We Make 35,000 Decisions Per Day, but Seven in 10 Postpone Major Financial Decisions

New research by Principal and behavioral economist Dan Goldstein identifies attitude as the most significant factor behind financial decision-making

DES MOINES, Iowa--()--Seven in every 10 Americans postpone making financial decisions, according to findings released today from a research project by Principal Financial Group® and renowned behavioral economist Dan Goldstein. Why? The phenomenon, which can have long-term detrimental effects on financial well-being, is often anecdotally attributed to income. People say they don’t have enough money to save and make financial choices. However, the research finds that what’s largely driving this procrastination isn’t necessarily lack of money; it’s lack of the right, confident mindset.

According to the findings, more than half of Americans (56 percent) have not made any major financial decisions, such as a large purchase, opening or closing an investment account or moving money around in a retirement plan, in the past three years. While 60 percent of people report their income as the top reason for inaction, the research shows that debt and current finances do not play a significant role in people’s likelihood to make financial decisions.

So, what does explain this idle behavior? The research found less than a third (30 percent) of Americans feel comfortable with the amount of knowledge they have about managing finances.

“With access to traditional pensions declining today, the onus of preparing for retirement continues to shift to the individual,” said Jerry Patterson, senior vice president of retirement at Principal. “Features like employer-offered auto-enrollment and matching have aided those efforts, but this doesn’t solve the problem of a lack of financial literacy and its implications on confidence. Fortunately, we now have more ways than ever to educate the world through a smart mix of human interaction and intuitive technology – things like virtual coaches and digital advice for individual investors.”

Goldstein, who is known for his research into financial decision-making, said: “Every day, we make decisions that have good or bad consequences for our future selves. When it comes to money, our present self is more prone to spend, whereas our future self wants us to save. This research highlights that tendency to postpone, but illuminates how the right attitude could help people ‘hack’ their approach to saving for things like retirement.”

Busting financial decision-making myths
People have their reasons for postponing financial decisions, but those reasons aren’t as insurmountable as people think. Some of the circumstances people consider to be barriers are, in reality, challenges that can be overcome with the right frame of mind.

Those who do not feel confident about their finances are 64 percent more likely to postpone making major decisions than those who are confident, regardless of their income. But as it turns out, there are plenty of people with similar reported financial barriers who do, in fact, manage to invest and save for retirement successfully. The research reveals that people’s indecision is largely grounded in myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1: “I’ll never know enough to be confident in these types of decisions”
People who spend some time learning about financial planning are 75 percent more likely to be confident in their financial future, which can positively impact their decision-making and retirement preparedness. People who are confident in their financial future are also 88 percent more likely to rank retirement as their top priority.

Myth #2: “It’s just not the right time”
People report they would take financial action if a major life event happened. In reality, people who experience a major life event are more likely to postpone financial decision-making. Job-related events are 40 percent more likely to cause people to postpone a financial decision.

Myth #3: “I don’t have the money to make these financial decisions”
Many people report having too much debt or not enough income to plan financially, yet debt and income level do not play a large role in determining whether people postpone decisions. In fact, even one in four (23 percent) of households with a high-income level always or regularly postpone making major financial decisions.

Patterson added: “As the research suggests, the importance of confidence in people’s financial decision-making can’t be overstated. We at Principal want people to know that no matter where you’re at financially, it only takes a couple small steps to start building confidence in your finances and making the right decisions to live your best life.”

For more information to build confidence in your finances, use Principal’s free planning tools and calculators, explore topics on life and money, or consider registering for an upcoming webinar on a financial topic that matters to you.

Principal commissioned a 20-minute online survey among 1,400 respondents, asking about their attitudes regarding finances, current perceptions of their finances and assessments of different influences and barriers. Principal analyzed a full set of 48 attitudinal statements to cluster them into six distinct psychological factors. Then, Principal looked at five categories of factors to determine what causes financial readiness.

The sample consisted of 700 respondents from the general population and 700 respondents ages 25-44 with an annual house hold income of at least $75,000 and investible assets of at least $25,000. All respondents were employed full-time at the time of data collection.

Once data was collected, it was consolidated and weighted to reflect census representation. The margin of error for this sample is +/-3.1% at the 95% confidence level. The survey was fielded between November 6 and November 15, 2017.

About Principal®
Principal helps people and companies around the world build, protect and advance their financial well-being through retirement, insurance and asset management solutions that fit their lives. Our employees are passionate about helping clients of all income and portfolio sizes achieve their goals – offering innovative ideas, investment expertise and real-life solutions to make financial progress possible. To find out more, visit us at principal.com.

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Principal Financial Group
Media Contact:
Hillary Gebert, 515-878-1460

Release Summary

New research from Principal looks at why people do (and don't) make financial decisions.


Principal Financial Group
Media Contact:
Hillary Gebert, 515-878-1460