We’ve all done some really stupid things with money, and I am certainly no exception.
While a great number of millennials find themselves in a financial hole as a result of the student loan crisis, I actually took a much more self-sabotaging route: I gambled away my money.
Yep, back in 2011 at the age of 25, I fell into a compulsive gambling addiction.
The full story is one of Vegas glory, greed, and losing sight of who I was as a person, but I will give you time to cook your popcorn before diving into that story.
In short, over the course of about four months of playing roulette, I made a bunch of money, lost it, and then burned through the bulk of my savings while fighting the addiction.
How much? I blew through about $10K in a couple months. Other than what I had invested in my 401K, that was pretty much all the money I had at the time.
In recognizing I had a problem, I stopped gambling, took on two extra jobs, slashed most of my expenses, budgeted, and saved my way to recovering my finances. By the following year, I not only replenished what I lost, but saved about $20K.
It was one of the most stressful moments of my life, but I am extremely grateful it happened. Why? Because through that nightmare, I learned a lot about myself, resilience, and why I needed a healthy relationship with money.
It is those lessons that I want to share.
This is my reflection: How gambling away my savings actually strengthened my relationship with money.
Lesson 1: Greed Can Penetrate Even the Most Disciplined Mind
I’ve already given you the cliff notes version of my story, so you should know that I lost nearly all of my savings.
But, before I lost it all, I was actually winning quite a bit. I routinely would booze and schmooze at the roulette table at nearby Ohio casinos for about 30 minutes, and easily walk out with $300 in winnings.
It felt like easy money and I couldn’t stop myself from wanting more; I got greedy.
Before I knew it, I was going to the casino after work multiple times a week.
As the winnings piled up, I did what most 25-year-olds would do with money that seemingly grew from trees: I spent it.
Between various personal items, gifts, and other random purchases, I treated myself quite a bit.
On one instance, I walked into BestBuy and bought myself an iPad 2. From there, I drove to Verizon and purchased a then-new iPhone 4S.
Oh, and that week I booked a trip to Vegas.
While I was definitely in the market for a new phone, I didn’t actually need an iPad, nor did I need another trip to Vegas. I bought those things purely because I could and wanted to flaunt the money I had won.
Over-indulgence can make you feel that way.
Lesson 2: We Tend Not to Value What We Don’t Earn
My winnings felt like monopoly money to me; almost like it was never mine. I didn’t value the money I won because I didn’t really earn it. Instead, I spent it on mostly material items that I wanted to help perpetuate an image that I was some type of baller.
It was all a front with dirty money-lol!
Thinking back, it seems completely silly to me and out of character just how little I valued the money.
But, it does highlight a lesson that I never forgot….
When you don’t work hard for it, you probably won’t value it.
Lesson 3: Living In Abundance Doesn’t Mean Be Reckless
I am a firm believer in abundance, and that money is all around us. In mean, in this day and age, you can literally get paid to do just about anything. I’m talking legally here, so don’t go letting your mind wander into the “impure”.
Between flipping items, walking dogs, house sitting, and delivering midnight snacks, there’s seemingly endless ways to earn money! Most, which can be done by an app on your phone.
To me, that represents an abundance of opportunities to earn money. If you spend $50, you can just as easily go out and make $50.
There is, however a slippery slope between thinking abundantly, and flat out being reckless with money.
Here’s what I mean:
When I was at the height of my gambling addiction, I was at times betting up to the roulette table max. That was roughly $1,500 to $2,000 on ONE roll. To say I had a flippant attitude towards my money was an understatement.
My attitude at that time was “who cares if I lose, I have more where that comes from”.
It was that arrogance that led to my eventual downfall.
Lesson 4: Disconnection Can Lead to Irresponsibility
As I first started losing a few hundred here and there, it didn’t faze me. Even after I lost a few grand and started dipping into my savings, I was so mentally disconnected from my money that I didn’t seem to care.
Building those savings took me 2.5 years of working for the Federal Government, and I didn’t even bat an eye that I was throwing it away.
When you are mentally disconnected from your money, you can easily lose focus of the hard work it took to accumulate it.
The losses continued to add up, and I continued searching for the “big win” that never came.
I lost grasp of the discipline that had been a foundation of my personality and before I knew it, I had essentially thrown away $10K.
Savings account was cleaned out, as was just about everything in my checking account.
Lesson 5: Accountability is Your Best Friend
Once I realized most of my money was gone, I had to own the mess I was in. As hard as it was, I knew I could only blame myself.
So, I took control.
In addition to working full-time, I took on two extra jobs, budgeted, and dropped my expenses as much as possible. I wanted to make the sacrifice and re-discipline myself for it was all my own fault in the first place.
I didn’t beat myself up about it, but I took accountability and created a plan.
When you blame yourself without judging yourself for losing, you put yourself in a position of control.Gary Vaynerchuk
For the first time since surrendering myself to the temptations of gambling, I was in control.
Lesson 6: Consistency and Time Are The Keys to Success
Taking ownership of my mistake was empowering. I proved to myself that I am fully capable of saving myself; it all starts with taking accountability.
The next step was trusting my plan and the power of time. You see, small steps taken every day will lead to huge results.
I always knew that in theory, but it was time to actually practice what I preached.
By cutting unnecessary expenses and committing to earning additional income, I marched towards my goal $20, $30, and $50 at a time.
What seemed like a daunting task at first, really started picking up steam once I kept going.
Yes, I had a few setbacks along the way, but I continued to stay the course. Within a year, I had successfully replenished what was lost, and saved $20,000.
My goal would have never been shattered had I gave in after a few weeks, or months.
By putting trust in the plan and letting time do the rest, you too can set yourself up for success.
Reading to help you on the journey:
- 4 Money Mistakes I Turned Into Growth Opportunities
- 11 Crucial Money Mindset Shifts To Finally Become Financially Free
- Negativity Is Killing Your Finances – 7 Steps To Block It
- 3 Subtle Ways Your Are Self-Sabotaging Your Financial Future
So, what did I learn? That I must:
…never again allow greed to overpower me
…always respect the fruits of my labor
…believe in abundance and responsibility
…remain connected and engaged with my money
…always choose accountability
…constantly be intentional, and trust time
Every moment is an opportunity for growth. Even the rough moments.
Examine, evaluate, and leverage the hell out of each opportunity.