Embrace the April Call to Action (You Could Win $100!)

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Money Expert Analyzing Balance SheetsIt’s April, which happens to be Financial Literacy Month—a 30-day-long holiday dedicated to helping people of all ages learn about the importance of money smarts.

It’s also been one year since we launched our monthly calls to action, with the goal of engaging readers with their money—as well as each other.

In the past 12 months, we’ve met many inspiring people, including Caitlin, who’s tackling ambitious savings goals for everything from an emergency fund to a trip to Japan, and Mark, whose family members match the younger generation’s IRA contributions. Thank you to all of the winners who shared their experiences!

This month, to kick off Financial Literacy Month, we want to know:

What’s the toughest financial lesson you ever learned—and how did it help make you smarter about money?

Tell us about your struggles, your mistakes, your slips … and how it has helped increase your financial IQ.

Once you do, you’ll be entered for a chance to win $100! And be sure to use your email address when you comment—it won’t be visible to other users—so we can notify you should you win.

Open only to legal residents of the 50 states and the District of Columbia who are at least 18 years old as of the date of entry. Premium users are not eligible. Contest runs from April 1, 2014, through April 25, 2014. We will select the most compelling entry as the winner, and his or her story may be published on the site.

LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc. that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the people interviewed in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.

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  • Amy

    The toughest financial lesson for me was not having enough savings or an emergency fund. I was at risk of unemployment on the verge of a lay-off last year and did not have an emergency fund. I was entirely focused on paying down my private student loan (high interest) and thought that was the financial decision that was more sound. I hadn’t honestly considered the risk of losing my job, not enough anyway to save up. While I still don’t have much saved up and my student loan remains my number one financial priority, I auto-transfer a small amount every month from my checking to savings that I know I can be okay without for the month. I’m letting the small amount build-up and I’m a little more prepared for a rainy day.

  • Evie Oh

    My hardest financial lesson learned was to always have a nest egg. During a summer internship in college, I had a sudden medical emergency. After the procedure, I was left with most of the costs since I was supporting myself. Fortunately, I had saved up much of the cost of my co-pay and was able to bounce back financially through aggressive saving measures. It’s never too soon to start saving and thinking about how to protect yourself from sudden financial risk.

  • Shalee818

    The toughest lesson I’ve ever learned was NEVER co-signing a loan for a family or friend! I learned the hard way. My friend wanted to purchase laptops for her children for Christmas. She needed a co-signer and I immediately jumped in to help her because I knew that her kids needed one for school. The monthly payments were only $17/mo. To me, that was a deal! She made way more money than I did so I did not think it was going to be hard to do. Anyway, months passed, well more like 5 years passed and she paid NOTHING! The bank came after me like a bull seeing red. I had to pay $900 more than the original amount because of late fees! Of course, my credit score went low and I lost a lot of my money! Lesson learned! Do not, no matter how confident you feel, NEVER co-sign a friend or family member.

  • Cheryl

    I have finally cancelled any or all credit cards to clothing companies. On 2 separate occasions I had in store merchandise cards and they wouldn’t take them for payment on what I charged. So though I didn’t have any extra fees just the fact that I had to essentially pay it out of my pocket again was very frustrating.
    I also try to have some money taken out of my check and put into savings before I get paid myself. That is my emergency savings.

  • khrivas

    The hardest lesson I learned was about investing. I learned buy QUALITY – buy stock in brands or companies you feel are doing a good job – either consistently putting out high quality product or supporting strong initiatives. No sense gambling – buy quality you can hold long term. Keep in mind you have not lost any money until you actually sell your stock – so if you are buying quality, you can, and should, hold on to the stock for the long term….and you will be able to sleep at night

  • Heidi

    The hardest financial lesson I’ve had to learn is not to get too comfortable. My husband and I were very fortunate to graduate college without any school loans and to save up a 6-month emergency find early on. Unfortunately, as we were moving on to our next goals, we learned that we had miscalculated what we needed to save for taxes which meant writing an unexpected $3,000 check to Uncle Sam. The very next month we totaled a car and had to write another $4,000 check for a new one. We don’t take for granted that our parents had taught us to be good enough with our money to have enough to cover those expenses, but it really set us back as we’re both considering going back to school and looking forward to buying a house one day. It’s not enough just to save for the expected. If that’s all you do, that money will go towards unexpected things.

