Just Make a Decision

I was very proud of Kyle and me for making such a quick decision on where to move.  (Our application was accepted and we sent in our security deposit so it’s a done deal – we got the place!)  We are notorious for being slow decision-makers, particularly Kyle.  Often that works to our advantage – with new purchases we generally research and wait for quite a while, which means we avoid making impulse purchases basically entirely.


However, sometimes being slow at making decisions hurts us.  If we had dragged out the process of looking for a new place it would have been time-consuming as well as emotionally draining.  Last fall when Kyle was deciding on a new smartphone/carrier, he kept waiting for new models to drop and putting off actually buying one until I was about to tear my hair out.  I didn’t have a smartphone at the time so it was a real inconvenience to go without one for months on end.


The biggest financial example of when our slow decision-making hurt us is when we delayed making an investment for a year.  When we got married we decided that we would use Kyle’s savings to pay off my student loan debt when it comes out of deferment.  In the meantime, though, we wanted to invest the money to make a bit of a return and also learn more about investing for mid-term goals and our own psychology.  The research we did only took a few weeks, but we procrastinated actually implementing for a year!  That year was 2010-2011 so in retrospect we likely missed out on a nice bit of return.  Even for any random year it’s more likely that the stock market will end up than down, which is why a lump sum investment at the start of the year will generally beat dollar cost averaging throughout.


yes no buttonsThere are certain financial decisions we have to make in our lives that don’t necessarily have a clear best choice, or even if they do we may be reluctant to commit to the decision.  Several of my friends are weighing whether to use their savings to pay down debt or for a house down payment.  Sometimes they end up keeping their growing savings on the sidelines and not committing it to either debt reduction or another goal, or worse yet not starting to save because they aren’t sure how they want to use it yet.


But I say it’s best to just make the decisions and act on them.  I’m not suggesting rushing – obviously we believe in thorough research – but most of the time some action is better than none, even if it’s not the 100% perfect decision.  Erika and Bridget recently took a leap into paying off their student loans with a lump of savings.  The decisions put both of them in a bit of a precarious spot in the near term but probably leaves them in a better place a few months down the line because they’ll have to use their creativity to get through the squeeze.  All they decided was to commit savings that had previously not been working for them.


With any financial decision it would be ideal to come up with the best plan possible to maximize our net worth.  But our psychology and time come into play as well.  If the pressure of making that plan forces you to delay or you don’t feel comfortable with the decision so you put it off, it likely would have been better to make the slightly sub-optimal decision that you were able to live with early on.  For example, if deciding on the perfect brokerage firm in which to open your Roth IRA is going to cause you to miss our on this year’s contribution room, it’s better to open it with your best guess now than to miss out.


That’s what I wish we had done with our investment two years ago!  I wish we had given ourselves a deadline for committing the money and gone with the best plan we had at that time, even if it’s not the same as what we did with a year’s additional reflection.  But now that we’ve practiced making a quick (and, I think, good) decision with our home for next year perhaps we can do better the next time we have a less-than-clear-cut financial decision to make.  The perfect is the enemy of the good, as they say.


Have you ever wavered between two good choices?  Have you missed out on an opportunity because you couldn’t commit?  Do you currently have any savings that could be working for you elsewhere?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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34 Responses to "Just Make a Decision"

  1. Matt Becker says:

    This is a great article! Slow decision-making is something I struggle with as well, and it can definitely drive my wife crazy. And I couldn’t agree more that in many cases it’s much better to simply start than to try and make it perfect beforehand. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. I’m actually writing a post that will be up soon on how getting started investing, even if you do terribly, is much better than not starting at all.
    Matt Becker recently posted..DIY Car Maintenance: How to Change a Car Battery

    1. Emily says:

      It’s tough when the two spouses have different inherent decision-making speeds. I’m not exactly fast but I’m faster than Kyle, especially for relatively inconsequential decisions. It has caused conflict!

  2. It’s so frustrating when you lose out on a purchase because of being cautious. My fiancee and I lost out on an apartment because we waited ONE day. Then in desperation, got an apartment that we didn’t investigate enough because we were worried about losing a place in our desired neighborhood. It really is hard to find that balance between being a smart and well researched shopper and being an impulse shopper.
    Tara @ Streetsaheadliving.com recently posted..Are one of the seven deadly sins stepping in your way?

    1. Emily says:

      It’s really tough obtaining housing in some markets. I can understand your reaction to getting burned on the first apartment. I guess in those hot markets it’s all about positioning yourself to be able to make a quick decision by doing as much research as possible in advance – which it sounds like is what you did by targeting one neighborhood. I hope you’ve been able to deal with the apartment you go OK!

  3. CashRebel says:

    This reminds me of when I started investing. I reaseatched passive investing for months but still didn’t feel ready. I eventually just started with a small amount. That opened the flood gates. I learned quickly and invested more as I felt comfortable.
    CashRebel recently posted..Guest Post: The Frequency Continuum

    1. Emily says:

      That’s a great point – when possible, start with a small step. There are fewer barriers and it can give you more information or confidence for taking the next step.

