Remembering games in elementary school, when the ball went out of bounds, my friends and I would yell, “Do over!” and get another shot. That is fine for the playground but obviously doesn't cross over into financial choices. Thinking back over my financial life, there are a number of instances where I wish I could call for a “do over!”
If I had my life to do over, I would have finished college before having kids. I would have started saving and investing earlier, taking advantage of the awesomeness that is compounding interest. I would have bought a house before the bubble. But the number one financial choice I wish I could do over: I would have started budgeting sooner!
For too many years, I spent money like water, letting it flow in and out of my life but not making any real choices about how I used it. I cringe to think of how much money I wasted in my 20's due to irresponsible overspending and overdraft fees. I can't do over those years, and that money (which could be compounding as we speak!) is gone forever. It's never too late to change habits and stop the damage, though.
It took a drastic pay cut and brush with food stamps to get my butt in gear and start really managing my money. I had to budget out of necessity. What a revelation! Making a budget meant becoming aware of my spending, which wasn't in line with my income, and made me reevaluate what I considered needs. I started using cash envelopes. I made an envelope for each budget category so I couldn't overspend. I couldn't overdraw our account. Financial responsibility became a habit. In a little over a year, I was able to turn our situation around, even with a low income. I saved a quarter of our income, dropped the food stamps, and returned to college to finish my degree. I will graduate debt free.
Without becoming aware of my poor money habits and making deliberate choices about how I would manage our money, I would still be wishing for the do over. I can be glad that I'm making good choices now, and try not to kick myself over the choices I didn't make sooner.
Image by Gamma Man.