The author of Your Money Relationship has written an article called Money Genie: I Grant You Three Financial Do Overs. Ah... what I wouldn't do for three financial do overs! Even one would be fabulous! Here's what I'd chose:
#1 Not getting married until my spouse paid off his debtThis might seem like an odd one, since my ex and I had many problems, but one thing we didn't fight about was money. However, I have very good reasons for saying this. We had just come home from one of our pre-marriage counseling meetings with our minister and were sitting in the backyard with a glass of wine when I asked him for the details on his debt situation. That's right - I waited until just a month or two before the big day, well after all the plans were made. Not a smart move on my part. My ex, who seems so together, so business savvy, so in control - was massively underwater in credit card debt. I had to make him tell me the amount twice, since the first time I didn't think I could have heard him correctly. I won't state the exact amount, but it was more than 15 times my own debt!
Everyone gets into debt for different reasons, and his may have been perfectly legit. I won't put him down for getting into a massive amount of debt - it happens. But the fact that he still had it, despite having a fairly successful business, and didn't appear to be working all that hard to pay it off was a sign of some much bigger problems. Those problems were going to be part of the personality clashes that were to occur later in our marriage. It also undermined the amount of trust that I had in the security of our life together...
Had I insisted that debt be paid off, I think things would have turned out differently. The amount of time that it would have taken would have allowed me to rethink the idea of getting married in the first place, and saved both of us a lot of heartache. Either that, or the time working on it together would have brought us closer together and helped us take time and work on some of the other underlying problems. Whatever would have happened would probably be better than what did actually occur. I will say that the one thing I am grateful for is that after learning about his debt situation, I insisted that we keep all our accounts separate. I didn't know it then, but it turned out to be a smart move when it came to our divorce.
Ironically, the author of Master Your Card just had an article about this yesterday called 7 Money Mistakes Newlyweds Make.
#2 Saved More When the Money Was GoodNot that terribly long ago I was doing very, very well financially. The economy was good and I was not only making my regular wages, I was also doing well with company profit sharing. Well, that dried up a couple of years ago. I really wish I had put a lot more of that money aside and built up my emergency fund. I've been working at my job for 10+ years. For 7 of those years we received regular extra bonus checks and bonus money. I also worked a few extra part time jobs for a little extra "mad money." I wish now that I had stashed more of it away when I had the chance!
#3 Learned More About Personal Finance When I Was Younger The mistakes above and all the ones too small to mention in this post might have all be avoided if I had spent more time learning the basics of personal finance at a younger age. Now I find it really interesting - I wish I had 15 years ago! I did take a finance class in college, but it was too abstract, it didn't seem to relate directly to me. Interestingly, my first job out of college was also in finance - but it was more in the annuity and life insurance side, again, not much real world nuts and bolts education. If I could have just one wish from that money genie, it would be this one.
You may notice that one of the things I don't mention is buying my house. Even though it was bought at the peak of the bubble and is making life rather, ah... exciting for me now, I don't consider it a mistake. I still firmly believe that it was a good investment and will end up appreciating in value well above what I paid for it. It may be that I have to believe this just to keep me fighting, but it isn't just blind faith. It really is a wonderful home and in a fabulous neighborhood. Though I might wish I hadn't bought the house with my ex, that is more about wishing I hadn't married in the first place. Despite all my struggles, the house has proved to be the catalyst for getting that financial education that I mentioned; without having this situation, I might never have delved into the world of personal finance and learned as much as I have. So, the house is many things to me - the college and high school finance classes I should have taken, a place to live (and a great place for entertaining), real life courses in "do it yourself" home improvement, as well as a good investment. It might be expensive, but I honestly believe it will pay off in many ways all be worthwhile in the end.
Photo by: Christian & Cie