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Everyday Cheapskate: Five common money blunders

I could be wrong, but I’m going to guess you’ve made a money blunder or two in your life. For many of us, it was a nonstop series of blunders that finally brought us to our financial knees.

But I’m not talking about the kind of blunders that got us into trouble. We could list those in our sleep. These are the blunders commonly made while clawing our way back to financial freedom. Avoid these blunders and you’ll get there much faster.

Not giving. Whether out of fear or forgetfulness, keeping all of your money is a serious blunder. Giving away some of your money to help someone else who is in much worse shape than you will do amazing things to your life. Amazing.

Not saving. This is the blunder most often committed by the person so driven to right all the wrongs yesterday if not sooner, he feels guilty keeping anything for himself. So when even a small emergency arises he has no choice but to run back to the credit cards that got him into trouble in the first place.

Mistiming your mortgage prepayment. You should not even think about prepaying your mortgage until you have amassed a respectable emergency fund and paid off all of your unsecured debts. Prepaying your mortgage before achieving those goals is foolish because when something unexpected happens you’ll look to your home’s equity for a bail out. Never think of the equity in your home as a bank account from which you can make withdrawals at will.

Misunderstanding deductibility. There is a myth that says you should not pay off your home mortgage, but that you should keep it forever because the interest is tax-deductible. That is an industrial-strength blunder. Deductibility is a “consolation prize” for the person who didn’t win. It softens the blow on expenses that cannot be avoided. Example: If you are in the 28 percent tax bracket, and pay $1,000 in deductible mortgage interest per year, that translates to a $280 reduction in your tax bill. If you pay off that mortgage, you lose the $280 tax relief. But guess what? You get to keep the $720. Who in their right mind would chose to pay $720 just to get back $280?

Consolidating debts. It sounds great to pay off all your high-interest debts with one low-interest loan, and then have a single smaller payment. But that is usually a big mistake. Consolidation loans are typically tied to one’s home equity or a credit card with a lot of hidden fees and punitive rates in the fine print. That’s bad enough. But worse, the financially immature person keeps the accounts open (you know, the ones that were paid off with the consolidation loan), falls back into using them again, and sooner than later, runs them right back up to the max. Just don’t do it, hear?

Mary Hunt is founder of


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