My Best and Worst Financial Decisions: They Might Surprise You

I know you’ve all been waiting to read this. It’s time for me to reveal my best and worst financial decisions. When I began thinking about this topic, it didn’t take me long to figure out what to write about. Two decisions jumped out at me right away. I asked my husband what he thought our best and worst financial decisions were, and right away he confirmed exactly what I was thinking. And my choices might surprise you.

Since I’ve always been a person who likes to save the best for last, I’m going to tell you about my worst financial decision first. The year was 1995 and my husband and I were getting married about a month down the road. Unhappy with my job at a group home for disabled adults, I decided to go back to school for a teaching degree in Special Education. The program started the week after our wedding, and it seemed like the perfect time for a change in my career direction.

So without giving it much thought, I applied for financial aid and ended up taking out a $10,000 student loan. I had about $4000 left on my loan from my undergraduate work, so that brought my total student loan debt up to $14,000. Not a great way to start off a marriage. Still, my husband and I weren’t worried about it, because everyone knows that if you take out a loan for school, it’s a good investment, and you’ll be able to pay it off after you graduate, right? I can’t tell you how wrong that assumption was.

We made several mistakes in deciding to take out a student loan. First, we didn’t consider the timing. Deciding to go back to school a week after getting married wasn’t a smart thing to do. In retrospect, it would have been better to give myself a year to get used to being married, before adding the stress of school and big financial obligations. This loan added unnecessary stress to our first year of marriage.

Second, we didn’t consider the future. At the time my husband was working at a job he didn’t like. We didn’t consider where his future would take us. We didn’t consider what we would do when we had children. We didn’t consider how paying back the student loan would affect our budget in the future.

Finally, we took out more loan than what we needed. Instead of taking a loan for only the amount of tuition, we took out the maximum amount that we could. We used it to pay for housing and other expenses, as well as tuition. If we had only taken out a loan for the amount of tuition, perhaps we wouldn’t still be paying it off twelve years later.

In the end, my husband ended up getting a job 100 miles up the road. Instead of stressing our new marriage with a long commute, I dropped out of school a quarter and a half later, so we could move closer to his work. We ended up with a $10,000 loan for a degree I never got.

Now on to happier times. This is the decision that might surprise you. My husband and I agree that the best financial decision we ever made was having me be a stay-at-home mom. I know that might be hard to believe, especially considering the hard times we’re going through right now. And this isn’t the first time we’ve gone through hard times either. But I would still consider our decision for me to be a stay-at-home mom the best financial decision we’ve ever made. There are several reasons I feel this way.

First, it has allowed me to be involved with the kids. Since both of our children have had speech problems, it has been nice that I’ve always been available for speech therapy appointments, IEP meetings, and conferences with their teachers. I also like being the first person who sees them after school, so they can tell me about their days. I enjoy running them to soccer practice. And I like that they don’t catch illnesses from daycare.

Second, my career as a stay-at-home mom has forced us to learn frugality. Sadly, my husband and I didn’t have a clue about money before we got married. We have made a ton of financial mistakes. We have lived paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes not out of necessity. But through the hard times, when my husband’s income hasn’t been much and with no second income to fall back on, we have both learned to be better managers of our money. If there ever comes a time when we earn a lot more, I am confident that we could handle it at this point. Before I became a stay at home mom, I am confident we would have frittered away a large income.

Finally, being a stay at home mom has showed me things about God that I never would have learned if we had the security of a second income. In times of financial desperation, God has always provided us with what we need. Not always what we want, but we have always had food, shelter, and clothing. There are plenty of times that we’ve been able to pay the bills when on paper it just didn’t make sense. In response, my faith has increased. It’s been 10 years since I left my last job to become a stay-at-home mom, and I can see that my faith has grown by leaps and bounds. Even though I get tired and discouraged when our finances get tough, I never worry about whether we’ll end up on the street. I know God will take care of us, and that He has a plan for our lives.

Though I can’t say our best financial decision resulted in a million dollar portfolio, through being a stay-at-home mom, I have learned and experienced things that are more important than money. I don’t want to alienate my readers, and I am only speaking to my own situation. I have many women friends who work outside the home for various reasons, and I respect their decision to do so. But for our family, me staying home to raise the kids has been the best financial decision we’ve ever made, because we’ve reaped more than what money can buy.

Be sure to check out the best and worst decisions of the other members of the M-Network.

22 thoughts on “My Best and Worst Financial Decisions: They Might Surprise You”

  1. Thanks for sharing such a personal journey. I’ve made plenty of money mistakes along the way, but like anything, you always learn from these errors and they have the power to make you more cautious in the future, which is perhaps not a bad thing! Hope your financial journey is going from strength to strength, thanks for an inspirational blog that I love reading :)

  2. I loved the post!!!

    I am a stay at home Mom. Six years ago we decided that I would cut back to part time to work a few hours a day when my two oldest children were in school. I loved taking them to and from school and helping with their homework and just having more time with them. We made this decision when after school care went up to $95 a week per child. We did not quailify for any discounts due to income. One year later my now 12 year old was diagnosed with cancer and I found out that I was pregnant during the same week. We went through soooo much money and our savings was completely wiped out in a matter of months. My husbands employer was not so nice and demoted him to a lower paying job because of the hospital visits for my son. We are still struggling and have financially since. I can honestly say that I cherish every minute with my children, I homeschool all three of them on a shoestring budget and have taken advantage of many scholorships for them. We enjoy each day. It is no pic-nic and we are getting ready to short-sell our house and get into an apartment, which I wanted to do a long time ago since I am the new handyman since my husband travels when my son is not in treatment. My son is still not cancer free five years later and the medical bills have done a number on us. But I can say that it has been a good decision for us, I am so glad that we had that year together before he was diagnosed. I was a 60 hour a week work a holic before the “transformation” and we always had savings. No we are living tight and I want to move to put our repair, maintenance money in the bank for my oldest to have someting to start college with.

