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I’m less stupid than I thought

Ladies and gentlemen, I have some fantastic news to share with you…I’m not as dumb as I thought. In fact, I’d argue that I’m quickly approaching average intelligence. Booya for being un-stupid! I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately, especially when it comes to my finances. Turns out, I’ve accidentally made some pretty good choices.


I didn’t know a thing about money all through college. I was actually quite pathetic. I didn’t even have access to my savings account. (Confession: I use to call my mom and ask her to transfer money from my savings in to my checking ’cause I didn’t know how. Embarrassing.) I was ignorant.

Fortunately, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I had two credit cards while I was in college. I didn’t know a thing about they worked, so instead of use them, I just let them collect dust in the a drawer. Four years later, I graduated college with no C.C. debt, not realizing that was unusual.


I graduated in 2007. Luckily, I managed to find gainful employment shortly after. In a matter of months, I went from making $7,000/yr to $37,000. I had more money than I knew what to do with. I tried to spend it. Heck I even bought a motorcycle! It didn’t take me long to realize I’m just not a spender. Frugality is in my blood. I never had to the urge to buy a new car, or a new computer, or a new outfit. Turns out, that’s another huge blessing.


On my first day of work I had a ton of paperwork to fill out: health insurance, life insurance, etc. In the pile was a  401K form. I couldn’t even spell 401K, but for some reason I decided to throw 5% of my gross pay into it each month. Even though my 401K contributions went to a sucky investment vehicle for the first couple months (100% bond funds), I formed the habit of saving for retirement as early as I could.

The big picture:

Avoiding credit card debt, getting a job, and contributing to retirement were all pretty awesome, but the single best move I unknowingly made came from a conversation with a friend about Roth IRAs. Intrigued, I figured I should read up on Roths. That research snowballed in to an obsession with personal finance and the reason this blog exists.

Realizing I already had decent financial habits, I decided it was time to maximize my potential. And I’ve been doing just that for the last five years. It’s an ongoing process and I am definitely not the smartest kid in the room, but I’m excited my eyes were opened to personal finance at 22 and not 52.

Those are the best PF moves I’ve ever made. What have been some of your best PF moves? Maybe they were intentional decisions like never using a credit card. Or perhaps it was dumb luck, like not being able to afford a home at the top of the market which saved you from being upside down on a mortgage today.

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  1. Although I do wish I had moved away for university for the experience, pf-wise going to a uni close to home saved me so much money. I came out of it with a degree and no student loans.

    Another one I can thank my parents for- they put me in French immersion. Being fluent in a second language has nearly gotten me every job I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t have my current job without it. So French=making more money.

  2. You used the wrong word in the post title, so you’re still at least a little stupid.

    “Than,” man, “than.”

  3. Best Move was to buy a house that we could pay on one salary when we had 2 incomes. About 5 years into my mortgage, we bought another house so that my mom could move to town with us. If we bought the house we could “afford” I never would have had that kind of flexibility. It’s also a lot easier to keep clean when it’s smaller. Of all the choices I made, that was what allowed us to do other things, like fix our house up, travel, save for emergencies. If we were house poor, it would have been so much harder. Maybe someday we’ll upgrade, but I’d like to have a bunch of cash saved when and if that happens.

  4. I caught the spelling error too, but I won’t call you stupid.

    In my 20’s, my best pf moves were to not go in to credit card debt, to pay off my student loan early and to start contributing to my company 401k program as soon as I qualified.

    In my 30’s, our absolute best move was to buy a house that was BELOW our means and I continued to contribute to my 401k. Also, NO credit card debt.

    Now, I’m 41. Still no credit card debt and we max out our retirement funds.

  5. I caught the error too! LOL!

    My best PF move was starting to save for retirement at an early age as well; not only through my employer, but by opening up a separate RSP that we contribute to bi-weekly. Any profit sharing that comes my way goes into the RSP as well; my immediate co-workers are all going on about what they’ll be buying when they get that extra dough at the end of this month, and they think I’m nuts for putting in our retirement plan… getting taxes twice on that money just doesn’t appeal to me. We also opened a personal RSP for Hubby; we now both have retirement plans through our employers AND personal RSP’s through our bank.

    2nd best PF moves was buying a condo that was $90K less than what mortgage-man approved; they tried to talk us into buying something bigger and better… no thanks… we LOVE our condo, both our commutes are only about 10 minutes, and we have the flexibility to have a little fun, while paying down debt and saving for retirement.

