A college professor spills

My Story: What I Would Do Differently

contributed by SC

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I grew up without a lot of financial literacy. Although highly educated with two advanced degrees in science (MS and PhD), I was totally clueless when it came to basic money management and personal finance. Somehow the money would take care of itself. My first job out of school was as a college professor. I was shocked to see how much was taken out of my paycheck for benefits and taxes.

Mistake No. 1 - I immediately got into a nice apartment and decorated it by purchasing a fair amount of furniture on credit before I understood exactly how much cash I would have on hand.

Although I was not living large, I was also not living carefully, wisely, and mindfully. Many late nights were spent on the phone with the automatic teller checking to see if my checks cleared.

If I could do it over, I would have taken a class on personal finance while still a student because a friend of mine who grew up poor tried to counsel me about all my trips to the ATM and my attitude of "Well, I still have checks so I must still have money in the account." I would have rented a room on campus for faculty and planned out what I would spend on rent, utilities, and furniture and saved up for at least a year.

Mistake No. 2 - I did no financial planning whatsoever.

Now, every Saturday morning, I rectify all three checking accounts and they balance to the penny. I also spend a fair amount of time planning for retirement and reading financial articles and information to further my knowledge and reinforce good habits.

Mistake No. 3 - I bought expensive clothes off the rack including ladies' suits that needed to be dry cleaned.

Because I was not able to decide among pieces and shopping would relieve stress, I would buy the entire collection. I ended up with a "suit museum" and "wardrobe portfolio."

My moment of clarity came when I was with a friend shopping in a thrift store. I found a suit jacket exactly like one of mine. It was in perfect shape and priced at $35. Mine was also in perfect shape but cost me $185. I felt nauseous and almost got sick in the store. I vowed right then that I would never be so foolish again.

I spent a few years undoing the stress triggers that made me want to go shopping to relieve stress. One tool was reading a couple of books. One was How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously and the other was The Millionaire Next Door. Both books provide a lot of clarity on why people view money the way they do and each book addresses all the excuses and rationalizations about poor spending habits. The second tool was weaning myself off plastic, whether credit cards or debit cards. For a long time, I used the envelope method and that helped me to get back in touch with my money on an emotional level. It is a different emotional experience to watch the green stuff vanish from my wallet than it is to slide a plastic card.

I have a great job where the dress code is always business casual. I bought a few pair of inexpensive slacks in black, so they look dressy. I purchased a few tops from a favorite online store that sells classic clothes and I purchased when they went on clearance. Almost all of my clothing purchases are made online.

I also love jewelry and expensive watches. I satisfy my urges by going to Overstock.com and dragging my goodies to the shopping cart. I save the cart, and if I really want the item(s), I can always go back after a week and purchase. So far, I have dragged hundreds of dollars of goodies to my basket but never once did I go back and buy. Most of the time, I would rather have the money.

I did find some earrings and a matching pendant I purchased, but I have had these on my mind for 11 years. They were not very expensive, so I decided to purchase.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to MyStory@stretcher.com

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