  • BreezyBree

    I grew up in a household that was pretty lax with money and budgeting. “Oh, it’s only $20/$50/$100, it’s no big deal, it’s only money!” Needless to say I adopted that attitude as well on any and all types of expenses- from buying the expensive bottle of wine at the grocery store to justifying unnecessary vacations- and could never understand WHY I couldn’t make ends meet each month without the use of a credit card and watching my credit card balance increase rapidly. As soon as I finally realized that Every Dollar Counts,” literally, it has made all the difference in the world. Paying attention to how each and every dollar is spent and actively comparing it to my budget has been my biggest success tool in getting out of debt and controlling my finances.

  • Lisa Raymond

    My biggest lesson learned was moderation. I can have things, but not all at once. I can collect things, but not everything. I can have dessert, but not with every meal. Learning moderation has helped me to pay off my mortgage early, have an emergency fund in the bank, (Sadly, not earning much interest.) and put money into a retirement account. My husband and I just bought our first rental property. I wish we had learned moderation sooner. We will reach retirement age in 15 years. If we had done all this sooner, we could retire early and enjoy the years longer.

  • lguest

    The hardest financial lesson I’ve learned is you don’t know what you don’t know until someone you loves dies, leaves no will, or financial documents, and has been out of the country working as a contractor, leaving behind the family to deal with no insurance and a IRS audit.

  • lguest

    This major life event made me realized how unprepared as a family we were in dealing with the with the issue of death and taxes, This has made me become a strong advocate for personal financial education and planning. I have to keep examining my wants and needs, and my goals. Having a planner with information for what my family or love ones need to know will not be needed soon, but will keep my records in check and up-to-date.

  • Renice

    Not having money saved in case of a job loss or other emergency situations, not shopping around or avoiding purchasing cable, and not being more diligent of not spending money unnecessary items that I don’t even need or can afford.

  • Suzy Day

    My BIGGEST regret was taking a personal finances class in college…the year AFTER I received $17K in a college trust. Before I was 21, the trust paid for some of my college expenses (thanks to a brother who put it into place for me), and when I turned 21 it was turned over to me to manage my college expenses.

    I was in credit card debt and had lots of expenses, and blew through all the money. That next year in Finance class I learned what $17K would have looked like if I would have invested even SOME of it–or even if I would have used it for tuition and, therefore, wouldn’t have $27K in student loan debt today.

    I think personal finances should be REQUIRED for all high school Juniors (so they have a year to save/prepare for post high-school plans). It is ridiculous that we send 18 year olds into the world with absolutely no information about loans, credit cards, budgeting, living costs, investments, saving, etc. I worked for my alma mater for 5 years and talked to students about their finances every chance I got!

  • Nancy P.

    My husbands fantasies have cost me .We still struggle.He took a car loan that cost $945 monthly which could of been used towards a mortgage.After he lost his job I had to take over all of the household debts which was hard only then I realized the importance of an emergency fund.

  • Pam

    The toughest financial lesson I have learned is that as we grow older, there is less of a margin for making big expenditures such as moving and relocating. At some point, a person needs to step back and look at the big picture of life. I am now digging myself out of a huge financial hole due to credit card debt. And, whereas I had a nice emergency fund 10 years ago, that is gone, eaten up by moving and moving again. My focus has shifted to living in the moment, enjoying what I have and where I am, not what I have or could have. It’s been a tough lesson and it will take me another two years to dig out of this hole.

  • Bahtshevah

    The toughest lessons I ever learned was to not allow anyone to use my credit cards and rack up debt I am obliged to pay nor loan (which equates to giving) money to help pay for someone else’s lifestyle. I will never give my financial blessing away to people who are foolish with theirs!

