I’ve been leveling up my frugal skills for years – I’m well beyond newbie money mistakes like lunches out, expensive TV habits, and retail therapy, but even us high level frugalists mess up occasionally. My biggest doozies tend to be related to travel. When I’m in a strange environment, my usual habits don’t serve me. I’m buying things and services I don’t normally buy, and there’s a lot of opportunity for screw ups.
In celebration of 2014, I’m rounding up the dumb money mistakes I made in 2013!
Ready to learn from my money mistakes? Let’s start with the biggest:
Didn’t invest my emergency fund: -$6300
Technically, I didn’t lose money, but I missed a great opportunity to earn some. The market climbed in 2013, but I kept my emergency fund ($35,000) sitting in my no-interest Capital One 360 account “just in case”. My Vanguard investments enjoyed a 18.4% rate of return, and my emergency fund missed out!
My obsession with readily accessible cash cost me about $6300 in appreciation. If there was an emergency, I could have sold off some of my investments and retrieved the needed funds.
In the eight years since I established my own home the worst “emergency” I’ve ever seen was for $8,000, when I got a job on the other side of the country and needed to move. The second worst? That time last year when I paid $3,500 to fix a broken water line under our driveway. My fund is too big – and too idle.
This year: I’m shrinking my emergency fund down to $10,000 and moving the rest into a diversified collection of Vanguard funds.
Flightseeing puke-fest: -$800
A spur-of-the-moment decision to go on a flight-seeing tour in a small aircraft left us both puking and ruined our day in Denali National Park. We didn’t even see the mountain! We were face-down in our puke bags for a view… of clouds.
This year: Eh, this mistake was pretty one-off, but the moral of this story is probably to not go flight-seeing. Lesson learned.
Paid for unused landline: -$600
We spent 2013 paying for two cell phones and a landline – that’s one more line than we have people.
We had the landline for two reasons:
- Verizon told us we had to have it in order to have FIOS when we first got the house hooked up with service
- We liked using our Plantronics headset with it for hours-long calls home on the weekends
A $17 TTY adapter from the Apple store let us use the Plantronics headset with our iPhones, ruling out need #2. But what about #1?
Well, we tried to cancel the Frontier landline back in February but Frontier said they couldn’t do it. Fast forward to December 2013 when we were feeling angsty about how much we were shelling out for a landline we weren’t using, and tried again – this time, canceling the phone line but keeping the FIOS was no problem.
Why the inconsistency? Paying for three years of phone service we didn’t need and rarely used cost us $50 a month, or $1800 total since the purchase of this house. Egads.
This year: The landline is canceled and I’m looking forward to the $50 in savings each month.
Overpriced Hotel Stay: $-260
I bought into the “moderate hotel” hype at Walt Disney World. We were going to stay at a Disney value resort, but decided at the last minute to go with a moderate hotel thinking the extra $260 would entitle us to comfortable beds and a quiet room.
That didn’t happen – our hotel sucked. Port Orleans Riverside has springy flat beds, incredibly loud flush toilets, and just as much noisy foot traffic as anywhere else I’ve ever stayed. Now, I’ve never stayed in Disney’s value resort, but I can’t imagine the bed or noise being much worse.
This year: Eh, we’re done with Disney for a few years, especially since the new FastPass+ system spoiled it, but if I went again I’d stay at a value resort. It can’t be much worse, and the same Magic Hour and free parking perks still apply.
Didn’t scrutinize rental car receipt: -$224
We were scammed by Dollar Rent a Car in Orlando with a bit of receipt trickery. We declined an expensive add-on, but they sold it to us anyway without our knowledge. Had we unfolded the receipt when we accepted the vehicle, we might have discovered that Dollar sneaked in a hidden charge for an unnecessary $28.99/day “Loss Damage Waiver”.
Update: I got my $224 back, but not without having to complain a lot on Twitter like a crazy person.
This year: I won’t leave the rental desk until I’ve read every. freaking. line on that receipt. AND THE BOTTOM! AND THE BACK!
Wasted money on in-game purchases: -$210
I work in freemium video games, so there’s some work-related pressure to play along (and buy in-game stuff), but not to the extent that I got carried away. I spent a whopping $210 on in-game stuff over the course of early 2013. It was fun to win, but it wasn’t fun to be on a never-ending treadmill that pumped out content faster than I could play it, creating an incentive to spend.
This year: I quit playing. It’s not fun to be hounded for cash just to keep up. Most of my gaming right now is in premium games, where the first purchase is the only one, though I think freemium can be done well (2011’s Tiny Tower remains my favorite example of freemium done well).
What has EA done to my favorite franchise? And had I waited 6 months to buy it, I could have gotten it for 40% off, too. It didn’t even run at launch! Stupid.
This year: Hehe, maybe they fixed it by now. I think I’ll hop in and check it out. :)
Didn’t Sign up for Company 401k
I started a new job in February 2013, but the company doesn’t let employees open a 401k and distribute pre-tax earnings into it until they’ve worked there for 90 days. Needless to say, I forgot to sign up. My last two jobs let me sign up for the 401k at the start and I contributed the max and the whole thing ran on auto-pilot, but this new job wanted me to remember to sign up later. Nope, I forgot about it for six whole months.
The impact of forgetting to set this account will be minimal, but I feel pretty silly.
This year: I set up my automatic 401k contributions in December, which is just in time for the company 4% match to kick in at the start of my second year with the company. Hooray!
In writing this, I’ve realized that my money mistakes come in two varieties:
- Trusting a company to be honest with me about whether I can opt out of what should be an optional service. The hard lesson here is no one cares about my money as much as I do.
- Thinking a “premium” experience is going to be worth it. In effort to get “the best experience” (be it a pricey flight-seeing tour, a better hotel, or upgrades in a game), I think we just set ourselves up for disappointment. Jim and I don’t seem to enjoy “premium” experiences, they never live up to our expectations and we just end up feeling like we wasted our money.
How about you? Any shameful spending in 2013 you’d like to fess up to? Tell us about it in the comments!