I have a confession to make. It wasn’t very long ago that I experienced the worst few years of my life, financially speaking. In the latter-half of 2004 I began my adult life full-force, and I hate to admit, but I began it quite poorly. In not very much time at all I managed to get myself in thousands of dollars of credit card debt, which I discovered was a debt that would not easily go away. In my defense I was a full-time college student working part-time jobs to try and pay the bills, but playing the devils advocate it is obvious that I could have done more with the little money I made. I managed my money poorly for a time, but thankfully I’ve been able to learn from those mistakes. I’d like to share just a little bit with you on what I did wrong and, as cliché as it sounds, what I would do differently if I could do it all over again.
It happens before you even know what’s going on… one minute you’re sitting on the Titanic, and the next minute you realize the ship is sinking and there’s not a single lifeboat in sight.
It all actually started out pretty ironically. I told one of my friends in early 2004 that I wanted to save $30,000 by the end of the year 2005. In fact I almost did quite the opposite; I do believe by the end of 2005 I had around $15,000 – $20,000 worth of student loans and credit card debt. It happens before you even know what’s going on… one minute you’re sitting on the Titanic, and the next minute you realize the ship is sinking and there’s not a single lifeboat in sight.
Let the reckless spending begin
I started my freshman year of college in August of 2004 and due to certain circumstances I had no money to pay for my tuition. Doing what I figured was absolutely normal I borrowed some money from my brother to pay for my tuition. I started looking for a job at about that time also, realizing the need to repay my brother, but didn’t find anything steady for a few months. At that point I had applied for and received a credit card which I used to pay for my basic living expenses: gas, food and the like. I expected to pay off my credit card and my brother within a few months from the time I got my job, but instead I kept using my credit card and accumulating debt. I hadn’t done any budgeting and figured out how much I could afford to spend a month, and so I did what so many Americans do; I spent more than I made every single month. Within no time at all I had accumulated around $5,000 dollars worth of credit card debt, and I was beginning to feel as if I were drowning in debt. It was at this point that I began looking for a solution, but the solution I found was not a permanent one.
I wanted to cut down my credit card debt and figured I could take out some student loans to pay it off and then I could start fresh. This worked for a few months, but I still had not disciplined myself to live within my means, and when my lack of discipline was combined with the cost of tuition and books my credit card debt quickly climbed back up to its previous levels. This is when I decided to take on more student loans to pay down my credit card debt again, only this time unsubsidized loans with a higher interest rate. After I had racked up credit card debt and taken out student loans to pay it down a few times I finally realized the error of my ways and decided it was time for me get serious about my finances. To my credit I did fairly well with this at first, but eventually I managed to slip up again… and this time for even more than all of my student-loan debts combined.
New cars are great… if you want to throw your money away
I gave up a lot when I signed those papers, but one thing I regret the most is the amount I could have saved if I had kept my previous vehicle and put the difference between its payment and my new car’s payment into a savings or an investment account.
Yeah I did it, I bought a new car. Not just any new car though… I bought myself a 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse back in March of the same year. Even though I had managed to accumulate a significant amount of student-loan debt at this point I had not yet made such a large financial mistake as I did when I purchased this car. Once all was said and done I had a loan in the mid to high 20’s and a car worth barely 20 thousand dollars. Viola! Instant 36% depreciation. I gave up a lot when I signed those papers, but one thing I regret the most is the amount I could have saved if I had kept my previous vehicle and put the difference between its payment and my new car’s payment into a savings or an investment account.
After this mistake I had had enough of my idiocy. I realized how poorly I had been managing my finances for the two prior years and I resolved to shape up. I concentrated on spending less so I could pay down my debts and save a little each month. I paid just a little extra on my car each month to try to get the principal balance down. I married a woman who knew how to save. I am proud to say that other than my student loans and my auto loan I am debt free. My wife and I have also managed to save between our 401(k)’s, a brokerage account and an emergency fund enough to almost completely pay off either my auto loan or my student loans.
If I could do it all over again I would have made myself a budget and stuck to it. I still would have had some student loan debts, but looking back I realize I could have avoided most, if not all, of my credit card debt and I could have my original auto loan almost completely payed off by now, had I not traded it in for a car two and a half times more expensive. I believe I would have been able to save a decent amount during that time. I would not have accomplished my goal of $30,000 in savings, due to my small income, but I would have accumulated some wealth if I had done these things. Mistakes are meant to be learned from, and I do believe that I have learned my lesson from these mistakes in my past.
What about you?
What financial mistakes have you made that you are not proud of, and what have you done to learn from them and/or correct them? I’d love to hear what you have to say!