Why these could be your biggest financial regrets - Sarah Coles

We all have to learn to live with regrets in life. As a child I took a hot pan off the stove and put it down on the brand new kitchen table, and for the next decade the whole family sat down for dinner every night staring at a giant scorch mark: a testament to my childish stupidity. I have a friend who feels the same way about her Winnie the Pooh tattoo.

The biggest financial regret people said they had was not saving for a rainy day.

Unfortunately, when it comes to money, we can’t just hide our mistakes under a dinner plate, or wear a cardigan over them. We recently asked people about their biggest financial regrets, and the most common one was not having saved for a rainy day.

Anyone who is having to make it through the pandemic on a lower income, with nothing to fall back on, knows just what a difference a savings safety net would have made.

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The second biggest regret is not having started a pension sooner. Older people, aged 55 and over, are most likely to regret this – partly because their lack of pension savings are about to have an immediate impact on their quality of life.

The positive news on this front is that younger people in employment today don’t have to make an active decision to join the company pension scheme, they’ll automatically be put into it – and contributions will be put into it from both them and their employer – unless they have specifically requested to opt out.

This has pushed pension scheme membership through the roof, but there are still worrying gaps. If you don’t earn over the earnings threshold, you won’t automatically go into the scheme, but you can still ask to join. Self-employed people also have no automatic pension rights, which is one reason why pension membership is so low among those who work for themselves.

And people who take career breaks also risk racking up years or even decades without contributions. It’s why anyone who doesn’t have access to a workplace scheme needs to think carefully about the plans they’re making for the future.

These plans should also include investing, because our third biggest regret is not having started this early enough. It’s something people often associate with being a wealthy specialist, so it’s worth bearing in mind that you don’t need to be able to sit an A-Level in investment in order to get started.

You can start with something as simple as putting £25 a month into a tracker fund, and build your knowledge and experience from there.

It’s useful to know the things we’re going to regret, because it gives us a chance to learn from each other’s mistakes, and make the kind of financial decisions we’ll be proud to look back on. It’s also useful to know the kinds of decisions people are most pleased they made.

Top of the list was avoiding getting into too much debt. Those who have managed to save for luxuries in life rather than borrowing have been able to benefit from earning interest throughout life instead of paying it. The second thing people are most pleased about was prioritising buying a house. Younger people can quite rightly point out that is easier said than done nowadays, because houses are now far less affordable than in the past. However, as my dad never tires of telling me, buying a house has never been easy.

When my parents bought their first home in the early 1970s, they spent so much of their income on the mortgage, they couldn’t afford furniture. Eventually my dad made some, but in the interim they sat on the boxes they’d moved in with. Which is why, of course, they were so delighted when their youngest daughter destroyed the kitchen table with a giant scorch mark.

The top 10 things we regret leaving later in life

1. Saving for a rainy day – 20%

2, Saving for retirement –19%

3. Investing –12%

4. Getting to grips with debt – 12%

5. Budgeting – 11%

6. Learning about money – 10%

7. Prioritising buying a house – 9%

8. Getting an ISA – 7%

9. Saving for children – 5%

10. Fixing a savings rate – 4%

The top 10 things we’re grateful we made an early start on

1. Not getting into debt – 20%

2. Buying a house as early as possible – 20%

3. Starting a pension young – 19%

4. Setting up regular savings – 16%

5, Keeping enough cash for emergencies –12%

6. Learning about money matters – 10%

7. Working to a budget – 10%

8, Managing to save when money was tight – 9%

9. Setting up regular investments – 8%

10. Getting out of debt – 8%

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Thank you

James Mitchinson