Your Finance: Avoid financial minefields early

Most of us have significant financial regrets in

Most of us have significant financial regrets in our lives, things we really wish we could go back in time and handle differently. (Credit: iStock)

Our younger selves make some big mistakes when it comes to money.

We load up that credit card and we put off saving because we think that one day we will come into vast riches and everything will turn out just fine.

Of course, we pay for those decisions later, often dearly.

Most of us have significant financial regrets in our lives, things we really wish we could go back in time and handle differently. For instance, a 2012 survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that 53 percent of respondents regretted their habitual overspending most of all -- the winner by a large margin.

Here are four ways to avoid financial minefields in your youth.

Don't pick individual stocks. When he was young and brimming with confidence, Mark Wilson, a financial planner with Newport Beach, Calif.-based wealth advisers The Tarbox Group, took inspiration from books like Peter Lynch's "Beating the Street." The philosophy: with proper research, even Main Street moms and pops can produce market-beating returns just like Lynch, the former manager of the famed Fidelity Magellan fund.

Here's what Wilson would tell his younger self: Stop trying to be so cute and make low-cost index funds and ETFs the core of your portfolio.

"I was finally fed up with the time stock-picking took and its less-than-stellar performance," Wilson says. "After all, even most active managers underperform their index."

Spend more on career development. When we graduate from college, it's natural to dream that we will never have to deal with courses, term papers or tuition fees ever again. Sure, saving money is good, but skimping on your full career potential is not. Targeted investments -- learning a new computer language, getting a continuing-education certificate in your field, taking public speaking or sales-oriented programs -- could bear fruit for years to come.

Consider investing between 5 and 10 percent of your annual salary, to invest in yourself and power future earnings.

When crunching housing costs, don't use the wrong math. When estimating the gains you can make from an appreciating home price, there are a flurry of costs that should factor into your math, like repairs, condo or homeowner's association fees and property taxes -- not to mention the 6 percent commission to sell your home through an agent.

Don't give yourself a choice. By setting up an automatic skim of your income into a dedicated savings account, you won't even see that money and can't activate the natural human instinct to blow it all right away.

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