Don't stay stuck in 'regret mode'

Moving Past Financial Mistakes

by Joel Fink

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Wow. I wish I wouldn't have bought that expensive car. Those high payments are killing me.

We all experience financial regret at some point. It's easy to get frustrated by financial missteps, but how do you put them into perspective and move on?

Marcia Reynolds, Psy. D., wrote an article about "5 Steps for Moving Forward in Spite of Regrets" for Psychology Today. In her article, she discusses how regret is often based on false comparison. If you are defining happiness by the stuff that you own or the size of your house, you may be setting yourself up for regret.

She notes that humans are bad at estimating what what will bring them happiness in the future. We have only partial control over our circumstances and we make decisions based on past experiences. When life turns out different from what we expect, we blame ourselves.

She discusses 5 steps for dealing with regrets so that you can move on. Let's look at her 5 steps in the context of financial regrets.

1. Accept your regrets as part of being alive.

No one will make the perfect financial decision every time. My father used to tell me, "If you're not making any mistakes, then you must not be doing anything." You can't always buy that car at the lowest possible price or get that mortgage at the lowest interest rate. Make the best decision that you can at the time. Life is about learning. Learn from your experience.

2. Don't overemphasize what was bad about your choices.

Don't beat yourself up too much about a bad financial decision. Try to understand how you overpaid for that car or ran up all that credit card debt. You made that decision in the context of your circumstances at that particular time. Perhaps you got bad advice. Use your knowledge to avoid future mistakes and to share your hard earned wisdom with family and friends.

3. Claim today as the best you have with what you now know.

Focus on the positive aspects of your present financial position. Appreciate the things that you already own or experiences that you have been able to afford. Look for opportunities to improve your financial future by enjoying what you have now and using what you've learned. Find simple ways to enjoy your life like visiting a friend, volunteering, reading a good book, taking a walk, or going to a museum.

4. Make time to reflect for what you are grateful.

Give yourself credit for your financial successes. Be grateful for your possessions, your experiences, raising your children, and for the people that you have been able to help along the way. Take the time to thank the people who have helped you get where you are today.

Would you like to pay off your credit cards in less time for less money?

5. If you are dwelling in regret, change something.

Making even a small financial change can help overcome financial regret. Pay more than that minimum payment on your credit card. Start depositing a small part of your paycheck into a savings account. Small steps can lead to bigger steps. Maybe you can refinance that mortgage at a lower rate or start that retirement account.

Ms. Reynolds points out in her article that people regret what they "did not do" more than they regret "what they did." Taking positive action, even a small one, can change your perspective and make you feel more empowered over your finances.

Everyone has regrets. What's important is to learn from them and move on, so that you can enjoy a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life.

Reviewed May 2017

Joel Fink is a retired CPA and financial services executive living in Dallas, Texas. He enjoys writing articles that help real people with simple ideas to manage their money and improve their lives.

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