The most money I’ve ever lost

Several years ago, my husband and I were planning to build a house. We bought the land and cleared the build site. We then started working with an architect, which is how we lost $12,500 in a matter of months.

Here's how it went down.

Losing Thousands

When I hired this architect, whom I now refer to as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, I thought I'd done my due diligence. The guy was profiled as one of the top architects in green building. He specialized in the type of house we wanted to build. We met with him, we toured two homes he designed, and we met with one of his past clients.

After a couple of meetings to discuss rough sketches and photos of the design elements we wanted, we seemed to be on the same page. So we signed on the dotted line and sent him the first payment.

Things went well at first. He sketched a design that was almost what we wanted, but not quite. “No problem,” he said. “I can make those changes.”

Weeks later, we got back a new design. It looked nothing like the first design. Everything was different, from the elevation to the square footage to the room layouts.

I told him that I actually liked the very first design; we just wanted those few changes we'd discussed. I got back a third design that looked nothing like the first two.

It was pretty bizarre. Some of the weirder changes included replacing a staircase with an attic ladder and designing a tower that actually leaned, like some sort of purposeful Pisa or something. My dad, a stone mason with 30+ years of construction experience, was dumbfounded, and losing his patience.

Still, I kept my emails to the architect civil and professional, trying to work with him so we could get some finalized plans.

Finally, he sent over the finished plans. Again, they were completely different than what we'd discussed. And they were incomplete. We took them to a contractor, who verified this. As it turned out, the contractor actually knew He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named by reputation, and the reputation wasn't good. My stomach sank.

When I tried to talk to the architect, he got defensive. He insisted that the plans were complete, and he said that our changes were the reasons that the plans were so wildly different from one round to the next. Now, I do get that one change can necessitate other changes. Only, he didn't actually incorporate the changes we'd requested. The plans were just different. It became clear that we weren't getting anywhere, and then he started copying an attorney on his emails to me.

So, things ended badly. We were already $12,500 in the hole, and I refused to send him the final payment without complete plans. He threatened to put a lien on our property, so I consulted an attorney in my family. Basically, the attorney said that if The Dark Architect tried to put a lien on our land, we could do something about that. But as far as getting our money back, he said we'd have to go to court, and he didn't recommend that course of action. Apparently it would open us up to greater liability, and it wasn't worth it for $12,500.

I was angry and sick to my stomach. That was no small sum to us. It took a lot of time and sacrifice to save our money, and now we had nothing to show for it. The plans were worthless.

Losing Millions

Although we lost what was a significant amount of money to us, to others, it's pennies. For instance, entrepreneur and author James Altucher has written about his experience with losing a million dollars a month until he was eventually flat broke.

After James sold his first company for $15 million, he lived it up. “I bought an apartment for millions, he writes. “I rebuilt it. Feng Shui! I bought art. I played a lot of poker. I began investing in companies. A million here. A few hundred thousand there. One IPO I put $2 million in at $20 and watched it go to $0. They made wireless devices for deaf people. Huge market.”

He started a company; he invested in companies. Then came the bubble burst. “From June 2000 until September 2001, I probably lost $1 million a month,” he says. “I knew nothing about stocks or valuations or anything resembling rational thought. I doubled down. Then quadrupled down. Then 8-upled down. I couldn't stop. I was an addict.”

His account balance was spiraling toward zero. “I felt like I was going to die,” he writes. “That zero equals death. I couldn't believe how stupid I had been … I was going to zero and nothing could stop it. There were no jobs, there was nothing. “

He lost his house, he couldn't sleep, he dropped down to 130 pounds. “I went from feeling immortal to feeling dead all over,” he writes. “There was never a moment when I didn't feel sick. I had let everyone down forever.”

Finally, he decided he could either wither away and die, or he could feed his family. So he focused on his health and well being, and eventually, he was making millions again. Which he lost, again. And then he made it back a third time.

“And I hope I can keep building,” writes James. “I hope I don't revert to my addictive tendencies. I think this time I learned. Every day without fail I focus on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.”

It's quite a story (and worth reading in its entirety). [Editor's note: This link to James Altucher's story requires that you confirm your email address in order to read the story.]

