Stop Making Bad Decisions

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by Mary Hunt

I saw the funniest sign recently. But it wasn’t funny for long because I started to think about it. It read, “Everything happens for a reason, sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and make bad decisions.”

Ouch! Those 15 words hit hard. I’ve made my share of bad money decisions in my life. Suddenly the humor melted away.

I’ve come a long way from that dark season of my life. I am determined to not go back, but also to not live with regret for what might have been. Instead of living with my eyes on the rearview mirror of my life, I want to stay focused on the present with eyes toward the future. Which begs the question, how can we stop making bad decisions when it comes to money and personal finance?

Get smart. Despite the fact that research from the University of British Columbia released in November 2013 found the smallest part of our brain is integral in the decision-making process—and the fact that we do seem to repeat some mistakes—it is possible to become a better decision-maker. With a little practice, some awareness and a bit of tender loving care, you can learn to make better choices. 

Time out. I’ve discovered for myself a simple way to avoid bad decisions. I impose a minimum 24-hour rule where I have to go into “time out.” That means I have to leave the store, turn off the computer, put the decision on the back burner for at least one full day and night. You cannot believe how that stops me in my tracks. And more times than not, after 24 hours, I’ve nearly forgotten what it was that captured my attention. Situations that indeed require a wise decision find more clarity after time out.

Check your history. Sift back through your memory when you were faced with something similar. Review what happened, and if it was a bad decision—what led up to that? History does repeat itself, but you can change the way you will make this decision. You don’t have to be dumb this time just because that’s how things went the last time. The past is over, but the future is still open for discussion.

Look inside. I know for myself that when I am overly tired or really hungry, I make really bad decisions. I can’t think straight. I’m prone to compulsiveness. Take a deep breath, address your stress levels and then move forward cautiously.

Seek counsel. Unless this decision you are looking at is very personal, very private—call a friend, take your dad out for coffee. Find someone you respect, who will listen, and then offer his or her best advice. You don’t have to take it, but chances are pretty good that whatever it is, it will help you to see the picture more clearly.

The best thing about a bad decision is that you can learn from it and apply that lesson to decisions you will make next time.

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a personal finance member website and the author of “Debt-Proof Living,” released in 2014. 

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