Is this Americans' most harmful financial habit?

Americans aren't exactly known for having the best financial habits. Many of us are deep in debt, and the majority of U.S. adults don't have enough savings to cover a moderate financial emergency. The good news, however, is that we're at least willing to own up to our problematic behavior and acknowledge that we need to do better.

So what's the greatest mistake we're making on a whole? In a new Allianz survey, Americans pointed to spending too much money on things they don't need as their worst financial habit. That was closely followed by not saving any money, not saving enough money, and not paying down debt quickly enough.

Clearly, none of these make for a financially secure lifestyle. But if you have a tendency to fall into the overspending trap, there are different things you can do to help break that nasty habit. Here are just a few.

1. Set a budget

Most Americans don't follow a budget, even though it's one of the simplest ways to track and curb spending. If you're currently living without a budget, carve out an hour or so to create one. From there, you'll see not only how much you're spending in different places, but how much you can actually afford to be spending. And having that limit laid out for you will make it easier to avoid going overboard. 

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Home sellers are making the most money in these 10 cities
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Home sellers are making the most money in these 10 cities

10. Boston

Median years owned: 7 years 10 months

Dollar gain on sale: $182,500

Annual dollar gain on sale: $25,036

Percent gain on sale: 49.6%

Source: Zillow 

Photo credit: Getty

9. New Orleans

Median years owned: 8 years 7 months

Dollar gain on sale: $81,000

Annual dollar gain on sale: $10,475

Percent gain on sale: 51.5%

Source: Zillow 

Photo credit: Getty

8. Philadelphia

Median years owned: 7 years 11 months

Dollar gain on sale: $40,225

Annual dollar gain on sale: $4,194

Percent gain on sale: 51.7%

Source: Zillow 

Photo credit: Getty

7. Seattle

Median years owned: 9 years 2 months

Dollar gain on sale: $185,000

Annual dollar gain on sale: $20,840

Percent gain on sale: 53.1%

Source: Zillow

Photo credit: Getty

6. Sacremento, CA

Median years owned: 6 years 11 months

Dollar gain on sale: $82,500

Annual dollar gain on sale: $12,000

Percent gain on sale: 53.6%

Source: Zillow 

Photo credit: Getty


 

5. Los Angeles

Median years owned: 9 years 8 months

Dollar gain on sale: $200,000

Annual dollar gain on sale: $23,200

Percent gain on sale: 53.7%

Source: Zillow 

Photo credit: Getty

4. Denver

Median years owned: 7 years 7 months

Dollar gain on sale: $119,500

Annual dollar gain on sale: $18,162

Percent gain on sale: 56.0%

Source: Zillow 

Photo credit: Getty

3. San Jose, CA

Median years owned: 9 years 8 months

Dollar gain on sale: $271,150

Annual dollar gain on sale: $30,562

Percent gain on sale: 56.5%

Source: Zillow 
 

Photo credit: Getty

2. Portland, OR

Median years owned: 9 years 1 month

Dollar gain on sale: $145,026

Annual dollar gain on sale: $16,714

Percent gain on sale: 64.7%

Source: Zillow 

Photo credit: Getty

1. Oakland, CA

Median years owned: 7 years 3 months

Dollar gain on sale: $235,000

Annual dollar gain on sale: $33,913

Percent gain on sale: 78.0%

Source: Zillow 

Photo credit: Getty

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2. Don't take your credit or debit cards along shopping

There are countless good reasons to shop with a credit card, and these run the gamut from cash-back rewards to purchase protection. But if you've been known to spend too much money on non-essentials, then you're actually better off shopping with cash alone. If you make a list of the things you need before leaving the house and only bring just enough cash with you to cover those items, then you'll take the opportunity to spend extra off the table. It's as simple as that.

Along these lines, limit your shopping to brick and mortar stores, as opposed to the internet. Of the 79% of Americans who identify as online shoppers, 15% make online purchases on a weekly basis. And while buying things online can be both cost-effective and convenient, it also opens the door to overspending -- especially since your only choice is to pay using a credit card or debit account linked to your bank.

3. Never shop out of boredom

A good 66% of U.S. adults agree that shopping is a great cure for boredom. If you're one of them, then it's time to take up some hobbies that don't involve needlessly throwing your paycheck away. You might consider joining a sports league, volunteering, or working a side hustle to turn your excess downtime into a money-making opportunity. It's a far better cry than doing the opposite -- spending money for no good reason.

Remember, the sooner you stop wasting money on things you don't need, the easier it'll be for you to meet other key financial goals. In fact, if we revisit the bad financial habits Americans owned up to aside from hemorrhaging cash on non-essentials, it's clear that curbing our spending will, in turn, help us not only save money, but save adequately and pay down debt. And that's the sort of positive cycle it pays to kick off.

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