4 Out of 5 Have Financial Regrets From Past Year, But Not For Big-Ticket Items

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Nearly 4 out of 5 consumers have at least one financial regret from the past year, according to Student Loan Hero’s survey of more than 1,000 Americans. This data shows that the biggest financial regrets involve saving too little (especially for a car) and spending too much (especially on dining out).

At the same time, not all financial regrets are created equal. A 56% majority felt guilty spending on nonessential items, while just over half of respondents regretted major purchases, such as a home, car or large investment.

Here are some interesting data points from the Student Loan Hero Financial Regrets Survey — the COVID-19 edition.

Key findings

  • Americans’ top financial regret is not saving as much as they wanted over the last year, while spending too much on nonessential items was the next most common regret. (Read more)
  • Among the missed savings opportunities, not putting away money to buy a car was the most regretted, affecting 1 in 5 survey respondents. (Read more)
  • 56% of consumers felt guilty about their spending on nonessential items. (Read more)
  • While respondents were less likely to rue big purchases, a quarter of millennials did regret how much money they spent on college. (Read more)
  • Restaurant food was the top regrettable expense, with 42% of consumers reporting they needed to cut back on dining out. (Read more)
  • Despite the financial stress from the pandemic and economic crisis, a small majority (54%) said they feel in control of their finances. (Read more)
  • 79% of consumers have at least one financial regret from the last year, down slightly from 83% reported last year. You can compare these results to our 2019 financial regrets survey here.

Not saving enough tops list of financial regrets

For the third year in a row, our survey found that not saving enough was the top regret for many consumers. Over 39% of respondents said they didn’t save as much as they wanted, followed by 29% who regretted spending too much on things they didn’t need.

Men were more likely than women to regret overspending (33% versus 25% of women), while women were more prone to say they didn’t pay off as much debt as they wanted to (25% versus 17% of men).

Although not as common, some other regrets included not paying bills on time (10%), not investing enough (10%) and making a bad career decision (7%).

For many, the COVID-19 outbreak played a role in missed financial goals. For instance, among those who said they didn’t save as much as they wanted, 36% said they were laid off or furloughed, and 46% said their salary or hours were cut — two common misfortunes amid economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, just 1 in 5 of those surveyed reported no financial regrets over the past 12 months. This group seemed to be one of the least financially impacted by the pandemic, with just 8% reporting a layoff or furlough, and only 6% experiencing a reduction in their salary or work hours.

Consumers wish they had saved more for cars, emergencies

As for what respondents said they wanted to save their money for, the largest group (20%) wished they had saved more for a car.

Next up was an emergency fund, with 19% regretting putting aside money for this purpose. Women were especially likely to cite emergency savings, with 28% saying they wish they’d built their emergency fund, versus just 10% of men.

Some other savings goals where consumers felt they fell short were retirement (16%), a house (15%) and a vacation (9%). Just 14% of respondents said they had no goals for which they wish they had saved more.

If you’re struggling to meet your savings goals, these 101 tricks to save more money can help.

More than half of consumers feel guilty about nonessential spending

Regret isn’t the only negative financial feeling among those surveyed — guilt was also commonly cited. A 56% majority of respondents said they felt guilty about their spending on nonessential items.

That number was especially high among men (70% versus just 43% of women), as well as Generation X (81%). What’s more, 75% of those who were laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic also said they felt guilt over their spending on nonessentials.

As for how much money they spent on things they considered unnecessary, nearly a third of consumers (31%) estimated that they had wasted at least $10,000 over the last year. An additional 26% said they’d overspent by between $1,000 and $4,999.

Often, you don’t realize you’re overspending until it’s too late. To become more aware of your habits and stop wasting money, learn about how to identify and avoid your spending triggers.

42% say they need to dine out less

When it comes to overspending, many consumers identified the same culprit: going out to eat (or taking restaurant food to go, given current pandemic restrictions). Among respondents, 42% said they needed to cut back on dining out, with the number especially high among millennials (53%) compared to members of Gen X (47%), Generation Z (45%) and baby boomers (28%).

Meanwhile, about 1 in 4 consumers said they should have spent less on clothes and shoes, while other regretted overspending included alcohol (18%), cigarettes (18%), groceries (17%) and coffee (16%). Men were twice as likely as women to say they wanted to spend less on alcohol (24% versus 12%).

Not everyone felt sorry about their spending behaviors, however. Roughly 18% said there were no expenses they felt they needed to cut back on.

If you feel like you’re wasting money on nonessentials, it can help to follow a budget. Learn about how to create a budget that works in this guide.

Most don’t regret their major purchases

While nonessential spending sparked remorse among many respondents, fewer seemed to regret big purchases, such as a house or car. Nearly half (49%) of those surveyed said they didn’t regret their big purchases over the past year.

For instance, only 13% regretted buying a car, and just 5% felt uneasy about their purchase of a home. Similarly, relatively few respondents felt bad about having spent money on an investment (5%) or a vacation (6%).

The cost of college was a little different, however, with 19% of respondents regretting how much they spent to attend college. That sentiment was especially high among millennials, with 25% saying they overspent on their higher education.

Before choosing a college, it helps to compare costs among your options. By picking an affordable school, you can avoid taking on a burdensome amount of student loan debt. You can also save money by applying to scholarships and making the most of financial aid.

Credit card debt causes the most regrets

When it comes to taking on debt, consumers seem to feel most remorseful about their credit cards.

In total, 42% regretted credit card debt, as opposed to personal loan debt (14%) or mortgage debt (13%).

Credit cards often come with relatively high interest rates, making them one of the toughest debt types to pay off. To avoid paying sky-high interest, try not to charge more on your card than you can afford to pay off each month.

Meanwhile, just 11% pointed to regrets over student loan debt, despite the mixed feelings about college spending detailed in the previous section of this report. Here, a significant generational gap emerged, with 25% of Gen Z and 17% of millennials regretting student debt, but just 6% apiece for Gen X and baby boomers, respectively.

If you’re burdened with student loan debt, explore your options for adjusting your payments under a new student loan repayment plan. You should also consider refinancing your student loans for new terms and possibly better rates, especially if you have private student loans.

54% feel in control of their finances

But even as most respondents admitted to having money regrets over the past year, a majority (54%) still said they felt in control of their finances. An additional 36% reported feeling “somewhat” in control.

In fact, only 1 in 10 consumers surveyed said they didn’t feel in control of their finances at all. Still, there were differences on this score in terms of both gender (14% of women said they didn’t feel in control versus 6% of men) and generation (17% of Gen Z versus 12% of baby boomers, 9% of millennials and 6% of Gen X).

If you share any of these regrets, it could be time to take a closer look at your personal finances. You could start by tracking your cash flow and designing a spending plan that works for you.

If you’ve got debt, consider strategies to pay it off faster, such as the debt avalanche or debt snowball methods. If you owe student loans, explore your options for repayment.

Although it’s helpful to take stock of your financial situation, there’s no use dwelling in regret. Once you’ve pinpointed areas where you can improve, you can do some research and decide how to take back control of your finances.

Published in News & Policy