It’s Ok to Fall Off The Wagon • Money After Graduation

I think one of the biggest lessons any human being has to learn is that it is important to forgive yourself.

It is important to forgive yourself for failed attempts, silly mistakes, mistakes you probably should have been aware of in the moment, and regrettable decisions.

We’re humans in a world that doesn’t always act like it. But we have every right to embrace our humanity, whether it be when we’re making those mistakes, or dealing with the aftermath.

It’s hard to think of any major life event that isn’t accompanied by financial consequences. Personal hardship, global financial crises, the downfall of relationships, stock market downturns, or even being laid off are all things that can easily make a person spiral.


Transitions are a bank balance killer

During one of my biggest life transitions I burned through my emergency fund in a way that would terrify frugal hearts everywhere.

After the end of it, there was no money left. By the time I started buying furniture for my new place, I was funding it by skipping contributions to my retirement accounts. I bought my first few rounds of groceries with a credit card. Big changes were happening in my life, and my finances were taking the brunt of it.

Not only that, but moments of turmoil make it hard to do anything smart financially

When stocks are down, people are getting laid off, or job opportunities are becoming increasingly limited, it can be hard to make any financial choice that seems “smart” or “right”. So the last thing you should do is get down on yourself for choices you make when you have very few other options, if none.

It’s Ok to fall off the wagon

My point is that you’re allowed to let life get you down and order delivery a little more often than usual. You can splurge on the fancy coffee creamer, the organic fruits, or buy some extra cheat snacks on your weekly grocery haul. Don’t apologize for the things you need to do (or buy) to survive or just get through tough times!

But be aware of the tipping point. Sometimes every potential purchase looks like the end all and be all from a distance when you’re struggling through something. Keep in mind,  all your splurges, while valid, won’t fix everything..

After the spending spree I had just to get me into my apartment and put food in my cupboards when I was struggling, I couldn’t stomach adding another four-figure balance to the total. A friend sold me a small couch for $200 instead of the fancy $2,000 one I had been eyeing up.  In other words, you need to draw your line, and draw it in big black uncrossable ink so you know where to stop spending.

The last thing you want to do is pile financial catastrophe on top of your personal turmoil.

What you can recover from and what you can’t

You can recover from a $500 mistake, but a $5,000 one will leave a scar. Likewise, one bad day or night or week can be buried with time, but if you keep doing it, it’s not an accident anymore — it’s a habit. Repeated behavior saves or buries you, one-offs don’t.

This is why a $50/week contribution to your retirement account that you increase every year is better than hoping for a big income tax refund to put in your accounts instead. It’s also why consistently putting an extra $100 on your student loan balance pulls you out of debt years ahead of schedule instead of languishing paying off a loan for a decade.

I had an emergency fund because I saved one. My credit cards were empty because I don’t live in debt. Because I was financially responsible most of the time, I could handle a month or two when I wouldn’t be. I’m not in the mood to lament the money I spent carelessly — or otherwise — in the past.

Instead, I’m just glad to right myself and my checkbook now that I’m on the other side!

Getting back on track!

Your financial success will likely not be defined by unexpected expensive events that knock you temporarily off track. It will be defined by your steady day-in, day-out behaviors and habits, and it will be defined by how you pick yourself off after you’ve fallen. R

It can be agonizing to go back through old bank statements and see money wasted that you so desperately need now. Your only choice is to stop and change course. Especially when you consider the global financial circumstances and your own financial privilege, you should be able to  justify and decide how your spending should/can change as you move on from unfortunate personal finance circumstances.

Once money is spent, it’s gone. There’s no use crying over it. It might take you a little bit of time to rebuild in the aftermath, but the sooner your stop agonizing over it and start taking action, the better off you’ll be. You have a limited cognitive capacity to worry about your finances, so I would encourage you to spend it trying to find ways to earn more instead of mourning what’s already spent.

Regardless of how you’re inclined to spent during times or turmoil, crisis, or whatever other situation you might find yourself in, you deserve to forgive yourself for any “money mistakes” you’e made, and go forward with optimism and the knowledge that lessons learned may give you.

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