This is a guest post from Andrea at So Over Debt for the 10th Yakezie Blog Swap. This week’s topic is “If you had one financial do-over, what would it be and why?” Be sure to check out my guest post on her site!
Anytime I reflect on my past, I find a million places where I could have made better choices. There’s the ex-boyfriend who is now in prison. Or the time I cut a friend’s hair in the school bathroom at lunch. (With safety scissors. I think she can finally go out in public without wearing a wig now.) While all teenagers and young adults mess up from time to time, I made it an art form, especially when it came to money.
I call myself the poster child for financial mistakes. I’ve overdrawn my bank account, bounced checks, and racked up a ton of credit card debt. I borrowed way too much for college and grad school, using the money to pay down the credit cards so I could do more shopping. In 2006, I filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy and ended up back in debt within a year. All this nonsense and I’m not even 30 years old!
When I imagine being able to fix one of my many blunders, I get a little stressed out. It’s hard to decide when there are so many to choose from! I thought about which money mistake would, if magically erased, make the greatest impact on my current financial situation. After much internal debate, I finally decided: If I had one financial do-over, I would go back and start saving for retirement as soon as I started my first job.
I know some of you are probably thinking, Wait a minute. That has nothing to do with all the dumb stuff you did! Stay with me, though – I promise I have a point.
I’ve actually contributed toward retirement in every job I’ve held, but I never left the money alone. In my first two jobs, I cashed out my 401(k) contributions as soon as I left the company. The next job was with the state government, which has its own mandatory retirement plan. When I left, I rolled my contributions into my husband’s state retirement, which seemed like a good idea (until we divorced in 2009, that is).
The company I work for now has a pathetic excuse for a retirement plan: no employer match of any kind and very limited choices for investing. I opted not to contribute at all when I started there, thinking I would find a solution outside of work. But at the time, I was too busy spending more than I made. Six months ago, I turned 28 and realized I didn’t have a single dime saved for retirement.
When I started getting my financial act together, I opened a Roth IRA and set up automatic contributions. Over time, I’ve increased the amount in hopes of (someday) maxing out at $5000 per year. You know what’s depressing about that? I got my first professional job at age 22, so I lost 6 years that I could have been saving money. If I had put back $5000 a year in a Roth IRA starting then, I would have about $39,000 instead of the dinky $1200 I have right now. I would definitely feel much more secure about surviving my golden years!
If my mindset at age 22 had included thinking ahead to retirement, I probably would have made better financial decisions overall. If I knew then that I needed more than $400 a month to avoid being homeless as an old woman, I might have focused more on saving and not spending. Maybe I would have saved first instead of waiting to see if I had any money left at the end of the week. And as a result, I might have worked my way out of the hole I dug with my spending habits (as I’m doing right now) instead of ending up bankrupt and back in debt.
When I got my first job, it seemed impossible that I would ever be as “old” as thirty. Now that I’m almost there, I regret not thinking about retirement sooner. Those years (and the compound interest they would have brought me!) are gone, so I may be forced to make tough decisions about the lifestyle I’ll be able to afford as an older adult.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the option for a do-over when it comes to my finances, and neither does anyone else. What we all have, though, is the option to learn from our past mistakes – even if there are a lot of them – and vow to make smarter choices in the present and future.
What would you change if you had a financial do-over? How would your life be different?
Andrea is a single mother who blogs about her finances at So Over Debt. Visit to follow her journey – not to financial freedom, because that’s out of reach – but to breathing room.