Money Mistakes: My Master’s Degree

Believe it or not, even us self-proclaimed money experts have made mistakes with our money. My goal will be to have a weekly post that highlights one of these mistakes to show that we all in fact do make mistakes, we can recover from them and hopefully, you’ll learn from our mistakes and avoid them altogether. It wouldn’t be fair to call out other people for making a mistake without first taking a look at my own money mistake, my master’s degree.

Tell Us a Little About Yourself

I’m a father of two, a big Mets fan, an avid runner and of course, love talking about personal finances. 

I’m currently 37 years old and plan on retiring well before the age of 65. I’m on track for retirement at age 55, but always striving for earlier. I’m getting there by investing every dollar I can in relatively safe (I have some crypto) stock market investments, plus a few others outside the market.

What I’d really like to do is open a restaurant that revolves around buffalo wings (I have a franchise in mind, but won’t put it here). This would allow me to “retire” in my mind.

What Was Your Money Mistake and When Did You Make It?

My biggest money mistake was getting my master’s degree. I was about 27 or 28 years old and was looking to get into computer forensics. Basically, the stuff you see on CSI and NCIS where the good guys get into a bad guy’s computer and piece together deleted files and whatnot. At the time it was an emerging field and seemed super interesting. After about 18 months and 25-30k later, I had it.

What I didn’t realize was the types of jobs that were available out there. There wasn’t much in the typical corporate world out there. Your two choices were to basically work for a consulting company or for a municipality.

I ended up working for a consulting company which basically meant I was traveling 100% of the time, which just wasn’t for me. Maybe if I was a bit younger and wasn’t in the middle of planning a wedding I could have toughed it out, but the timing was all wrong.

To top it off, the degree didn’t really mean much. There was software out there that you needed to get certified in, degree or not. Without that, you weren’t really going to make any headway in that field. None of my co-workers had a master’s, in fact, most were kids straight out of college with degrees in varying areas.

What Led You To Make the Mistake?

For one, it really did seem like an interesting field so it at least got my attention with that. I was also in a low-paying job at a company that I knew I had no future in. I had no way of getting promoted and even asked to switch roles to something I liked more and was more or less told no.

I had looked for other jobs in a similar area but assumed I would have been just as unhappy somewhere else doing the same thing, even if it was for more money. That eventually led me to look into getting the degree and I found a university that was offering it online, I was sold.

How Did You Recover From It?

Well, there was really no way to get my money back, so I did the next best thing. I paid off all my loans as soon as I could. The loans didn’t require any payments for about a year, but they were accruing interest. Instead of waiting until they were due, I started making prepayments right away, cutting into that interest. Once the payments were due, I paid far more than the minimum until the interest accruing was minimal.

What Would You Have Done Differently?

I would have researched more. It wasn’t until it was too late that I fully realized what kind of jobs were available. The municipal jobs would have required all sorts of weird hours, crime doesn’t happen between the hours of 9-5 you know.

Knowing that any consulting job required so much travel would have been a deal breaker right away. They advertised it as 50%, but as I found out, that meant nothing. If a big job comes up, you’re the one that pays.

I also would have looked into if the degree was required. It sounds silly, but I never really did that. A quick look at job descriptions would have saved me a ton of money.

How Can Others Avoid the Same Money Mistake?

As mentioned, do the research. Whatever it is you’re doing with your money, do as much research as possible. There is so much information available to us at all times now, that you’re likely not the first person to be doing what you’re doing. Ask a friend, family member, or neighbor, or google it, pretty good chance you’ll get the information you need.

Most Importantly, What Did You Learn From Your Money Mistake?

I learned not to do something out of desperation. I didn’t like my job and really thought that degree was my ticket out. There are probably ten other things I could have done to help me find a job I liked more. I got tunnel vision and was hyper-focused on the degree. I could have networked online, in person, or maybe found a cheaper alternative (like getting certified in the needed software). Explore every angle and solution before committing a sizable amount of money.

Anything Else You Want To Say?

We all make mistakes right? The important thing is not to dwell on them. Do what you can to recover, learn from it and move on. Would it be nice to have that money in my bank account or invest it right now? You bet, but it’s gone and not coming back, so the best thing I can do is keep moving forward!


Jeff is a fan of all things finance. When he's not out there changing the world with his blog, you can find him on a run, a Mets game, or just playing around with his kids