You’re in a No-Win situation. Here’s How to Choose Wisely.
Andy Can Help
by Andy Millard
It’s a turning point in the film, Casablanca: Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), unable to decide between love for her old flame Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and duty to her husband Victor (Paul Henreid), cries out to Rick, “I don’t know what to do any more. You’ll have to think for both of us – for all of us.”
That’s kind of where we all are right now. Decisions we make can affect not just us but also those around us. But unlike Rick, who faces only one decision – whether or not to stay with the woman he loves – you and I face a daily barrage of choices. Some involve money: Should I dip into my savings? What should I do with my investments? Some involve health: Should I stay inside? Should I wear a mask and gloves when I do venture out? And some involve both money and health: Should I reopen my business? Can I patronize businesses
that do open?
And unlike Ilsa, we have to make decisions for ourselves. What’s more, we’re dealing with limited information, and often neither choice is a good one. How do you decide in a no-win situation?
Start by asking yourself six questions:
- Does your decision affect others besides you?
Whether we like it or not, many of our decisions have a profound impact on others. For example, you may be willing to accept the risk to your own health by going to work, but what if you get the virus and then pass it to a
family member who gets seriously ill?
- Is the success of your decision dependent upon the decisions of others?
Say you own a restaurant and you want to open it. You and your employees need the income. You’re taking every precaution. But if your customers decide not to leave their homes, it could end up costing you more than if you didn’t open at all.
- Is the potential risk greater than the reward?
A buddy of mine was about to leave for the grocery store the other day when his Millennial son stopped him. In an uncomfortably parental tone, the son demanded, “Where do you think you’re going?” The dad replied meekly, “I’m just gonna get some wraps.” Convinced by his son’s unassailable logic – that the reward of picking up some flatbread wasn’t worth the risk to his health – my friend gave up and ate a piece of toast.
- Have you taken a clear-eyed look at the potential consequences?
This can be a particular problem for investors during these rollercoaster days. Someone may see a stock taking off and want to get in on the action. They convince themselves that they understand the risks, but their desire to hit the jackpot may cause them to leap before they look. On the flip side, tumbling markets can lead jumpy investors to cash in “before it goes to zero,” only to watch the rebound from the sidelines.
- Do you even have enough information to make a decision?
There are so many unknowns right now. When will there be a vaccine? How many cases are there, really? Will we have enough tests? Will the economy shut down a second time? When will consumers start spending again? Will my employer be around in a year? Without the answers to these questions and others, how much confidence can we have in our decisions?
- Can you delay the decision?
They say that ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away – true enough. But sometimes problems do resolve themselves without your intervention. And considering the lack of information, perhaps NOT making a decision – at least for the moment – might be your best option.
In the movie, Rick ultimately makes the fateful decision to put the love of his life on a plane with another man, knowing he’ll never see her again but also knowing that it’s best for all concerned. As hard as Rick’s decision is, it’s a piece of cake compared to the daily choices we face during the Great Pandemic of 2020. There are no easy answers or perfect choices, but if you ask yourself the right questions and answer honestly, you’ll improve your chances of choosing wisely.
Andy Millard, CFP® is a retired financial planner and former principal of Millard & Company, an investment management firm. He does not offer financial planning services; this column is not intended as advice but rather education and opinion. Consult a professional advisor. If you have questions about financial planning or investments, feel free to submit them to Andy at firstname.lastname@example.org.