Illustration: Andrew Dyson

Illustration: Andrew Dyson

IT'S likely the people around you know whether you'll ever ''make it''; that is, make and keep enough money to secure the life you crave. They'll know this simply by observing your behaviour. And they'll know it quickly.

If you're game, ask their opinion to see if they squirm.

The wrong attitude to your cash - leading you to do the wrong things with it - indicates a ticking financial time bomb. Here are the mistakes that will lead to an explosion:

Missing the (second) once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repay your mortgage fast and save a fortune. Official interest rates have returned to the record lows set during the credit crack-up, and home-loan rates have plunged about 4 percentage points. Say they hypothetically stayed here and you hadn't ever reduced your repayments, the extra $700 or so you would be contributing to a $300,000 mortgage would save you $118,000 and almost 11 years.

Keeping lazy savings. There is no excuse for holding money in low-interest savings accounts. You should be getting about 5 per cent (taxed) or, better still if you have a mortgage, an effective return of about 5.5 per cent (tax-free) by sticking it in there.

Not grabbing gifts such as government allowances, benefits and super giveaways. The big ones you need to apply for include first-home buyer concessions, family tax benefits, baby bonuses or paid parental leave, childcare assistance and the super co-contribution.

Falling into the yawning traps set by finance companies. The largest are making new spending on 0 per cent balance-transfer credit cards - this will be charged at an eye-watering interest rate. If you are ahead on mortgage repayments, then taking up a thoughtful offer to reduce your repayments is designed to recoup the lender's lost interest. Also, if you breach the conditions to get the headline rate on savings accounts, you will lose out. You must hit the monthly requirements or the institution wins.

Staying out of the sharemarket, perhaps in favour of cash or bonds. Yes, the credit crack-up was confronting but you need growth assets such as shares and property to reach your goals. The key is to balance these with more stable, income-producing assets. The fortunes of markets can turn on the head of a pin - witness the 20 per cent share recovery in the past year - and you need to be invested to benefit. Remember this applies to your super, too.

Over-leveraging. Heed the main lesson of the global meltdown and use investment debt sensibly: limit it to an appropriate amount and have the means to cover it if a market turns hostile.

And the big one:

Year after year using credit to spend more than you earn. This short-sighted behaviour has the greatest potential to sabotage your future. To be a financial success you don't need to be particularly clued up, but you can't be clueless, either.

Nicole is editor at large of Smart Investor magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @NicolePedMcK.