By Cameron Huddleston
One in five Americans spent more than what they earned in the last 12 months, according to a Federal Reserve Board survey released in May.
Regardless of the reason spending might exceed income, “overspending is harmful because it could be a sign you’re out of control with your finances,” said Leslie H. Tayne, an attorney who concentrates in debt resolution solutions and authored “Life & Debt.”
Here are a few warning signs that indicate you are spending too much, followed by suggestions for getting your spending under control:
YOU MAX OUT YOUR CREDIT CARDS AND PAY ONLY THE MINIMUM
If you’re maxing out your credit cards and can’t pay off your balances every month, it’s a sign that you’re relying on credit to supplement your income, Tayne said. “This is a hard cycle to break, especially if you can only afford to make the minimum payments each month,” she said. Not only can this hurt your credit score, but it can also leave you in debt longer than necessary.
YOU PAY BILLS LATE
About one out of 20 people with a credit file are at least 30 days late on a credit card or a non-mortgage account payment, according to an Urban Institute report.
Paying bills late because you don’t have the cash to cover them is a sign that you’re overspending, Tayne said. And it sends a red flag to your credit issuers, which could hike your interest rates or lower your credit limit, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. You’ll also be hit with fees, which can add up quickly, and several late payments will hurt your credit score.
YOU RAID YOUR RETIREMENT ACCOUNT
You might think there’s no harm in borrowing from your retirement account because it’s your money. About 20 percent of 401(k) plan participants have taken a loan from their account, according to the Pencil Research Council Working Paper. You can borrow up to half of your 401(k) balance, up to a maximum of $50,000, but Tayne said rarely is this a good idea.
“Borrowing from your future is a risky move,” she said.
If you borrow from your retirement account, you will have to pay yourself back with interest, which can be lower than the rate of return you would’ve gotten if you had left the money in the account. So really, you’re just shortchanging your retirement savings.
If you’ve realized that you have an overspending problem, rest assured. There are different ways you can get your spending under control and create healthy spending habits.
CREATE A BUDGET
The first step to getting your spending under control is creating a budget, Tayne said. Take a close look at what you’re spending money on and look for ways to cut back.
RELY ON CASH
By living on a cash- or debit-only budget, you can curb the impulse to overspend. Tayne suggested setting a budget for each shopping trip and only bringing that much cash with you to avoid making impulse purchases.
If you’re buried in debt and can’t curb your spending, your best option might be to get professional help. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling member agencies provide free and affordable debt counseling and other money management services. You can find an agency in your area through NFCC.org.
Cameron Huddleston writes for GOBankingRates.com, a leading portal for personal finance news and features, offering visitors the latest information on everything from interest rates to strategies on saving money, managing a budget and getting out of debt.