3 Money Mistakes I Made in 2020 and Refuse to Repeat in 2021

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It's time to learn from the past year -- and avoid making the same mistakes twice.

2020 was a year that caught a lot of us off guard. I mean, I'd have laughed if you'd told me last January that my kids' last day of in-school learning would take place in March. Or that we'd spend the better part of the year rationing toilet paper and barely leaving the state. But alas, 2020 got us all good, and in the course of that tumultuous year, I made a few financial blunders. Rather than wallow in them, I intend to learn from my mistakes. Here are some mistakes I won't make this year.

1. Paying a premium for grocery delivery

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, I was nervous about shopping for groceries in person. Back then, New York City was the outbreak's epicenter. Nearby New Jersey was too close for comfort, with thousands of cases being reported in my state every day.

As we all grappled with ways to maintain a normal life without going out, I chose to order a lot of my food from a specialty store. Rather than price out different grocery delivery options, I paid extra for the convenience of not having to haggle for a time slot. All told, however, my grocery bills in March and April easily increased by 50% simply because I chose that more expensive store.

Right now, things aren't looking great on the pandemic front once again and I'm trying to limit the extent to which I shop in person. That means I visit my warehouse club once every few weeks (there's comfort in the fact that it's such a massive space) and book grocery pick up in advance from local stores.

However, I'm no longer shopping at that specialty store, which saves me a bundle. It does mean I have to plan out my shopping ahead of time. The specialty store could often accommodate same-day requests, whereas you need to place an order for delivery or pickup multiple days in advance with the regular supermarkets. But it's a good way to keep myself organized while saving money.

2. Overpaying for essentials when I wasn't running out

Remember the great toilet paper crunch of 2020? I took part in it needlessly. In fact, I bought a lot of essentials in March and April, like paper towels and hand soap, even though I had enough to keep going for many more weeks. Of course, stocking up on things that don't go bad isn't necessarily a terrible thing. But in several cases, I paid extra money for those supplies. Now, I'm stocking up more strategically -- namely, by looking at sales and buying those products when the price is right.

3. Putting too much cash into my emergency fund

As a self-employed writer with a variable income, I'm always nervous my earnings might drop when I least expect them to. That's why I make a point to have a healthy emergency fund -- enough money to cover more than six months of living expenses. When the pandemic hit, however, and reports started coming in about widespread unemployment, I panicked. For the next few weeks, I took most of my extra earnings and put them into my savings account rather than into my brokerage account.

That's something I continue to beat myself up over. The reality is I already had plenty of cash on hand to deal with a loss of income. But by diverting too much extra money to savings, I missed out on some investing opportunities when stock values dropped earlier on in the year.

At this point, there's really no need to add more cash to my emergency fund. Instead, I intend to funnel more cash into my brokerage account this year, especially since savings accounts are paying so little interest.

We all make mistakes, and in hindsight, the above blunders aren't so egregious. But I do think it's important to learn from my missteps, so going forward, I intend to shop more judiciously and take a more moderate approach to emergency savings. Hopefully, it'll help me avoid wasting money or missing out on opportunities to grow wealth.

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