How to Cope with Absent Minded Mistakes that Cost You Money

tow truckA few weeks ago, on a drizzly Saturday evening, my family and I went to my sister-in-law’s place for a low key dinner get together. My wife’s parents drove down earlier that day and joined us. It was a fairly uneventful evening (one might even say boring) that was spent primarily with my in-laws fawning over our 1.5 year old son as he willingly entertained them.

We departed around 8pm and I drove our son home because my wife and I had taken separate cars (she was out running errands prior). The drive home was only about 5 minutes, but my son was able to nod off within that short amount of time. I was not too far behind him as I was extremely exhausted for some reason.

There were absolutely zero available parking spaces in our complex and, not wanting to tote my sleeping son a lengthy distance in the wet weather, I pulled up alongside a fire zone curb next to our unit. Switching the emergency flashers on to be safe, I hauled my son inside and started the process of putting him to bed. In the meantime, my wife arrived home and, after coming in to check on us, went off to get ready for bed. I then did the same thing since I was inexplicably zombie like and already half asleep. My wife decided to watch some tv to unwind and I went straight to bed. I had a fantastic night sleep!

You already know what happened except I didn’t realize it until halfway through the next day when my wife was getting to attend a birthday party. It smacked me right in the face: “wait, did I…did I move the car last night? Surely I must’ve…right?” But I hadn’t and the vehicle was gone. Towed away in the middle of night as it rightly should have been. (Side note: for those of you that enjoy irony, cars always park in this fire zone area because parking spaces are at a premium. Except, they don’t do it to temporarily unload something. Rather, they selfishly use it as an actual parking spot for hours on end. In fact, several times people have left their vehicles in same exact spot overnight without being towed. Aside from violating the fire zone regulations, it’s also dangerous because cars come flying around the curve and there are almost always near accidents. So, we’ve oftentimes reported this to the complex management. Apparently they decided to increase enforcement at exactly the most opportune time!)

Anyway, how much of a financial setback was this absent minded mistake? It cost $350 to get my car back!! Talk about highway robbery.

Costly Absent Minded Mistakes

We all make bad decisions that lead to financial setbacks. It’s an unavoidable part of life. Sometimes the losses arise after a thoroughly researched decision while other times they result from being careless, impulsive, or lazy (which type of bad financial decision is worse though?). In this situation, the mistake definitely fits the latter category and those can sometimes sting the worst because you usually don’t expect them especially when they are absent minded in nature.

Getting towed isn’t the only unfortunate outcome of a careless mistake that has recently befallen our family. I shared the story of how a fairly expensive grill was destroyed not too long ago. In that write-up, I conveyed how I initially cast blame on and was angry with my wife for the mistake. I went on to later admit that I could have been more proactive in taking steps that would have avoided the costly mistake (and many commenters made it a point to inform me I was just as much at fault!). This time around, I fully shoulder all of the blame for getting towed. About the only thing my wife could have done is consciously connect the dots that she saw the car still sitting there when she came in and that I never went back out. Failing to do that in no way makes her culpable.

What to Do When You are Solely Responsible for an Absent Minded Financial Mistake

I’ll admit, justified or not, I did feel guilty for wasting $350. And, for days, I was kicking myself quite hard. After all, that amount of money is more than the monthly payment we have for that car. Worse yet, it equaled almost exactly the yearly cash back rebate we got from our American Express Costco cards. Yep, a year of cash back completely wasted. That’s hard to swallow.

So, what can be done in such a situation? Here’s what helped me:

