My 11 Worst Financial Mistakes

Finance, Personal / Friday, March 8th, 2019

I’ve been wanting to do a series about my personal finance journey. I have a few posts planned that track my relationship with money growing up, my progress thus far, and new endeavors I have planned.  For a hot second I wanted to start a separate finance blog called ‘Jen and the Bens’ but someone else has a similar name and it’s hard enough running two sites. But as I’ve gotten older and my interests have expanded, I’ve realized how important it is to talk about personal finance no matter what level of knowledge you have, or how much money you have or earn. There’s such a taboo to talk about salary, savings, etc. but I have been seeing this slowly change in the places on the internet I occupy, so I want to contribute in some way to that. So I have a new finance tag to filter these future posts!

1. Not utilizing my health insurance while still paying for it. The first two years after I’d started working at jobs that offered health insurance coverage, I did not go to the doctor or dentist. I went to the optometrist as my eyes keep getting worse, but for all those years, money was being taken out of each paycheck and paying for these services I just didn’t use because I was a lazy shit. Now that I’m unemployed (student) and paying out of pocket to be on my partner’s plan, you bet you bottom dollar that I’m utilizing the heck out of my benefits.

2. Paying more than 30% of my take-home pay on rent. When I first started at my last job, I stupidly agreed to start there in a week (they pressured and I panicked). That gave me a weekend to find a place, which resulted in my signing a lease on a place I was not 100% OK with but didn’t feel like I had a choice. I loved the apartment, but it had its issues. During that 1-year lease, I was paying 77% of my take home pay. As stated, the usual rule of thumb is to keep it around 30% for rent, but I was left with around $200. By the time I payed utilities, parking permit, and groceries, I had literally no money. My parents helped me out that year. Aware of this clusterfuck, I moved out after the lease was up, downsizing to a place with housemates, but was only paying 33% of my income. I went from paying $1400 a month in rent to $600, and it was a massive shock when money would enter my account and the number would get bigger. Witchcraft.

3. Not realizing I was paying $10 a month on a service I’d stopped using 8 months previously. Because of the above rent costs, I often ignored my accounts in the hopes that they’d go away (see #4). I payed bills on time, but I didn’t ever check my statements for any fraudulent or strange chargers because I didn’t want to be reminded of how crappy my finances were. Because of that, I missed that I was being charged for a service that I thought I’d cancelled. Turns out I had only deactivated the account being displayed publicly but it was still active. It was my fault, so that was $80 down the drain.

4. Ignore things and hope they went away. When money was tight, I was very happy IGNORING IT. I had all my bills taken care of, so I wasn’t negligent, but when I wasn’t bringing in a lot of money, I felt like there wasn’t anything to do so I let my financial activity take a backseat. As a student right now who is slowly burning through all her savings, I am doing the same thing. It’s not good. I know I’m just losing money, so I’m happier just not looking. But even when I’m not making any progress, and don’t feel like I can really plan for the future when it’s uncertain, I can’t take such a passive role in it regardless of my income (or lack of income).

5. Not realizing how expensive and annoying brokers are. Now, the man himself was very nice, but I was very mad when I learned that the apartment I found all by myself needed this gatekeeper person in order to attempt to get it. And I didn’t realize how expensive they are. I’d like to avoid them at all costs now. They just seem like a middleman for all of these things I could do by myself. I’d never looked for an apartment before, so the $1500 fee was a nasty shock. Will forever try to avoid it. I’m glad I already learned about closing fees when buying a house otherwise I’d probably be shocked the same way if I ever manage to buy a house.

6. That time I almost had to pay thousands because there was an error on my insurance card but I hadn’t done anything about it. This one is a little convoluted. So my employee-issued insurance card had a PCP (primary care physician–my main doctor) listed on it. The name of the doctor listed on it was a man I’d never heard of in a town I’d never been to in a state I didn’t live in. I saw that, noted that it seemed weird, but didn’t think it mattered? There was a lot about my insurance card I didn’t understand. When I finally went to a doctor, I went someone near me who a co-worker recommended, and not this mystery man. A few weeks later I had to go to the ER for an IV. Suddenly, I was getting a medical bill for around $2000 because I went to a different PCP than the one listed, and went to a medical center that wasn’t my main one. I’d protested it (I did not pick this dude, I only see women doctors, I’m not sure if he’d been randomly assigned or something) but my protest had been denied. I appealed it, was on the phone for hours for two weeks. By pure, dumb luck, my insurance was changing their policy so that you didn’t have to have a PCP declared, that you could go anywhere that was covered under my insurance company (which these new places were). So when I re-submitted the claims after this change went into effect, it went through and my insurance covered it. No questions asked after that. I like to think I would have eventually wore them down, but health insurance in America is a steaming pile of dog turds.

7. Not taking advantage of cash back on my credit cards. I’ve had a credit card since I stated college, but never really took advantage of the cash back rewards, whether that was 3 months of 5% cash back on movie tickets, groceries, gas, etc. It just wasn’t something I was very aware of, or checked, or remembered. I’m still not super good with this, mainly because I only use one credit card for most purchases. I mostly use my Amazon Prime credit card, I need to better learn how to optimize the three credit cards I have.

8. Not automating much. For a long time, I didn’t automate any of my bills. I logged in on the computer, and later apps on my iPhone and manually paid each one each month. I liked doing that, and chose to do it as a way to force myself to open my account at least once a month. Because as I mentioned in #4, I knew that I would rather ignore it all together. This made sure that I checked. Now that I’m older I’m a little more aware of my spending habits and tracking that I do have it automated. And it’s nice to not worry. Some times to a fault though, so I still have to make sure I log in and check and fight the instinct to live in financial denial.

9. Not rolling over my old 401(K) into my new one. I plan on listing this one on another post about some good financial decisions I’ve made. The reason for this duality is because in my research, I’ve heard mixed things about whether or not you should combine your multiple 401(K)s. But this one is straightforward–I was at one job where I signed up, the company matched a certain amount, I put in more–then left for another company that offered the same. I get statements about both separately, and know people often combine them. Five years later and I never did it because I was too lazy to start looking into how to even being that process. But as I’ve learned more, I don’t think I want to. But because the one is pretty small, I might as well? Still figuring it out. : )

10. Letting my dad handle things. Another one that’s going to appear on both blog posts, as having someone who understands finances so well available to you free of charge is huge. On the other hand, because my dad was always there, there was never a pressure to learn this stuff for myself. I’m lucky to have always had parents who are financially stable and responsible, but in many ways it made me complacent. I’ll be going into a lot more detail about this when I post a third post about my financial privileges.

11. Overdraft and Transfer fees. There are certain things that are unavoidable. These are 1000% not that. I’d purposely keep my checking account lower, and that often would literally cost me.

In general, these aren’t too bad. Things could have gone much worse. And of course, there are lots of smaller things I had to learn with experience. Basic things like when you’re younger and you buy something that you think will make someone else like you more, or not buying essentials like laundry detergent in bulk at Costco. I’d also like to get more into reusable cleaning and menstrual products to save money and help the environment. And there are crappy things like fees when traveling or costs when moving house. That’s the stuff that tends to get me more–death by a thousand cuts–rather than big things, because between my parents, my partner, and my uncle, I’ve always had a solid network for financial decisions.

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