Until I decided to change my financial life in late 2010, the only thing I knew about money was how to spend it. This blog is full of stories about the dumb things I’ve done and how they’ve held me back from achieving stability. While I talk about my mistakes a lot (in hopes that you guys won’t repeat them), sometimes I forget to give myself credit for the things I’ve done right. Which, given my short time in recovery, is more like the things I haven’t managed to screw up yet.
Believe it or not, even someone who has experienced credit card debt, bankruptcy, divorce, single parenthood, payday loans, and a series of disastrous job situations can find some ways to feel better about her financial situation. Despite all my failures, there are still at least a few mistakes I haven’t made. Here are ten of them:
1. I have never stolen money. I’ll start with the most obvious. Even when I was desperate for money and couldn’t buy a gallon of milk without a credit card, it never crossed my mind to take money that didn’t belong to me. Sometimes people assume that those in debt lack morals or are more likely to steal, but not this girl! The only way I could see myself doing this is if my son was starving and there was no other way to feed him.
2. I have never spent money that belonged to my son. On a related note, I have never used money that belongs to my son, unless it was to buy something he truly needed (like clothing). He has more money in savings right now than I’ve ever had, and there’s no way I’d use it. I know people who use their kids’ Christmas and birthday money to buy things for themselves, and I’m pretty sure there’s a special place in hell for them.
3. I have never pawned something important. I hear stories all the time about people who pawn their grandmother’s jewelry or some other family heirloom in moments of desperation. While I’m not a stranger to pawn shops, I have been fortunate to stick to things I didn’t really need anyway, like movies, CDs, or unused electronics. I don’t own a ton of valuable items, but I’m determined to hold onto the ones I do have.
4. I have never borrowed money from a friend. I’m not talking about five bucks because I left my wallet in the car at lunch. One of the quickest ways to lose a friend is to borrow a large sum of money from them. The only non-business I’ve ever borrowed money from is my parents. Not saying that’s great; just giving myself credit where I can.
5. I have never borrowed money that I didn’t intend to pay back. A few years ago, one of my friends and her husband decided to file for bankruptcy. Before doing so, they took out several loans and maxed out all their credit cards “because it’s like getting free stuff!” Obviously since I filed bankruptcy myself, I haven’t always been able to pay back what I owed. But never because I purposely took money when I knew I couldn’t or wouldn’t pay as agreed. One other option I have explored is the use of home equity loans for financing in larger sums.
6. I have never collected donations to keep for myself. That may sound odd, but apparently people do it all the time. Is there anything worse than taking up donations for your kid with cancer when you don’t even have a kid with cancer? I’m sure there are worse things, but I can’t think of many. Never been that stupid or desperate.
7. I have never invested money in a pyramid scheme. Remember those chain letters where you sent a dollar bill to each person on the list, and you were supposed to end up with hundreds of dollars? Yeah. I’ve done some really dumb things in my life, but somehow I was able to recognize the likelihood that I wouldn’t see a single dollar from that tactic. One time I almost fell for the one where you send recipes, until I remembered I don’t cook. Crisis averted!
8. I didn’t try to rip off my ex-husband when we got divorced. Many people feel the need to take every dime their spouse has in a divorce. My attorney actually encouraged me to take half of my ex’s retirement, which was fairly substantial, but I refused to stoop to that level. Since we have a child together, it was more important that we get along than for me to fill my bank account with money I didn’t earn.
9. I have never paid for a vacation with credit. Of course I also haven’t taken a real vacation since 2003. But that’s because I can’t afford it, and I refuse to pay interest on something that isn’t necessary. Don’t get me wrong – I’m always whining that I need Calgon to take me away. But it’ll have to wait until I have the money to pay for it.
10. I have never let money influence what I think or say. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of opinionated. But I’m proud to say that my opinions have never been altered just because someone waved money in my face. I won’t endorse crappy products, I won’t be “friends” with someone I dislike to gain something, and I won’t respect people with money if they do nothing to earn my respect.
Do You Acknowledge Your Successes?
Success is a relative term. I had to go to some interesting extremes to find 10 financial mistakes I haven’t made, but I’m pretty excited that I managed to do it. I could have made a list of the things I’ve done right, but I think it was more interesting to remind myself, “I might have screwed up, but at least I didn’t do ____.”
Do you get hung up on the money mistakes you’ve made, or are you able to pat yourself on the back for the areas where you excel? Are there mistakes you know you’ll never allow yourself to make?