Things I Wish I’d Known about Finance: It’s Okay to Fail

From the time I decided to become an attorney, my brain was always wrapped around the future.  Everything in life was set to mesh well with getting into and succeeding at law school.  That included finances.

Always careful to only take the exact amount of student aide to cover what my scholarships did not, I knew I didn’t like the idea of all that interest accruing.  I didn’t move out, I chose to stay living at home, where I could study, work, and not have to pay rent (plus I like my parents a lot, and staying wasn’t nearly the drag for me as others seemed to think it was).

After diligently planning out a savings system (make this much, put this percent in savings, keep this percent for buying books), I failed.  I began working full time at the university bookstore while I worked on my dual degrees, and found I was addicted to textbooks. 

My oh-so-perfect plan to save money so I didn’t have to work while going to law school started jumping out of my wallet.  I could not get enough books to read.  Of course, it’s easy to tell yourself in college that reading textbook after textbook is a great investment in your future, but I was out of control.

As soon as a new book hit the shelf that even had a pretty cover, I was up at the register justifying exactly why I needed to have access to the information inside. 

Then I got home, took my treasure out of the bag, and realized I failed again.  Every failure was one more day I would have to work while in law school.  One more hour I wouldn’t have for studying. 

Finally, I gave up trying to save my money.  I had never failed at anything, and it bothered me so much to continuously fail at something I had planned out for myself, I just didn’t even want to try.  How was I ever going to conquer law school if I couldn’t even conquer my own finances?

Then, I got engaged.  I immediately went to work setting up the best savings plan I could think of for the two of us prior to marriage. 

We both failed.  Miserably.  We already had a credit card and a respectable amount of college debt. 

All this time, I lied to my friends.  I told them that I had stuck to my plan, because I couldn’t bear to see their disappointment when they realized their “perfect” friend had failed at something. 

It took me years to realize that sometimes failing is okay.  Just because you fail at saving from time to time, it doesn’t mean you’ve completely lost sight of the trail.  Just because you failed, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure.  You just tripped, and it’s okay to admit it and then head out again. 

That’s what I wish I had known about finances.  There will be times you fail to do what you planned, but it’s really not the end of the world.  For me, the fear of failure was the ultimate deterrent from financial planning.  Once I realized that it was okay to fail from time to time, I was finally able to succeed.  Go figure.

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Anonymous's picture

Anonymous wrote:

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 11:38 Comment #: 1

Your story will resonate with almost everyone, I'm sure. I call it the reverse learning curve - when I was 18 I knew everything but the older I get the less I realize I know. I spent years in my youth living paycheque to paycheque AND never thinking about the future. Sheesh - if I only knew then what I know now - I'd be rich!

Anonymous's picture

MoneyCone wrote:

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 12:09 Comment #: 2

When it comes to finances, fail early rather than late in life! I treat failures as the 'cost' of my financial literacy!

Anonymous's picture

jeff @ Sustainable life blog wrote:

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 15:39 Comment #: 3

I think failure in finances happens to everyone - things dont always go as planned, and its important not to lose sight and let 1 mistake turn into a budget busting event for years.

Anonymous's picture

Newlyweds Budget wrote:

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 16:51 Comment #: 4

This post could not have come at a better time!

I just posted today about how we seemed to have failed after getting ourselves out of credit card debt just 4 short months ago.

I'm not embarrassed that we "failed," it's more of a realization that budgeting is really hard when you're on a minimal income.

Jessica Schmeidler's picture

Jessica Schmeidler wrote:

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 20:00 Comment #: 5

Jane, I guess I must have been going for rich in knowlege instead of rich in wealth? Guess I should have succumbed to the urge to purchase a few more books in the Finance section.

Jessica Schmeidler's picture

Jessica Schmeidler wrote:

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 20:03 Comment #: 6

MoneyCone, I wish someone would have said the term "financial literacy" to me then. I might have focused on the RIGHT textbooks. I guess I thought I could philosophize my way into savings.

Jessica Schmeidler's picture

Jessica Schmeidler wrote:

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 20:05 Comment #: 7

Very true, Jeff. I just wish this was one lesson I wouldn't have had to learn the hard way. I could have been REALLY ahead of the game, had I not kept quitting on myself. Oh well. I guess that's why they say hindsight is 20/20.

Jessica Schmeidler's picture

Jessica Schmeidler wrote:

Mon, 03/28/2011 - 20:09 Comment #: 8

I'll check out your post in a second. I did that same thing the first time I paid off a credit card. That card has since been shredded and canceled. The failure on my part was incredibly embarrassing to me; however, having seen now how many people can relate to the same lesson, I do feel much better about it.

Anonymous's picture

Sid wrote:

Tue, 03/29/2011 - 16:04 Comment #: 9

fully agree with Jeff ....it can occure with everyone....you can plan but your plans don't alwaus come true.....and of course we shouldn't concentrate on our first mistake, first steps very often are wrong.. Life is going on!

Anonymous's picture

LaTisha @FSYAonline wrote:

Fri, 04/01/2011 - 03:21 Comment #: 10

Great post! This is definitely one of those times when you have to remind yourself that life is a journey not a destination. I just kept reading and thinking about all of your achievements, I mean, law school?! How awesome. Plus who cares about money, you can't take it with you right? (This coming from a finance major lol)

Jessica Schmeidler's picture

Jessica Schmeidler wrote:

Fri, 04/01/2011 - 04:03 Comment #: 11

Hi, LaTisha (that's such a pretty name, by the way). Law school was the goal, but like so many other things, life interceded. The grades were there, but the ability to move away was not. Thank you for the ego boost, though. :)

I think you're absolutely right to focus on how life is a journey and not a destination. Remembering that is what stops a mere speed bump from becoming a complete road block.

Money is definitely just a means to an end. So, absolutely! :D

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