Have you ever waited until the wee hours of the morning to study for an exam at the very last minute? Or you didn’t make a dentist appointment until you found out you had a cavity? We can all be guilty of procrastinating. It’s easy to save something for tomorrow. The funny thing is, tomorrow very quickly turns into next week, and then into years, and before you know it, that cavity became an abscess and now you’re down a tooth.
Dental problems aside, procrastination can not only cause stress and frustration, it can also result in financial struggle. Many Americans choose to procrastinate when it comes to their finances since they believe they can get easy access to credit and don’t need to practice fiscal responsibility. According to a 2017 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, a large percentage of U.S. households have little to no retirement savings. By putting off this important element of financial planning, Americans are robbing themselves of future financial security, especially after the massive changes the last 40 years have seen in the country’s retirement system.
If you want to avoid financial struggle in your golden years, here’s a list of a few common procrastinations where being proactive can result in huge benefits.
1. SAVE FOR YOUR RETIREMENT
Would you rather have $1,048,272.30 or $245,972.95 saved for retirement? The answer may seem obvious, but many consumers choose the lesser amount by prolonging their retirement savings. If you were to start saving and investing for retirement at age 27, assuming 7% and an annual contribution of $6,000, you will accumulate over $1 million.
If you waited to start planning for retirement until age 47, you would accumulate only a quarter of that amount. It’s common sense but bears repeating: starting to save as early as possible will help you accumulate more wealth over the course of your lifetime. Now, many people shy away from saving or investing because they think they don’t have enough money to start.
But you can start saving and investing with any amount of money. Even if you only contributed $100 a month instead of $500, starting at age 27, you would still accumulate $239,562.13 by the time retirement rolls along. No matter how much or how little you can put away, start today. Saving even a little now will help you avoid potential financial struggle in the future.
2. ESTABLISH A FINANCIAL PLAN
Life tends to throw you curveballs at the most unexpected times. When faced with making tough financial decisions, having a plan in place can help you navigate your fiscal journey. Think of a financial plan as a roadmap to assist you in reaching your financial goals. Look at the big picture, taking into account your current pay and predicted future income, several types of expenses (e.g. rent or mortgages, utilities, etc.), investment portfolio, budgeting, and planning for college or retirement.
Whether you’re saving for retirement, college for your five-year-old, or a down payment on your first home, your financial plan can help you get there, preparing you for all of life’s economic milestones. By laying out clear steps and boundaries, it helps you avoid temptations that may otherwise veer you off course and wreak havoc in your future.
Putting off developing your financial plan may prevent you from reaching your financial goals. Without direction, how can you determine your financial priorities? The more you prepare now, the more equipped you will be to manage your money when faced with financial bumps in the road.
3. TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH
How many days do you exercise a week? According to the Cleveland Clinic, 80% of American adults and children are not getting enough exercise. Less than half of over 65s in the U.S. are physically active, and four out of five adults 50 or older have at least one chronic condition. Your amount of physical activity is a direct correlation to your future health and wellness.
Researchers at King’s College London and the University of Birmingham showed that regular exercise over long periods of time avoids the common senior health issues of loss of strength and muscle mass. Body fat and cholesterol levels stayed low even during the aging process, and men’s testosterone levels stayed high.
Not prioritizing your health can end up costing you in the future. A Health Services Research paper studying the rising costs of elderly care, and the long-term financial burdens of caring for Baby Boomers in 2030. A 65-year-old in 2002 was staring down $90,000 of expected lifetime costs in uncovered prescription drugs, medical care, insurance premiums, and long-term care. But taking care of your health and wellness now can help you minimize the financial burden retirement may bring, by keeping you healthier for longer.
Setting aside extra funds for your future health expenses can help you avoid eventual financial struggle. AARP has a helpful calculator for figuring out how much you might save on health care during your retirement. To better prepare for health care costs in retirement, here are some additional health care savings options you may want to consider:
• Health Savings Account (HSA): If you have high-deductible health insurance you can contribute to an HSA. HSAs allow you to set aside money for medical expenses on a pre-tax basis. You can then take tax-free distributions for qualifying medical expenses.
• Medical Savings Account (MSA): Similar to an HSA, MSAs are for people who are self-employed or employees who work at small businesses. Your contribution amount is calculated by your income and health deductible.
• Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA): A FSA allows you to save pre-tax dollars for medical expenses. If you are currently an employee, you can open an FSA with any insurance plan. Self-employed individuals do not qualify. Your employer will set aside a portion of your pre-taxed salary into an account. Your employer can also contribute to this account.
• Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA): This plan is something often made available by employers. There are no tax benefits or additional reporting requirements for this account. Your employer saves a certain amount and decides which medical expenses qualify for reimbursement. If you change jobs, these funds cannot transfer to another employer.
4. REPAY YOUR DEBT
American credit card balances are at an all-time high. With the Federal Reserve (Fed) making gradual increases in interest rates, Americans are paying billions in interest rates and fees. According to some estimates, Americans paid more than $100 billion in interest and fees in 2018. That’s “billion” with a “b,” and this number is up 5% from 5 years ago.
Whenever you borrow from a lender, it’s a given that you’ll have to pay interest and fees. But the problems start when you begin prolonging your debt repayment. It’s unbelievably easy to only pay the bare minimum for a few weeks, and have that stretch into months and years. This sort of procrastination can have serious financial consequences.
Let’s say you had a $3,000 credit card balance and you paid the minimum every month. If it took you 3 years to repay your balance, you would end up paying $872 in interest alone. Think of all the other ways you could spend $872. Why waste it on interest payments?
By prolonging debt repayment, you’re throwing money away. It’s easy to put your purchases on credit with the full intention of repaying it later. However, life has a way of finding ways to use your income, and it doesn’t take long before you end up with a couple thousand dollars of credit card debt.
If you choose to use credit, use it responsibly. Make a schedule and give yourself a reward once you pay off the debt fully. Or look into debt consolidation, if what you owe has snowballed out of control. Remember, financial responsibility shouldn’t be a chore, but a tool for the future.
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5. ASSESS YOUR INSURANCE NEEDS
Although life insurance is a crucial element of your financial plan to protect your loved ones, many Americans have too little coverage or none at all. Many consumers feel that shopping for life insurance is overwhelming and complicated, and throw their hands up in confusion, instead of taking some time to educate themselves. A little research really can go a long way.
Think of it this way. Imagine that something suddenly happens to you–how would your family financially support themselves? Aside from the considerable costs of funeral expenses, the loss of your income could have devastating, far-reaching consequences. While this may not directly lead to financial struggle for you, it would cause your family to suffer in your absence.
Even if you think you have the appropriate coverage, it may be wise to review your policies. It’s a common assumption that group insurance plans offered by employers will be enough coverage, but most of the time, this is not the case.
If you want to ensure your family is protected, make sure to go over your policies with a fine-toothed comb, and budget in hand, determine if you have adequate coverage for all of your financial needs.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Procrastination is a common trait in all of us. There is a certain thrill to be had when working under pressure and meeting that seemingly impossible deadline, with its accompanying rush of excitement and sense of accomplishment. However, procrastination can also lead to stress, minor and major errors, and in a worst-case scenario, considerable financial turmoil. Make your finances a priority today and start being proactive about managing your money, so you can avoid future financial struggle for both your family and yourself.
This article originally appeared on ConsumersAdvocate.org