“Whatever you do, don’t become complacent to your surroundings.”
That was a warning that we all received prior to being deployed to Iraq in 2005.
We heard it from our pre-deployment trainers. We heard it from our higher ranking officers. We even heard it from our family.
Don’t become complacent to your surroundings.
The second part of that warning that often went unspoken – but was clearly understood – was “because if you do, that’s when the enemy will get you.”
Becoming complacent is sometimes too easy. You get comfortable. You get into a routine. You think that it can never happen to you.
When you reach that state, that’s when you’re the most vulnerable. I’ve been a financial planner for over 10 years and I see this in people's financial lives.
They become completely financially complacent jeopardizing any hope of having financial stability and achieving success.
The good news is that often times there are little things that can be done to get them fixed.
Here are the five most common financially complacent things I see people do and how to fix them.
1. Neglecting to check one's credit report.
Your credit report is important. Should you have to borrow in the future, your credit report affects your credit score which will affect your ability to borrow.
But your credit score doesn't just affect your ability to borrow. Sometimes, it can affect things such as your ability to get a cellphone contract or to get low prices on your car insurance.
Here's the thing. If you don't check your credit report on a regular basis, you may not spot an error that results in a low credit score. Errors do happen, and it's your responsibility to find and fix them.
I once had a writer for Men’s Fitness interviewing me about credit and I asked him if he had ever checked his credit report (and if he knew what his credit score was). He hadn’t checked it but we talked later and he found out that his score was in the low 600s because he had little credit history.
Same thing happened with an intern of mine. He was oblivious to what his credit score was, and when I had him find out, he was unpleasantly surprised. However, he was able to raise his credit score over 110 points in less than five months!
2. Neglecting to study and choose one's 401(k) investments.
I was once helping a single mother of two children with her finances and her 401(k) came up in conversation. I asked how she had chosen her investments. She said, “I let my employer choose them for me.”
I responded, “Do you think your employer is concerned whether you retire successfully or not?”
Sadly, this happens all the time when people don’t invest any time choosing their 401(k) options or think through how it factors into the rest of their investments.
I see too many 401(k) portfolios that contain lousy investments. Many times, they have some lousy high-fee target date fund that just isn't right for the investor (learn why I hate target date funds and you should too).
Pay attention to your 401(k) and your investment options. It can be easy to forget about your 401(k) if you have your contributions automatically deducted from your paycheck, so make sure to review your options every year or so (sometimes new investment opportunities become available).
3. Neglecting to review insurance options.
The good news about the insurance industry is that there is a lot of competition. That lowers prices. But if you haven't checked out your insurance options in a few years, how are you going to know about a killer deal just waiting to be purchased?
There are four insurance policies in particular that I recommend you should review on a regular basis.
First, auto insurance. Call your auto insurance company from time to time to review your particular policy. Because car values typically fall with time, you might calculate your need for, say, collision insurance a little differently than you did 10 years ago.
Also, it never hurts to get another auto insurance quote or two. See what some online companies can offer. Because they have lower overhead, many times you can save a bundle simply because they aren't paying for brick and mortar locations.
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Second, health insurance. The nature of how health insurance works in America is rapidly changing due to the Affordable Care Act. It's a good idea to regularly review your health insurance options and see if there are subsidized state or federal plans you can use.
Third, life insurance. When our third son arrived, I decided to take a look at our life insurance and found out that we could save over $400 every year – and that's after purchasing more life insurance! There are some great deals out there. Just make sure you look for them!
Fourth, home insurance. My wife is amazing at handling all our insurance stuff, and a few years ago she got us some great deals on insurance.
Her favorite tips? Look for multiple policy discounts, research the company as well as rates, compare coverage between insurance companies, and consider the accessibility of your insurance agent.
Following all these tips can lead to better coverage, better service, and better rates.
4. Neglecting to consolidate and eliminate debt.
How much are you paying in interest on debt? If you have debt, you probably don't even want to know.
But don't stop there. Make an effort to eliminate debt as quickly as possible. Don't just make minimum payments. Get an extra job, sell stuff, and do what it takes to pay off debt as soon as possible so you can start putting that money into wealth-building activities like investing or starting a business.
Don't be in debt denial. I remember a couple who said they don't have “that much” debt. They figured their house was paid off and they didn't have that many consumer loans.
I told them to go home and make a list of all their debts. The total? About $50,000! Don't let your story be like theirs.
5. Neglecting to drive used, paid-for vehicles.
Car payments can suck the financial life out of you. Seriously.
Listen, if you need transportation, that doesn't mean you should go out and buy a new car with credit. Instead, buy a used, paid-for vehicle. Let me explain why.
Let's say that instead of buying a new car and making a $400 car payment you decide to keep your used car and invest what you would have paid in car payments.
Using a monthly compound interest calculator, you'll find that by investing that car payment over 41 years at an annual interest rate of 8% you'll have made $1,527,399.10. Not too shabby!
You can drive a used car. I sure did!
That's right, I drove my grandmother's 1998 Chevy Lumina – nicknamed, “The Lu.” I could sold the car and used the money as a down payment toward my dream car. But instead, I drove that car throughout my 20s and I haven't regretted it yet.
So, next time you think that you're only paying interest on a car payment (which is a lot anyway), remember that you're also losing out on an opportunity to invest the money. When you calculate payments that way, they add up to much more lost value than you should be willing to stomach.
How to Break Complacency
Your brain was never designed to remember everything. Don't try it!
Instead, when you think of something you have to do in the future, write it down. You can use a calendar for date-specific events like remembering to review your insurance options or to check your credit report.
For one-time or seldom tasks, like selling your new car and using the money toward a used car, put those tasks on a to-do list.
Create a system that works for you. With the plethora of task management apps available nowadays, there's no reason to forget anything.
Remember, though, that just because you have a plan for reaching certain financial goals, that doesn't mean you won't procrastinate.
How do I motivate myself? Routine. My routine I like to call the High Five™.
I pick the five most important tasks for my day and focus the majority of my energy on those.
Try it! Throw in a financial goal every day and watch your financial situation sour to greater heights!