Thursday, October 30, 2008

Worrying About Your Financial Past, Won't Help Your Financial Future

Do you have any idea how often I think, "If only I would have xxxx"? It is hard not to. I am where I am because of certain decisions I made. If only I wouldn't have married my ex, if only I would have gotten a lawyer sooner, if only we hadn't bought this house... if only. There are times when I get incredibly frustrated, when I think if only I could go back in the past and change things - whisper in my own ear and tell my younger self what to do. I am guessing that many of us who are struggling financially feel the same way - if only we hadn't made this purchase or that, if only we were a little more frugal in our youth... all of those kinds of things. You know what I have learned though? "If only" is a big old fat waste of energy.

The truth of the matter is that we are only as good as we are in any given moment of time. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but who has hindsight? No one - even psychics make mistakes. We make decisions based on the information we have at the time - we go on what seems like the best choice. Take my marriage - if you were to look into my diary you would see serious doubts right up until a few weeks before the wedding. However, I can't waste my time beating myself up as to why I didn't listen to that nagging voice. The truth is, I went ahead because it seemed like the right choice at the time. That goes for all things financial too - maybe we have doubts at the time, but we go ahead because there is a part of us that thinks it is the best choice.

I recently read a post over at MySuperChargedLife called: Hard Times: How to Survive When the Going Gets Tough. The whole thing is well worth a read, but here is the part that particularly caught my eye:

Hanging on to the sins of the past keeps you from moving forward in life. It takes your eye off the ball which prevents you from hitting the next pitch out of the park. Forget about what happened yesterday. Concentrate instead on what needs to be done today to get things headed the direction you desire.
And that really is the crux of it, isn't it?

What is really important is moving ahead. Learning from the past is essential, but the real key is to keep moving forward. I could spend all my time beating my head against the wall for poor decisions I've made, and all that would accomplish is a dent in the wall - and in my head!

The truth is, I didn't make "bad" decisions. I made good decisions that just didn't turn out the way that I had planned. Very few people go out of their way to make bad choices. Sometimes it looks that way from the outside, but if you were to ask folks, most of them will tell you that they thought they were doing the right thing - in that very moment.

One of the things that happened to me when my life went through this monumental change was that I started questioning my own ability to make good choices. That, my friends, was just a recipe for disaster. We make choices every moment of every day - which blog to read, whether to have water, tea or ginger ale, what to wear, who to call, how to live our lives. I don't worry about that anymore, I trust my "gut." I believe in myself and I believe that whatever may have happened, I can learn from it and move on.

Regrets? I have a few.* But I have to say, I like the person that I am becoming - this stronger, wiser, more frugal woman. As you look at making your budgets and net worth statements remember that even though we might wish our younger selves had been a touch wiser and less ready to haul out the wallet, what we've been through only makes better and better.

Somewhat related, I saw this article and wanted to pass it along:

Wisebread - Post Divorce Finances: 7 Steps to Rebuilding Your Financial House

Photo by: A. Curell

* Thanks, Frank.


Amber C said...

Dawn, I agree. Learn from the past but move on. You are who you are based on all your past experiences. If you hadn't had those you may have missed many opportunities.

I'm following your progress.

Dawn said...

Thanks Amber! You are right - who knows what I would have missed had a I taken a different route? Glad to have you looking over my shoulder on this little journey of mine!

Shelly said...

This is really the reminder I needed. I am in a bit of a financial crunch right now because I have made some terrible decisions in the past.

I am so impressed with your journey. I only hope that I have half the courage to press on and to create a better life.

Dawn said...

Shelly - I am so glad I could help! This is something I struggle with a lot. I wrote this post as a reminder to myself, because sometimes I get really discouraged.

You know, it isn't really courage - it is determination. And you can do this too! Other people have done it, why not us? You and I deserve better lives, we just have to work for it.

Though don't let my sunny disposition fool you - I get frustrated, fed up and annoyed on a fairly regular basis. But everything I accomplish gets me one step closer!

Lise said...

I have a hard time with moving on from bad decisions, too. I'm not facing foreclosure, but too much of my budget is devoted to housing, meaning I'm "living dangerously." Often I wonder what compelled me to a) buy a house at the peak of the market, b) buy a house so far outside of an urban center, and c) buy so big a house.

But I have a plan for freedom (mostly by prepaying my mortgage) and that's what matters today.

Dawn said...

Lise - there you go! Focus on today. That's all we can do.

Catie said...

A great reminder, Dawn. And you know what? The more I take charge of my financial life, the less my past mistakes bother me. I still occasionally think of all the things I could have done by now, but it's a lot easier to shake off now that I feel like I am building my future to be better.

Dawn said...

Catie - yeah, there is something to thinking about "If I had invested XXX when I was XX instead of spending in on XXXXX" that feels really frustrating. But then again, the reason it feels frustrating is because now we know better - we've learned that lesson. It is kind of like that whole thing about having to do something yourself to learn it - even if that means a few things we regret.

I still struggle with this a lot, I do. However, it is kind of a waste of energy - there is anything I can do about the past. Instead I need to focus that energy on how I can make today better.