Americans Name Their Best (and Worst) Financial Decisions

Each of us makes financial decisions all the time. Some just count more than others.

And like all decisions, some financial choices are good and some are not. Some — probably the most important ones — can last a lifetime.

Researchers at Claris Finance, a firm that matches business owners, entrepreneurs and executives with financing to meet their companies' needs, asked more than 2,000 Americans to name their best and worst financial decisions. While the top-ranked decision on each side of the ledger may not be surprising, some of the others may be.

The single, best financial decision respondents made was getting a college education. According to a 2014 study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, a high-school dropout will earn $973,000 over a lifetime compared with $1.3 million for someone with a high-school diploma. A person with a bachelor's degree can expect to earn $2.3 million over a lifetime.

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The worst financial decision: not saving enough. Nearly a quarter (23%) of respondents regret not saving enough of their monthly income. A report from the Economic Policy Institute showed an average American family had saved a mean of $95,776 for retirement. The median is just $5,000 and the median for families that save at all is $60,000. Of course people save for other things than retirement. For example, a down payment on a house or a car, college for the kids, and maybe even a vacation now and then.

Looking at the 10 worst decisions, all fall into one of two categories: not saving/investing enough or spending too much. Here are the 10 worst financial decisions ranked by the percentage of respondents:

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  1. Not saving enough of monthly income: 23%

  2. Living large in my 20s: 14%

  3. Racking up debt on unnecessary purchases: 14%

  4. Not saving at all: 6%

  5. Not paying off credit card debt: 6%

  6. Never making more investments: 4%

  7. Never paying off debt: 3%

  8. Never investing in the stock market: 3%

  9. Spending on drugs or alcohol: 2%

  10. Spending college money on something trivial: 2%

The 10 best financial decisions that respondents made also fall into two general categories: spending less and saving/investing more. Investment here also includes a college education and buying a house.

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  1. Getting a college education: 18%

  2. Buying that first house: 15%

  3. Living below their means in their 20s: 13%

  4. Living below their means in their 30s/40s: 7%

  5. Not worrying too much about debt: 7%

  6. Investing: 7%

  7. Sticking with a traditional career: 6%

  8. Paying off debt in their 30s/40s: 5%

  9. Paying of debt in their 20s: 5%

  10. Taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip: 4%

The five key strategies respondents used to save more were keeping a budget (44%), eating out less (43%), putting loose change in a jar as a fun fund (32%), staying out of debt (22%) and living a minimalist lifestyle (16%).

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The Claris Finance study includes more details and analysis of the findings and is available at the company's website.

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