Parking tickets are almost a rite of passage when you move to Los Angeles. You’re not a true Angeleno until you’ve racked up four or five of them. Everywhere you go, there are rules and meters and permits dedicated to how, where, and when you may park. It’s inevitable that, at some point, you will screw up and get a ticket; it happens.
But it still sucks.
So when I walked to my car after meeting a friend for a work date in Atwater Village and saw a white slip of paper tucked neatly under my windshield, I was thoroughly bummed. I’d been doing great financially — I just got a new writing gig, my budget was still intact for the month — but no, now my entire budget was derailed by this $50 mistake. Oh wait, this is Los Angeles, make that a $72 mistake.
If you’re anything like me, it’s not easy to get over money mess-ups like these. Maybe it’s a trait I inherited from my mom, who would spend days dwelling on a speeding ticket or overcharge or other unexpected and otherwise avoidable expense. Hobby Lobby once charged her ten cents extra for some candles and I swear, the woman marched back in the store and demanded her dime. I was sixteen years old and mortified, and maybe it sounds mortifying to you, too, but my mom grew up in poverty. Her idea of a dime and my idea of a dime are very different.
Enter the “Money Regret Budget”
I think most of us can all relate to the feeling of a financial setback, though. You kick yourself, blame yourself, and you can’t shake off the mistake. You might even experience a few traditional stages of grief. You deny: I’m sure I can fight this ticket. You get angry: They should have posted the sign more clearly!
Along those lines, I’ve even bargained with myself. My money mistakes were so consuming, I used to keep a “Money Regret Budget” to “earn back” my money mess-up. It can make you feel better about the money you’ve lost.
Anytime I had a financial setback, I would write down the amount of the mistake and work on getting it to zero. For example, let’s say it’s a parking ticket for $72. My Money Regret Budget would then be -$72, and I would add any savings or windfalls to that number. So if I got $15 cash back rewards on a credit card, I would add that amount to the budget, making it -$57. If I decided to skip the appetizer at dinner to save $8, I would add that to the budget, making it $-49. Repeat and repeat until I get to zero.
Of course, this doesn’t really mean you get that $72 back. It simply means you’ve saved $72. You could’ve still saved and not gotten a parking ticket and you’d have $144. You’re just making yourself feel better…but that’s kind of the point.
What Happens When We Dwell on Money Mistakes
It’s quite possible that the more you dwell on your financial mistakes, the more likely you are to repeat them. Part of the reason I dwell on setbacks is that I think beating myself up will solve the problem. If I devote enough time to rumination, I probably won’t repeat that mistake, right?
Not necessarily. While worrying can serve a practical purpose, there’s a big difference between practical worrying, like anticipating a job interview, and rumination, like dwelling on that stupid parking ticket. Worrying about the future can help you prepare for it (to a certain extent), but worrying about the past doesn’t do much good at all. In fact, research shows that punishing yourself over a mistake could make you more likely to repeat that mistake.
For example, one study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that subjects were more likely to go into debt during an imaginary trip to the mall when they were asked to remember past spending mistakes. And other research published in the Association for Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback discovered that failure made subjects develop anxiety and lose concentration, which got in the way of a future success.
But why does this happen? To put it simply, “success has a much greater influence on the brain than failure,” one MIT neuroscientist said to Scientific American. We seem to operate better when we’re in a more positive state of mind. Go figure. Turns out there’s science behind all that Tony Robbins stuff.
On the other hand, we do learn something from our mistakes, don’t we? I learned to always set a timer when I park in Atwater Village, and I haven’t gotten a ticket since. We should spend some time thinking about our mistakes if only to figure out how to fix them or keep them from happening again. But ruminating beyond that is probably just punishing yourself for no reason.