I make mistakes. A lot. I always have the best of intentions – but we all know where that can lead…
When I realize I’ve made a mistake, the only way I can even remotely make myself feel better is to learn from the situation. I want to figure out exactly what I have to do to make sure I never make that mistake again. I figure, if I can’t learn from it, then what’s the point? I’ll just continue to make the same mistake over and over again.
Unfortunately life isn’t always so clear cut – which means there are plenty of mistakes that I do make more than once. In those cases, it either takes a really hard lesson to get me back on course or a decision to develop new habits. It also helps to keep a list of the top mistakes I’ve made to remind myself of what I don’t want to do.
Read on to find out the top mistakes I’m vowing to never make again. Some of them are doozies and some are creepers that perniciously eat away at my money. It’s not easy to share the things I’ve done wrong but hopefully some of these will help you (and you can help hold me accountable in the comments!).
9 Money Mistakes I’ll Never Make Again
You ready to jump in and find out some of the things that have been setting my finances back for years? Here goes!
Mistake #1: Not Creating a Real Budget
I’ve always sort of kept a budget… but not really the type of budget that might actually help me. Typically how it would look was me in one of my college classes adding up my tips for the week in the side column of my notebook (I was a waitress in college) and figuring out how to make them work for my upcoming bills.
Not exactly the most sophisticated budgeting method.
Years later I had the same reactionary budget. I’d think about the past month and wonder why I didn’t save as much as I’d planned. It wasn’t until I got seriously frustrated with constantly falling behind that I finally learned how to budget for the month ahead. The real game changer though wasn’t just creating a forward-thinking budget. The real game changer was assigning goals to my money. That allowed me to finally understand that I had more control over my finances than I was choosing to take in the past – and soon I started hitting some pretty serious debt payoff and savings goals. Except….
Mistake #2: Ignoring My Budget
…for when I ignored my budget. Once I got settled into a solid budgeting routine and habit, I wasn’t really in danger of ignoring my budget. It became second nature to stick to the spending plan I created. That is, until life changes broke all of my habitual routines and required me to start all over again.
It’s amazing how long it takes to create a habit compared to how easy it is to break the habit. When I moved across the country and back, I had to rebuild my budgeting, fitness, and healthy eating habits all over again. Even though it doesn’t look on paper like change should shake up every routine, sometimes it just does.
To keep the positive budgeting habit going requires diligence and a rabid vigilance against complacency. Only mindfulness can beat the craziness life brings on and allow us to stick to our well-intentioned plans.
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Mistake #3: Thinking Any Singular Action Will Make Everything Better
After a mistake has been made, it’s easy to follow it up with another mistake of thinking one singular action will make it all better. Of assuming I can let myself off the hook because I now know what not to do next time.
This almost never works. Most money mistakes seem simple enough but often come from more complex places. A blown budget sounds straightforward but when you start digging into why you blew your budget, well, the reasons are often much deeper than a lack of awareness of your spending.
Now I sit with the fact that I can’t make it all better with one step. That I’ll need to create more daily mindfulness to stick to my strategy. And, most of all, never:
Mistake #4: Rationalize with “I’ll Do Better Next Time”
This is such a toughie. It’s so easy to make myself feel better by saying, “I’ll do better next time.” As though this time was truly a one-off incident and not a pattern of behavior that I’ve exhibited over and over again in the past.
Does that mean I do better by mentally beating myself up? Absolutely not. But it does mean that I can’t just write off a mistake as though it’s something I’ll never fall into again. I do much better when doing what I can to fix the current situation and then creating a plan to fix the larger behavior moving forward. Daily mindfulness is key.
Mistake #5: Spending Future Money
Speaking of planning on the future instead of focusing on the present, another money mistake that I’ve made in the past is spending future money.
This sounds innocent enough… why not make plans for a tax return or upcoming birthday money? Simply put, sometimes things fall through. And by spending money that I technically didn’t have yet, I’ve suddenly found myself in a financial hole more than once.
So now when I know future money might be coming, I pretend like it doesn’t exist until, well, until it actually exists in my bank account. Then I can start making the plans.
