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sadly, we don’t have time machines, but we can start now

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One of the themes that I’ve noticed in my thinking about personal finance lately lately has been the lack of availability of time machines.


When anyone says, “you should have / shouldn’t have done this” I always want to point out that to my knowledge there are no time machines. We cannot go back and undo what has been done. If we’ve made bad decisions in the past, we can’t go and un-make them. If we haven’t done things that would benefit us now, we can’t go back and do them. We have to work with what we’ve got.

Fair enough, you may say, but what’s the point of this. Well, even though we don’t have time machines, we do get to start from here. We can start making good decisions today. Whether that’s to pay off our consumer debt, invest for our future (including retirement), stop frittering away money, put an emergency fund in place, we can start doing that today.

done is better than perfect

Sometimes people are scared of doing things because they don’t want to make bad decisions. That’s a reasonable thing, but it’s better to have some thing done ok, than to not do it because you want to do it perfectly.

It doesn’t matter what the *best* way of paying off your credit cards is as much as it matters that you actually pay them off. Do what works. If that means freezing the cards rather than cutting them up, freeze the cards. If that means paying them in order of smallest to largest debts rather than highest to lowest interest, do that.

It really doesn’t matter what the *best* way of investing is. It’s understandable to be scared of investing, but start anyway. The key things to remember are cut costs, and diversify. Once you’ve got that fixed in your mind, pick something simple, that’s cheap and diversified. Learn how it works - which should take at most a couple of hours (if it takes longer, you’ve picked something complicated). Then start investing in it. You can learn more as you go along.

Some ideas for simple investments are FTSE All Share trackers, target retirement funds, S&P 500 trackers. Some ideas for simple tax wrappers are Roth IRAs, 529 plans [American], Child Trust Funds, Stocks and Shares ISAs, Stakeholder pensions [British], and RRSPs [Canadian].

What are you going to start today?

Image by aussiegall

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9 comments for “sadly, we don’t have time machines, but we can start now”

  1. You’ve brought me much geeky joy with your picture of a phone booth. If only I had a sonic screwdriver…

    Posted by E.C. | February 11, 2008, 2:18 pm
  2. “Today is tomorrow’s yesterday”

    Great points about starting now. Everyday you lose is another day of compounding!

    Posted by RacerX | February 11, 2008, 5:07 pm
  3. Great stuff, plonkee. It can be hard not to regret past mistakes. I’ve found, though, that the biggest thing that keeps me from getting stuff done is fear of not doing it perfectly. Whether in PF or otherwise.

    Posted by Mrs. Micah | February 11, 2008, 7:01 pm
  4. Anxiety about things and avoidance of perceived discomfort is what keeps most people from changing their lifestyles today into what could be a better tomorrow. Sure, it could able be a worse tomorrow, but we don’t know that for sure either. The best hope we have is experience and hope itself. In order to achieve results, action is necessary. There’s a saying, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. True you may look back and regret some of life’s decisions, but it’s hardly likely you’ll look back and regret them all…unless you’ve avoided many any decisions and taking any action whatsoever. -Rich.

    Posted by Rich Money Million | February 11, 2008, 10:07 pm
  5. This has been one of my problems, analysing and analysing to find the best way…and ending up doing nothing.

    I have now learnt to live with my mistakes and move on.

    One equally inspirational post I read on this issue, was “Analysis Paralysis” by Quest for Four Pillars.

    Posted by fathersez | February 12, 2008, 4:27 am
  6. @fathersez:
    Thanks for pointing out that post, I’ll have to check it out.

    Posted by plonkee | February 12, 2008, 5:27 pm
  7. I really like your subtitle “done is better than perfect”. I’ll have to use that one with my husband - he’s quite the perfectionist, especially with handyman projects :)

    Posted by Becky@FamilyandFinances | February 12, 2008, 9:29 pm

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