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Money Decision Problem 2: Solving the Wrong Problem

You can have the greatest system in the world for analyzing and solving your personal or business money problems, but you would be wasting your time if you were solving the wrong problem. This usually happens if you do not think through a problem before you start to solve it. To understand how to approach a particular problem you should understand at least these things about the problem:

  1. What are the limits to problem at hand?
  2. How do you define a good or a bad outcome to the decision?
  3. How should you measure the outcomes?
  4. What do you bring mentally and psychologically to the decision table?
  5. What are other ways to look at the problem?

A Mutual Fund Example
One example of solving the wrong problem is to pursue a high rate of return from a mutual fund investments without first deciding what kind of comparison or benchmark you should use to determine if the return is high enough. For example, index mutual funds that are designed to mirror the results of the Standard and Poor’s 500 index consistently outperform rough 80% of all mutual funds. The original problem may have been how to choose mutual funds with high returns. A better problem to solve would be how choose mutual funds which consistently perform better than the S&P 500.

Final Thoughts
Remember that most problems involving money usually involve something else besides money or mathematics. If you focus on the parts of the problem that are objective and that can be measured or solved with common with equations and spreadsheets, you may miss the most important part of the problem.

Next Lesson: Not Looking at All Sides of a Problem

Money Decision Problem 1: Not Taking the Time to Think About the Problem

Money Decision Problem 1: Not Taking the Time to Think About the Problem and the Decisions that Must Be Made

Before you make a financial decision, you have to know something about your needs, the effect your decision may have, and how you go about making a decision. Some common money decisions that often happens too quickly is what credit card you should have, whether to buy or sell a stock, or whether to go into debt to replace your boring old (and paid off) car for a shiny new one. Taking the time to make a proper decision can save you a lot of frustration and regret, especially if you do it consistently.

A Credit Card Example
Let’s look at the credit card situation more closely. There could be dozens of reasons why you suddenly decide that you need a new credit card. You might not have one at all, but one day you decide to rent a car and find out that you need a credit card. You might have a card already, but you find a way to transfer balances and reduce your interest rate for the first six months. Even if you think you need to take action right now, it always makes sense to think it through to see if it is the right decision for you. The following are just some of the questions you should ask yourself before you sign on the dotted line:

  1. What do you want to accomplish when making the decision? – At the very least, figure out if it is a short term or long term goal.
  2. Who will be making the decision? – Typically anyone who will be responsible for paying the bill and whoever will be allowed to make charges on the card.
  3. How should the decision be made? – Figure out things like whether you need to decide after comparing other options, or if any one person will have veto power.
  4. Does the decision significantly affect other decisions?
  5. Does the decision have to be made at all? – Think about what would happen if you took no action.
  6. Does the decision have to be made by some kind of deadline?
  7. What’s the worst that will happen if you don’t make a decision?
  8. How much time do you need to make a decision?
  9. What kind of options do you have?
  10. Do you have any experience making this kind of decision, and if so what did you learn?

Once the background questions are settled and you have a good understanding of your overall situation, you have to start dealing with the decision making process. You should finish gathering any information that you need to make a decision. For credit cards, this would be things like late fees or other penalties, how much interest you will be charged, and what kind of no-interest grace period you have. These kinds of details should be spelled out in the agreement. If you don’t understand it, don’t sign it. If you don’t see it in the agreement, then it’s not part of the deal.

The next big steps are making the decision and carrying it out. If you decide to do something, then follow through. If you decide to do nothing, then take no action, no matter how tempting it may be. If you decide to change your mind, go through the same decision process. Don’t make the mistake of being logical and systematic the first time through and then being very informal the second time you wrestle with the same decision. Every decision is a combination of your analysis and your judgment. If you have a consistent process, you’ll likely improve the quality of both your analysis and your judgment.

Final Thoughts
Keep in mind that a credit card can turn out to be a long-term relationship. If you pay your bills in full every month, it can be a very happy and harmonious relationship. If you fall behind, it can turn real ugly real quick.

Next Lesson: Solving the Wrong Problem

Making Money Decisions

Do you every wonder about your ability to make good decisions about money? Do you think you need to know something special to be better than average? Before you got that seminar, buy that book, or sign up for that MBA program, you should take some time to look at how you make money decisions. Success in investing, or choosing the best mortgage, or picking a sensible credit card all starts with using your mind to figure out your options and to make decisions.

The Making Money Decisions posts will take you through a few basics of decision making and take some of the stress out of making decisions about your money.

The ability to make good decisions is as skill that can be improved through practice and the use of the proper techniques. None of these techniques are based on any sophisticated mathematical or psychological concepts. If anything, the basic techniques of decision making are about figuring out what information you need for a decision, making a clear decision, and checking up on the results afterward. It is about finding the proper balance between intuition and analysis and recognizing that you can develop all the decision making skills that you need to become a better investor.

Next Lesson: Taking the time to think about your money problem