An Expensive Lesson Learned

As for the conclusion to my own story, the architect never tried to put a lien on our property. It was just an attempt to scare us into making another payment. And while I'd love to say that I let it go long ago, the truth is that I rarely talked about the situation because his name brought up feelings of anger and frustration for years, hence the He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named moniker.

“Unless you're Mark Zuckerberg, who, while he lost several billion on the day of the Facebook IPO still was worth billions of dollars, a significant financial loss is going to hurt you, financially, emotionally, and spiritually,” says Jason Hull of Hull Financial Planning. “Address all of the aspects of the loss so that you can move on.”

Today, I have moved on. Time has passed. And more significantly, my priorities radically shifted when my friend Frank passed away last year. I just don't care about losing that money or feeling suckered anymore. And in many ways, we were lucky. Losing the money didn't put us out on the street — it just sucked, was all. So now I'm able to chalk it up to a very expensive lesson in one of our GRS tenets: No one cares more about your money than you do.

Readers, what's the most amount of money you've ever lost? How did you react, and what did you learn from the experience?

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Ris
Ris
6 years ago

When my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I were relocating from Chicago to Pittsburgh for grad school, we went around and around with our landlord about our last month’s rent. He said we could find a subletter and then get our money back from him, then he said he was going to try to sell the place so we didn’t need to find anyone and that he’d just forgive us that last month. I kind of thought I knew where this was going and we couldn’t ever get him to put it in writing, so I wasn’t surprised that instead of mailing us… Read more »

Midwest Jane
Midwest Jane
6 years ago
Reply to  Ris

I have a crook of a landlord in my past too who threatened to sue me for damage I didn’t cause to the apartment if I didn’t give him extra cash above and beyond the security deposit he unfairly seized. I could have called his bluff, but we had just married and we were still settling into our new apartment. So we paid the jerk off. I desperately wanted to include a MasterCard-like message to him with the undeserved cash. “seized security deposit: $450 ill-gotten extra money: $250 having never to talk to you again: priceless” My husband rightfully told… Read more »

Paul
Paul
6 years ago

In 2012, I started a new job in Syracuse, NY. I contacted a real estate agent I found online prior to moving to the area. I wanted to rent for awhile, but she convinced me I should buy a house there, so I did. I didn’t know the market and paid too much for the house. On top of that, the agent fees were rolled into my mortgage, something she said was standard practice in NY. I got reimbursed at closing and didn’t think too much about it. Less than two years later, I lost my job and could not… Read more »

Prudence Debtfree
Prudence Debtfree
6 years ago
Reply to  Paul

So many people are in the position of being unable to sell their homes and having to lower the price again and again. It’s a shock to those of us who entered the housing market when prices just rose continuously. A real case of cognitive dissonance. I wish you well in your efforts to sell.

TurnedMyLifeAround
TurnedMyLifeAround
6 years ago

I’ve been pretty lucky overall. I’d have to say my worst loss was my investment into Enron. I like many other investors were suckered into buying into the stock. And when it dropped to 1/2 the price I originally bought, I bought some more. Total loss as I watched to stock go to $0 was only about $5000, but at the time, it was a lot of money.

Millionaires Giving Money
Millionaires Giving Money
6 years ago

A very moving story but I guess the best thing to do is move on. I have lost money in the stock market previously and it scarred me but I’ve now got back into investing after realising it was my fault and not the stock markets. Keeping greed in check is the most important thing for me. Thanks for sharing.

Lance
Lance
6 years ago

We lost $1,000 once. It is not a lot but it is more of the concept of losing trust that really burned us. The worst part is it was family that screwed us over. My wife’s uncle promised us new granite counters. We didn’t really need them but he offered an incredible deal because he was selling off his business and needed to clear inventory and money and offered to do our kitchen and bathrooms for $1,000 total. My wife said it would count for her christmas and birthday so I said let’s do it. We had everything picked out… Read more »

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago

$4500 for prepaying daycare for the year for a daycare that went out of business before the year was out. We could have taken them to small claims court to be put in the line of creditors, but that coincided with DH getting a new job that paid a lot of money and 4.5K wasn’t going to be worth the effort in the grand scheme of things. The next biggest loss was about $2K of trees that we planted right before an unexpected enormous drought. We lost some other trees that year too, but the new ones were especially susceptible.… Read more »

Midwest Jane
Midwest Jane
6 years ago

Your example with the trees is precisely why I could never bring myself to buy sod. If it fails you’re out tons of money versus the relatively low cost of seed and straw.

