One of the most annoying, but unavoidable facts of life is this: Mistakes cost money. There’s the low-level stuff, like getting off the highway at the wrong exit and burning up a quarter-tank of gas as you backtrack for miles. Or buying $10 plants that look healthy, but then ignoring them for so long that they die. (Been there.)
Some financial mistakes are medium cost, like buying a $100 pair of headphones and then realizing they don’t have a talk function. (Done that.)
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Then there’s the big stuff. For example, rearranging your life with the wrong person and paying $3,000 to move yourself out of a total mess and pay a broker for your next apartment. But what can you do with a sunk cost? How do you even start recovering from financial mistakes?
The First Steps to Recovery
First, the key to recovering from financial mistakes is to recognize that you made one. “You have to stop right there,” says Kathryn Hauer, owner of Wilson David Investment Advisors in Aiken, South Carolina.
Hauer likens financial mistakes to eating mistakes. “You aren’t going to gain weight or be unhealthy just because you pigged out one evening,” she says.
“But if excess leads to weeks of overeating, you’ll pay the price in health. So if you overspend, commit to stopping the flow of money and living on less until you are back on track.”
My Process for Recovering From Financial Mistakes
When I make mistakes, I try to go granular and get as close to paying myself back as I can. To me, that means not spending on things that I would otherwise never question. I keep it going until I feel like the balance has been made up. It’s not always exact, though it can be.
Here’s what I mean: A few weeks ago, after I bought a new Google Pixel 2 phone, I went to the Verizon store for a phone case and screen protector.
But I got carried away and foolishly spent $100 on headphones — ones that don’t allow you to make phone calls! By the time I got home and threw the boxes away in some messy kitchen garbage, it was too late to take them back.
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Why didn’t I wait and research them? Compare and contrast online? What was I thinking?
Paying Myself Back
I felt like an idiot. To make it up to myself, I stayed in and cooked dinner at home two nights when what I really wanted to do was go out for drinks and dinner. I figured if that was about $50 to $75 saved.
I also plan to sell the headphones on Facebook Marketplace or Let Go for about $40. Then in my mind, I’m even.
Selling items can be a step in recovering from financial mistakes, Hauer says. It takes the edge off. “You’ll lose money for sure, but if you’ve bought the items on a credit card and are going to be paying them off for months or years, the loss you take now is going to be less than the interest you’ll pay.”
Avoiding a Downward Spiral
Here’s another example of a financial mistake I made:
I recently bought two ferns at Whole Foods. One was healthy, but the other was in terrible condition. This meant another $10 down the drain. So to make it up, I forced myself to bring lunch to work one day instead of my default Pret a Manger break during the day.
These may seem like small moves and minor choices, but they make a big difference by avoiding the trap of telling yourself, I’m already down a few bucks, what’s a few more? That’s a downward spiral to steer clear of at all costs.
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