Monday, April 20, 2009

I know it's in the past, but...

I have been really stressed out lately about past money mistakes. It doesn't make any sense, because it's not helping me curb my spending now.

I blew a lot of money in high school and college. I've had a job since I was 15, and I don't really have a whole lot to show for it. I always saved, but not for the long term. In college, in particular, I wasted probably tens of thousands of dollars. For three years, I had a long-distance boyfriend and I went to visit him every single weekend. And we usually didn't do it cheaply--we frequently met halfway between our towns so had to pay for lodging. Restaurants for every meal, movies with popcorn, candy and soda, shopping at the mall of whatever town we were in. There are a lot of things I regret about those years, but the money is definitely up there. After the third year, he moved to my town, so we at least weren't spending money on housing, gas and phone calls, but we still went out to eat a lot and went to the movies all the time. Around the same time, we started going on bigger trips, like snowboarding for spring break, and he started losing a series of jobs and I paid for things a lot more often. Ultimately, money was a big reason we broke up. We were getting to the point where we either needed to get married or break up, and I realized I couldn't build a life with him because I couldn't trust him with money. There were other problems, but realizing that this was a person I couldn't have children with because I was afraid I'd starve while on maternity leave tipped the scales for me.

So I regret five years of reckless spending.

Then the next few years I lived in New York. I was working at Starbucks and a bookstore, barely managing to pay my exorbitant rent. I lived pretty cheaply for the most part, except that I was smoking and cigarettes were about $7 a pack. And I also went to Europe on my emergency fund and came back to no money in the bank whatsoever. I guess I figured I was about to leave New York and move home to my parents' house, so it didn't matter if I had no money. Then I changed my mind and had to start all over again.

Which brings me to today, when apparently I'm supposed to have $30,000 in my retirement fund by the time I'm 30, and I'm two years and $20,000 away from that, and it's not only the fault of the stock market. All the dollars I wasted on bad food and cheap hotels and cigarettes are gone, and there's nothing I can do about that.

But the most irritating thing is that it's not changing my habits now, today. Example: I have school two nights a week. I can't make it from work to school without some caffeine, but more than one coffee a day makes me shaky and sick, so I've been grabbing a soda. Except not one of the several caffeinated sodas I can get from the fountain at work (for free)--no, I would rather spend $2 on a bottled soda from the bodega, because that's the kind I like best. But that's winding up to $4-6 a week on soda when I totally have the option to get caffeinated for free. That's about $260 a year, in addition to being bad for my teeth and tummy pudge, and $260 a year at 8% interest for 30 years is ALMOST $35,000!!!!!!

What's my problem? Why do I spend money on something that means almost nothing to me, and I know I will regret it years down the road--or at least, if I don't regret it, I won't even remember or don't value what I've spend the money on? I understand that wealth comes from both saving on the big things (house, car, consumer debt) and the small things (spending consciously, consuming less, living responsibly) but it's like I just can't get my actions to match my words sometimes, and I seem to be unable to learn from my mistakes. It's very frustrating.

1 comment:

  1. Beating yourself up over past mistakes won't solve anything. What's done is done. The five years of reckless spending is in the past and nothing will change that. The important part is that you're learning from the mistakes.

    Nobody is perfect when it comes to personal finance management, except me of course. Just kidding. But no matter how 'well organized' someone is, chances are that they make mistakes or have made them. It's a fact of 'money' life. The number one thing to do is not let your little transgressions get you discouraged where you then say 'what's the point' and undo all the progress you've made.

    And you have made a lot of progress. You've got a retirement account, and anything is better than nothing. You're going to school. You're recognized past errors. These are all things that a lot of people out there don't have, so make sure to look at what you have done and not what you haven't.

    As far as the soda, don't deprive yourself or force something down your throat that you don't want. Being financially responsible doesn't mean being miserable. But, in this example, consider a compromise: Buy a 12-pack of the soda you like every week or two and take them with you. It's going to be much cheaper than buying them individually, and that way you can have your soda and drink it too!

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