Some Financial Mistakes – The Upsides and Downsides


This started out as a whole grilled fish at our AirBnB in Sonoma.  Learning to cook good food is the opposite of a financial mistake.


I was one of those scholarship lucky 18 year olds with a knack for doing standardized tests very well without having to work too hard at it.  I also grew up in a small dying town in Upstate, NY with simple values.  Looking back it was a decent place to grow up and stay out of trouble.  My old man was a prison guard and mom stayed at home and we had the usual “stuff” that any country family had, but we were 6 miles from the nearest town and social time was tough with a corn field on one side, an orchard on another, and a neighbor and some woods on the others.  I learned to love sports and even with a homemade training routine was the top cross country runner for 3 years in my crappy little town.  I had the grades and credentials and couldn’t wait to get far away from there.

Well, I landed in Norfolk Sucks, Va with a full academic scholarship, excluding room and board.  My folks willing threw in their share and I had a couple of reasonable federal student loans (2500/year I think) and off I went from the country to a big crappy violent city.  I tried my hand at Division I cross country and was completely overmatched by people who put in the work to be very good at it.  My grades were fine but some kind of balance was missing.  I think I was expecting Animal House for a social life but it wasn’t exactly that.  My grades were fine for a couple of years and I didn’t miss home but didn’t like Norfolk either, although skipping class and going to Virginia Beach had its merits.  I didn’t know where I wanted to be but I knew where I didn’t want to be.  This showed itself as a common driver over the past 30 years on my path to Financial Independence.

So I transferred schools after 2 years to a fancy liberal arts college in New York State.  I had enough credential to go for more prestige in a school but a good friend in Virginia put it accurately:  “Fred, what are you going to do?  Go to a party at Dartmouth with mustard stained sweatpants?”  He had a good point about cultural fit.  Me might have said the same about where I landed this time.  This time I still got decent grades and was moving along in the program but still had the wanderlust and boredom.  I quit after that third year and moved to Buffalo to sleep on a couch in an apartment with Baltimore Hank and his running friends.

The financial impact probably is obvious as I kicked around doing goofy ass jobs in different cities for the next few years before I finally landed a lab job that paid my tuition at the same fancy liberal arts school.  It didn’t need to be a cultural fit as I only commuted there within walking distance.  My advice to anybody in that early situation is do what you need to just finish the program and then go and screw off where you would have that degree in your pocket throwing off more fun cash than the alternative.

Now, most all the downside to not finishing on time is financial.  I still lived on the cheap and had some of the best times of my life without really a care in the world.  I drove a series of $1000 cars (in the 90’s you could get a usable car for that) and shared apartments with good friends.  The chemical company who hired me and paid my tuition paid enough to get a lot out of my system of the things I felt I missed in my country ass upbringing.  I got comfortable in many situations and around all different classes of people.  While I was blowing off student loan payments and accruing astronomical interest I learned how the other half lives when I discovered good wine and good food.11817217_10153399490822420_3164346988206269224_n

It was kind of a curse that a girl who worked in our ghetto wine store turned me on to Stag’s Leap Cabernet and some Oregon Pinot Noir and Bordeaux instead of starting with the cheap crap.  I remember my rent was only 150 bucks at the time so it was all affordable and pretty soon I was taking vacations and going to the Beverly Hills Hotel and to Napa Valley wineries.  Life seemed good but my finances were taking the savage beating they richly deserved with that behavior.  One last upside is that, having gone wild and carefree in so many ways, there is no crisis in my 40’s because I can pretty much say I have been there and done that with regards to many peoples’ bucket lists.

So, that’s how not to start out but this is really a tale of redemption.  More on that later.

Frugal Things We Did Before We Knew That Was a Thing

  • Free Furniture – I likely said we were in the process of selling/ donating/ throwing out a lot of the crap in our house, which is big and full.  I got to thinking about it and looking around and at least a lot of it is full of free stuff.  Mrs. Smidlap has been a curb shopper on big garbage day for 20 years since she bought the place.  We have a whole front porch set-up (wicker chairs, nice metal glider couch, farm table, etc) which cost a total of zero bucks.  Some were curb finds and others were cast offs from downsizing family members who were going to junk it.  Formal dining room furniture was all cast off stuff too from people who were buying new.  This is pretty high quality stuff too that folks are just willing to discard for our enjoyment.
  • Keep our cars forever – I bought a new little Mazda b2300 pickup in 1995 (no air conditioning and didn’t even come with a radio) and kept it for 15 years.  Mrs. Smidlap bought a new car in 2005 that we’re still driving.  Like my Owlie’s Dad used to say about a car:  “Hone ‘er ’til she don’t.”  That is free Vermont gibberish/wisdom that I’m not even charging you for.  The bonus is that the little truck was in a New Orleans hailstorm and the insurance paid me a couple of G’s ($1000’s for you gutter snipes) for some little surface dents that was mine to keep.  I drank that money, but that was before I was cured of the bad finance habit.

Moral of the Story is Better Late Than Never

I didn’t really get my financial shit together until I met Mrs. Smidlap in 2002 and the first few years was getting to around even.  The rest of the race has only taken about 12 years (including the Great Recession).  You know what could have derailed all that irresponsible fun for me?

  • Having kids
  • Having a huge house or car debt
  • Poor health
  • Having a spouse who expected me to be responsible (a reasonable requirement)

There’s some food for thought.  Got something to say, Smidlapper?  Go nuts, I can take it.

p.s.  I was having some trouble with WordPress and comments.  Could you try and leave a test comment at least and if the site doesn’t allow that, let me know at  thanks for looking in here.

6 Replies to “Some Financial Mistakes – The Upsides and Downsides”

  1. Good wine will get you every time… might not be frugal, but I firmly believe there is no point in drinking garbage, just get what you want to drink (within reason)

    1. hey, thanks for checking in. we’ve had a big budget for juice but i have never paid one single cell phone bill. not one. and if we had to live on less wine would be one of the first cuts. we would chop out some quantity and not too much quality and splurge less.

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