You can’t change the past… so ditch the regret

I spent a bit of time this weekend looking at my net worth and my financial goals and continually thinking, “If I had just done X differently than we’d be so much better off.”

If I hadn’t bought those stupid new cars…

If I hadn’t gone to grad school…

If I had simply bought a cheaper house… or none at all!

If I had just been smarter five years ago, I could have SOO much more money saved.

But, then I caught myself. This is the kind of thinking that I can’t stand when others do it, so why am I allowing myself to wallow in self-pity?

You can’t change what has already happened

For better or worse, I am stuck with those decisions that I made, just as you are stuck with yours. With the wisdom of hindsight, it’s easy to think that it should have so easy to make a different choice, but the fact of the matter is it’s not that simple.

At the time, I thought I was making smart choices. Humans are excellent rationalizers and it’s easy to look at something you want and come up with a justification for it. To top it off, our culture doesn’t generally instil habits that lead to financial prosperity. So, when everybody else around you is making bad decisions, it’s easy to play along and do it too.

I didn’t make smarter financial decisions at that time because I wasn’t ready to. Those mistakes and decisions have shaped my perceptions about finances today. As painful as it may be, if I hadn’t had those as learning opportunities, I may not even have made it to this point.

Financial setbacks may not be solely bad if you gain more than just the numbers. Grad school may have eaten into my savings power for a while, but it was a step up to a job that earned twice what I was making previously. I may have been able to save more if I rented instead of owned, but my house significantly increases my net worth and I bought when interest rated were still at record lows. The new cars, though, were just stupid, but at least I learned something from the experience.

Now, I’m not saying everyone should have to learn about finances from the school of hard knocks. I’m a strong advocate in making financial literacy more widespread and accessible from an early age, but I recognize that many people are in the same situation. For those of us who didn’t get the lessons early on, it’s ok to acknowledge your past mistakes, but don’t feel like you have to beat yourself up over it.

You can only move forward

Wallowing in self-pity is never productive. It is only cathartic for a very brief period before it becomes self-destructive. So, if you must, give yourself a defined period of time to bemoan your past decisions, but then you must make a conscious choice to forgive yourself and move forward.

From this point on, you are only in control of your future actions. And if you don’t think you’re in control, that’s denial. You are very much in control.

If your bills are more than your income, do something about it.

If your debt makes your chest feel tight and your anxiety swell, do something about it.

If you hate your job or want a different life path, make one small step today to move your life in that new direction.

Perhaps the only actions you can take at this time are very small. That’s ok.

Commit to making smarter decisions starting now. Acknowledge your past mistakes, forgive yourself, then challenge yourself to learn from them and not repeat them. Let your regret go.

Stop regretting your financial past | Femme Cents

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8 Comments

    1. “Next best choice,” I like that phrase, I will remember that in the future. Thanks for stopping by!

      1. I agree. You cannot undue the past, but you can look to the future. I hate that I took out loans for graduate school, but that is life. I will pay it off one day and I feel that I have learned something from the experience.

  1. You hit the nail on the head. Hindsight is always 20/20 and you can set yourself up for misery if you always have the “what if” mentality.

    When I started my blog in April I chose to write a 5 part post describing every mistake I made. I totaled the estimated financial damage of these decisions and it came to $2 million.

    It was depressing at the time and a bit depressing when I wrote the posts because that was the first time I ever put a number to those mistakes.

    But as you said, there are teachable moments in mistakes and the key is to learn from them so you never repeat them.

    Fortunately I picked myself up from the financial pit I was in and turned my life around (it helps having a large physician income but anyone can do it)

    1. $2 million! Wow! I haven’t calculated the math on my mistakes, but I think ignorance is bliss 🙂 I’m glad to hear you’ve turned things around!

  2. To quote Pumba, “You’ve got to put your behind in the past!” One smart wart hog.

    My sister-in-law is famous (in our family) for saying “guilt is a wasted emotion”. I’ve really found that to be true through the years. Don’t waste energy feeling bad about past mistakes. Learn the lesson and move on.

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