  4. Well i call perfection as procrastination, it slows you down and you keep procrastinating until you meet perfection. But sometimes i have wondered that art of delayed gratification works, it is a long short about LED TV but i will cut it short
    Rita P @ Digital Spikes recently posted..Quick tips for startups to manage cost and customers

    1. Emily says:

      There is definitely a connection between perfectionism and procrastination! We both practice both but Kyle to a greater degree. I don’t see a big connection with delayed gratification, though.

  5. I feel this way about investing.
    Although right now we are building up our savings account for our house down payment. As soon as we have a house, I’ll start investing aggressively. Even if I just start with index funds!
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted..Developing an Informal Mentoring Relationship

    1. Emily says:

      It’s great that you have the step-by-step plan so you won’t get stuck in a limbo state. And I don’t think that index funds are “just” at all!

  6. Awesome article Emily. I am guilty of doing this on occasion and it usually ends up biting me in the ass. I am a planner and researcher and it can take me some time before I am satisfied. I am working on it, but it takes time.
    The Debt Roundup recently posted..How To Talk Your Way To Lower Credit Card Interest Rates

    1. Emily says:

      I think this is a way that Kyle and I actually complement each other in marriage instead of just being too similar to help (which is most of the time). I respect the research process but I can recognize more easily than Kyle when it’s time to make a decision already and can push for that.

  7. Some things in life deserve a fair amount of pondering but I totally agree with you, sometimes not making a decision can really wear you down mentally as you’re constantly thinking about it. When I start to feel that way I now tend to just make the best decision possible with the information I have to hand and get on with it! Nice post.
    Adam @ Money Bulldog recently posted..Save money on your mobile phone bill with these simple tips

    1. Emily says:

      I think that’s the way to go. When the decision-making itself becomes a burden, end it!

    1. Emily says:

      Definitely. Some decisions matter more than others.

  8. Hi Emily,

    I really enjoyed this post. My wife and I often take a while to get to a decision on big issues, too. A technique we’ve found to be helpful is setting a deadline for a decision. External deadlines are great for us, since we’re the kind of folks that can talk in circles if you let us…

    It helps knowing that, most of the time, we can usually change paths down the line.
    Done by Forty recently posted..The Frequency Continuum

    1. Emily says:

      We have never actually implemented a decision deadline but I think it’s a viable option. What’s an example of when you used one? We’re pretty bad with creating deadline for ourselves and sticking with them but external ones work fairly well.

  9. I’ve missed out on the best price for flights because I thought they would go down more or at least stay stable until the next paycheck and then the price went up instead.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..You Might Be Wasting Your Money on Organics If…

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah, that’s happened with us too. I’m kinda excited about Kayak’s predictor of whether prices will go up or down.

  10. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut instincts. I always feel doing something is a lot better vs doing nothing at all. From investing in stocks to real estate I am all about researching but you get to a point where you are just no going to learn if you sit on the sidelines. We were deciding should be invest money into real estate or put big checks on our college loans. Not sure just yet what we will do but a decision will be made soon.
    Thomas | Your Daily Finance recently posted..July Stats, Updates, Goals, and Future Plans

    1. Emily says:

      That’s a perfect example – two worthy options. Glad you’ve given yourself a timeframe for making the decision.

  11. It was a huge decision to pay of the last of our student loans earlier this year, but we did it as soon as the money was available to do so, and it was the best thing we could have done. Maybe we could have eeked out a bit more of a return by investing that money, but mentally, it made our lives much better, and I think that has to count for something.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Brains, Bikes, and Rules of the Road

    1. Emily says:

      It’s great that you were able to make and implement the decision so quickly! Definitely being settled about a decision mentally is worth a lot.

  12. […] last, but not least, Evolving Personal Finance put out another article I liked, about how waiting too long to make a financial decision can be a downer.  As I […]

  13. […] Just Make a Decision on Evolving Personal Finance […]

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  16. Bryce says:

    You talked about missing out on investment gains because you apparently parked some money in savings that was earmarked for soon paying off student loans. Since you cannot foretell the future, you made the right decision at the time. What if the market had crashed? You would be writing how smart or lucky you were. Money that is earmarked for use in the short term (less than 5 years) should not be invested.
    Bryce recently posted..5 Ways to Conquer Procrastination

    1. Emily says:

      Well, we wanted the money to be invested but we just hadn’t pulled the trigger, so the point is that we delayed a lot when we should have just made a decision. As it happened, we would have made more money if we had jumped in earlier, but even if we had lost it was still a mistake not to get in because that’s what we wanted (i.e. when I started saving for retirement I made a mistake that happened to turn out well). We disagree that short-term money can’t be invested – you just have to be prepared for the possibility of losing principal!

  17. […] @ Evolving Personal Finance writes Just Make a Decision – It’s often better to make a decision and carry it out than to delay inordinately, […]

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