Are there any financial decisions you’ve made where you wish you could have a do-over? Are there steps you took — or didn’t take — that you would change if you could?

In a recent New York Life survey, 2,200 adults were asked about their financial regrets. Topping the list were:

  • Not starting to save for retirement early enough
  • Relying too much on credit cards
  • Not maintaining an adequate emergency fund
  • Not paying off credit card balances each month

In my early 20s, I ruined the engine of a perfectly fine car by not maintaining it. Today, my wife and I budget $75 per month per vehicle for maintenance and repairs and I’m ruthless about getting our vehicles maintained regularly.

That’s the value of making some mistakes, isn’t it? Learning from them. And especially, trusting God as we live through the consequences of them.

One of my favorite financial stories is the story of Scott and Karen. When they got married, Karen had $50,000 of non-mortgage debt. In the early days of their marriage, Karen often expressed regret over “my debt” and how it was preventing them from buying a home, especially as some of their friends were buying multi-unit rental properties.

Scott would always correct her, saying it was “our debt.” It took them seven years to pay off all the debt. Looking back, Karen saw God’s hand of protection in the debt. If they had bought a home when she most wanted to, it turned out that it would have been at the peak of the real estate bubble that sparked the Great Recession.

And the way they went about getting out of debt — pursuing the goal together, and giving generously along the way — built strong bonds in their marriage and in their relationship with Christ.

Another way to think about financial regrets is to try to anticipate regrets you might have in the future, and take steps to prevent them. Of course, we human beings are notoriously bad at envisioning what life might be like for us down the road. (Interestingly, researchers who are looking for ways to motivate people to save more for retirement have found success in using photo-enhancing software that shows people what they are likely to look like at age 65 or 70. Apparently, when people can actually see their future self, they’re more motivated to prepare for the future.)

Something I wrestle with is how to strike the proper balance between saving enough for the future and spending enough to make memories while our kids are still at home. I certainly don’t want the regret of having spent so much now that my wife and I are left with too little to live on in the future. But I also don’t want the regret of having saved so much that it prevented us from spending more to enjoy family experiences. At both ends of the spectrum, the dangers are clearly seen; finding the right mid-point isn’t so easy. (Dina Isola wrote a powerful post on this topic recently.)

What about you? What are some of your top financial regrets? What have you learned from them? How have you seen God at work in them? And what are you doing now to try to avoid looking back with financial regrets in the future?