I like to think of myself as a fairly savvy woman. I have managed to arrive at middle age fairly unscathed, but when I look back over my life oh the money lessons I have learned!

At times I wish I could go back and do things differently but then I realise the path to being money literate is paved with lessons that I had to learn along the way. Here I share my lessons and urge you to take stock of the money actions you have taken and the lessons you have learned. You will be surprised at the nuggets of wisdom you have accumulated.

Money Lesson number 1: Save before you spend

I did not grow up in a household with a lot of money, but it always seemed to me that no matter how many times I was told we cannot afford that, my mother would arrive home with all the new clothes she had bought. Little did I know they were all bought on credit. In my childish mind the “money doesn’t grow on trees” mantra had the ending “but the universe will always provide”.

One of my first part time jobs was working in a boutique selling expensive clothing. I loved the beautiful cuts, fabrics and designs and there began my life of wanting high end clothing! As soon as I got paid I spent my money on clothing, no thought to how I was going to pay for university costs or even having fun. No, all my money went on my passion for designer gear.  

Result was I spent the university term trying to scrape together money to pay for my university expenses. A horrible stressful time, and one that could so easily have been avoided. Ironically I was able to scrape together what I needed, typically by way of my amazing grandparents who took pity on me and helped with my finances.  This reinforced my deep held belief that the universe will provide.

This is unfortunately not always true and the universe does in fact ask us to be committed to our future by taking steps to secure it and one of those steps is saving!

Money lesson number 2: Don’t look to friends for financial advice

I ended up working in financial services having completed university and my articles to be a chartered accountant without learning anything about personal finances.  The men in my team thrived on discussing the share investments they were making, often times funded by credit card debt. I realised at that stage that I was a lot more cautious than my male colleagues and preferred to max out my credit card on my  shopping habit. Difficult to say who was the bigger fool!

As I saw the success my colleagues were having in the stock market at that time, I started having a large case of FOMO (fear of missing out) and decided it was time I did some investing. Being of a more cautious nature I decided that direct investment into the next big stock was not for me. I chatted  to my friends to get recommendations for  other  ways to get into the market. I was passed on to a friend of a friend who was a financial adviser for an insurance company. I ended up buying a product I did not need, which had huge fees and quite frankly the only goal it met was the financial advisors commission goal. 

Lesson learned, don’t invest in anything you don’t fully understand, have a clear goal on why you are investing, know your risk tolerance and make sure the investment meets your criteria.

Money lesson number 3: Similarly don’t act on “expert” advice unless you understand what you are getting into

This is similar to the lesson learnt in my foray into the investment market but related in fact to my pension.

Being in financial services I was always embarrassed about what I perceived was my lack of financial literacy when it came to personal finance. In order to not look as stupid as I felt I hesitated in asking questions around my money.  

When it came to setting up my pension objectives, I quite frankly had absolutely no idea. I was in my early twenty’s, had  just started earning a real salary and to me retirement was so far out of my line of sight I hadn’t considered it.

We had a rather vague pension presentation by an expert, and the only take away I got was that there was a low risk option. That sounded like a safe bet as why would I want to put my money at  risk of loss.

The human resources department gave me a form to complete which had a few questions that were beyond obscure. I suspect they were in some ways trying to ascertain my risk tolerance in a rather rudimentary fashion.  I ended up putting my pension into as low a risk option as possible and forgot about it. It wasn’t until many years later that I fully understood that my choice had placed me in a low growth option when given the number of years I had to go to retirement would have served me much better in a bit more adventurous fund.

My takeaway from this lesson was that I missed out on many years of possible growth simply because I was too embarrassed to ask questions and merely accepted the so called experts opinion.

Money lesson number 4: Work out what you can afford when looking to buy a property don’t go by what the bank will lend you

My next stop on my directionless journey of simply following the dots of what others were doing was to buy a property. I was not starting from a strong point as I was spending all my money each month and basically living pay check to pay check. Unbelievably I got a mortgage way in excess of what I would ever anticipate and armed with my new (in my mind) elevated status I found a property I thought would work. It’s selling points to me were that it was next to a gym (I loved to exercise) and close to work. Done deal. No further thought!

And then the pain began, my  first mortgage payment. I couldn’t believe how much it took out of my monthly paycheck. In addition, as I had never thought to do a budget and see how much I actually needed to live on per month it came as a major shock on top of everything else I was spending on.

The panic started setting in. The cherry on top was when I realised there was a plumbing problem and I would need to call a plumber. I knew from others’ complaints that plumbers are an expensive experience and true to form  the plumber lived up to his reputation. This was literally the last straw. In full on panic mode I put the apartment on the market and sold it like a hot potato.  I ended up taking a loss after agent’s commission and legal fees. A few years later, out of morbid interest I took a look at the value of the apartment. It had doubled.

I could have done so much better if I had done my homework upfront. Understood where my money was going each month and how much I could realistically afford on a mortgage. Investigated the potential maintenance costs that are more than likely to  occur and made provision for these. And taken the time to shop around and found what fitted my budget as opposed to what fitted the banks rather lofty lending limits.

Money lesson number 5: An affordable monthly cost is not the full cost

Sadly that wasn’t the end of my money education. As this was my first apartment (and first foray out of the parental nest), I had no furniture or appliances and needed to get my apartment kitted out. To me credit was a wonderful thing and as I looked at the monthly repayments of all the things I was buying they all looked so individually manageable. Individually they might have been but as a monthly collective outflow it was staggering, Even worse I hadn’t realised by taking out credit a bed that would ordinarily cost £400 ended up costing £540.

After that very expensive exercise I learnt to always calculate the all in cost of everything I ever consider buying on credit. This has made me a lot more selective and able to identify true wants from momentary needs. The end result for me is that consumer credit is never the cheaper or easier option when you look past the monthly repayment.

Money lesson number 6: Ignoring your money situation, procrastinating over taking action to address it  or abdicating money responsibility to someone else doesn’t mean you are off the hook

This lesson was one of the more painful ones as I was particularly stubborn in trying to avoid it.  I learned that  no one is ever going to care about my money more than me and no money god is going to rush in on the white stallion and rescue me from my money woes. This truth became painfully obvious when I looked down the barrel of the gun of my debt and the empty pot of my savings. No amount of avoidance, procrastination or pretending was going to change the situation.

And this is when I finally woke up to the fact that  my money hero is me. I am the one who is going to climb into the driver’s seat of my money vehicle and get that old jalopy roaring like a Ferrari. It is what I like to refer to as the moment the lights switched on in my brain and it all became clear!

Money lesson number 7: Forgive past money actions

I might have woken up to the fact that I am master of my money, but that didn’t stop me beating myself up for all “my years of total stupidity” the “wasted opportunities I had to make money” or the “total idiocy” of not taking control sooner. As I have started slowly putting my money to work I have realised that the ongoing negative self talk and beratement are not constructive and serve no one. Having a healthy money mindset is not only about taking the right actions it in fact turns on having the right attitude and money belief system.

A positive attitude requires forgiveness and acceptance that all the lessons I learned have brought me to this point. A place of excitement and opportunity as I direct my future and get my money working for me.


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Michelle here,

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I help women build their financial intelligence. This means we talk money, earning it, saving it, investing it and growing it.


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