. Don’t get discouraged if you slip a few times. You will learn with experience.

Going long term too early

You realize the importance of accumulating funds for long-term goals and start putting all your savings into provident fund or other long-term investments. This would be a good decision if you have taken care of liquidity and have an emergency fund. Long-term products typically have restrictions on withdrawals. Growth-oriented investments, such as equity, have volatile values that may mean that you incur a loss if you had to redeem them at short notice.

Thus, providing for long-term goals is good if you have made provisions for immediate liquidity needs. Build an emergency fund and invest for short- and medium-term needs along with long-term goals. This will ensure that your long-term goals are not put at risk by a need that was overlooked.

Saying no to debt altogether

You may think that you are protecting your finances by staying away from debt completely. But it may not be so. You may need to take on some debt to meet goals like buying a house. You could choose to stay on rent, but that comes with the risk of inflation pushing rentals beyond your means. A mortgage would also come with tax benefits, which would lower the cost of debt.

Having some amount of debt also means that you can demonstrate responsible debt behavior to get a good credit score, lack of which can result in higher costs if you need a loan urgently.

However, include credit and debt into your finances with discretion. Use debt to leverage your finances. Use facilities like credit cards for regular expenses, to built a credit history.

Penny wise pound foolish

Very often, we focus on one aspect of a decision and ignore its larger impact. Very often we end up cutting costs by cutting corners. For example, if you buy a durable good that is cheap but of poorer quality, you could end up paying more due to frequent replacements. There are also decisions you may consider clever now, but which could cost you dear later. These could include: avoiding insurance, believing that premiums are a waste of money; not maintaining an emergency fund believing that keeping funds in liquid but low-earning products is under-utilization of money; adopting a do-it-yourself approach, believing that paying an adviser is a waste of money. Not to forget: holding all your funds in low-risk products that earn low returns, ignoring the impact of inflation.

Standing guarantee for others

Be sure of financial standing of the person for whom you are standing guarantee in a loan or giving an add-on credit card to. This act of kindness can damage your own finances. You would be responsible for the repayment if a primary borrower defaults on the payment. You could be saddled with repaying a loan that you neither benefited from nor can bear the burden of. Your credit score will be affected by this loan, and you may even find it difficult to access credit when you need it. Excessive spending on an add-on credit card too will strain your finances, apart from affecting your credit history and score.

Keep in mind the consequences to your own financial situation before you seek to offer financial assistance to others. Consider if the primary borrower can service the loan herself without difficulty. Give due consideration to your own ability to bear the stress if the obligation passes to you. Similarly, to protect your finances, consider the option of footing the family member’s credit card bill up to a reasonable amount instead of giving an add-on credit card. The person is then liable for all actions and omissions on the credit card and your responsibility is limited to the amount you have offered to foot.

Want to retire early? Here's a plan



Ready to quit your day job? There's a trend among some personal finance gurus called FI/RE -- financially independent/retiring early. It means being able to reach a point where you have assets (investment accounts or rental property) that earn enough income to cover all of your expenses. In other words, you're rich enough to quit.

But for most people, getting to financial independence means making some big sacrifices and getting very creative with their spending habits.

How to achieve financial independence

It comes down to how you save, spend and invest. Maximize your saving -- many of these people figured out how to save 50 percent of their incomes or more, sometimes by purchasing multifamily homes and taking on enough tenants to make an income.

But the spending side is key as well. The author of the website 1500 days, Carl J. set a goal for himself to bring his assets to $1 million in that amount of time. On his site, he details the step he took to reach his goal: Being financially independent and finally leaving the job he despised by April of this year.

Carl readily admits that he was making a good salary (around $100,000) and that he had been maxing out his savings in a 401(k) account along the way. So he was almost halfway to the goal. But he managed to stock away a significant amount of money and achieves his objective by methodically tracking how much his family was spending and cutting away waste.

"I had no idea how much money we were spending," he told CBS MoneyWatch in an interview. "So we did start keeping track of our spending ... I opened up a Google doc and set up categories, going out to eat, bonus things like alcohol, vacations."

By cutting out excessive spending and revamping their lifestyle, he and his wife were able to save a significant portion of their incomes each year and invest the money instead.

Financial adviser Kyle Mast said he has more and more clients come in to ask about achieving financial independence earlier in life, and while it often involves being more creative to make it happen, it can be done.

"Have a high savings rate, low living expenses ... there's all kinds of ways to travel for free, save money on things like cell phones, just by doing a little bit of research," Mast told CBS MoneyWatch.

Invest to build your assets

But saving will only get you partway to your goal. It's crucial to make your money grow to the point where it can sustain you.

"Save as much as you can, but investing is hugely important and [you need to] figure out how to do it correctly," Carl said. He taught himself how to use personal investing apps as a way to increase the money he was saving.

Financial adviser Lucas Casarez said if people plan to retire early, it's important to do their research and realize how long they'll need that money to last. Remember, you don't want to outlive your retirement savings.

Be aware that if you're under 59½, you won't be able to take money from an account like a 401(k) without paying an early withdrawal penalty.

For those withdrawals, Casarez recommends using nonretirement investing accounts or a retirement vehicle like a Roth IRA, from which the initial contributions can be withdrawn anytime, tax-free.

"Roth accounts are really fantastic tools as far as flexibility," Casarez told CBS MoneyWatch, "Any contributions to a Roth account can be withdrawn without penalty -- though you can't take out the earnings" without penalty.

That said, it's still a good idea to max out your 401(k) contributions while you're working. If you are saving for FI/RE that means up to the $18,500 annual limit not just meeting the employer match.

He cautions that with other types of investing accounts, "Try to mitigate capital-gains taxes. Know what's going to be considered income."

Challenges to consider

Keep in mind, even when you reach financial independence, it can be helpful to continue working part-time in your current line of work or take on a side gig to maintain an extra income stream or access to health insurance.

Health insurance is a big consideration. You won't be eligible to register for Medicare until age 65, so if you leave your job, you may need to purchase insurance in the private market -- which can be much more expensive than a plan you get through your employer, who helps shoulder the cost.

And though the idea of being able to walk away from a day job and not work again may sound like a dream come true, some financial experts caution people to take care when retiring from work completely, especially at a young age.

"The challenge is that if you're going to retire at age 40, you'll probably live until you're in your 90s and you're going to be pretty active," financial adviser Ryan McPherson told CBS MoneyWatch. "Work provides a tremendous amount of structure, social interaction, challenges and a sense of accomplishment," he said. "You can get bored and depressed very easily. Keeping yourself involved in full-time work or volunteering is very important."

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Arisa Horikawa

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