Despite your best efforts, financial resolutions don’t always go to plan. After surveying more than 1,000 Americans about their financial regrets from the past year, Student Loan Hero found that an overwhelming majority of people have money regrets, and wished they’d handled their money differently.
Specifically, 83% of Americans have financial regrets from 2018, an increase from our 2017 survey when 76% of respondents had money regrets. The biggest missteps had to do with taking on credit card debt, not saving enough, and overspending on non-essentials.
Read on for the full survey results, along with advice on what to do if you’re experiencing similar challenges with your own finances.
- 83% of Americans have financial regrets from last year
- 59% of Americans regret their credit card debt
- 47% didn’t save as much as they wanted
- 34% spent too much on things they don’t need
- 27% didn’t pay off as much debt as they wanted
- 14% wish they had invested more
- And in terms of specific spending:
- 17% of those who bought a car last year regret the purchase
- 48% of Americans think they need to cut back on going out to eat
Americans’ biggest money regret was not saving enough
Just as we found in last year’s survey, Amercians’ most common financial regret was not saving as much as they wanted to. Among respondents, 47% said they didn’t save as much as they would have liked, and 34% said they spent too much on things they didn’t need.
In terms of specific savings goals, 29% wish they’d saved more for retirement, 27% wish they’d saved more for a home, 18% for a car, 15% for vacation, and 7% for college.
Saving too little and spending too much weren’t the only regrets, though. Here were some other mistakes people felt they made in 2018:
- 27% didn’t pay off as much debt as they wanted
- 14% wish they had invested more
- 11% didn’t pay bills on time
- 7% made a bad career decision
- 4% bought a big-ticket item they couldn’t afford
- 4% made a bad investment
If you’re among the nearly half of Americans who wish they’d saved more money, it might help to reevaluate your approach. Take some time to identify your savings goals and write down exactly what it would take to achieve them.
If possible, set up a separate savings account and automate the deposit of a certain percentage of your paycheck on a weekly or monthly basis. By putting this system in place, you can grow your savings over time without much effort from your end.
At the same time, take a hard look at your spending habits. If you can find ways to reduce your expenses — and at the same time, use strategies to boost your income — you’ll be in a better position to reach your savings goals or pay off debt.
Nearly half of Americans think they need to cut back on restaurants
So what are Americans spending their money on instead of saving? According to our survey, the biggest culprit is restaurants. Among respondents, 48% think they need to cut back on going out to eat.
Shopping was another big spend category that Americans regretted, with 21% saying they need to cut back on clothes and shoes. Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 5 wish they hadn’t spent so much on cigarettes.
Here were the other spending categories on which respondents thought they needed to cut back:
- 17% on buying alcohol
- 16% on cell phone/cell phone bill
- 12% on going to the movies
- 12% on groceries
- 10% on coffee
- 9% on streaming services
- 9% on gambling
- 9% on travel
- 8% on buying bottled water
Among respondents, more than 1 in 3 estimate they wasted more than $5,000 in the past 12 months — money they wish they could have used for other purposes. As for what would have been a better purchase…
- 21% would add it to a retirement account
- 20% would buy a house
- 14% would buy a car
- 12% would travel the world
- 10% would invest in stocks
- 7% would start a business
- 3% would get married
- 2% would have children.
Such regretful spending seems to weigh on the conscience as well, with 46% of respondents saying they felt guilty about their non-essential spending. At the same time, 54% said they feel only partly or not at all in control of their finances.
If you also feel like non-essential spending is burning a hole in your pocket, take time to track your spending habits. Figure out where you’re overspending so you can make plans to cut back. Expense-tracking apps such as Mint and YNAB, for example, can help you record your daily spending and take back control of your budget.
But most don’t regret their major purchases
While many Americans seem to think daily spending habits are eating away at their savings, many don’t think big purchases are to blame. Among the 2 out of 3 respondents who said they made a major purchase last year (such as a car, vacation or investment), a 60% majority said they didn’t regret it.
Still, some did have regrets over big buys, with automobiles topping the list — 17% said they regretted getting a car. Still, such regrets were relatively rare, and in terms of other large purchases…
- 12% regret paying for their vacation
- 10% regret paying for education
- 10% regret their investment
- 9% regret buying their house
- 3% regret paying for their wedding
Although purchases such as a car, house and wedding are important life milestones, if not necessities, they can also chip away at your savings in a major way. If you’re gearing up for a big expenditure in the next year, make sure it aligns with your budget and goals.
That way, you can evaluate whether or not a big purchase will be worth the cost or will derail your finances.
Almost 6 in 10 regret their credit card debt
Paying back debt is a huge challenge for many consumers, so it wasn’t surprising to find that 59% of those we surveyed said they regretted their credit card debt. This number was even higher than the 47% who reported credit-card debt regrets in last year’s survey.
Similarly, a good chunk of people said they regretted their student loans or personal loans, though fewer have regrets about taking on an auto or home equity loan. Specifically:
- 19% regret their student loan (up 3 percentage points from last year)
- 17% regret their personal loan (more than double from 8% last year)
- 14% regret their mortgage
- 14% regret medical debt
- 13% regret their auto loan
- 7% regret a payday loan
- 7% regret a 401(k) loan
- 7% regret a home equity loan
Among types of debt, credit card debt can be one of the hardest to pay back, since it often comes with sky-high interest rates. If possible, avoid spending more on your credit card than you can afford to pay back each month.
And if you’re considering a student loan or a personal loan, take time to shop around with multiple lenders. That way, you can find a loan with the best rate that won’t cost you a mountain of interest over the course of repayment.
For those already dealing with debt, take some time to explore strategies for repayment, such as the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods. Although paying back loans can be daunting, coming up with a plan will help you move, slowly but surely, toward a debt-free life.
Most don’t regret spending on college
With tuition costs higher than ever, almost 1 out of 4 Americans wish they hadn’t spent so much on college. A larger 43%, however, still think their education spending was worth it. And among those who didn’t go to college, 15% regret their decision not to attend.
Although higher education can be expensive, a college degree remains valuable. But you still don’t want to take on massive debt along the way. So before choosing a college, compare costs of attendance and financial aid packages.
Also be sure to apply to scholarships so you can earn free money to cover tuition and living expenses. Likewise, be mindful about how much you borrow in student loans, so you can avoid over-borrowing.
Use last year’s mistakes as learning opportunities
Although you might wish you did things differently with your money last year, there’s no use dwelling in regret. Instead, use your financial mistakes as an opportunity to learn and make different choices next time.
If you’re overspending on non-essentials, for instance, design a budget and track your spending until you’re back in control. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed by debt, explore strategies for repayment and restructuring your debt, such as income-driven repayment and student loan refinancing, to make it more manageable.
Dealing with money troubles can feel very isolating, but as you can tell from the results of this survey, you’re not the only one with regrets. Reach out to friends and family — a support network could be just what you need to change your financial reality (though try to be selective when it comes to taking advice).
While you probably won’t make the perfect financial choices in the year to come, you can make enough changes that, when you look back next year, you’ll have far fewer regrets.