Mistake #6: Thinking Saving Money Justifies an Unplanned Purchase
Speaking of plans… planning to spend money because something is on sale doesn’t always equate to a good financial decision. This mistake affects many. If it didn’t, then we wouldn’t constantly be barraged with coupons and savings offers from nearly every retailer out there. I always thought this would be a harder habit to break than it was (who can turn down a 50% off sale or a purchase that’s significantly cheaper than the original “value”?).
Once I understood the psychology behind this it became surprisingly easy to break the habit. If a store is willing to sell a $300 coat for $150 and then knock off another $50 for good measure on a special holiday, chances are the coat is worth even less than the $100 now on the sticker price. Otherwise, why would they do it?
No more. Now I look at what I’m willing to spend and assign that value to the item rather than relying on a retailer to assign that value and then try to entice me to purchase faster for a special “savings.” Of course, if a planned purchase goes on sale at the time I’d expected to make the buy, then it works out for the better!
Mistake #7: Purchasing Low Quality to Save Money
Aligned with the habit of impulse buying to save money is the habit of purchasing low quality to save money. Both keep money savings in mind – but that’s all. I finally realized (after buying a new winter coat every year for three years in a row because mine just couldn’t seem to hold up in the Northwestern chill) that this makes no sense.
If we’re going to spend our money, then we should get the best value we can! Unfortunately, sometimes that means spending a little more money upfront. But if spending more money upfront to buy better quality means spending less money replacing that item over time, then that decision makes a lot more money sense in the long run.
That said, I don’t believe that all items on my purchase to-do list have to be top quality. I weigh it out by the difference in quality for the product (sometimes there’s not a lot of actual, impactful difference between the moderate and higher priced versions) and the amount of times I’ll be using whatever it is.
So a winter coat that keeps me warm and healthy even in a polar vortex – that’s a high quality purchase I’ll make. But a new umbrella that I know I’m more than likely to misplace? I’ll buy the cheapest one I can find.
Mistake #8: Taking Money Advice that Didn’t Match My Priorities
This plays into bigger singular steps as well. I remember taking out a balance transfer credit card thinking it would solve all of my debt problems. It didn’t. I focused on that one action without thinking about the steps that would need to follow in order to truly reach success. That singular action needed to be the first action, not the only action.
Part of the reason I made that mistake is because I took advice that didn’t match my priorities. I knew that I needed a forced plan such as a debt payoff installment loan. I didn’t trust myself to maintain a self-sustaining plan like a balance transfer. But because my peers told me the balance transfer made more sense since it didn’t have an interest rate for six months, I took their advice and took the balance transfer.
And I ended up in debt much longer.
It wasn’t my peers’ fault. It was my fault. I should have listened to my gut and followed my money instincts. I should have made sure my choice matched my priorities – but I didn’t. That’s definitely one mistake I won’t be making again!
Mistake #9: Blaming My Income for My Money Problems
This is without a doubt one of my most regretful money mistakes. It’s waaay too easy to say, “If only I earned more… If only I earned as much as… If only I earned… If only, If only, If only…”
News flash to me: it’s not always about you earn. In fact, more often than not it’s about what you do with what you earn. I’ve met people who earn what seems like plenty of money struggle to pay their bills. I’ve met people who earn what seems like not nearly enough pay their bills, save money, and travel. And vice versa of course.
The fact is, a budget can be a magical thing and it can make whatever you earn go as far as you let it. True, this isn’t always the case (sometimes there is a real, true need to earn more to meet your minimum bill requirements), but for the majority of people, a strong budget can make all the difference. Simply put, more money doesn’t equal better financial decisions.
Listing these mistakes is just a first step – but it sure does put things in perspective and help me understand patterns in my behavior. What felt like a scary task has actually left me feeling happy – I can take more control if I know what I’m up against!
So what about you? What money mistakes would you prefer never to make again? Make a list! It’s shockingly therapeutic. And if you’re up for it, share some of them in the comments below. Chances are, you’ll remind me of others I’ve made in the past and forgot about – and we can work together to move forward!
Image credit: Shanon Wise