Financial Regret: How to Forgive Yourself

I made a mistake. A big one.

In my previous post, I wrote about the idea of upgrading one’s life after achievement. Essentially, people have a tendency to increase their standard of living once they get a job/raise/promotion. Their spending keeps pace (or in my case, outpaces) their income. I fell into this harmful thinking, and I paid dearly for it.

Please turn your attention to Exhibit A:

 

When I finished my doctorate in May of 2015, I went from making negative income (funded by student loans) to having a respectable income of $80,179 per year. My wife made a similar income, bringing our household income to $160k. After 8 years of hard work in college, I decided to treat myself. I was a doctor, dammit, and I deserved a nice car. Despite being nearly $110,000 in debt, I decided to take the plunge and buy a BMW. I thought I did due diligence — I bought used instead of new, I paid cash for the car, I even had a mechanic look it over before buying to ensure I wasn’t getting ripped off.

However, life has a way of punishing you for financial mistakes when you are least prepared.

Anyone who has owned a less-than-reliable car know the feeling: the fear of turning your vehicle’s ignition key and nothing happens. Sure, the car may lie to you, making all sorts of whining and whacking, blinking all kinds of lights on the dashboard, but the reality is clear — the car is not going to run. When it happened to me, I was hit with several waves of realizations:

  1. This is embarrassing.
  2. I am stranded.
  3. This is going to be expensive.

Exhibit B:

A few hours later, a man in a flatbed showed up and hauled my baby away. It was the second to last time I would ever see her.

Why did I know it was going to be expensive? Because everything about a damn BMW is expensive.

I present to you Exhibit C:

Here is the complete service record (including car washes!) for the ~6.5 months I owned the BMW. Notice the very large charge at the very top — that was the engine repair to get my car running again. In case you haven’t whipped out your calculator yet, I spent $4,018.51 (not including gas) keeping the car running. That is an average of $618.23 a month in vehicle maintenance! The wildest part of this whole thing? The repair I had on 11/9/16 was only enough to get the car running — the mechanic quoted me over $8,000 to “do the job right.”

That was it. Despite how much I loved the car, I sold it and bought a used Ford sedan.

I read “Millionaire Next Door” and began my financial renaissance. I started reading blogs about personal finance and listening to podcasts about the same. I got serious about killing the monster called student loans, and I gave the man in the mirror a punch in the face.

In fact, I may have punched too hard.

I was filled with financial regret. I made an enormous mistake, setting us back months in financial progress. My BMW escapades cost us thousands of dollars, which translated to time I would never get back. Those were months of work which could have allowed us to have kids sooner, to buy a house sooner, and to retire sooner. This realization made me sick to my stomach, and I came down hard on myself.

However, it is never too late to turn your life around. You have to forgive yourself for the mistakes you made in the past, overcome the regret that comes with those mistakes, and form defined, actionable goals to prevent them in the future. Learn and adapt.

I was listening to the “Millennial Money Minutes” podcast (make sure to check ’em out!), and there was a saying that I had never heard before:

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

I think this saying has so much value, especially when it comes to personal finance and debt management. We all make mistakes. Yes, it is important to identify those mistakes and to change the behaviors that led to the mistakes, but it is never too late to change your future. You control your destiny. Be the change you want to see. If anything, it will make for a good story (or blog post!) further down the line.

What kinds of financial mistakes did you overcome? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

10 Replies to “Financial Regret: How to Forgive Yourself”

  1. Thanks for the podcast shoutout! I made the same mistake and bought a car I couldn’t afford – then I ended up totaling it a few weeks later and thankfully the insurance covered it and save me. I just kept the money and said goodbye to the car. Got lucky – it saved my life and I got my money back. Everytime I see someone young in a BMW I always think about this- likely the first luxury splurge they couldn’t afford. Something about that brand – I always wanted a BMW too. Great story. Onwards

  2. MBF,
    I admire your mission at such a young age. I’ve got 20 years on you and At the rate I’m going I’ll be a millionaire by 55 (7 years), have 2M by 60 and 3M by 65. I wish I’d started this quest earlier and felt the regret you speak of many times as a young man. Two years ago I wiped out the mortgage which left me 100% debt free. There is a piece of mind that comes with not owing a penny to anyone in the world. I’m now investing 33% of my income into retirement accounts. In two years after my son graduated from college, that will free up an additional $20K per year to further accelerate my long term investing. The key is getting out of debt as fast as possible, living well below your means and investing as much as you can in diversified investments. Congrats on your noble journey.

    1. MB55,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I am so lucky to have made a change this early — time is the investor’s best friend. That’s very generous of you to pay for your son’s tuition. You are giving him a wonderful head start in life that several in his cohort won’t have. In fact, the book “Millionaire Next Door” strongly condemns parents giving their children money, with the exception of tuition/board while they are in college. Anything that book says is gospel to me.

      I am so excited for you to create the life you deserve. It will be all the richer after overcoming the missteps of the past 👏🏻

  3. MBF,
    I think one of the greatest reasons to become financially independent is to leave a legacy….both in assets and in habits. For Christmas this year, I opened an IRA for my son and deposited $1,000 in an S&P500 Index Fund. The card said that if he let’s it sit for 45 years (he’s 20 years old now) that it will be worth roughly $100K at retirement. I am trying to teach him the importance of starting young and investing for the long term. If he builds this habit as a young man he can become a millionairebythirtyfive. I don’t want him to make the same mistakes I made as a twenty/thirtysomething. The only reason I am able to leave this legacy for him now is because I’m out of debt and have maxed out all my own retirement accounts. I’m sure he would have rather had free cash in his stocking but he’ll thank me later.
    MB55

    1. I love the idea of leaving not only a financial legacy, but a habitual legacy when it comes to money. We are the products of our upbringings, and I believe teaching your children good financial habits will help them in the long run, and not only in finance. It teaches intentionality, pragmatism, and work ethic to value what money does for someone.

    1. Thanks Dan. I believe you have to accept and acknowledge your mistakes, but learning from them and changing future behaviors is the key!

  4. At 16, my first time I had a real job over summer. I made about 3 thousand, saving for my first car. I saw this amazing computer, and a few days later my money was gone. I spent it all, and after the first couple of days of having it, I felt immense regret. To forgive myself, I promised to work twice as much until I was fully capable of paying for my first car. Still use the computer today, though.

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