  • mara

    the toughest lesson was to realize that sometimes following what I know is right financially means disappointing people whose approval mean a lot to me…and I have to be OK with that. My parents didn’t quite understand my decisions (buying a used car, cutting down vacations, and in general not having the luxuries that someone with my income generally has) and it was difficult to continue on my course instead of giving in to the pressure. I just try to think that this “disappointment” is the short-term price of one day having the financial security I will need to have if they need to be taken care of as they get old (saving for the future hasn’t been a priority in their plan…they are believers that money is made to spend it)

  • Zeena Kimi

    My toughest financial lesson has been repeated by me time and again. I loan money that I do not have.
    I had finally re-developed a good relationship with my money: Bills paid on time and even a small savings. And then….a friend in need! In less than 24 hours, I destroyed a half year’s diligence!
    I saved my friend and betrayed myself! 3 months later, I have yet to be repaid but this is what I learned:
    * Shakespeare said it best: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be!”
    * Money decisions should NEVER be made emotionally.
    * We must set standards for ourselves and abide by them.
    * When in doubt, seek advice: Proverbs 15:22 states:
    Without counsel purposes are disappointed; but in the multitude of
    counselors they are established.
    * Painful lessons are most memorable.

  • Arielle

    For certain, it’s been the difference between “what I can afford,” and “living within my means,” in the years following college graduation. When I look at some of the spending decisions I’ve made, I definitely could have done better. Just because I can afford the 1,300/month apartment doesn’t mean I couldn’t have been just fine in the one for 1,000 a month. In general, I wish I had adopted the “just because I can, doesn’t mean I should,” attitude about money a lot sooner… I’d have a lot more in savings if I did! Because I didn’t, I was forced to settle on a new job quickly instead of really taking my time to look when I was between jobs last year.

  • 741

    The hardest lesson I learned financially was not to ever take a pay day loan again. Their interest rates are horrible. Pay day loan companies are not helping anyone except the company that owns the store. All pay day loan companies and stories should be closed.

  • Alissa Roy

    The hardest financial lesson I’ve had to learn is that there is more than one way to manage your finances, and what has worked for you for years may not always suit your needs. For a good decade I managed my checkbook and budgeted through a homegrown computer spreadsheet. I could forecast my expenses pretty easily, and I was still putting money aside into savings without any trouble. Within the course of one year, I got married, bought a house and had a baby. My husband became a stay-at-home dad and we started living on only one income. I was very proud of my method of budgeting, and thought it was still working out great, but the credit card debt started building up, and I couldn’t figure out why — well, except for some overspending, but the spreadsheet said it all should work. It wasn’t until I plugged ALL of the debts and my monthly income into the LearnVest tools that I realized that we were NOT okay, and it was time to take serious action. By this time we carried more than $15,000 in credit card debt and several additional installment loans such that our debt payments took up my entire paycheck. Taking a holistic view of our net worth and where the money was going monthly (budgeting) was a revelation. In the past 6 months, we made extra payments on a loan with high interest in order to pay it off, consolidated some other debt at a lower rate, traded in a car that was more than we could afford, changed cell phone plans, and even changed our eating habits. I had always been so good with money that it had hurt my pride that things had gotten so bad. It was not until I accepted that I needed to learn more about managing personal finances that I could stop the fiscal bleeding and get us back on track, and that is something else I can feel proud of!

  • Alex

    The hardest lesson I learned is that managing money has so many components to it that if you don’t start forming good habit when you HAVE money, you won’t be prepared for when you don’t. I had a steady job and paid off all my credit cards on time. My only existing debt was my student loan. In 2012 I lost my job and along with it my health insurance, my retirement contributions, and of course regular income. I had NO idea how to handle this. The next two years were a series of self-indulgent “I deserve this” purchases, the inability to save, begging the Universe not to let me get seriously sick, and a stagnant 403(b) (I worked at a nonprofit). My credit card debt huge because, despite my unfortunate circumstances, I didn’t have a real appreciate for good financial habits to begin with. Had I been smarter about money from the beginning and taken the time to full grasp how important a budget and awareness of dollars earned vs. spending, I probably wouldn’t be in as much of a hole now. I have a full-time job again and now the majority of my income is spent trying to get out of needless debt. I have a debt snowball that I’m sticking to, but the amount of money I’m spending to get my financial life life back on track makes me feel so bad.