    Last, gotta give the parents the shout-out they deserve for putting us in the French school system (not French immersion, but we were solely educated in French, all the way to college). Mom’s French, Dad’s Scottish, and when Dad immigrated to Canada (he lived with his aunt in Montréal), he saw how many doors are opened if you’re bilingual in both national languages. I’ve used it in every job ‘ve ever had (including my current one); bilingual people do tend to make more money (10%-15% more if I’m not mistaken).

  6. The best debt punching move I ever did was walk away from my mortgage.

    I know there are probably going to be a lot of hating about that but tough. The banks would have done (and do do) the exact same thing in my situation. The home was worth less than 50% of what I paid for it, the neighborhood was becoming dangerous and I still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars for a house I didn’t feel safe in. The banks wouldn’t work with us so we handed them the keys. My credit is suffering but I’m now off the hook for THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of dollars that would have taken over a DECADE for the house to earn back and cost me many more thousands in interest and principal payments trying to break even.

    It’s the first debt I’ve every decided not to repay but it’s the best debt punching decision I have ever made.

  7. Much like Jason, my item that I list here likely won’t be popular. However, getting a divorce was the best thing that’s happened to my credit report in a long time. I was married to someone who spent whatever cash he left the house with, regardless if it was $5 or $50. He always came home broke. If he didn’t have cash, he used the debit card – without bringing home receipts or telling me that he had even spent anything. Years passed and it never changed. That with a ton of other things brought on the divorce, but I haven’t been this optimistic about my financial future in 20 years.

  8. I think the best move I made was automating savings and debt payments. Without that I don’t think I would’ve been able to build my finances nearly as fast as I did. When we got married, we decided to continue with it. (My husband was already a saver and he had no debt). Now we have to tackle the student loan and then we’ll be debt free except for the house.

  9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AegiSite, Elle. Elle said: Automating savings can be a great move for me RT @punchdebt I’m less stupid then I thought! #yakezie […]

  10. Hm, I think I have two. At my first “well-paying” job, I signed up for the 401K, not knowing what it was. When I left that company two years later, it was worth about $2000, and it’s now in a private 401K and recovering NICELY from the heck that was the past few years.

    The second was when I was house-shopping. I knew I wouldn’t take care of a lawn or roof repairs, so I looked at condos. Cheap condos. I bought what I deemed a fixer-upper, as it had a country-style that I loathed, but I did nearly all the fixings myself. Tore out a built-in room divider-bookcase (ugly as sin and cut the breathablily from the living room to kitchen in half. After I removed it, my space looked so HUGE). Tore down the paneling. Painted. Put in new baseboards. Tore out the vanity and replaced it with a pedestal sink & new faucet (I hired a plumber-friend to hook up the pipes). Replaced two light fixtures. Took down ugly blinds. I had this massive sense of pride and accomplishment after doing all this work, and I increased the value of my home to boot. Booyah!

  11. I’d say insisting on buying an affordable home was our best overall choice. It has allowed to sock money away for emergencies, retirement, vacations etc. instead of just paying the mortgage. We bought only about half of what the bank was willing to give us, and this was before DH got a raise and before I started earning a real salary (and not just graduate scholarships and teaching assistantships). I can only imagine what they’d loan us now! Scary!

    I’d say another one would be marrying the right person on the right budget. Our wedding was quite modest, but everyone had fun, and we’re still happy almost 10 years later. I see friends with greater means than we had at the time spend double, triple and beyond what we spent. Their weddings are beautiful, but they are stressed over how to pay for everything and meet their other financial goals.

  12. Best moves? Definitely staying out of credit card debt and getting serious about budgeting. I have a lot to learn, though. Oi. I know my wife and I could probably be saving/investing more. I’d love any advice you have. I really enjoy this blog and you’re on my blog roll! Hope you don’t mind.


  13. What have been some of your best PF moves?
    1. Not allowing my credit card companies to increase my limit. I know myself and I like being able to pay it all off with less than 1check.
    2. Not opting for store cards (except Home Depot). This makes us use cash or our checking account to buy.
    3. Not getting rid of paper checks. I love having a copy of the canceled check for important bills each month.
    4. NOT BUYING A HOUSE DURING THE BUBBLE. It was tough to watch friends and family buy but now that I have a NICE home at an even nicer PRICE and with a great RATE. I feel good about our decision.
    5. Online interest savings accounts. I like having to wait 2 days for our money to hit our primary account. It makes us really evaluate “emergencies”.
    6. Making our kids food since they were infants. It keeps them healthier and they don’t ask us for candy/sweets/etc. Well except for McDonald’s…with their ingenious marketing!!!

