Mistakes Teach Us What Doesn’t Work

NEWS FLASH! Tomorrow marks the start of our 40-Day Christmas Challenge! For 40 of the days between now and Christmas, I will be posting a challenge on our Facebook Page. Each challenge will suggest something to do that day to get ready for Christmas. We’ll do this together using the comments feature to discuss, encourage and share ideas. Together, we’ll reduce our stress, increase our joy, stay out of debt—and have fun, too! Are you up to the challenge? Go there now and “Like” our page to get on board and you won’t miss anything!

Have you made any mistakes lately? Want to talk about it? Most people don’t. Can’t say that I blame them. It’s embarrassing.

And when it’s a really dumb mistake, well that’s something you hope to never have to think about again. And that’s a mistake.

Mistakes are useful because they teach us what doesn’t work. But making the same mistake over and over again while expecting different results—well, that’s the definition of insanity!

I’ve accumulated a list of mistakes over many years. It’s like a trophy now—a specific compilation of things that I do not have to do again because I’ve proven they do not work.

It doesn’t work to be in a supermarket without a plan.

Walking into the grocery store without a plan (written list, coupons and cash) is a terrible mistake. I know me. Without my “crutches” I am a $200 mistake just waiting to happen. And if I’m hungry? Make that $300.

It doesn’t work to buy extended warranties on appliances.

Statistically, if an appliance is going to fail it will do so in the first 90 days (the product comes with a warranty to cover this time frame) or after five years (extended warranties aren’t that extended). For the record, a laptop computer is an exception to this mistake. Laptops fail routinely, trust me.

It doesn’t work to lease a car.

And it really doesn’t work to roll the shortfall and extra charges at the end of one auto lease into a new auto lease. To have repeated this mistake over and again for no less than 22 years straight (yes, me in my dark financial past) was to come dangerously close to insanity.

It doesn’t work to buy a 7,000-gallon blow-up swimming pool.

Actually, I didn’t know such a thing existed so I can’t even argue it was something we needed. Standing there in the middle of the Home Show I managed to pull off the impulse purchase of the century (thankfully, this was in the last century). That was a mistake that just kept on giving lessons to be learned until the day several years later we begged Goodwill to just take it away. Please.

It doesn’t work to carry more than $100 cash.

Carrying a single $100 bill I keep tucked into a secret place in my wallet is for me a great deterrent for overspending. I don’t feel broke, but it’s a bill I hate to break. It is also the tipping point. Carrying more than $100 creates a feeling of excess that burns a hole in my wallet. The overage simply disappears.

It doesn’t work to pay for Christmas with credit.

When it comes to mistakes, depending on credit to bridge the gap between what you earn and what you spend is a big one. Debt is a terrible liar, insisting that while you don’t have the money today, you’ll have it next month. Or the next. Debt keeps you stuck in the past, always stealing from the future.

Debt is reversible, thankfully—provided you don’t do it over and over expecting that eventually, somehow you will get different results.

That would be insane.

Question: What was the best lesson you ever learned from a financial mistake? If you feel comfortable, share it in the comments area below.


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  • gamebird

    Lessons I’ve learned:
    Open the mail and read it, even if you think it’s a bill and know you don’t have money.

    Get on unemployment/public assistance the moment you need it. Do not wait months, exhausting your savings and taking on debt, out of the mistaken idea there is something noble about not seeking out support.

    Do not get married. Or if you do, carefully examine the divorce laws in your state. Consult with an attorney about the process. Then consult with several more attorneys and at least three or four couples who have divorced. In Oklahoma, when I tried to get a divorce 7 years ago, the judicial policy (not the law itself, but the way the judges enforced it) was to postpone/reschedule all divorce hearings until both parties were satisfied with the division of assets and custody rights. Which sounds cool in theory, but in reality, it means you CAN’T get a divorce until your spouse agrees to let you have one. I got to meet many couples who were still married who had filed for divorce more than a decade ago. The kids had grown up and moved on, but one of the couple didn’t like the idea of being divorced and simply said, ‘No, you can’t divorce me’. And that was that.

    Do not stay in a financially (or otherwise) abusive marriage. Just like welfare, there is nothing ‘noble’ about keeping your word until death does us part when your partner is abusive and toxic. Hardly anyone can give you good relationship advice when you’re married to an abuser, because those who haven’t been in that situation will assume your spouse is reasonable and must have had good reasons for anything wrong they did. They will blame YOU. They will suggest things YOU should do to make the relationship work. They will be unable to see fault in the abusive party because there is no rational, understandable motivation for why abuse happens. Since they can’t explain it, they’ll come up with reasons. Because your behavior is rational (and you’re the one they’re talking to), they will tell you to change, concede, ‘takes two to tango’, ‘pick your battles’, ‘stop fighting about things’, etc. As if you have an obligation to be used, degraded, and exploited. They don’t know, because they can’t imagine how bad it is. Ignore them and get yourself out. Get safe. Get protection, because no one who abuses you is going to let you go easily. Also, acknowledge that you will have to cut ties with everyone in your life who simply can’t fathom abuse. They will side with the abuser because that’s the only thing that makes sense to them.

    • UncommonSensesc

      Did I write this and just don’t remember it? You have hit on my mistakes so well.

    • gamebird

      Also in Oklahoma – you obviously can’t remarry without the divorce being granted, but at the same time, you can’t cohabitate, not so much as a single night, if the kids are in your house. Not without losing custody. Also, my spouse alleged I was bisexual (not true in any fashion) merely to prevent me from having a female roommate to share housing expenses with. The judge does not care about proof. Once the accusation is made, that’s all that matters. These things combine to make it very difficult to separate yourself from a bad situation.

