We all have a few blemishes on our financial decision-making ledger — some more costly than others.
But if we are all going to make mistakes, we can hopefully learn something from them that will help our finances in the long run.
Let’s start by stating that some “mistakes” are really just bad luck. The person who purchased a house at the top of the market in 2005 may have wished that she waited until the bottom fell out of the housing market — but if the numbers made sense at the time she bought, it probably was not a mistake. The same is true for the long-term investor who put a lump sum of money to work in October 2007, when the stock market was peaking — or the person who had the chance to invest in a great venture early, but could not pull the trigger because he was afraid of a loss.
These are not errors, but they are examples of rotten timing — or, in that latter example, of simply being risk averse.
More common financial mistakes include taking on too much credit card debt, failing to create an emergency fund or plan for financing college education, not saving enough, or retiring too early. These can usually be corrected, albeit with some pain, in order to get back on course.
The financial mistakes that I consider most egregious are those that occur due to willful blindness — like not drafting a will or not purchasing sufficient life insurance to protect a family. These are issues that cannot be corrected once you are gone — so not attending to them is essentially an irrevocable mistake.