I also buy small trees for this reason and water like crazy.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago
Reply to  Midwest Jane

Turns out the watering like crazy sometimes does harm… one of the trees died because the sprinkler water was hitting its leaves and that did something to make them all fall off (according to the tree guy who didn’t tell us to adjust that sprinkler in time to save that tree). When it’s not a drought it doesn’t happen enough to make a difference.

Sophie
Sophie
6 years ago

As an architect (albeit not an American one), I hope you reported him to your state AIA board- if he isn’t registered with them, he’s not an architect (so the board will go after him for calling himself that); if he is registered, he’s bound by a strict code of ethics that should prevent behaviour like this (and again, if enough people report him, the board will go after him). Malpractice is not just applicable to doctors!

(Your state AIA board is also a good source if you’re thinking about hiring an architect for the first time)

Marsha
Marsha
6 years ago

Our biggest loss was having to sell a house in a depressed market about 25 years ago. It was our first house which we bought the first year we were married. We were fortunate that we had paid enough principal on our mortgage that we didn’t have to come up with any additional funds at closing. Also, the house was inexpensive to begin with, so even though we sold it for about 90% of what we had paid, we lost less than $7000. I don’t regret losing money on our first house because I believe the experience has saved us… Read more »

Neel Kumar
Neel Kumar
6 years ago

I have lost lots of money over the years. Businesses who promised me one thing but delivered another, double charging, lost a TON of money in the dot com bust etc etc. The most important lesson I have learned is that there are a lot of cheats out there but there are also a bunch of really really good people. Shopkeepers who have pointed out the limitations of their products (which made me not buy them), trades people who have outlined the total costs (including permits, taxes, etc etc) to make sure I understand what I am getting into. I… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

When I divorced my ex husband 11 years ago, I took a huge loss. I was the one that left, I was the one that moved out with related expenses, I was the one that filed and because I wasn’t knowledgeable enough and didn’t have a great attorney, I had to take on a lot of his debt. He got evicted and it was on my credit report, the car we purchased together got repoed and it was on my credit, etc. I was the breadwinner (he didn’t work) so all expenses fell on to me. It was a domestic… Read more »

Alice
Alice
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Carla, You did what had to be done. when domestic violence or any other type of violence is involved, your life is worth anything you might have to pay. I was in much the same situation after 30 years of marriage and RAN from it at the age of 50. I had managed to pay off all the debts before leaving but even that left me broke. I wasn’t allowed to take very much with me but I made the best of it that I could. I bought a much better house than I had ever lived in before and… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Alice

Alice,

I am so happy that things worked out for you and then some!

I am now married again (weeks away from our 1 year anniversary) and I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years. Though I did save my life when I left, the financial blow still stings emotionally. Its amazing how our self worth is tied up in our bank accounts.

Thank you for giving me that perspective!

Maria
Maria
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

When I told a live-in boyfriend of 9 years that he had to move out, he ended up blackmailing me to the tune of $30,000. Went with me to the bank and stood at my back while I took out cash advances on all the credit cards I had opened because he was supposedly going to make a movie. He was making so many threats that I just wanted him out at any price.

josefismael
josefismael
6 years ago

I’m sure I’m not alone but almost a year ago I bought my first house. I won’t use the term “Money Pit” but let’s just say that others have 🙂 I’m confident that the area will *maybe* let me break even on price, but only after I’ve put in the 10k for a roof, 5k for a kitchen, however many k for a bowing foundation. Add to this all of the things I want to do to make it more enjoyable for me as a home. Silver lining: If this is the biggest mistake I make in my life, it’s… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

Ufff…. there are some memories of people and situations I’d rather not revisit.

Can’t think of any specific lessons from those, except to say–

When one is depressed, it’s important to take care of that.

Depression makes one vulnerable and powerless when there are actual options at hand.

Sometimes the shame of the loss itself can make one depressed. Don’t throw the towel so fast.