  14. My best personal finance move besides being a saver is goal setting. I am so goal oriented, one could say I am obsessed! In my early thirties, I decided I wanted financial independence before I turned forty. I beat it by a year and three months. I set goals, break them down into daily tasks and stick with it until I achieve it. Am I obsessed or determined? Maybe a little of both.

  15. This is a fun post 🙂 I like having a chance to toot my own horn, so to speak.

    My best personal finance moves include:

    1. Spending the 6 months between graduation and my first job researching personal finance. Before that I knew absolutely nothing (which is why I signed off on 100k+ in student loans for my Ivy League education) except for the idea that I should never charge more on a credit card than I can pay off within that month (yay no cc debt!).

    2. Making full payments on my student loans during the grace period, and going to grad school full time while working (so I had an income but my loans were still in deferment, some of which were subsidized, so no interest accrued!).

    3. Luckily getting a job in Fall 2008, and contributing 10% to my Roth 401k as soon as possible (plus 3% match). Also starting up a Roth IRA while waiting for the 401k to be set up at work.

    4. Luckily (again) making my first stock purchase ever on the day after the market crashed in March 2009. It was in my Roth IRA, so I will never have to pay taxes on the 80% gain I’ve made since then.

    5. Starting an emergency fund and contributing to it regularly and automatically. When I suddenly had to meet some big deductibles after some car accidents, it was reassuring that I didn’t have to stress about pulling $750 out of nowhere.

    6. Marrying someone with similar spending priorities – we both enjoy spending money on our favorite activities and experiences, but since both sets of our parents were packrats, we hate accumulating “stuff”.

    7. Renting, even though everyone keeps telling us that buying is the way to go in Phoenix. Just because it’s cheap to buy a home here doesn’t mean we want the responsibility of maintenance, or to be tied down to one location (and trying to sell in a depressed market, since we are trying to move back East now).

    8. Getting a part-time job that pays $25/hr (about $100/week) and allocating all of that money toward extra student loan payments. This will cut several years off my debt repayment schedule.

  16. This is gonna sound weird but the best thing that happened to me financially was getting into debt!! After struggling to make minimum payments on credit cards, I started researching how to get out of debt and better manage my money. Through reading blogs like this one, reading finance books, and watching suze orman, I have completely changed my perspective on how to handle money and hopefully I can pay off everything like ninja in the near future.

  17. -Going to an in-state college and graduating with no debt
    -Buying used cars with cash
    -Renting instead of buying at the top of the market
    -Making good career moves (not waiting around for opportunities but seeking opportunities and being willing to move for the right jobs)
    -Living on a fraction of my income and investing the rest in 401K and non-retirement investments

  18. Best PF move: Buying Apple stock when the bubble burst in the early 2000s, when it was worth $25. Then it went through a stock split and kept rising and rising. My little investment went towards a house down payment and other assorted things. I’ve typically found that the stock market can be a great long-term investment when you buy and everyone else is selling.

  19. I’ve made a few pretty stupid mistakes in my past, but I think i’ve balanced it with a few good ones too.

    My best PF move? Always making a $1,000 contribution to my Super Fund every year (except 07-08 because I was … well, stupid). This meant that I got $1,000 or $1,500 free from the government for being so baller on a low income! Now my retirement fund is plenty happy at $7k (even though i’ve been earning around $10k every year) compared to my peers were they would be sitting at probably not even half that.

  20. Ok, are the cheeseburger’s frozen or prepared? Are we talking Krystal burgers or Quarter Pound Mickey D’s?

    In any event, if i had the distribution channels in place and we’re talking cooked burgers (not cooked weeks in advance of course, but magically on demand), I’m gonna opt for the burgers and sell them for $4 a piece.

    Boom! I just made you an extra 3MM.

  21. Best moves?

    Buying a 1-bedroom co-op apartment for under $90K 21 years ago and having a grand total of $22K left on the mortgage, rather than a house costing 3-4 times more and being up to my ears in payments.

    Finding Vanguard index funds about 10 years ago and moving my IRA there from Merrill Lynch. (I wish I had known 25 years ago what I know now, as I’m sure my net worth would be higher.)

    Getting in the habit of paying credit cards in full, without even waiting for the statement. (I got myself into credit card trouble around 1987-88, when I was travelling a lot for business and had to lay out expenses that the company later reimbursed. Instead of paying off the Visa card in full, I would keep a hundred here, a hundred there for myself, and it started to spiral to where I almost always had a $3K balance. My father loaned me the money to pay off the card, I paid him back in two years, and I’ve never carried a balance on my cards since.)

