Shame, Fear and Loathing from a Late Start

I started this financial journey a year and a half ago after floating around aimlessly for the past decade, clueless about finances. At age 34, I had just gotten married. My wife and I closed on our first home the week of the wedding. We had been checking off the adult “To Do” list at a rapid pace. The next step, of course, is to start a family. This prompted a more serious look at our financial position.

We had talked about our finances before we got married. We were both on the same page about being smart with our money. We didn’t over spend on our wedding. We purchased a house in a growing part of Phoenix with the intent of being able to rent it out when we decided to move. We had tallied up all our debts. We found it was not an insurmountable amount and had a plan to aggressively pay it off. I felt like we were doing pretty well for a young couple.

One summer, Saturday afternoon, I met some college buddies up for lunch. We were planning to have a few beers, reminisce about stories from our ASU days (Go Devils!) and just catch up. We were playing a friendly game of bags (or cornhole as otherwise known) when the conversation of investing and finances came up.

Armed with my newly acquired Dave Ramsey knowledge, I thought I might even turn a couple of them on to living a debt-free lifestyle. Boy was I wrong….

These guys started to go on about how they had been adding to their 401K’s for years, were building houses and giving each other stock tips that their brokers dropped on them. I was completely lost and felt totally out of my league.

These were my college buddies, my classmates, my peers. The group of guys that I had drank too much alcohol with on countless occasions. The group who thought going shirtless and painting themselves for football games was a good idea. The group who jumped off roofs into pools all summer long to impress girls. How did these guys get so financially educated? And how did I miss the boat on this knowledge?

I shrunk back in the group and sipped my lager as I tried to decipher what these guys were talking about. What exactly was an IRA? What do you mean Apple stock split 7-1? What is a 1031 exchange? ETF… I have never even heard of that.

I felt pretty small and very out-of-place. I left our get together in a panic instead of happy to have seen my friends. I burst in the door to our house and started to google terms. That may have even confused me more. What also set me back was the numbers these guys were talking about. The amounts that they had saved in the bank or were standing to make on stock and home deals were intimidating to me. In hindsight, the numbers were not outrageous, but to someone who had negative dollars saved up, it might as well have been a lotto fortune.

I thought back on the decade that had past since we were all attending Arizona State. What had I done with myself? I was on the financial treadmill to nowhere. What had I spent all my money on in the last decade that not only didn’t leave me with any type of nest egg but had actually put me below zero? I pretty much had nothing to show for it. The sum of my net worth was a used Saturn Ion and a small 401K from a previous job. Not even enough to cover the wedding and down payment on the house. Then the shame of all the nights out, the surf trips to San Diego and live concerts came tumbling around me. The anger of living in the trendy part of Scottsdale, getting tables at the poshest nightclubs and dating materialistic women in the past washed over me. The fear of being a decade behind and wondering if we could afford a child gripped me. What had I done? I had lost so much time living a life that didn’t even make me happy… in fact I was miserable back then.

I was 34 years old and starting at the ground floor… actually the basement.

After some frantic days and nights where I couldn’t sleep, my wife snapped me out of it. I cannot tell you what a blessing the right partner can make in your life. My wife sat me down and asked me “What are you worried about?”. I told her about my buddies and their financial position and how we were nowhere near that stage. Dave Ramsey alone was not going to get us to that level. After rambling and spouting off for a half hour, you know what she said to me? She just said “So What? Let’s start right now”. A simple statement but with a brilliant sentiment.

After a couple of deep breaths, I realized she was right. We were going to be okay. We created a goal and communicated how we planned to achieve that goal. We were going to be intentional as a team to make it happen. We were starting a bit late but that was okay. The point is that we started and were making our goals a priority and a focus. There is no shame in that.

It really doesn’t matter what anyone else has done to this point. What are YOU doing to secure your financial future and hit your financial goals. The mistakes of your past are just that… in your past. Your past also does not define you or your future. You are the one who has control of your future.

Getting wound up about the financial positions of others is a fools game. Beating yourself up over mistakes is not productive in any way. What I should have done was learn and ask questions instead of panic.

There is a Chinese proverb that states: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago…The second best time is now.” I suggest you heed those words and leave the past in the past. Your financial future is as bright as you want it to be…. even from a late start

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6 Replies to “Shame, Fear and Loathing from a Late Start

  1. I hear you on this! Many of my friends got tech jobs right after college, while I was in grad school/post doc for 7 more years after college, making a very low wage. I heard them talking about all sorts of money-related things that I had no idea about and didn’t have enough money to care about. However, my exposure to those ideas gave me a leg up once I was making a decent salary, and it helped me catch up much more quickly. Your proverb is exactly correct!

  2. Honestly, I was blown away at their financial prowess! But just as you said, it pushed mr to educate myself and now I have a plan to catch up with them! It was tough at first but progress has eased my fear. Thank you for your feedback on the article!

  3. Thanks for the article.

    I am of a similar age as you are this is my exact situation(not in US though). The fact is that I was always under the impression that “everything will be alright” and never cared about evaluating my position in career and financially. I was a classic drifter with ever changing goal posts since forever.

    I now have a grip on myself and try and evaluate things but I feel it is still a struggle. It is a life time of wrong mentality and attitude that I am trying to get rid off.

    Good luck on your journey.

  4. Hello Arun,

    True that we had the wrong mindset but now that we have educated ourselves and see the light, we can make changes. Just keep focusing on the positive changes and avoid dwelling on the past. Look at the progress you and I have made by just realizing our situations and taking control of them! Even a small step in the right direction is better than drifting in the wrong direction. We got this! Thank you for reading the article! I really appreciate the comment at well. Take care!

  5. I feel your pain, but a bit worse. My late start is right now as per Chinese Proverb directions 😛 I’m 42 and just “discovered” the FI movement in the past month. A neighbor of mine sold her house and bought an income property…I was kind of blown away by her ingenuity! She’s 37 with a husband and 2 kids. Anyway, her enthusiasm for retiring early motivated me to start working towards a state of FI or FIRE myself. So, we’re in this together. Now is the best time! Best of luck reaching FI!

  6. Thank you and best of luck to you! Any start is better than not starting at all!!! Keep checking back for more posts!

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