Are you scared of making the wrong financial decision, so you make no decision at all? You’re not alone. Here’s how to get unstuck, grow your confidence, and make solid financial choices.

 Have you ever felt scared, nervous, or anxious around money? Do you set a path for yourself, and then change your mind, worried that it might go wrong? 

It’s natural to want to avoid making mistakes, especially when it comes to your money. But indecision can prevent you from getting what you really want. 

Here are some ways to reframe your thinking around money, so you can take the small steps that give you the confidence to take bigger steps.

Do you know what you want?

Financial Indecision - Do you know what you want?

In a general sense, do you know what your financial priorities are? 

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out which are your priorities and which are your pressures. Perhaps a parent or partner is pushing you to make a particular decision. It takes a lot of fortitude to stand up to pressure like that, especially if you feel unsure or inexperienced.

But it’s also important to know what your own goals are. What if your dad thinks you should be an engineer, but it’s you who will have to shoulder those loans? Your mom found the perfect car for you — but is she going to help with the car note?

Or maybe you just have a different idea of what is perfect. Perhaps your partner is pushing for a move when you feel you should stay where you are — or wants to stay when you know there are better opportunities elsewhere. 

Visualize your dreams

Taking some quiet time to visualize what you want, independent of what others want for you, is the first step toward knowing what to do. 

To help you get an idea of what your goals are, you’re going to do a financial visualization exercise. You’ll need a pen, a piece of paper, a quiet room, and a timer. You will visualize your future life, if you could be or do whatever you wanted. 

Set the timer for five minutes. For those five minutes, you are going to close your eyes and imagine yourself five years from now. Get as detailed as you can – it doesn’t have to be realistic, and you don’t have to share this with anyone else, just yourself. Be honest.

If you could do or be (or have) whatever you wanted five years from now, what stands out? 

  • How old will you be? 
  • What are you wearing?
  • Where are you living?
  • Who is with you?
  • What are you doing?

Open your eyes and write down what you visualized. What excited you most, or made you feel most at peace? 

Whatever it was, write it down and circle it. This exercise gives you an idea of what to work toward, so keep that paper in a secure location and come back to it often. 

If pen and paper alone make it difficult to visualize your future finances, try tracking yours through PocketSmith first. PocketSmith can show you your big financial future, making visualizing your goals even easier.

It’s OK if you don’t get it ‘perfect’

There’s no “perfect.” All you can do is make a good-enough decision with the information you have available to you. So many things can be changed later! Making mistakes is how you learn.

I’ve made some incredibly bone-headed financial decisions (including the time I put a whole dang car on my credit card, but that’s another story). The people I love have done dumb financial things, too. (Such as buying meat that “fell off the back of a truck.” Never do that.) 

My favorite Maya Angelou quote is this:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Buried within that quote is the permission to learn as you make a mistake. 

You can’t get through life with a perfect record or without any bad things happening to you. But what you can do is trust yourself to figure out what to do if things go wrong. If you’re reading this, it means you are willing to find out how to “know better.”

If you’re beating yourself up because of mistakes you’ve made in the past, stop. You don’t have to be stuck as that person: You can learn from that mistake what not to do, and then figure out a way to fix it. It might be very difficult. It might feel impossible. It’s OK if you don’t get it perfect. You know better, so now you can do better.

First, make sure you have a bank account

Financial Indecision - First, make sure you have a bank account

You don’t have to have all the answers immediately. Give yourself permission to work on one thing at a time. Baby steps are good here because it will break down your financials into manageable tasks.

First things first. Do you have a bank account? If not, you’ll need a safe place to keep your money.  

Checking accounts

A checking account is a type of bank account that lets you spend your money by using checks or a debit card. You should have a checking account so you have a place to put your money when it comes in.

Sometimes checking accounts come with high monthly fees, which is why it’s important to shop around a little bit. If you don’t have a checking account currently, you can look for a checking account at a local bank in your neighborhood, or you can look for a checking account at an online bank, which often has lower fees. Consider these points:

  • Find three possible checking accounts you might consider signing up for.
  • Look at the fees for each account and compare them. Which has the lowest fees?
  • Look at the overdraft protection for each account and how much it costs. If you accidentally overdraft, which bank will cost the least?

The bank with the best ratings and lowest fees is probably your best bet. You can usually sign up for a checking account online or visit the bank branch of a physical bank to open an account. 

Aspiration is a great option for a company that chooses not to fund fossil fuel exploration or productions. With Aspiration’s Standard’s fossil-fuel-free, choose your own fee account, you’ll be eligible for a free Spend & Save account. Also, you’ll earn between up to 3%-5% cash back at mission-focused merchants and get fee-free withdrawals at over 55,000 Allpoint network ATMs.