  • Apologize – While I didn’t purposefully inflict harm or defy my wife’s wishes, I still felt the need to apologize especially since this was a substantial blow to our budget and sets us back a bit as we try to reach our financial goals. She wasn’t mad and she readily admitted she could envision herself making the same exact blunder. Nonetheless, I felt the need to apologize and quickly realized that trying to deflect blame was pointless. Also, I apologized to myself. It sounds silly, but really it’s not. You can’t keep kicking yourself for infrequent absent minded mistakes.
  • Learn from it – If it’s possible, learn from the mistake. Now, I certainly won’t be able to fully avoid committing needless, careless mistakes in the future. That’s part of human nature. That said, I certainly am more mindful of where I park now! So, if you can extract some meaningful lesson from the mistake then be sure to not forget it.
  • Sacrifice elsewhere – Make a sacrifice on something else to help offset the loss incurred. For example, if you’ve got a hobby that requires cash outflow, perhaps you hold off on any expenses until you recoup the cost of the mistake. Or, let’s say you were planning on going to your favorite musical artist’s upcoming concert. You can get back on track by foregoing it.
  • Earn extra income – This may not be so easy to do, but if you get paid for overtime you could pick up an extra shift or two. Or you could use the mistake as the impetus to start up a side hustle/business to supplement your income.
  • Move on – Above all, stop dwelling on it or harboring resentment towards yourself. Time helps you to accomplish this objective, but it can be tough at first. Just realize stuff like this happens no matter how careful you might be. Accept it and move on.

Have you made a similar boneheaded mistake that ended up being costly? What was it? How did you rectify the situation? If there was nothing you could do to resolve the matter, how did you deal with your internal feelings of guilt, anger, frustration, etc? Any advice or tips to add?

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Image courtesy of peteSwede at Flickr.

22 Responses to How to Cope with Absent Minded Mistakes that Cost You Money

  1. Holly@ClubThrifty March 6, 2014 at 7:10 am #

    Ha! I’m sorry to laugh but that is just too funny. We all do silly things like that from time to time. Don’t be so hard on yourself! =)
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted…Cash Money: $5,565 in February Income Plus Blog UpdatesMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia March 6, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

      The sting has lessened a bit, but I still wouldn’t mind having my $350 back!

  2. Money Beagle March 6, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    Oh, that moment of dread when it first dawned on you what you had done (or really, what you *hadn’t* done), I know the feeling well. That sucks that you didn’t ‘get away with one’ but at least you likely learned your lesson.
    Money Beagle recently posted…Where Are Your Old Employers Today?My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia March 6, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

      Yeah, it’s not a good feeling. It’s like a bewildered, heavy sinking feeling as it dawns on you what happened. But, hey, at least it was only towed instead of being stolen (I’m pretty sure I didn’t lock the doors since my original intentions were to go right back out and move it).

  3. Ryan @ Impersonal Finance March 6, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    Ugh, that’s a bummer! But at least you slept well? Last year, I was backing out of our driveway, staring at the house and thinking of what needed to be fixed, and scraped against the light pole. I didn’t fix it, because thankfully it’s not too bad a scratch, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel like a huge idiot.
    Ryan @ Impersonal Finance recently posted…5 shows you should be watching on NetflixMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia March 6, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

      Yes, I should take solace in the fact that I slept well. Although, if I’m going to spend $350 for a good night’s sleep, I’d rather it be for a night at a 5 star hotel!

      Sorry to hear about your car mishap. Feeling like an idiot is no fun, is it?

  4. Emily @ evolvingPF March 6, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

    I wrote a post about a dumb mistake I made just yesterday! It wasn’t quite as costly as yours, though. We felt really terrible until it was rectified but then were able to move on. We had the money to cover the mistake so we didn’t need to prolong beating ourselves up.
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted…It’s Nice When Money Can Fix Your ProblemsMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia March 7, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

      We had the money to cover our mistake too. It just is tough to know that it had to be wasted like that. Moving on is key though…glad you guys were able to do so. We have too, although I paid the $350 via credit card and the billing cycle hasn’t completed yet. So, it’ll be on my next statement as one last stinging reminder.

  5. Little House March 7, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    Everyone makes mistakes at some point for some reason, last year Mr. LH took a right turn on a red in a very confusing intersection. That ended up being a $600 mistake. I really couldn’t get too made at him since it was a new intersection and the lights were very confusing. All we could do was not make the same mistake again. In your case, it sounds like the two of you were both dead tired and there’s not a whole lot you could do except get more sleep! But I’m guessing that’s pretty hard to do with a toddler.
    Little House recently posted…Hectic Week Means Less TimeMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia March 7, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

      Yep, you’re right. My mistake in this situation is excusable. It’s just hard to forgive yourself sometimes like that when it’s pretty costly. That’s why I made sure to mention the need to forgive yourself. And, yikes, $600 is a pretty hefty ticket. I thought right turns on a red light were legal as long as you yield to oncoming traffic?? Was there a red arrow? That’s the only reason I can think of for such a traffic violation.

