Dumb Financial Decisions: The Wrong Way to “Pay Yourself First”

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Many personal finance experts stress the importance of “paying yourself first.”

According to Investopedia, paying yourself first means automatically saving a portion of each paycheck. Money is routed from your paycheck directly into a savings or investment account. Before you begin paying monthly living expenses or making other purchases, you’ve already put some money into savings.

One of the simplest ways to pay yourself first is routing a portion of your paycheck into your employer’s 401(k) plan. I’ve done this ever since I started working. The savings I have built up in my 401(k) are a major reason we may have a chance to pursue early retirement! As an added benefit, many employers match a portion of your 401(k) contributions.

While a 401(k) is probably the simplest and most common way for Americans to pay themselves first, it’s not the only way. Routing a portion of each paycheck into a savings account, credit union account, or brokerage account are other ways to pay yourself first. Essentially, any portion of your paycheck that isn’t going right into a checking account could be considered paying yourself first.

Last week, I received my annual bonus for 2018.

Being fairly responsible with my finances, I’ve generally saved the vast majority of bonuses I’ve received over the years. One of my first bosses suggested I should live off my paycheck and save my bonus. Given my conservative nature, I probably would have done that anyway. But it was still definitely good advice!

Over the years, I’ve seen colleagues use bonuses to lease fancy new vehicles. To pay for exotic vacations, and update their wardrobes with the latest fashions. To go out for expensive dinners, and attend hot new shows.

For the most part, I’ve invested the bonuses I’ve received in the past into CDs, stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Two years ago, we used my bonus to help fund our rooftop solar panels.

Much less exciting than the way many of my colleagues have spent their bonuses over the years!

But I’m probably a lot closer to financial independence than most of them!

This year, however, I acted more like some of my co-workers, and paid myself first – in the completely wrong way!

A week before I even knew what my bonus would be, I used some of the money I expected to receive to make a purchase.

And to make things even worse, I bought something nobody actually needs!

A few months ago, I saw an advertisement for something that reminded me of good times growing up in the 1980s. And I’ve been unable to get it out of my mind since then.

So this year, I paid myself first, by “investing” in a home arcade system for our basement.

Yep… that beast now lives in our basement!

The unit I purchased has over 1,000 games on it. Including many of my all-time favorites, like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, Burgertime, Space Invaders, Rampage, and hundreds more!

It was an entirely unnecessary and extravagant purchase. Which is why I’m classifying it as a Dumb Financial Decision!

But it’s already provided our family with hours of fun time together. And introduced our children to some of the games Mrs. ROMT and I played when we were their age. Last weekend, we had family in town to visit, and everyone, regardless of age, spent a little – and in some case a lot! – of time playing on the machine.

One of my nieces, who is in kindergarten, had a fun time playing Pac-Man with my Mom. An older niece enjoyed playing Frogger with our children. My siblings and I stayed up late one night, checking out dozens of games we last played together decades ago. Even Mrs. ROMT has enjoyed playing old school video games with the family, despite some initial reservations about the wisdom of my purchase!

Which is why although paying myself first the way I did was a Dumb Financial Decision by the letter of the law, it feels like a pretty good decision by almost every other standard!

Have you made any “Dumb Financial Decisions” you now look upon fondly?

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