  • Princessa

    The hardest financial lesson I learned was never share an account with anyone. My ex-boyfriend and I lived together since I was about 17 and we shared a bank account. When I left and moved back to my home state I thought I had successfully closed our joint accounts. But I didn’t. About a year later I started receiving collection notices saying I owed a bank 500 dollars and it was going to collections. For years and years and years I had to explain that collection on my credit report in order to work at banks and for the government. 500 dollars almost stopped me from being able to have the career I wanted. It was tough to get out of and eventually I cleared it all up. But I have never shared an account with anyone again.

  • Doris

    My biggest and toughest financial lesson I learned has been to not be passive in our household’s finances. I love my husband, but the truth is, he is an impulsive spender. He makes decent money by working in the medical field, however for the first few years of our marriage, we would go walk around in local stores, “just to look around”. And of course, temptation would ensue. When I would be worried about the ever growing number of items in the buggy, he would say that he would be getting paid in a few days, and somehow convince me that we needed all this stuff. At first, being a homemaker, I used to think “The man works hard for his money, I do not want to deprive him from enjoying it!”. Then, he was out of work for a whole year for health related issues, so I had to go out to work to provide for our family of 5. Oh boy, was it eye-opening! I was making literally around $25,000, which was way less than he was making, and we could still pay our bills because were living below our means!!!!!! We just realized how foolish we were for shopping away money we could have saved as emergency fund! Fast forward 3 years later, He is back to work, and I am about to work full time as well. We have decided to put all my earnings in a savings account to buy a house in a few years. I am actually grateful that we went through that period of hardship to realize our foolish ways and make sure we do not grow old regretting it. We have 4 children, and we would love to leave them a legacy of hard work, frugal living and smart saving. He is still a spender, but we have worked out an allowance for the both of us,and we need to consult the other person for any expense above $100. I advise all the stay-at-home mothers out there to be involved in the family’s finances and help their mates manage the family’s finances. And do not be afraid to speak up if you see a dangerous spending pattern, because guess what? You are all together in the same boat!

  • Mariam

    Being a “frugal shopper”, I enjoy–no, I thrive–on finding good deals! It is that natural high that any shopaholic would understand! So, scouting thrift stores was my favorite past time! I would fill my closet with new items that would lose their luster the second they would become part of my wardrobe! So, of course, I was living paycheck to paycheck, and the smallest financial emergency would put me into a panic attack! I had to face the truth after reading an article one day….I WAS ADDICTED TO SHOPPING!
    I shopped when I was sad, bored, excited, nervous, lonely, stressed, you name it. I realized I was not getting any younger, and I had to set firm financial goals and stick to it instead of trying to fill a void in my life with stuff. Let’s face it, just because something is on sale, it does not mean that it is a good deal for me as long as I really did not need it. This is money I could have put into my savings. Even spending $30 a week at a thrift store would add up after a few weeks. So, I started studying myself and recognize any trigger. I cut cold turkey going into shops and unsubscribed from stores’ newsletters. I started “shopping in my closet”, I have so many clothing items and shoes I have never even worn! And nowadays, I would ask myself the question “Do I really need it or is it a want?” and would put stuff down at the store to come out empty-handed… I feel so proud of myself, knowing that my life is much more than acquiring things, but rather to share precious moments with friends and family. It is a daily battle, but a simple check into my savings reassures me that I am on the right track.

    God bless!

  • Nickle

    The hardest lesson I’ve learned was knowing how much money I’ve spent that I DIDN’T HAVE TO for groceries!!! Since I’ve started couponing (ONLY buying things i need/use) and using those coupons during sales and tracking my coupon use – I’ve saved $500.00 from the 1st of this year. Turns my stomach to see how much money that I wasted last year not using my coupons and taking advantage of sales! It takes a little time to organize your coupons and get on the right sale cycles for your area – but it’s worth it!

  • Patti Griner

    The hardest financial lesson I have had to learn is to manage my checking account in the current computer world where everything is done instantly. Back in the old days you wrote a check and had maybe 4 or 5 days before it was back at your bank. If you needed something a couple days before payday you could go get it, write a check, and be safe till you got payed. It doesn’t work that way anymore. I think I have finally gotten a handle on it, but it has not been easy.

  • Michelle

    Always be careful to find out what the interest rate is when borrowing money or making a purchase you are making payments on. Sometimes, it’s just not worth it! Also, only use credit cards for a big purchase here & there. Using it too much can get you into big trouble!