Surprising Money Mistakes That Cost You $1,000 Or More

By Cameron Huddleston

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) While overspending on clothes and food can be obvious ways of wasting money, there are other more subtle missteps you may be making financially. For example, If your employer offers a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k) and will match employee contributions, you’re making a mistake if you’re not contributing enough to the plan to get the full match. As one financial planner puts it…”It’s free money.”


If you’re trying to spend less so you can save more, there might be some obvious mistakes you’re making with your money. For example, you’re likely losing a lot more than you’re making if you’re gambling at the casino every week. And you’re certainly not doing your finances any favors if you’re dining out for lunch and dinner every day.

But there are plenty of other ways you might be losing money that aren’t so obvious. Here are a number of mistakes you’re making that you might not realize are costing you a lot.

One of the biggest money mistakes people make is being financially disorganized, said Kathleen Grace, a financial planner and managing director at United Capital. This can end up costing you a lot of money, she said.

For example, if you’re not keeping tabs on your accounts, you could end up paying bills late and getting hit with late fees.

If you’re not tracking your spending and trying to get by without a budget, you’ll end up overspending.

Fortunately, there are plenty of financial apps, such as Mint and Prosper Daily, that can help you keep tabs on your accounts and spending, and send you alerts when bills are due or you’ve exceeded your budget.

If your employer offers a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k) and will match employee contributions, you’re making a mistake if you’re not contributing enough to the plan to get the full match. “It’s free money,” Grace said.

Typically, employers will match 50 cents to every $1 contributed by an employee up to a certain percentage of pay, usually 6 percent, according to However, one in four plan participants miss out on receiving a full match by not saving enough, leaving an estimated $1,366 of free money on the table, according to research by Financial Engines, an independent financial advising company that provides investment advice for workplace retirement plans.

One of the most costly mistakes you can make is not understanding the true cost of your investment portfolio, said Elliot Weissbluth, CEO of HighTower. That’s because there are fees on your workplace retirement savings account that eat into your returns and reduce the amount of money you’ll have for retirement.

Weissbluth offers this example: If you have $25,000 invested and are earning 8 percent annually but are being hit with a 1 percent fee on assets, that fee will leave you with $73,624 less in your account after 30 years. He recommends visiting to check the fees on your workplace retirement plan to see whether it’s cost effective. You can talk to your human resources department if you’re not happy with the fees your plan charges.

If you’re saving outside a workplace plan through an advisor, make sure the person you’re working with is a fiduciary _ a professional who is legally bound to work in your interest, Weissbluth said. Otherwise, you’ll pay more fees with a non-fiduciary who is more focused on selling you products.

If you need cash, borrowing from your 401(k) might seem like a good option because it is your money, after all. However, it can be a costly option, said Andrew Meadows, vice president of brand and culture at Ubiquity Retirement + Savings.

You’ll have to pay the loan back with interest and fees, according to Ubiquity. If you don’t pay your loan back by the deadline, you could face penalties and an income tax liability in the thousands of dollars, Meadows said. Plus, by taking out a chunk of your nest egg, you’ve lost out on tax-deferred earnings.

Taking advantage of a flexible spending account offered by your employer is a great way to set aside pre-tax dollars into an account to cover out-of-pocket medical costs. However, you have to use all of the money in your account by a certain date each year or lose it.

Brandon Hayes, a financial planner and vice president of Oxygen Financial, sees people forgo FSA funds because they don’t spend them in time. If you contribute the maximum of $2,550 but only spend half of it, you lose up to $1,275.

“You’ll want to check your company-provided FSA rules to be certain you don’t lose money you’ve saved for health care purposes,” he said.

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