  3. I appreciate your comments. Being a SAHM has allowed us to save money by my doing alot of cost cutting things. Keeping a garden, comparison shopping, going to thrift stores and yard sales, canning, couponing, repairing household items, doing stuff for the kids, mending clothes, cutting hair, cooking form scratch. My husband works long hours and my staying home adds stability to the household. These things would be impossible to do if I were working.

  4. You’re not alone on the student debt. I owe $23K total because of taking my student loans for granted.

    It’s all these mistakes that make us stronger. And these lessons will help us to grow our net worth and become financially independent.

    So, being down $14K may not be so bad in the future when you see what you have amassed. ;)

    Love the blog!

  5. I can definately relate with you about the student loan debt. My wife and I both took out about 50 thousand each. We both went for four years and tried our best to keep that amount down. My wife had about $30-40k in scholarships and I went to a community college for the first two years that saved me $35k than if I went straight to my final school. It is still pretty daunting to look at 100k of debt right now though… I know we will pay it off and I don’t regret it but that is tough…

    As for your best decision, that is awesome! I am very happy for you! There is more to life than working and it if you do not have time to spend with family, what is it all for anyways?

  6. I totally agree that nothing compares to a good family relationship and to the investment you make in building a strong family life and investing time in the future of your children. Because these things are irreplaceable. With careful planning and always looking for the best options when you buy, you can manage everything very well even on a tight budget.

  7. Well one thing I can relate to is the “First, we didn’t consider the timing” thing. I remember taking a student loan of $25,000 for my graduate degree during the dot-com boom. Definitely not a good timing, its a wishful thinking of landing a job after you graduate during that time. Finally I ended up paying more money as it took me more than a year to get a white-collar job.

  8. I loved your post. I too spent way to much on student loans while attending college. I have been teaching 12 years and I am still paying on my bachelor’s degree loan. If only I had thought before I took out the max everytime.

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience. It surely helps people to decide whats best for their future. I for one still study and has a part time job at the same time. I try to live a frugal as I can be. From washing my own clothes to walking to school from time to time instead of using my beat up car to not having a cell phone. I also look for different ways to live within my means. I call my folks back home using a phone card ( instead of AT&T and make sure I don’t go over my budget of $20 a month. Down the road I will get married too and maybe this article of yours will help me on my decisions.

  10. Refreshing post. I think because we live in such a materialistic society – people forget that more money does not automatically equate to more happiness, or a better life.

  11. ChristianPF – I have the same problem. It’s easier to rely on ourselves when things are going well. I definitely have to work harder on my relationship with God during the good times.

    Raymond – I consolidated my loans way back when, and though the rate is OK, it’s nowhere near as low as it would have been if I had consolidated in the last couple of years. But I have nothing to consolidate it with at this point, so I’m out of luck there.

  12. I really like your outlook on things! I know I can never manage everything on my own by myself and I do have faith and trust that God has a purpose and plan for everything.

    As for the student loans, I hope you consolidated at a low interest rate…student loans tend to have much lower and manageable interest

  13. Kacie – you are always free to sound off here! :) That’s a lot of change in a short amount of time!

    Hilda – My student loans would have been paid a long time ago, if I had practiced a little frugality!

    Marie – I hope that things do turn around for you when he graduates! And I’m glad you’re seeing God’s blessings even through the tough times.

    Pinyo – I will let you have the worst college story title! :)

    Erin – It took me a while to think of being a SAHM as a career, but honestly it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. The most rewarding, too. :)

  14. I could relate to the student loan debts. I, too, borrowed more than I really needed. Looking back now, I think I could have graduated without debts if I just practiced a little frugality.

  15. I’m a SAHM too and I agree that it is the best decision we made although it has been the hardest. We live at 98% of the poverty level but are hopeful that when he graduates things will turn around from us. We too have noticed the blessings of God in our lives from doing his work and focusing on our family. I just wish I could eat out a sandwich at Subway sounds divine :).

  16. It is interesting how when things are going really well, we can “forget” about God and how good He really is. Some of my most intimate times with Him were in the most difficult times of my life. I know He doesn’t want it to be that way, and I surely don’t either – so I am constantly working on drawing near in good times when I feel like I am IN CONTROL :)

  17. What a great post! Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned with us.

    And I agree–don’t make any major life changes shortly after your wedding! You need some time. My husband and I graduated from college on May 5. We got married on May 19, movers came to get our stuff on May 21, we left for our honeymoon on May 23, came back on a Saturday and hopped a plane the following Monday, June 4 to move to our new city. I started work on the 5th. In retrospect, I’m glad all those things happened, but I don’t want that many changes to happen that closely!

    Finally, I’m a new stay at home wife. I’m very happy doing what I do, but everytime I meet someone new and they ask “the question,” I never know what to say. Twice now, I’ve said “nothing.” Um? What’s my problem? I do plenty of things–good things, to.

    Sorry this comment was so long, but I thought I’d sound off :)

  18. Very nice post. Thank you for sharing. With regard to school, I think I did worse by turning down full scholarship and went to a school that I have to pay $20,000 more each year.

  19. I like how you wrote about your “career” as a sahm. That is a good way to think of being a sahm; since it’s a job and not just sitting at home watching TV and eating bonbons.

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