Don’t try these at home. People often wonder what qualifies me to write this blog. I sometimes wonder myself. By no means am I a financial guru. I do learn from my mistakes, though, and have stumbled enough times over the years to know the pitfalls of poor decision making. As a result, I usually make good choices now and I try to act on all of the things I’m allowed to share in this space. From using coupons to making sound investments, I’ve dusted myself off from the blunders you’ll read below and though I’m not clean as a whistle, I’m a lot better off today than I was.
I know there will be a host of commenters who’ll ridicule me and argue my qualification to author a blog called Atlanta Bargain Hunter. Have your say. I’ll counter that wisdom comes with time and age. Fortunately, I’ve had both on my side.
So, here you have it: Some of the biggest, most embarrassing money mistakes I’ve made over the last decade:
1. I let someone borrow a credit card in case of emergencies.
Result: My card was maxed out and I continue to make payments on it. Thankfully, I’m on track to have it paid off within a year.
2. I failed to roll over my 401 (K) when I changed jobs.
Result: I lost thousands and had to pay taxes on the money I received. A double-whammy.
3. I didn’t ask for more on the house.
Result: Sometimes, being in a hurry isn’t smart. I relocated out of state and had to sell my house. I was in such a hurry, I didn’t even take the time to counter-offer on my home. In retrospect, I could have gotten quite a bit more from the sell.
4. I co-signed.
Result: When a friend needed to move to an apartment quickly, I agreed to co-sign. Big mistake. When the rent wasn’t paid, whose number do you think the company called?
5. Victim of fraud.
Result: I’ve learned that hard way how important it is to protect your identity and your assets. Paying closer attention to daily transactions would have prevented what could have ended up being a costly ordeal.
6. Impulse shopper.
Result: I’ll admit that I was never one to look for sales, or to show patience while shopping for a coveted item. Rather, I saw it and I bought it. I now know better. I don’t pay full-price for much of anything these days and know when items are marked down. I also am a wiser grocery store shopper, returning to old habits of using coupons and buying in bulk when it makes sense to do so.
7. Not saving.
Result: I don’t know about you, but I can’t trust myself when it comes to saving money. While I’ve contributed to my company’s saving program, I haven’t always done much in terms of personal savings. Luckily, I nipped it in the bud early. I have money automatically placed into a savings account, and have recently begun using an online savings account for a better interest rate.
8. Where to tonight?
Result: There have been weeks and months at a time when I ate out religiously. I have scaled back dramatically and eat dinner out only once or twice a week. While that may still sound like a lot for some, it is a big change for me, as I routinely ate out five or six nights a week. Making it worse, I didn’t look for coupons or specials.
9. I sold everything.
Result: In yet another cross-country move, I decided — rather impulsively — that I wanted to start anew. So, I sold practically everything I had. Couch, television, bed…you name it. What was my plan? Well, I had none. I bought new furniture and paid a handsome price for it, all without giving it a second thought until my credit card bill arrived. That was long ago and I’ll never make such a foolish move again.
10. Sure, I’ll buy it.
Result: I met an insurance salesman outside the gates at a college football game. He made a good pitch, and the next thing I knew, I was paying too much for insurance that I didn’t need. Before I buy anything nowadays, I take a deep breath. If it’s such a good deal, it will be available later. Sometimes I wait too long to pull the trigger, but that’s better than taking the first bite.
There you have it. I wasn’t taught smart money management growing up and have made some pretty ridiculous mistakes in adulthood. Here’s hoping this little slice of life will prevent you from traveling down some of the treacherous paths I’ve taken and that we end up in the same place — smart decision makers with a steady eye on the prize that lies before us.
My New Year’s goals:
1. Grow my emergency savings fund. I’ve made progress and will continue working on this.
2. Continue my education. In ways small and large, it is important to keep growing in order to improve your chances of continued financial stability. Nothing is promised and many qualified, intelligent professionals have lost jobs this year. In droves, many of them have turned to continuing education in an effort to have more doors opened to them in the future.
3. Pay off debt. As I mentioned earlier, I’m very near paying off what was a substantial amount of credit card debt. Even though I didn’t run up the charges, my mistakes led to the problem and I intend to correct it once and for all this year.
4. Make home improvements. Eventually, the housing market will turn around and may someday want to sell my home. To do that, I need to make some improvements. However, I plan to follow many of the DIY steps you’ve read on my blog to save money during the process.
5. Take care of important paperwork. If you don’t have a living will or estate plans, you should. You’ll also want to organize your finances and make sure you have access to important documents that you or your spouse could someday need.
Happy New Year!