A Stress-Free Retirement

Don’t Be Your Own Worst Financial Enemy— Follow These Tips Now To Ensure A Successful Future

We all know when we do it.

We buy a little something more expensive than we can afford. We know we should save for retirement but haven’t contributed to our IRA. We let inertia take hold and keep putting off getting that will drawn up. And then, we rationalize these actions to ourselves.

‘Well, it wasn’t that expensive,’ we’ll say. Or, ‘Retirement is a long ways off. I have time.’

Financial advisors see this time and again. In talking with people about their money, they find one of the biggest obstacles to making financial progress is actually the individual’s own money excuses.

“People often make money excuses because they aren’t ready to change their behavior to reach their financial goals,” says certified financial planner Lauren Lyons Cole. “The most successful people are those that recognize their shortcomings and take action to fix them.”

If you have new financial resolutions or are dreaming of even bigger things, then to reach your goals, you have to banish your money excuses. “As long as someone is making excuses for their financial situation, nothing will change for the better. The only way to improve your finances is to face your challenges head on,” she says.

Here are the top money excuses she sees. If you tell yourself a version of any of these, follow the tips to getting your money together this year.
1. Saving: ‘I can’t save any money right now.’
“Nine times out of 10 this simply isn’t true,” says Lyons Cole. If you have a regular income, you should definitely save some portion first, ahead of your other spending. If you’re that one in 10 that actually does not have room in your budget to save, then you need to cut your expenses.
Learn how to choose and set up a savings account, what percentage of your income you should put toward savings, and then automatically send a portion of your paycheck toward it every month (or do a regular automatic transfer from checking to savings). If it really feels like you can’t, just start with $20 a month—$5 a week—and increase it from there.

2. Spending: ‘Groceries are expensive. It’s cheaper just to go out to eat or buy fast food.’
Don’t be swayed by the idea that fast food is cheap. The average American spends almost $1,000 a year on eating out at lunchtime—on average, a $10 lunch twice a week. Unless you’re a gourmet chef, it’s generally cheaper to buy groceries and cook—and it’s healthier, which can also save you in health costs. “Make a habit of going to the grocery store. Cook evening meals a week in advance. Bring your lunch to work. If money is tight, buy inexpensive staples and get creative,” says Lyons Cole.

3. Retirement: ‘I’ll save for retirement later, when I make more money.’
“Income fluctuates over the course of our lives,” says Lyons Cole. “Rarely, if ever, does it go up in a straight line. Putting off retirement until you make more can be a disastrous decision. It’s far better to create a habit of consistently saving 10 percent (or 20 percent) toward your retirement account. Using a percentage means you will always be saving in line with what you can afford, rather than doing nothing for a while and then frantically trying to catch up later.”

4. Investing: ‘Investing is too complicated/scary/confusing.’
It’s true—when starting out, investing can be a little intimidating. But you know what’s even scarier? Missing out on long-term gains in the market. “For most people, the best option is simply to buy a mix of index funds,” says Lyons Cole, adding that a target date retirement fund is also a very good, simple option. “Investing novices can get help from companies like Vanguard that provide risk tolerance questionnaires with personalized fund recommendations. It really doesn’t get easier than that,” she says.

5. Estate planning: ‘I don’t own much and I don’t have kids. So I don’t really need a will.’
This could be true for you, but there could be other estate planning documents you need. “Everyone needs to designate beneficiaries on accounts, and to have a health care directive and power of attorney,” says Lyons Cole. “These forms are often free—so you can take a DIY approach to save on legal fees. The important thing is to get it done.”

Call up all your financial providers to ensure you have a beneficiary on each account. If you do need a will and have been putting it off, work with a local estate planning attorney and get a living will form for your state here.

Laura Shin contributes to Forbes.com and SmartPlanet, among other publications.

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