5 Big Money Mistakes Americans Make

By Chris Neiger Markets Fool.com

When it comes to personal finances, Americans could use a little help. Many of us carry way too much credit card debt, we don't save enough, and we tend to spend far more than we should.

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To help get a better understanding of what we're doing wrong, let's take a look at five big money mistakes Americans tend to make.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Not saving enough

Most of us could do a lot better saving our money, but the numbers are even more sobering than you might think. More than 60% of American households spend more money than they make each year, according to a recent Washington Post article.

And the Federal Reserve says that nearly half of Americans wouldn't be able to come up with $400 in savings to pay for an unexpected emergency.

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But it wasn't always this way. As an Atlantic article pointed out last year,"The bottom 90 percent of households saved 10 percent of their income in the first Reagan administration. By 2006, their savings rate was nearly negative 10 percent."

Certainly, there's a lot of nuance to this subject. Some people can afford to save a lot more than they do, while others simply cannot. But for many of us, the simple fact remains that we could likely cut some costs in order to put more in the bank.

2. Not investing enough at a young age

A recent BlackRock report found that 46% of millennials -- the highest percent of all current generations -- say that investing is too risky. The average millennial has about 70% of their assets in cash and the rest in various investments, compared to 60% and 53%for baby boomers and the silent generation, respectively.

It's a little ironic that one of the youngest generations is the most risk-averse, considering that they have the most time to recover from huge stock market dips -- and have the most to gain from the magic of compounding interest.

3. Racking up too much credit card debt

If many Americans are spending more than we make, logic would say that that extra money needs to come from somewhere, and for Americans it comes in the form of credit card debt.

For American households that carry a credit card balance, the average amount is about $16,048, according to ValuePenguin. More troubling is that this amount has gone up by about 10% from 2013 to 2016.

4. Not cutting back in retirement

The director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell, recently told the Wall Street Journal that many Americans in their 50s sometimesincrease their standard of living because they've paid off debts and don't have kids in the house anymore.

The problem is that these people are very close to retirement age, and they're starting to live a lifestyle that will likely be unsustainable in just a few years. Many don't cut back -- or do it fast enough -- when they enter retirement and then have problems paying for their new expenses.

5. Spending too much for housing

Housing costs (whether renting or buying) often take up a huge percentage of Americans' monthly expenses. TheState of the Nation's Housing Report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University said last year that 21.3 million Americans are spending 30% or more of their income to pay for rent.Homebuyers are in a similar situation, with 31% spending 30% or more of their take-home pay on housing, according to theWashington Post.That's much higher than debt-reduction guru Dave Ramsey recommends spending on housing. He believes that housing expensesshould be capped at 25%, or less, of your monthly take-home pay.

It's not just that Americans are spending a lot on housing -- it's also that we don't give the process enough consideration.Zillow says that Americans spend more time researching car purchases and planning vacations than we do on our home loans:"One in five (18 percent) of those surveyed spend an hour or less shopping for their home loan. More time is spent researching a car purchase (11 hours) and an equal amount of time researching a vacation (8 hours), despite the fact that these items cost just a small fraction of the average cost of a home."

It doesn't have to be this way

All of these statistics are a bit of a bummer, but there are practical solutions that all of us can implement to change this narrative.I've compiled a short list below to help you get started. Pick out which ones apply to you, and act accordingly. You won't be alone, either -- I'll be doing the same this year as I work through my own personal finances.

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Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Zillow Group (A shares) and Zillow Group (C shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.