I generally consider myself to be good with money. I made it through a four-year degree without student debt (mainly from a combination of student jobs and scholarships), have a healthy credit score, and a decent emergency fund. While I largely credit my money sense to my parents, there was one pivotal moment that firmly cemented my attitude toward money.
I made a BIG money mistake as a teenager. As a classic Canadian kid, I was lucky to work at Tim Horton’s twice a week. I got my check in an envelope every other Friday and ran to the bank to drop it off. At 15, I was responsible for all of my non-vital expenses and relished the feeling of being able to swipe my debit card like a real adult. Like a lot of teens, though, I had a vice. Mine was buying books and magazines.
It started harmlessly enough, fed by a sudden light-headedness from having my own money, and fueled by frustration from having to wait for a book at the library (it was a small town — books were few and lines were long). I kid you not, I became addicted to buying books. I would buy three or four a week, and I never bothered to look at my bank account. I just trusted that as long as I was making money, I could fund my habit. Stupidly, I believed I had thousands sitting in my account, and that these $10-$25 ($7-20 USD) books were not making a dent. That was until I went to buy a newly released book one day at our local bookstore and swiped my card. The words “Insufficient Funds” glared back at me on the payment machine. I was mortified, and, of course, the lady ringing me through had to loudly remark, “It’s not credit, you need to have the money in your account before you can buy something, dear.” I do not think I’ve left a place more quickly in my life, and I now avoid that bookstore at all times when I’m home visiting family.
Once the shock of the situation wore off, I went through my bank account transactions and realized that I had spent about $3,000 ($2,338 USD) over the course of a year on books, all in small $20 chunks. I couldn’t believe that I had let my spending go so unchecked, and was shocked that all of these seemingly minor purchases had added up so quickly. Although I was pretty mad at myself and embarrassed at the time, I’m SO thankful for having this experience now that I can look back on it. Why, you might ask?
1. I learned young.
I was about 16 when this experience occurred. I know a lot of people who’ve had this type of experience in their early twenties when they are handling their own money for the first time. And it’s not just a few thousand dollars — it’s usually tens of thousands, or enough to put them into credit card debt. While I wish I could have that $3,000 back, it wasn’t a dire situation, and I’m grateful for that.
2. I learned the value of money.
As I mentioned, I considered myself to be a fairly smart kid when it came to money. Obviously, I knew that I couldn’t spend more than I was putting into my account, or else I would run into trouble. But I didn’t start physically tracking my deposits and withdrawals until after the ISF mistake happened, and it inspired me to begin budgeting before I left for university — a habit I’ve kept to this day.
3. It got me into online banking.
After the mortification that can only come from being embarrassed in a popular spot in a small town, I vowed I would never allow myself to be taken by surprise by my own money again. I went into my bank and set up direct deposit for my paychecks, and set up online banking so I could monitor my balance as often as I wanted. Now I track my finances using my bank’s app, and I check my balance each night before bed.
4. The scare helped me to avoid any credit card drama (thus far).
I was always taught that you shouldn’t put anything on your credit card that you can’t feasibly go home and pay off immediately. Of course, there are times when this isn’t applicable, but it’s one rule I’ve always used to help me avoid spending “future” money on things I want now (mainly overpriced sweaters and Ed Sheeran concert tickets). By having my scary money moment happen using a debit card, it made me realize how lucky I was to not have had a credit card where I could have racked up a lot of debt for literal paper.
5. Anyone can slip up.
I think this was the most important thing that I learned from this whole experience. Anyone who doesn’t keep a close eye on their money can lose track of things and mess up, even people who think they are really good with their finances. It takes work, people!
As I hope you can tell, I definitely wasn’t happy with my $3,000 money mistake, and I wish I could get that money back — but I am thankful for some of the lessons it taught me. I guess you really do live and learn. If you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear if you’ve made any similar mistakes in the comments below, along with what they ended up teaching you!
Devin is trying to figure out post-university life while simultaneously living fashionably and frugally. She has an unhealthy obsession with chicken fingers, ice cream sandwiches, and photogenic dogs on Instagram. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada in a shoebox with her fiancé and rescue pup, Pippin.
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