Our biggest financial regrets and best decisions revealed

Vicky Shaw
·4 min read

Not saving sooner for emergencies is the most common financial regret people have, a survey has found.

This is closely followed by leaving pension saving until later in life, according to research published by Hargreaves Lansdown.

One in five people (20%) regrets leaving it too late to build a rainy day savings pot, while a similar proportion (19%) wish they had started saving earlier for retirement.

Women are more likely to regret the time it took them to start saving for a rainy day, while the biggest regret for men is not having started saving into a pension sooner, the research indicates.

Hargreaves Lansdown said its research suggests women often take responsibility for day-to-day planning while men can be more likely to oversee long-term investing and pensions – so people are more likely to regret not acting sooner on the financial jobs they had responsibility for.

One in 10 people wishes they had got to grips with debts, and a similar number wish they had learned about money, started budgeting, and invested earlier.

Looking at different age groups, people aged 55 and over are most likely to regret not starting a pension sooner – likely because their lack of pension savings are about to have an impact on their life.

WATCH: How to save money on a low income

Young people aged 18 to 34 are particularly likely to regret not starting a pension or a rainy day fund sooner. They are also the most likely to say they wish they had started investing earlier.

Among 35 to 54-year-olds, one in five wishes they had got to grips with debt earlier in life. This may be because they have so many demands on their money, often having children to support, that they regret having to repay debts as well.

Avoiding debt and getting on the property ladder as soon as possible are the best financial decisions people feel they have made, the survey of 2,000 people by Opinium in January found. A fifth of people chose these options.

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Nearly as many (19%) feel good about starting a pension at a young age.

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Most of us have regrets lurking somewhere in our financial past, but we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves, because an awful lot of people have plenty to feel proud of too.

“The most common things we regret include those we might have put off because we didn’t think we had the cash – like saving for a rainy day or starting a pension. However, we also regret the things we chose not to get to grips with, which didn’t require any extra money – like living on a budget or getting our heads around debt.

“But we shouldn’t be too busy beating ourselves up about our shortcomings to celebrate our successes. One in five people got started with a pension at an early age, the same proportion avoided the temptation to borrow too much money and the same number again worked hard to get on to the property ladder as young as possible.”

Here are the top 10 financial steps people regret taking until later in life, according to Hargreaves Lansdown, and the percentages of people who regretted it:

1. Saving for a rainy day, 20%

2. Saving for retirement, 19%

=3. Investing, 12%

=3. 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%

And here are the top 10 things people are grateful to have made an early start on:

=1. Not getting into debt, 20%

=1. 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%

=6. Working to a budget, 10%

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

=9. Setting up regular investments, 8%

=9. Getting out of debt, 8%

WATCH: How to prevent getting into debt