5 Messy Money Mistakes and Quick Fixes

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Few mistakes irk MainStreet more than those made with money. Good thing many messy money mistakes can be solved pretty easily and MainStreet rounded up some capital money managing minds to tell you what to do.

MISTAKE: Loaning Dough to Your Deadbeat Friends
Out of the 800 people surveyed in the new book Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check? authors Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz discovered more than 40% of lenders never got repaid in full from friends and family. Nearly one in three got totally stiffed. “A lot of people find themselves becoming someone else’s ATM,” says Fleming.

THE FIX: Sic Your Friend on Someone Else
The internet is packed with people willing to finance your deadbeat roommate’s latest get-rich scheme - even if his credit stinks. Help your friend set up an account on social lending sites like prosper.com and lendingclub.com, which link individual microlenders with eager borrowers, at interest rates much lower than traditional banks. If you can't say 'no' put an agreement in writing, so there are no misunderstandings, says Schwarz. And for big loans, more than $500, you may want to hit up a third party intermediary like virginmoneyus.com, which helps draft a contract, set up an agreeable interest rate and facilitate the loan payments to take the pressure off your back to collect.

MISTAKE: Getting Suckered into a Store Credit Card
Sure, the 20% initial discount is tempting, but unless you can pay off your balance in full every month, don’t bother opening a store credit card. They’re notorious for their hidden late fees and higher-than-average interest rates of more than 20%. So if you don’t pay on time, “the discount can disappear,” says Carmen Wong Ulrich, author of Generation Debt. Psychologically, these cards also seem like a fake license to spend more, adds Gary Schatsky, a financial planner and co-founder of objectiveadvice.com. Just to clue you in - consumers owed more than $100 billion on these so-called limited purpose cards in 2006, according to cardtrak.com.

THE FIX: Nab a Discount Anyway, By Asking!
Face it - You just want the card for the immediate savings. So, just as you’re about to ring up a big-ticket item, ask for a discount or freebies. That’s right. Ask. “Often they’ll try to accommodate you in some way,” says Greg Daugherty, executive editor of Consumer Reports. If you’re about to buy a heavy item, like an entertainment set or a treadmill, ask for free delivery. “In some cases maybe they’ll throw in pillows if you’re buying a sofa,” adds Daugherty. For electronics and appliance stores he suggests asking if they accept competitors’ coupons. “You may get 10 or 20 percent off right there.”


MISTAKE: Feeding a Bar Tab
Consumers racked up more than $2 trillion on major credit cards last year, according to surveyors at cardata.com. That includes rounds of tequila shots. Michael Sinensky, owner of four bars in New York, including the famous Village Pourhouse, says about twice as many patrons are opening tabs these days, versus two years ago. That’s good news for his revenue stream, bad for your bank account. “When you put down a credit card you feel like you’re not spending any money,” says Sinensky. Plus, you’re forced to pay a minimum $10 to $25 at many bars when you pay with plastic, even if it’s a debit card.

THE FIX: Go One For One.
Better to carry a limited wad of cash and pay as you go. This way, says Sinensky, “you realize your wallet is getting lighter and lighter,” and you can budget. You’ll also spend less on tips this way, dropping the acceptable $1 per drink versus 20% or more on a total bill. And as Sinensky explains, the heat is on when you’re ready to finally close the tab. “A lot of people feel when you have a tab at the bar, the [bartender’s] going to notice what you tip right away.

MISTAKE: Paying For Awful Service
Just 9% of unhappy male customers ever complain, according to a new study by Technical Assistance Research Programs (TARP). “The exception is being delighted,” says Dennis Gonier, CEO of TARP Worldwide. “[People] expect bad service.”

THE FIX: Kvetch
With the right panache, you can get out of paying for subpar service and maybe even score freebies. Your food’s undercooked or it came a half hour late? “Talk to the restaurant manager right on the spot and make a stink then,” says Walter Brewster of the Better Business Bureau in New York. If that gets you nowhere, follow-up with a formal letter cc’ing the industry enforcers (e.g. the health department, the BBB) and see if that does the trick. Internet’s been down for hours? “You’re entitled to a partial refund,” says Ben Popken, editor of theconsumerist.com, a consumer advocacy blog. Same goes for most contractual services that bail on you, like your cell phone or cab. Make a phone call immediately to customer service. When possible, speak immediately with the manager or CEO in person. “You want to makes sure you’re talking to someone who can actually fix your situation,” says “Complaint Girl” Ami Woods, a marketing consultant with amiwoods.com. And finally, adds Gonier, remember to thank them ahead of time for helping you out. “Never underestimate the value of charm!”

MISTAKE: Pre-Spending
You bought a couch with your anticipated tax refund. You rang up a new plasma TV before the annual bonus arrived. Spending money before you receive it is basically a fast-track to generating more debt. Can you blame us? “We are culturally programmed to celebrate before we have our win,” says David Bach, author of Go Green, Live Rich. “We’re marketed to pre-spend our money.”

THE FIX: Pay Yourself First.
It’s Bach’s tried-and-true money mantra. Automatically putting away just an hour a day of your income into a savings vehicle will come in handy as a reserve next time you’re tempted to book a trip to Hawaii with the spot bonus (that you think you’re getting).

Stay tuned for more messy money mistakes, and quick fixes, tomorrow!

Catch more of Farnoosh’s advice on Real Simple. Real Life. on TLC, Friday nights at 8 p.m.

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