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Budget Blonde: My two biggest money mistakes

Catherine Alford
by Catherine Alford , Dimespring 30 (@budgetblonde)

Just the other night, my husband asked me for an update on our finances. He’s a second-year medical school student, so he has zero time to manage our bills and accounts. That’s my job, and I love that he trusts me to take care of all of our day-to-day finances.

So, I updated him on our emergency fund, investments and savings account, and to be honest, it all sounded pretty darn good.

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During this conversation, we started talking about how far we’ve come financially and shook our heads in shame at some of the biggest mistakes we’ve made with our money since we’ve been together. It’s truly incredible how much we know now compared to what we knew then. If I could rewind time, here are the two mistakes that I’d go back and reverse:

Money Mistake #1: Renting the nice townhome

When we got married, we were so excited to move into a bigger place. My husband was living in a tiny studio apartment, and I had a really low-end one-bedroom apartment that I could barely afford on my graduate school stipend.

Yet, for some reason, we thought that getting married and getting tons of new, shiny things meant that we needed a bigger place. We also thought that being married meant that we’d have a ton of guests visit us, so naturally we made sure to get an apartment with a guest room … and an office.

Seriously, what were we thinking?

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While we could technically afford the apartment at the time thanks to my husband’s income, we could have been saving so much money and paying down student loans. Instead, we poured it into the rent.

Money Mistake #2: Taking out too many student loans

My graduate school was paid for through an assistantship that not only took care of my tuition but also provided a monthly stipend. Yet, the assistantship was quite small, and I was driving three hours on the weekends to see my future hubs (we were in a long distance relationship for over a year).

I should have made my assistantship work, but I panicked a little and took out loans to ease the burden. I didn’t like the feeling of living paycheck to paycheck. It caused more anxiety than it should have, so I continued to take out loans each semester to make sure I had enough money to live on, plus some extra.

Instead of finishing my master’s degree debt free like I should have, I added more than $20,000 to my total student debt amount. If I would have budgeted better or been a little more willing to feel that money pinch, I wouldn’t be working so many side jobs to make $800 a month loan payments today.

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It’s hard for me to admit the mistakes I listed above, especially because I’ve shared personal finance advice and expertise on dozens of websites in the past two years. Yet, I think it’s important for personal finance bloggers to admit that they are not superhuman. We all make mistakes.

While I regret the two listed above all the time, they did help me to understand the value of money. They made me realize what it felt like to have debt weighing on me, and they’ve made me more determined than ever to live a frugal life so that one of these days I can finally be 100 percent debt free.

Catherine Alford is a freelance personal finance writer who currently lives in the Caribbean with her husband and spoiled pup, Julep. She received a B.A. from The College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Virginia Tech. When she is not writing for other websites on all topics frugal and fabulous, she enjoys sharing her adventures on her personal finance blog, Catherine is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.