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81% of Americans have a financial regret — here's how to learn from those mistakes, according to a CFP

"Focus on what you can control and the opportunities that you still have available to you now."

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Money regrets are all too common: About four-fifths, 81%, of Americans have one, according to a Bankrate survey, while Thriving Wallet found that 1 in 4 Americans experience buyer's remorse.

"Many people look back and say, 'If I only had that $10,000 back' — but don't realize that [they] still have a lot of opportunities to put themselves in a very strong financial position and do a lot of great things for their finances," says Kevin Mahoney, a certified financial planner and founder of Illumint in Washington, D.C. 

It's common to find yourself regretful over dining out too often, for example, or not starting to invest earlier. Still, Mahoney says it's best to take stock of the decisions and move forward: "The ability to be aware and feel confident and not guilty about putting more toward those things, while learning from those mistakes or those purchases that you've regretted in the past, is ultimately a good thing."

Find the learning opportunity

Making a poor financial decision can help people take note of money habits that might have gone under the radar: "It's a very good way to help people understand how they actually want to use their money in the future," Mahoney says.

Think about what tools and habits you can put into place to avoid repeating the behavior that you're regretting. For example, you can't go back in time to start saving for retirement earlier, but you can get started now. You may not be able to return an expensive impulse purchase, but you could put roadblocks in place to help you be more mindful about future wants.

"Budgeting is painful for many, but people can become good at thinking through which types of purchases make their lives better and happier, especially with more common, recurring purchases," he explains. "They've learned to hopefully not do that again."

Budgeting is painful for many, but people can become good at thinking through which types of purchases make their lives better and happier.
Kevin Mahoney
certified financial planner and founder of Illumint

Don't be too hard on yourself

"I would encourage people to not beat themselves up about the past," Mahoney says. "We can't do much about it in the present. It's more about not allowing your frustration with yourself to influence how you make decisions going forward."

Instead of categorizing yourself as a bad spender, you could make a plan to change your habits. For example, if you splurged too much on an evening out with friends, make a savings plan to put away the same amount of money you spent.

"Focus on what you can control and the opportunities that you still have available to you now and in the future," Mahoney says.

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