  22. – ditto on the in-state college!
    – getting out of debt as soon as I could
    – getting a secured credit card with a low limit to repair credit
    – forming a personal finance group with friends (now defunct)
    – monitoring my credit reports for things past 7-year statute of limitations
    – paying off credit card in full
    – saving emergency fund
    – learning about the FDCA ( and immediately calling an attorney and sending a cease and desist letter to the collection agency when an amount I *didn’t* owe from my old state school alumni went into collections…at year 8.

    – learning how to ask for more money!

    This one is thanks to a coworker. I was working an administrative job at the time and felt like I didn’t have any leveraging power, despite working for a very difficult partner (a position HR had difficulty keeping staffed). She’d worked at a large financial house and had made 6-figures. While she took a paycut to work at our less-stressful place of employment, she still made a lot and we were doing a very similar job. And I found out someone hired for another partner admin position was hired the same day as me with a nicer boss, less experience and a better salary. Enraged, I professionally asked my boss for an increase with a list of support documentations and have been able to ask for more money ever since (when appropriate!).

  23. I can’t believe how many people can buy houses that take 1 salary to pay off. I’m in NYC. If I found a 1br apartment for less than $350k that didn’t look like a piece of crap, I’d be in shock. But then, I guess I’m not here to own real estate?

  24. […] Punch Debt in the Face blogger Ninja finds he’s not as stupid as he thought […]

  25. Best PF move – taking out a loan to pay for my post-grad diploma program. After managing to make it through my bachelor’s degree without student debt, putting myself into debt to the tune of 26k for a 9 month program, was a risk – but paid off with an immediate 68% increase in pay, when I graduated and started a new job (compared to the job I left to go back to school). My income potential over my lifetime is so much greater, it’s not even comparable, and (possibly even more important) – I love my job (and really did not like my previous career)

  26. Recycled post without deleting the comments? 🙁
    Nice blast from the past, I do like Larry’s discovery of Vanguard, I feel the same but have not bought any Vanguard stuff yet…

    • Indeed. It becomes difficult to correct Ninja’s typos and grammatical errors when they’re already been corrected two years ago.

  27. I thought this post looked familiar……

    My best move was ignoring my raises. I got into deep debt (about $65k) when I was making around $45K a year. I was miserabt and stressed so I turned my life around and found a way to live within my means and still save. I now make over 3 times that, but haven’t changed my lifestyle at all and our networth is increasing by leaps and bounds. It’s a little bit scary actually (in a good way :)).

  28. I accidentally made a lot of money in my company’s ESPP by selling right before the tech sector had a huge drop.

    I purchased the max for almost a year (75% of my $70k a year salary). I sold my shares (at a huge profit, our stock was soaring), ended the ESPP, and used the money to put down over 20% on my first house, plus put a good chunk in savings. A month later the drop began and I wouldn’t have had the money if I’d have bought my house much later.

    Now, I would never put 75% of my salary in my company’s stock. Dumb luck is what that was!

  29. My best unintentional PF move was applying to a scholarship for a private college. I ended up getting the whole $32,000 a year paid for. As a teenager, I just wanted to get away and was slightly stupid too, and would have taken that money out in loans if I had no scholarship. I would probably still be paying off those loans now, LOL.

  30. This might sound strange, but marrying my smart, funny, handsome husband turned out to the be one of the smartest things I ever did for my financial life. At the time I married him he was an unemployed grad student making zero dollars, but I knew he was brainy and a hard worker and had good sense about money.
    Fifteen years later and we are better off than I ever imagined we would be. He makes a lot of money and his salary goes up regularly. He doesn’t believe in debt (outside of our mortgage). We went through Financial Peace University together and learned to communicate about our financial goals and dreams and we got organized.
    If things go as planned, by the end of next year (or even sooner) we will pay our house off early. We have money in savings, emergency funds, retirement.
    I didn’t marry him for his money, cause at the time he didn’t have any, and I supported us for quite a while. But marrying a thrifty guy who doesn’t believe in debt, who works hard/smart, and who believes in the same conservative money habits I believe in has helped us prosper as a couple. It makes me think of that book The Millionaire Next Door, where many of the first generation millionaires say that marrying the right person sets you up for success…and marrying the wrong person can keep you from ever doing well.

  31. Wow, sounds like you’re a lot like me. I never had money troubles either, and I also lucked into a lot of good decisions. Probably my best ones were not having a credit card in college, contributing to a 401k as soon as I started work, and continuing to live as a poor college student for my first year out of school. I got addicted to personal finance blogs last year when I lucked into a $100,000 windfall and had no clue what to do with it. So naturally I turned to the internet and I actually got a lot of good advice.

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