Since separating from my husband and dealing with the financial consequences thereof, I’ve been grappling a number of financial regrets. I wish we had waited another year to get married. I wish we had bought a cheaper car. I wish I had built a larger emergency fund, instead of thinking, “if anything goes wrong, I’ll still have my husband’s income”.
I made mistakes when I should have known better.
I’m not the only one that wishes they could get a do-over with some of their finances. I get emails every day from readers who wish they hadn’t borrowed so much in student loans, wish they had started saving for retirement earlier, wish they hadn’t bought a house or wish they did, wish they had gone back to school or wish they hadn’t.
I have only one response to those regrets:
You might wish that things were different. Remember, they’re not different.
What I mean by that, is there’s no use wishing for an alternate reality that you will never occupy. You cannot change the past. Your only choice is to deal with your present, and you can do that much better if you’re not wasting any time wallowing over things you can’t change.
You made your decisions with the information you had
It might seem hard to believe now, but your past self was not intentionally sabotaging you. They didn’t charge 3 textbooks for a class they would later drop thinking, “I am really going to regret this in 5 years!”.
Your past self was making decisions based on the information they had available to them. Sometimes they didn’t have all the information. The information they definitely didn’t have was how you would feel about their actions now. If they did, they probably would have made different choices. You have to know you never set out to make your own life difficult. The choices you made were based on the information you had at the time, however incomplete it was.
Remind yourself that you are doing your best
Comparison is the thief of joy, and it’s easier than ever to let in with the internet. Like you, I read a multitude of personal finance blogs, and get a glimpse into other people’s finances. Even though there’s at least as many people worse off than you as there are better off, you probably tend to focus on the people that are better off. The ones who had no student loan debt, or were able to buy a home in an affordable real estate market. The ones that lucked out in the stock market or received an inheritance that let them seed their retirement funds at a young age.
Everyone is doing their best with what they have, and that includes you.
If you had a higher paying job, no debt, rich parents, and more financial luck, you’d probably have more to show for it, too. Some things are in your control, some are not. Remind yourself that you’re doing your best with what you have. If you’re not doing your best, change it.
Treat yourself kindly
If a friend came to you and confessed their financial woes and regrets, your first reaction probably would not be to berate them for being an idiot.
So you should refrain from talking to yourself the same way.
You are not your mistakes, and you don’t deserve to be put down for them from anyone, including yourself. For that reason, it’s important to make sure you’re not calling yourself stupid or careless, even in the quiet of your own head. Negative self-talk will do nothing except make you feel worse about an already bad situation, so don’t even start.
Focus on the future
The easiest way to get over the past is to turn your attention to the future. Instead of lamenting the mistakes you made before, focus on what you’re going to do next.
You have no control over the past, but you do have 100% control of the future.
Your financial future is not yet determined. You will get to debt-free. You can become a millionaire. The mistakes you made in the past might make some of the steps you take towards the financial life of your dreams more difficult, but they don’t mean you can’t achieve them. Making a plan for how you’re going to remedy your situation and manage your money going forward will not only fix your past mistakes, it will help you feel more motivated and optimistic about what’s to come.
In short, don’t beat yourself up to badly, the best is yet to come.