  6. Suburban Finance March 8, 2014 at 9:06 am #

    I hate this kind of spending! Totally unexpected and a pure definition of ‘waste of money’. But the good thing is, there’s always something to learn and at least now you’ll make sure you won’t repeat the same mistake! 🙂
    Suburban Finance recently posted…Paying for the Price of Convenience With Online Grocery ShoppingMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia March 8, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

      I won’t make this same mistake anytime in the near future, that’s for sure! There’s no guarantee I won’t make a different absent minded mistake that ends up being costly (I am getting older an more forgetful after all!) although I’m usually pretty good at avoiding these types of goofs.

  7. Kylie Ofiu March 8, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    It can be hard being the one responsible for costly mistakes. But your tips at the end are spot on – apologize, learn from it, sacrifice, make more money and move on. No point dwelling on it.
    Kylie Ofiu recently posted…How to find work/life balanceMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia March 9, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

      I’d suggest that putting my tips into action would get easier the more times you do them, but that would be a bad thing because that means you’d be making repeated mistakes!

  8. Mel @ brokeGIRLrich March 9, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    Ugh. That’s exactly how I feel every time I get a speeding ticket. I really need my next car to have cruise control. I felt especially bad one time when we were running late and I sort of egged on my ex-boyfriend to drive a little faster. He had never gotten a ticket in his life – needless to say, that wasn’t true by the end of that trip. He was not pleased. And I felt like a jerk.

    On the flip side, I’ve gotten several tickets over the years. I almost prefer when there’s no one to blame but yourself and you are responsible for the repercussions. It’s so much better than your actions causing repercussions for another person.
    Mel @ brokeGIRLrich recently posted…I Love Free Stuff: 4 Great Free Sample WebsitesMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia March 9, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

      Yes, for sure the guilt is much worse when someone else shares in the repercussions. That’s why sincere apologies are in order.

      And, no more speeding, Mel!

  9. Kay @ Green Money Stream March 9, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    That’s terrible. $350 is definitely a costly mistake. We’ve all been there though. I can’t remember a mistake costing me that much, but one thing I do too often is forgetting to return items to the library and I get dinged with the late fees. That’s a pretty stupid mistake.
    Kay @ Green Money Stream recently posted…Rattlesnake Wrangling and 5 Other Side HustlesMy Profile

    • Mr. Utopia March 10, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

      I imagine it would take a long time for library late return fees to accumulate to $350! The magnitude of the cost certainly comes into play.

  10. March 11, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    All of us have been there at some point. My last absent minded mistake was forgetting to make a credit card payment on time, it only cost us $5 in interest but after advising people on our blog to always make their payments on time that mistake really hurt. It definitely reminded me that I need to always be willing to be gracious with others when they make similar mistakes, because it could easily happen to me. recently posted…How Much Do You Need in Your Emergency Fund?My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia March 11, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

      That mistake sounds rough – not in dollar terms, but rather in damage to your pride! I’ll bet your blog readers weren’t critical or wouldn’t have accused you of being hypocritical though. There’s a big difference in inadvertently forgetting to make a credit card payment and not paying because you’re slacking off or being irresponsible.

  11. krantcents March 14, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    I used to have a partner who did those things! I tossed it off as age or something. I admit I make mistakes, but not too often. I made an illegal turn and ticketed a number years ago.
    krantcents recently posted…Budgets and Diets Are a Waste of Time – Redux!My Profile

    • Mr. Utopia March 15, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

      I put myself in the same category – my mistakes don’t happen too often (at least not careless ones that cost money). That might be part of the reason why it’s tough for me to deal with when they do happen.

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