PFI newsletter: My hack for making money decisions


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Here’s what: My hack for making simple money decisions

It took me years to admit I have decision paralysis.

That is to say, it can be really difficult for me to make even the simplest decisions in my personal life, from what to get for dinner to what soap scent to buy. I’ll often ask someone else to choose for me or just abandon the task at hand.

I used to tell myself I was being thoughtful or methodical, but it’s really just a self-imposed burden — especially when it comes to money. Somewhat miraculously, I’ve managed to hack my own decision-making system so my finances won’t suffer the same fate as my wardrobe (clothes shopping is my decision muscle’s worst enemy). The key is automation.

I make one initial decision — like how much to save and how often — and then I set the rest on autopilot. That means twice a month, every month, my 401(k) gets a little boost, as does my high-yield savings account. I don’t have to obsess over how much I should be saving or whether it’s the right time to invest, it’s just happening. And since that money is taken out of my pay first, deciding how much I should be spending monthly is a nonstarter. What’s left over after savings is my spending money, and a good chunk of that goes toward automatic subscriptions, bills, and memberships, again removing the need to continually weigh my options.

But I’ll admit my system has one potentially fatal flaw. Up until now, I’ve always checked in on these decisions ad hoc — Should I increase my 401(k) deferral percentage? Should I bump up my monthly savings? Is it time for a new car insurance policy? Then I think about it for days on end and drive myself crazy with indecision.

Starting this month, I’m putting a quarterly check-in on my calendar, with a beginning time and an end time, so I can reassess the major aspects of my financial situation — savings, spending, and investing — periodically. I’d like to maintain my one-time decision efficiency, but I know there’s danger in not adapting to changing circumstances. 

What’s one money decision you can make today to set on autopilot for the rest of the year?

—Tanza Loudenback, Personal Finance Insider correspondent

Expert tip of the week

“If you earn a decent income but have trouble saving, the culprits are likely the roof over your head and the car(s) in your driveway. Those big-ticket purchases tend to be public enemies No. 1 and 2, respectively, when it comes to identifying the root causes of lifestyle creep …”

—Malcolm Ethridge, CFP and Business Insider contributor, on the things he always tells people in their 50s about retirement that they never want to hear.

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