If only I would have…
Why did I EVER…?
Do you find yourself looking at your savings account, 401(k) balance, checkbook and wonder where your paycheck went and what happened to your nest egg?
It can be hard to face the ugly reality of past financial choices, but doing so can help ensure we don’t keep making such costly mistakes in the future. By looking regrets in the eye, we can chase away the could-haves and should-haves, and face the future with a better plan and greater confidence. (Stick with me. This is territory many of us would rather sidle past, but ignoring it won’t make it go away.)
What are some of the most common financial regrets? Some people confess that all those careless purchases while in college really set them back. Unsupervised by parents for perhaps the first time, some young adults go crazy with that new piece of plastic. However, a few late payments can quickly translate into a quagmire of debt – not to mention a plummeting credit score.
Another common culprit is getting carried away once we land our first well-paying job. That healthy paycheck is so reassuring, and so enticing, that we are tempted to go on a spending spree. Maybe we buy all new furniture or get carried away with Christmas shopping – or buy an expensive new car. Instead of adding to our savings, we become reckless spenders, drunk on our new-found financial freedom. Then when we hit one of life’s potholes, we have no buffer, and our debt mounts again.
So how do we shake off the could-haves and should-haves? We can simply admit that far too often, we spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. Practicing the habit of delayed gratification and realizing that you CAN increase your monthly savings, even if just by a few dollars, can greatly improve your financial outlook, and reduce the anxiety that looking at your bank statement causes. (For ideas on how to bump up your savings every month, check out my blog post from last month on taking a financial dare.)
Ask yourself tough questions like: “Will I really get to the gym often enough to make the monthly membership fee worthwhile?” “Can we put off the trip to Disney one more year, to make sure we have enough saved up to cover all expenses?” And if you can’t trust yourself to answer honestly, turn to a trusted friend or family member. Ask that person to weigh in, and tell them the whole story – the price, the interest rate, and why you think you need to make that purchase or financial commitment.
We can also help young people avoid similar mistakes by talking to our kids about finances. We can’t assume our children are getting financial education from someone else, so it’s important to teach them how to spend and save wisely as well as serve as good role models for financial responsibility.
At the end of the day, simply being honest with ourselves about purchases we’re considering can go a long way toward avoiding another uncomfortable round of the could-haves and should-haves, and allow us to relax and truly enjoy the fruits of our labor.