Mistakes Made

St. Thomas Beach
Image by K. Sawyer via Flickr

My wife and I started dating when we were 19. We married shortly thereafter, and–at 31–we have 3 kids.

Now, most of a decade into my career, with a dozen years of experience as both a husband and an adult, I think we make decent decisions.

When we were younger, though, we were dumb. We didn’t think much past the “year” in “0% for a year”. Our long-term financial planning was non-existent. Heck, most of the time, our short-term financial planning usually consisted of a call to the bank to see if we had enough money to buy whatever we wanted at the moment or rushing to the bank to deposit the change we found in the couch, hoping to beat the last check we wrote.

We were never able to judge ourselves based on how happy we were. It was always a matter of how we were doing in relation to someone else. A relative–a close relative–is 10 years older than we are. That means, naturally, that she had a 10-year headstart on us. We saw the nice house, the nice cars, and the nice furniture and couldn’t help but compare it to our situation. Their stuff was always shiny and new, while we were making repairs and ignoring rust.

That comparison always made responsible spending difficult. We watched one friend upgrade her house twice in 2-3 years, while driving nice cars. Why couldn’t we do that, too?

Bad logic.

In one year, we put an addition on our house, got married, bought a brand-new pickup, and spent 10 days on a ship in the Caribbean. We did that with a gross household income of about $40,000. Before that summer, we didn’t have a mortgage. Since that summer, we have had a car payment, a credit card payment, and a mortgage payment.

I can still smell the scorched plastic peeling off the sides of our well-used credit cards. That year was when we figured out how everyone else affords all of the nice stuff: they bury themselves in debt.

The debt was never a big deal to us. Yes, money was tight. We always had more month than money, but we also had $50,000 in available credit on the cards and a $5000 credit line serving as our overdraft protection. Since we never missed a payment, we thought we were doing well. After all, you don’t have to be able to afford the debt, as long as you can afford the payment, right?

After that, we started putting the nice truck to work hauling home new furniture. Who can go wrong with 0% for a year? Surely, I’d have a raise by the time that comes due.

The same time we paid off the truck, I got a raise. It was a good raise. There we were, a wallet full full of balance-laden credit cards, a mortgage that we could have done without, furniture we were still paying for years later, a freshly paid-for truck, and a small stack of new money. That meant, of course, that we could “afford” a new car that came with a payment that was–coincidentally–equal to the raise. No problem.

Six weeks later, I got laid off.

Two weeks into the layoff, we found out that we were no longer “trying” to have another baby, we were just waiting for 9 months.

I wish(wish!) that would have been a wake-up call, but that moment of clarity was still 18 months away. The driving obsession to get out of debt was another 18 months away. Unemployed and expecting brat #2, I still wasn’t ready to take a rational look at my finances. That, however is a story for another day. Today, is my day to share my biggest financial blunders, not my successes.

What financial mistakes have you made?

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  • 5 comments

    Comments

    1. I’ve been lucky financially with debt, I grew up in a very frugal family household, so they taught me about finances since I was 5. Of course, guilty is now associated with any purchase I make and there is no fun in that and it takes some of the joy out of purchases…

      So my regrets is missed opportunities in not enjoying a more balanced spending plan, perhaps a budget does having benefits from the spending side (I still don’t do budgets though)… 🙂

      • I grew up in a frugal household, but never realized that money was tight. I just thought I had to earn the money to buy extras because it was a responsibility lesson. 🙂

    2. There’s no teacher like getting older. None of us get out of life without some stupid decisions. Best regards, Barb

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