Most of us have a bad money habit that can crush our finances. That bad money habit is failing to plan. I cannot tell you how many times I personally have wasted money, gone into debt, or failed to save—and how many times I’ve seen other people make the same mistakes—simply because of a lack of planning.

A couple of quick examples can highlight how problematic this bad money habit can be.


Remember the last time you rushed off someplace—maybe to the airport or to a business meeting—and you needed some cash? You didn’t plan ahead and get some money from your bank or your own bank’s ATM machine. So what happened? You had to go to the first available ATM machine. Needless to say, it was one that was out of network, so you wound up paying a $2, $3, or even a $4 bank fee just to conveniently access your money.

During the past six months, three large banks—Bank of America, Citibank and SunTrust Bank—have all increased their out-of-network ATM fee from $2 to $2.50. At the top 10 U.S. banks, the average out-of-network ATM fee is now $2.45, up from $2.25 in November 2013. On top of that, many ATM operators can hit you with a surcharge, typically anywhere from $3 to $5.

You might think that it’s just $3 here or $5 there, but poor planning like that leads to losing money every time. Those charges add up, and that bad financial habit of procrastination plays itself out in other ways.

Consider another scenario that gets us in trouble: waiting until the last minute to purchase something you know you need, like an airplane ticket or travel arrangements.

Most of us know that when we buy most travel tickets in advance, we’re going to save money. But we don’t take action. (Think of this year’s summer vacation that you’ve known you would take for months—yet still you let procrastination get the best of you, and you’ve waited until the very last minute.) Of course, now that you’re checking around for travel accommodations, all the hotels are booked up and all the cheap plane fares are gone.

Last-minute travel deals aren’t out of the question, but generally, planning in advance will result in more savings. Everything functions in this way. Planning ahead to save money on taxes is a lot easier when you do it all year long, as opposed to waiting until right before April 15.

And what about planning for your kids’ education, or maybe even for yourself, if you’re planning to go back to college? Planning ahead and building savings little by little is going to help keep you out of student loan debt rather than saving nothing at all and trying to handle the costs on the spur of the moment.

You don’t want to be like the typical college graduate who comes out of school with nearly $30,000 in student loan debt. We already have enough college debt in this country (over $1.2 trillion dollars, collectively) in student loans outstanding. A sizable portion of that debt came about because people simply didn’t plan ahead to pay for college costs.

At every level of your life, planning ahead can save you money, keep you out of debt, and it could even save your life in some cases.

We’ve dealt with so many natural disasters of late and frankly, several disasters are man‑made. In a disaster, you can wind up a victim of price gouging (or worse) if you’re not prepared.

Say there’s a major storm and the power goes out. You can wind up in harm’s way if you don’t have the equipment you need, the food, the water, the gas, the resources, the emergency generator, the lights, and the equipment that can keep your home warm or your car running in the event that you’re stuck in traffic for hours during the storm. Such a scenario happened to countless folks in Atlanta during the recent 2014 winter storms.

In all aspects of your life, without planning and without savings, you’re stuck.

If your car breaks down, you may have to go to the first mechanic you see, and more than likely, he’s going to charge you a premium to work on your car right away if you’re in an emergency.

Which leads to another means of draining your money—when you have to pay for items and services on the spot. For many people, that means whipping out a credit card. And that’s going to cost you money in finance charges and extra payments.

So do plan ahead. Don’t let yourself be a procrastinator or a person who fails to see into the future. Realize that each of us will experience the unexpected.

Knowing this, the best way to truly prepare is to plan ahead, save money, and stay out of financial and personal trouble.