6 Procrastination Danger Zones

It seemed simple enough. My husband and I were swamped with work in the weeks leading up to April 15th (tax day!) last year, so we applied for an extension. But instead of dutifully taking care of the chore as soon as our schedules eased up, we put the whole thing on the back burner until theextension was set to run out—in October.  When we finally got started, we could barely remember the year we were in, let alone the last year; making the entire process twice as hard.

We’ve all done it: pushed a major task right up to the deadline, causing us to scramble at the last minute to get it done. And while in some arenas of life this habit causes nothing more than momentary stress and inconvenience, in other areas it can have serious consequences. Take a look at these six danger zones where your habit of procrastination can cost you.

1. College applications. Applying for college these days is a multi-step process that involves requesting transcripts from your child’s high school, writing essays, and completing exhaustive financial aid forms. Failure to take care of these things in a timely manner can cause you to accidentally miss a deadline. Pushing the application process right up the deadline will cause your senior to submit an application that is hastily prepared and prone to mistakes. At the beginning of your student’s senior year, set up a calendar with all pertinent application deadlines for the schools he is interested in applying to. Give your child “early” deadlines to have all the information together so that it can be carefully proofed and edited before submission. The pay-off for getting these details right may be thousands of dollars in scholarships or financial aid, or admission to your child’s dream college.

2. Taxes. How does the old joke go? Oh yes—the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. So why pretend that it’s going to magically go away if you just wait long enough? Failure to file your federal income tax returns by April 15th can cost you extra money in penalties and interest on any money owed. If you must file for an extension in order to collect the necessary statements and information for your return, take care of the filing process as soon as possible. Pushing the task further into the year will make it harder to remember the details of your finances from the previous year, increasing the possibility for mistakes.

3. School projects. If you’ve ever gone to Wal-Mart at 11:00 pm for felt, glue or poster board, you know the truth of this one. No one wins when a school project is left to the last minute, including you. When your child waits until the due date to begin a major project, he’s more concerned with finishing on time than learning. The result is a project that is hurriedly thrown together (usually with more help from mom and dad than the teacher intended), with little attention to detail or to the process that was supposed to provide the learning experience. This sets a dangerous precedent in the academic life of your children. Remember, when they’re away at college, you won’t be there to bail them out.

4. Home maintenance. Experts recommend that you spend between 1-3% of your home’s value on preventative maintenance each year. Performing annual service on HVAC systems, keeping roofs free of debris and mold and similar tasks can greatly extend the lifespan of these essential parts of your home. Don’t buy the idea that foregoing regular maintenance will save you money. Failure to keep things in top shape can leave you with a whopping repair bill when you least expect it.

5. Savings. Young families often feel so stretched to make ends meet, they opt out of any regular contribution to a savings plan for college or retirement. But in doing so, they miss out on the single-greatest help in meeting those goals: the power of the growth of money over time. Even the smallest contribution to your 401K or your kids’ college fund can be a substantial help when it gains interest or pays dividends over the course of 15-20 years. It’s fine to start small—but start now!

6. Paying bills. In every household, one person typically takes ownership of the task of paying regularly occurring bills. Since most people earn a regular salary, setting up a system for paying these bills should be a simple exercise in organization. But for those who neglect establishing a calendar or financial program that keeps them aware of due dates, late payments can become a regular occurrence. Not only does this cost you more in late fees, but it negatively affects your credit score, as well. So when you go to get a mortgage or take out a loan for another major purchase, you might not qualify for the best available interest rates. Stay on top of those regular payments with a financial program like Quicken, or an old-fashioned calendar.