Financial regrets paralyze most of us

financial regrets, man looking in mirror

The fact that everyone has financial regrets does not comfort me. I know there are closets in every house where clothes hang with the tags still attached, their owners pushing them to the back saying, “Why did I buy that? I’ll never wear it.” Apparently most Americans have similar regrets.

We bought a dog once. It was a dachshund puppy who poured on just the right amount of adorable enchantment through the glass at the pet store. Despite having four rescued cats, a hefty mortgage on a money pit and three children whom we were homeschooling by the skin of our teeth, we felt certain we couldn’t live without this creature.

He cost $700. We filled out the papers and somehow got approved for financing. We named him Gilligan. A few years later, we were searching for a new home for Gilligan, a dog we were not skilled to train and not home enough to love.

What are your financial regrets?

Certainly this was not the most serious money mistake someone could make, but enough of those impulsive purchases have left us in worse shape than we should be so close to retirement. In fact, our track record is pretty terrible. According to a recent report, 83% of Americans have made money decisions they regret. My husband and I have buyer’s remorse that matches all five of the Top 5 Financial Regrets:

  • Not saving enough
  • Spending on things we don’t need
  • Not paying off debts
  • Neglecting to invest
  • Failing to pay bills on time

We also share one through four of the top 10 debt regrets: credit card debt, student loans, personal loans, and mortgage. Both of us went back to school in our late 40s to get our Masters degrees, but this accomplishment did nothing to further our careers or boost our salaries. We will be paying student loans until we die.

Despite having to short sale our first home, we purchased a second home less than a decade later and met the same end. It was an older home, which was all we could afford, so along the way, we took out several personal loans and maxed out our credit cards to make the necessary repairs before cutting our losses and going back to being renters.

Facing myself

I wince whenever I come across this Scripture verse:

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (James 1:23-24).

This passage describes me and my husband so well. We have lived with financial regrets for the entire 30 years of our marriage. Periodically we sit together, spread out our bills, and make a plan to get our budget on track. Then we put all the papers away and treat ourselves to an expensive meal at our favorite restaurant.

It is easy to do this with our spiritual lives, too. We examine ourselves, find our sins, and thank God for his mercy and forgiveness. Then we forget and go back to our old ways. This leads us to the same mistakes, the same pitfalls, the same regrets. The same flaw is often the basis for all our mistakes. We know the answer. We know what we should be doing. But we let other things, especially our own insatiable desires, distract us from the goal.

Making a change

Anyone who expects this article to end with advice for living without financial regret is likely to be disappointed. If I had that kind of advice, I would surely take it for myself. However, I do know that it is no different from getting control of my spiritual life. The answer lies in the next verse from the book of James:

“Whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

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