    • Michele

      In addition, during a custody battle, unfortunately the abused spouse fares badly…better to not bring up any abuse issues. Judges think the abuse is just a tactic to keep the kids from the abuser instead of safety reasons. Women lose custody more often when they bring up the abuse issues then if nothing had been said. Sad but true.

  • Miriam

    Buying a house with $0 down! Letting myself be convinced by no less than 2 different realtors that this was a good idea. The 1st realtor offered to ‘take back a 2nd’ to create my downpayment (actually illegal but she had a way of hiding the trail). Later she sold that mortgage to someone else who refused to renew it and I lost the house. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Should have known better but I really wanted to own a home. Ended up bankrupt.

  • Kathy Ensminger

    It doesn’t work to think you are unbending every time – I have learned that I am not as strong each time I walk into that cute puppy store in the mall with my kids! Sure kids – we can go in and look – but we are NOT getting one!! I had done it about 8 times…. what was different about the 9th time – I still have not figured out, but it has been a year later and oh so much ridiculous money gone into a little mix toy fashion breed?!?! Because I qualified for financing?! Because the sales person used hard selling?! Because my 10 yr old looked at me with such pleading in her eyes?! Lesson learned that I repeatedly try to reinforce with my kids. We still have the dog… and a year later… I only still owe $2,000 instead of the original $3,000. Oh yes – and the $200 surgery she needed to be spayed, and the other $200 surgery she needed for a tooth problem – oh and dont forget the $50 every 3 months for grooming – and the annual shots and flea and tick treatment. AT LEAST SHE DOESN’T EAT VERY MUCH!!! Yup. It just doesn’t work.

    • UncommonSensesc

      You bought a dog? With all the wonderful dogs in shelters, you bought a dog? Unbelievable!

    • Kimberley Hunter

      If you ever get another dog, try a rescue or your local shelter, assuming there’s one in your area. I think it’s cheaper most of the time, and I think most shelters do the spaying/neutering before you take it home. But I could be wrong about that.

  • grannydancer

    Having too much money in retirement accounts which are taxed as ordinary income instead of having a brokerage account where capital gains are taxed at a lower rate. Putting funds in a Roth account is a good option.

  • Patricia Freeze

    It does not work to fill out every credit card application that you find in the mail. (Substitute QUALIFIED with stupid. I’ve done it about a dozen times.) It does not work to take the brand new card to the store JUST TO SEE IF IT WORKS. ( Been there, done that.) It does not work to get a cash advance from one card to make the monthly payment on the other one. (Yes, I did…) It does not work to roll the balance from one card over to the new one. (Several times…) It also does not work to pay the credit card bill with the Home Equity loan. (Nearly lost the house with that one.) STAY AWAY FROM CREDIT CARDS……..

  • Kelly Berg

    Actually, cash works better for some people. My husband and I, years ago, switched to cash (envelope system) because when two people use the same checking account, it’s much easier to bounce things. And when you have such little income, a $30 bounce fee is devastating. We are definitely beyond the $5 to our name stage, but we still only have one income, therefore one bank account (that has money in it, lol) and this system works great for us. Each payday I withdraw money for him and I to use on our “daily” expenses. In my case it is mostly groceries, and his is for whatever expenses he has on the road (truck driver), like pop, food, and gas. I can physically see how much money I have, and weigh how much time is left until next payday, to know how much I can spend on “extra” things (a coffee date, if someone needs socks or there’s a school fundraiser). We NEVER bounce checks, and we both have gotten much better at “seeing” our money be spent. My hubby even started BUDGETING by eating less/cheaper meals so that he could buy such and such tool, or whatever. Because when that cash is gone, it can be a long wait until payday. Haha. It’s been great.

  • Samantha

    Years ago we made the mistake of hiring a couple to wallpaper a tiny bathroom at the top of the stairs –and paid by the hour. At one point my daughter and I were watching a movie on TV, and at a funny part, I heard a chuckle from above. I looked up the stairs, and both of the workers were sitting on the steps WATCHING THE MOVIE!! Since I was alone with my little girl, I felt too intimidated to confront them when they charged for 5 hrs. what was probably a 2-3 hr. job max. That was a very expensive lesson, and wimpy me knows to have someone else around for support!

  • Lessonslearned

    Back in the early 1980’s and newly married in Texas, I purchased three ceiling fans at $300.00 a piece and put them on my J.C. Penney credit card; one fan for us, one for my parents and one for my husband’s parents for Christmas presents. That was when ceiling fans were new, expensive, and all the rage and much needed in the heat of Texas. I was so blown away when the statement came in at $900.00 – what was I thinking? It’s a lot of money NOW … imagine then? I was so upset at myself for forgetting that I owed that amount that I punished myself. I got paid $300.00 dollars every two weeks at work, so I made sure my next three pay checks went to pay off only those ceiling fans. My paychecks were spent on nothing else. Fortunately my husband could foot all of the bills then. It took me six weeks and three paychecks to pay off that ridiculous purchase and I never forgot it. I’m not saying I don’t use my credit card and “borrow” for 30 days until the bill comes in but what i am saying is if I cannot afford to pay off the card I use at the end of the month, I cannot afford the purchases. Thankfully, I have the lion’s share of my Christmas purchased, at this time but I have also budgeted my Christmas money to pay my credit card in full as soon as that statement comes through the door.