The Single Biggest Money Mistake I’ve Ever Made

The single biggest money mistake I’ve ever made was the day I decided that my future self would pay for stuff that I wanted (not needed, but wanted) now.

The amazing part is that I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was twenty years old and a junior in college. I had taken the advice of a family friend and applied for a credit card about six months beforehand, but I hadn’t used it for anything during those six months.

I had spent most of an afternoon playing GoldenEye 007 with several friends. For those unaware, GoldenEye 007 was a “spy versus spy” video game where multiple players would attempt to eliminate the others by being stealthy. You had to, in essence, find good places to hide and snipe the other players.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and later that night, I went back to the tiny apartment I shared with several other people, kicked back on my air mattress in the corner, and watched some television.

But I kept thinking about GoldenEye. I wanted to play it. I was bored. I had been the worst player of the four of us earlier and I wanted to improve my skills before our next session.

And then I made the big mistake. I flipped open my wallet and saw the credit card and I thought about it.

I could go get an N64 and GoldenEye right now.

I’ll be able to afford it later. I’ll have a great career.

I could have it in an hour.

I’m so bored. It would me much more fun if I had it.

I can just go look.

So I got up and went to the local department store, which had the game in stock. I stood there looking in the case, mulling it over … and then I called over a clerk to get the items out for me. Not just an N64 and not just GoldenEye, but a second controller and two other games as well. I plopped about $400 on the credit card and walked out of the store.

I’d like to say I felt some twinge of guilt when I was leaving, but in all honesty I didn’t. I was just incredibly excited to go back to that apartment, hook up my new console, and play some games. I stayed up most of the night playing my new games and thoroughly enjoyed them.

What I didn’t enjoy was what came later. I received a bill for $17 in the mail a few weeks later. I paid it. It was the first of many bills, ones that became a constant part of my life. Soon, the bill was $30, then $50, then I was receiving multiple bills.

Those bills were drastically reducing my financial breathing room, and since I was already accustomed to using the plastic, I just kept living like I was before, just using the plastic to leverage spending.

Eight years later, I finally reached the meltdown point, and just like that earlier night, my financial future turned in a moment.

Those eight years taught me one incredibly crucial lesson. Every choice you make today, you have to live with tomorrow. If you put something you want on plastic, that bill is going to come in eventually, and it will cost much more than whatever the value of that item you’re buying is. If you make a friend today, that friend will help you tomorrow. If you make an enemy today, that enemy may just stand in your way tomorrow.

This one choice, the seemingly simple decision to go for it and buy something I wanted without really thinking about the long term consequences, shaped my life in a negative fashion for years. One moment in time can shape so much.

Feel free to share your own moment in the comments, if you have one.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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