Savings account

A savings account is a bank account where you keep the money you want to save, which you don’t need for bills or other spending. Look for a savings account at the same bank where you opened your checking account. Or if that is not possible, you can open a savings account at an online bank.

Check if your bank allows electronic transfers. You can often use your bank’s online portal to transfer money from your checking account to a savings account, even at another bank. When looking for a savings account, look for one that pays a good interest rate. Online banks often pay higher interest rates on your savings than physical banks.

If you were intrigued by Aspiration’s Spend & Save account (above), but you’re specifically looking for a savings account, you may be interested in opting for Aspiration Plus. With Aspiration Plus, you can earn up 5.00% APY (Variable). You’ll also have the opportunity to earn up to 10% cash-back with purchases you make with Conscience Coalition retailers (companies doing the ‘right thing’ as part of their business model) and unlimited fee-free withdrawals at Aspiration’s network of over $55,000 ATMs. You’ll also get Aspiration Planet Protection feature which carbon-offsets your gas purchases. These perks certainly help offset the $7.99 monthly fee ($5.99 if you pay annually) that is required with Aspiration Plus.

Chime, another option, offers a  with no monthly fees or minimum deposit requirements. Plus, you’ll get top-notch features like the ability to round up your debit card purchases and put that money into a savings account automatically.

Plus, as an added bonus, now allows you to get your paycheck up to two days early if you have direct deposit! Early Access to direct deposit funds depends on payer.

Chime Disclosure - *Chime is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services and debit card provided by The Bancorp Bank or Stride Bank, N.A.; Members FDIC.
(1)Save When I Get Paid automatically transfers 10% of your direct deposits of $500 or more from your Checking Account into your savings account.
^Round Ups automatically round up debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfer the round up from your Chime Checking Account to your savings account.

 

Now, you need to make a budget

Once you have a place to put your money, try tracking it to see where it’s going. Knowledge is power, and this is a very powerful piece of knowledge that can inform your decisions and even tell you a bit about yourself through what you spend or don’t spend.

Start by getting a notebook and writing down what you spend every day, no matter how small. Write down every purchase, including the cash ones, as well as your bills and loans. Do it every day for one month. That is tracking your expenses.

To make a budget, you look to the future instead of the past. Write down how much money you have coming in via your paycheck or other earnings. Include any loans coming to you — every source of money coming in for the month. Then consider all of your expenses that money has to cover: rent or mortgage, car payment, health insurance, bills, food, gas. Go through your last month of tracked expenses to make sure you aren’t missing anything. 

Your budget is your money plan for the month. First, you make sure you have enough to cover your obligations, which are your bills. Then once your bills are covered, you decide how to spend what’s left between savings and wants. 

There are some simple rules of thumb for making a budget. One is the 80/20 rule, where you put 20% of your money toward savings and use the other 80% for spending. If that’s too simplistic, try the 50/30/20 rule, where you put 20% of your money toward savings, 50% towards bills and other obligations, and the last 30% towards wants. It should help you decide if your current spending is in line. 

Either way, you can see that setting aside a good portion of your budget to savings is very important.

You can do this all on paper, but sometimes it’s helpful to have an app help you with the calculations. Here are a couple of great options:

Pocketsmith

Financial Indecision - PocketSmith

If you have trouble getting (and staying) organized, Pocketsmith is a great tool to have.

It’s a personal finance app that’s a little like having a personal financial assistant in your pocket. It can help you plan and budget your money, so you can know today whether you can take a vacation three months from now.

Personal Capital

Financial Indecision - Personal Capital

I thought Personal Capital was only for wealthy people with portfolios to manage, but it actually helps anyone. When you connect your accounts, including loans and credit cards, the Personal Capital dashboard gives you a big-picture overview of your financial situation.

Charts and graphs show you your cash flow month-to-month and even break down your spending categories. (I was a little bit shocked to see how much I was spending on dining out compared to groceries, honestly.) Oh, and it’s free.

And now, the not so fun part…debt

Financial Indecision - And now, the not so fun part...debt

Whatever you do, don’t give up on getting out of debt. Keep making forward progress, even if it’s only a little bit. Imagine how much money you’d have each month if you didn’t have to make loan payments! The more you can throw at your loans, the sooner you will be free of them. Even if it’s uncomfortable for a little while, the payoff can be worth it.

Using your budget, look at how much you are spending on your debt and how much you are spending on your wants. Look for where you can trim your wants and non-essentials and put that money toward your debt payments. See if you can add even 1% more toward your debt this month, and 1% more next month, and 1% more the month after that … start small, but you may soon see you can spare 2%, 5%, even 10%, or more.