And now for my favorite picture for these situations:

http://climbaz.com/temp/melissastuff/never.jpg

many other versions find on google, ha ha.

Lisa
Lisa
6 years ago

Alice! You sound fabulous — what kind of business do you own? I had to rebuild after my husband died and left me with debt, no life insurance, and an 11 year old to raise — all at the age of 41. I’m doing much better now, but always looking for new success stories. And maybe someday even be a business owner instead of a wage slave!

Alice
Alice
6 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

Lisa, I have a desktop and custom printing business. I’m a graphic artist but mostly produce manuals for the oil & gas industry and some for the safety industry. I ship worldwide for my clients. I did not start my business until I was about 61 years old and have continued it until present. Other streams of income are from eBay selling and some affiliate programs. I am also setting up an online store to sell other items. I also write content for some blogs and some short stories that I sell. I am setting up my own blog and… Read more »

erica
erica
6 years ago

Per our separation agreement, my soon-to-be-former spouse is out about $400K in property, cash and retirement accounts.

sarah
sarah
6 years ago

ouch!! i hope you at least left a really harsh yelp review.

a crappy electrician cost us about $8000 extra and worse, a two week delay moving into our home while we lived out of boxes in a vacation rental. we ended up moving in 4 days before i gave birth to our son!

zambian lady
zambian lady
6 years ago

I haven’t calculated the total amount of money I lost when building my house back in Zambia. Builders would be paid in advance per stage of the building, but they would only do a bit of the agreed upon portion and then disappear. Unfortunately, this is usually the practice of builders so I was not surprised when this happened. I lost quite a bit of money.

Winterlady
Winterlady
6 years ago

When we redid our bathroom, we hired a guy to undertake the project from A to Z.He had a storefront, references and we watched him for 6 months gut and renovated two bathrooms for my immediate neighbor. So we give him a hefty down payment and guess what….nothing. So we ended up chasing him, calling him and yes it finally did end up getting done. So the moral of the story-you can never tell who is out to screw you. As an aside, my neighbor hired him at the same time to finish her basement. This clown completely ripped her… Read more »

Anne
Anne
6 years ago
Reply to  Winterlady

Sing it, sister!

Chuckie g.
Chuckie g.
6 years ago

I suppose the biggest loss I’ve ever suffered is having two cars and one trailer stolen in the course of 12 months. It wasn’t a bad investment or anything like that, but just a stroke of bad luck.

partgypsy
partgypsy
6 years ago

The most money I ever “lost” was a missed business opportunity. We purchased our house which is on a tiny lot, and offered to sell us the adacent lot (also nonconforming) for 35K. I looked into it and it was nonconforming I thought they couldn’t build on it, and 35K was a lot of money so we declined. Less than a year later they built a huge 3 story house on that lot, overlooking our house. If I could turn back time…

Shan
Shan
6 years ago

I had to pay $2000 one time for prenatal visits that I thought would be covered by insurance. I was paying medical insurance premiums through my plan at work and had no idea that the insurance company was forwarding my premiums to a local hospital group because I had chosen a primary care doctor in that hospital group. According to my insurance pamphlet I could see any doctor I wanted for prenatal visits so I chose one in my town. The provider took a copy of my insurance card every visit and everything was fine, or so I thought. However,… Read more »

Merry
Merry
6 years ago
Reply to  Shan

My biggest loss was similar to yours. I was seeing an OB/GYN that was covered, and I thought that the hospital he delivered at was covered as well. When all the bills came due, the insurance company covered much less of the hospital bills than I thought they should. When I called to find out why, they said the hospital was out of network. Not only did we end up paying more, but what we did pay didn’t go toward our deductible for the year (and my daughter was born on Jan. 1st!). For my second daughter, my doctor went… Read more »

Jen2
Jen2
6 years ago

Like many others the largest money loss I experienced was in the sale of a house. It depreciated in the 5 years that I owned it, but luckily it had mostly recovered. We ended up selling it for a only a couple thousand less than what we’d paid for it, so we were only out all the money we put into it (new windows, etc.), plus the realtor fees and headache. We enjoyed it while we lived there and luckily we were able to finally get out of it and move on to the house we have now, which we… Read more »

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