The Benefits Of Improved Decision Making


Marketwatch runs an advice column called the Moneyist where people write in for advice on personal financial matters. One that caught my eye was from a 65 year old veteran whose house is paid off, he draws a $45,000 pension, has no healthcare expenses he says due to the nature of his military benefits and has a portfolio with $370,000 but is worried about running out of money. He acknowledges that he is probably worried about nothing.

He definitely is in a pretty good position, not sure he's in a great position but pretty good especially on the assumption that he was a career military man (the article doesn't specify) who didn't make six figures for an extended period. It would be reasonable to conclude he made some very good decisions along the way.

I regularly quote our friend Bill from here in Walker who many years ago said to my wife and me that "you can figure it out now or you can figure it out later but you'll be much happier if you can figure it out now." Embedded in Bill's idea is making good decisions. Decision making skill (or luck) is important in lifestyle choices, investment choices; the list is endless. Some people are able to make good/sound decisions early on and whether you were lucky enough to have made good decisions early on or not, we all know people who've had a harder time figuring out how to make good decisions for themselves. I've seen, we've all seen people who although a little late do eventually figure it out, they learn to make good decisions for themselves or their decision making skills otherwise improve.

Alexander Cortes from self-improvement Twitter had a thread that explores whether you're 40's might be too late to learn how to make good decisions. I view it a little differently. I think a slightly better approach might be to understand how big of a hole you might need to dig out of as you start make better decision from experience or maturity or necessity.

The manner in which we invest and plan for retirement definitely has a seat at this table. We all know the grim stats about how undersaved we are and about the overwhelming number of people who don't have $400 for an emergency. Obviously some folks will, as a function of circumstances beyond their control, have these types of financial problems but some in that cohort are there by virtue of bad decision making. Saving money is a learned habit. I don't know that it is difficult per se but the good decision to be made relates to just starting to save. I've written many posts going into numeric detail about being able to bail yourself out if you don't start saving until 50 or 55. That scenario requires improved decision making skills.

How we spend money is of course a series of decisions. I write over and over about living below your means, it makes every other aspect of life easier. I doubt that the majority of people do this, not even close, but decisions to what type of home to live in, what type of cars to buy and how often and so on are decisions and hopefully you make better decisions in your 40's or 50's on that score than you did in your 20's or 30's. Getting comfortable living below your means is a great idea if you can adopt it early on of course but it seems like one that people might grow into based on life experiences.

Investing is arguably the biggest topic (relevant here) where people make bad decisions earlier on but have the opportunity to make better decisions as they gain more experience. If you got burned badly in the tech bubble of 2000 because you had too much exposure then hopefully you knew better than to load up just as heavy during the height of the Bitcoin mania. Hopefully less experienced investors who got burned badly during the height of the Bitcoin mania will know better when the next really big mania comes along.

The sooner all of these things can be figured out (and any others I am forgetting or that are important to you) then the easier (better) life can be and the happier you can be.