When your debt is really and truly unmanageable, refinancing might be a good solution: it can sometimes reduce your overall interest rate, lowering the overall interest you pay, and getting you free of debt sooner. Here are some companies to check out:

Earnest

Financial Indecision - Earnest

Earnest helps you refinance your student loans, so you pay less interest. It rolls all your existing loans into a new loan, so you have one rate and one payment.

You can also eliminate a co-signer that way. Before you refinance federal loans, though, see whether you’ll be locking yourself out of any forgiveness programs first.

Credible

Financial Indecision - Credible

Credible is an online marketplace that matches you up with the best loans and rates for refinancing based on your personal money profile.

You may be able to reduce your rate this by shopping around through Credible. Or you might at least be able to reduce your monthly payment (though they might extend the length of the loan, so check the terms). The less interest you pay, the better.

Don’t forget to try to save some, too

Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing left at the end of the month to put toward savings. If that’s your situation, put technology to work helping you find the spare change that can start to add up.

You should aim to put 20% of your money into savings. However, I know that’s not always easy to do, especially when you’re just starting. So keep that in mind as your goal and be OK with starting small. Super small, even. Since you’ve started your checking and savings accounts, you should now have a place to put your savings. 

And since you’ve created your budget, you should have a grasp of how much you are spending on bills. Your challenge will be to find small amounts, $5 here and there, which you can safely transfer to your savings account and leave untouched. Here are a few apps that can help:

Acorns

Financial Indecision - Acorns

Acorns is a handy little app that finds your “spare change” and squirrels it away for you. Say you make a purchase for $5.75. Then Acorns will round up to $6 and put the extra 25 cents in your Acorns account. It’s a little bit here and there that you won’t notice is missing.

I have a friend who signed up for Acorns, and it helped her save $1,200 in a year – that’s money she didn’t notice over the course of a month, because Acorns rounds up purchases and socks away the change. It’s a way to invest without having a lot of money.

Trim

Financial Indecision - Trim

Another app that helps you save is Trim. It analyzes your spending and finds ways to save your money, even contacting companies and negotiating lower bills for you. 

So if you feel like you’re spending too much on your cable bill, Trim can negotiate that lower. Then you can put the money you saved with Trim into your savings account every month.

CIT Savings Builder

Out Of A Job Due To COVID-19? Here Is What To Do Next - CIT Savings Builder

Once you’ve found some savings to save, putting it in an online savings account can help you earn money.

Take the CIT Savings Builder: You’ll earn 1.00% interest — 20 times the national average. So if you can add to your account every month, they’ll pay you, too. This is a great way for those facing financial indecision to finally kick the habit. If you don’t save at least $100/month (which isn’t a terrible benchmark), you’ll be stuck with a much lower APY. 

Lean on your resiliency

Financial Indecision - Lean on your resiliency

It’s important to give yourself some grace. As long as you’re trying your best and continuing to learn about money management, you’ll be moving in a forward direction. When you’re feeling stuck in your indecision, remember that you can change your mind later. If you sign up for a new savings account, and it charges way more in fees than you expected, you have two choices: beat yourself up, or simply change accounts. One of those will make you feel like a failure, and the other one lets you dust yourself off and move forward.

Even if the mistake you make is catastrophic (and be honest with yourself, they are rare and you can usually see them coming), you can always rebuild. The worst you can do is bankruptcy, and you won’t be the first (nor the last), and you can come back from it.

The skill of resiliency, of knowing you can find a way to figure it out, is an important one when it comes to managing your money. 

You might lose your job, but you can learn a new skill. Better yet, you can slowly build up your emergency fund so that if it does happen, you can be prepared. 

Summary

Managing your money can be very overwhelming. It is all too easy to get paralyzed by fear when trying to decide what to do, or to have so many actions to take you can’t figure out where to start first. 

It’s OK to go slowly. Pick one small thing each month to focus on. Don’t try to do too much at once or you will get overwhelmed. This month, make it your checking account. Next month, savings. A month after, track expenses. Give yourself grace if you find it difficult, but get back in the saddle and keep trying.

Know better, so you can do better. Take the first step, and savor your wins when you get them. The more experience you have, the more confidence you will have, and then you will have faith in yourself when it comes time to make bigger decisions: Not only faith that you will make the right choice, but faith that, if you make the wrong choice, you can figure out a way to bounce back.  

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About the author

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Mary Beth Eastman is a freelance financial writer and editor. She has a degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and enjoys spending her free time hanging with her ornery rescue dogs and making crafts.