When I look back at my overspending days, it’s easy for me to see the many, many mistakes I made. My life was littered with them. There are some old journal entries of mine that are absolutely cringe-inducing to read. I still have quite a few items in my closet that are just the result of blind conspicuous consumption. I didn’t save. I didn’t invest. I didn’t plan. I didn’t focus on building the career I truly wanted.
Looking back, I see all of those mistakes and missed opportunities and poor choices. I want to smack my 23 year old self on the head and yell, “Get a clue!”
Yet, I also know that hindsight is 20/20.
Back then, I had a sense of what I wanted – a nice home, a marriage to Sarah, kids, a job that gave me the flexibility to spend lots of time with them – but I didn’t have any idea how to get there. Today, though, I have the knowledge and time to reflect – and I now see all of the mistakes I made.
Here’s the real key, though: those mistakes are done and over with. I don’t have a chance to repeat those days and make better choices.
Instead, I have two things I can do today.
First, I can strive not to repeat those mistakes. I know now that my life is perfectly happy without having all of the latest and greatest stuff. I don’t need to go out to eat constantly or go golfing or buy nice clothes or own a new gadget or go on ridiculously expensive trips (like a week in a hotel room in London with a view of Hyde Park and the Royal Albert Hall like we had on our honeymoon, for example) to be happy. I know what I value and love and need in my life.
Second, I can share what I’ve learned. For some people who are eager to find a better path, it’s easy for me – that’s what The Simple Dollar is for. When I learn something new about personal finance and the great life sensible money management can build, I can share it here.
There’s also a need to share things with people who aren’t at that same stage in life. How exactly can I reach out to them without being overbearing? For me, it’s usually a matter of just dropping a book in their hands or just asking what they want to do in their lives and then asking them what things they’re doing today helps get them there.
Don’t waste your time beating yourself up over the mistakes of the past. Those choices have already been made – no amount of anger or disappointment at yourself can undo what’s already been done. Instead, focus on the choices you make today and revel in making good choices now.
You can never change the past, but you can certainly learn from it. Better yet, you can take what you’ve learned and apply it to improve the present – and drastically improve the future.