Money fails: learning about money the hard way

6 min | 20 May 2024

Chanté Joseph
Chanté Joseph

It's hailing, and my outdoor furniture is drenched. During the heatwave, I impulsively bought the first outdoor furniture set I saw. I didn’t overthink reviews, how comfortable it would be or if I really needed a four-person set when I live alone. Now, my garden set is taunting me from the freezing cold outside.

Talking about money, especially your most thoughtless purchase, can be embarrassing. However, you're not alone in those cringe-inducing money fails. Sometimes, the only way to do better is to learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. I asked my network about their money fails and what it taught them about making better spending choices. Here is what they said.

Money fail: £220 money manifesting coaching class

My biggest money fail was a money manifesting course by life coaches who had no idea what they were talking about. I felt so stupid for falling for what was basically a multi-level marketing scheme, and I lost money in the process. It was a huge fail.

The woman leading the course was a streetwear designer turned life coach. I was seduced by the fact that she came from the design world and looked like she was making a lot of money on her terms. For context, I’m also a designer and, at the time, was fed up with dealing with managers and clients.

She partnered with a 'financial guru' to offer a money manifesting class. After the first session, I asked myself, ‘What have I paid for?’. There was no accurate financial advice in the class, just magic. I was still frustrated with my job and £220 poorer as well as feeling embarrassed for falling for that scheme.

Cami, 40

Money fail: £36,000 (plus materials), Art School

Going to art school and becoming an artist was my biggest money failure. I love being an artist, but being unable to pay rent and bills and working a part-time job I hate for a minimum wage makes it not worth it.

Art school was £9,000 a year for four years, and I probably spent £1,000 on materials annually. I've worked as a professional artist for three years since I graduated; my studio is £200 a month plus £1,000 a year in supplies.

My money fail led me to do a Masters in Curation instead of Fine Art, so I could hopefully access better-paid work. I think being an artist is unrealistic for most people who don't have savings to fall back on. Despite success, I know artists who still have to keep up 'secret' part-time jobs just to pay their rent.

Lily, 25

Money fail: £4,000 vintage dressing table from Miami

I bought a £4,000 vintage dressing table that I barely use. At the time, my gut told me I should buy it, but now I realise I could have managed with something from Ikea. I want to say this is a rarity, but it’s not.

If I see something I like and am deeply moved by it – I just get it. I believe that money will always come back to me, so I don’t really rationalise my purchases; I just accept that I might have to be upset in the future.

Alegria, 30

Money fail: £30 cheetah print trainers

In my first year of uni, I bought a pair of cheetah print trainers with my last £30. Although it doesn’t sound like much, it began a destructive cycle. I spent the rest of the term dipping into the money my parents sent me off to uni with. I looked at those savings as an endless pot – instead of the emergency fund my parents had carefully saved for me – and never really recovered until I graduated.

I don’t know where the shoes are today, but from that experience, I learned that I have some problems with impulsivity and recklessness that I need to work through. Looking back, I had to teach myself everything I knew about money, mainly through tough times. I think not knowing anything to begin with, plus having a lot of money for the first time, was likely going to be a disaster. I learnt to forgive myself and move forward.

Isaiah, 26

Money fail: £1,500 on post-university travel

I was planning on moving to London after uni for my placement year and crash with mates until I locked down accommodation. I asked my friends how much they spent on travelling for a month and they all said £1,000 – so I thought I’d be fine with a £2,500 budget, the last of my savings. I planned to visit ten cities in four weeks. However, I'm sure they downplayed the cost of travelling, and their parents bailed most of them out in the end.

I went £500 over budget, which I thought would put me in okay stead for the move. But when I returned to London, I was sofa surfing for a month, and the sudden change in the cost of living was terrifying with the little reserves I had. The 20-year-olds I was hanging out with at university were often international students or had absolutely no concept of 'nothing to fall back on'. Sometimes they'd lie about how much they had to spend, which can affect your financial judgement. Although it was the most freeing and enlightening thing I’ve ever done, I hugely regretted going travelling at that time. I’ll never again take a holiday, especially across multiple destinations, without having a lot more savings.

Lucy, 21

Money fail: £1,000 intensive driving course

I spent £1,000 on a one-week intensive driving course because I desperately wanted to learn how to drive for a job I was starting soon. It was the worst week of my life, and in the end, I didn't even need a car, as I moved closer to work instead of commuting. It still took me another two years to pass my test.

This experience definitely taught me to be less impulsive and think through all of my possibilities before purchasing a service that seemed urgent at the time.

Lucy R, 26

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