Dumb Things I Did When I Was Young (And Not So Young)

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frustrated woman at laptop

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Being a mom is the best job I’ve had. Life as a single mom is tough under the best of conditions and when you’re struggling along on a single income, it’s even tougher though. I feel like I’ve always been pretty transparent with my kids about finances over the years.

My boys are grown now. Both have graduated from college and are working full-time. The youngest man-child bought a condo about a year and a half ago and the eldest man-child is actively looking at properties now. They are financially self-sufficient and I’m incredibly proud of them. As an almost-reformed helicopter-mom, (if my boys are reading this, they’re probably laughing right now but I am trying to be better!!) it’s been tough to let go of the reins and let them fly on their own. We talk daily and that includes talking about financial matters. Student loans, health insurance, buying their first properties, investments…we’ve talked about all these things.

Talking with my youngest son the other day, I was talking about things I wish I had done differently, especially when I was their current ages (25 and 27). Here are a few of the things I wish I had done differently:

Life Insurance

My husband died when the boys were young. He was 35 and I was 25. We were young and healthy (or so we thought) and when he died unexpectedly, the only life insurance we had was a minimal policy his work provided. If I remember right, it was less than $50,000.

Losing a spouse is devastating. Having to worry about how you’re going to survive financially on top of that when you have two babies counting on you makes everything ten times worse.

Buy the life insurance. As much as you can afford while you’re young. And if you can’t afford it, then buy it anyway because you really need it then. I pray you will never ever need it, but buy it anyway!

Buying Too Much House

Being house poor is not fun. I bought the smallest house in a fancy neighborhood, thinking it would be a good investment. It was too far away from the kids school and activities, the yard was too much for me to handle, and it was a stretch financially. 

My son is currently house hunting now and it’s definitely a challenge. Interest rates are high and houses are definitely going for a premium in our area. He’s expanded his search area a bit and is continuing to sock away money so hopefully he’ll find the right place soon. He’s being patient and smart.

I would like to upgrade to a newer place myself but I’ve nearly talked myself into staying put since I have a low payment and interest rate right now. I’m not a home-body type of person and I know that even selling my current place and making a nice profit that I’ll have to significantly increase my mortgage payment and that will cut into my debt-payoff and travel plans.

New/Leased Cars

Another unwise move on my part. I spent years on the lease cycle. I justified it by saying that I was keeping my monthly payment low and I didn’t have to worry about repair costs or maintenance costs. Never mind that I was never without a car payment. Sigh. 

I finally got myself out of the lease trap and drove my last car until it literally died. I am back to a car payment unfortunately but I’m paying extra monthly on it to pay it off quicker and I plan to also keep this vehicle until it dies. 

Staying At A Job Too Long

I am not a job-hopper. I’ve been very fortunate to have had several great bosses and co-workers over the years. That being said, it was easy to get too comfortable at the jobs where I loved my co-workers and was satisfied with my job. A job opportunity presented itself finally that was too good to pass up. Salary was originally about the same as the one I was leaving but the benefits were much better. Five years later I’m making significantly more salary as well. Definitely a great move for me.

Don’t be afraid to make a job or career move. For the most part, the days of staying loyal to one company your entire career is not the best move. Keep your resume’ updated, keep learning new skills, and don’t be afraid to make a move if a better opportunity comes along. If you’re at the stage in life where you don’t have a family or mortgage or other debts tying you down, then I really encourage you to take the leap if a good opportunity presents itself.

Take Advantage of Investing Opportunities 

My early jobs had decent 401K plans but as a single parent, I didn’t feel like I could contribute as much as I should have. My last job had a horrible 401K plan. I am definitely way behind where I should be at my age with my retirement funds.

Fortunately, I currently work in a government position that has an extremely generous pension plan.  Hopefully that will help me catch up a bit in the next few years. Be sure to at least contribute enough to get the full match that your employer offers (if they do). If your employer doesn’t have a great plan, set up an IRA. I am NOT an expert in these things but you can do the research to find the best type of IRA to get. Take advantage of your youth and set yourself up for success early.

What would you encourage a young person (or not so young person) to avoid doing? I know I’m not the only one that’s made dumb mistakes in my financial past.


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