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Color of Money: Eight steps to stretch your money

When it comes to your money, what you decide today can affect your finances for years to come.

Yet many people don’t decide anything.

Although the majority of consumers say they are concerned about having enough money in savings, 51 percent still haven’t put more money aside, according to the 2013 Chase Blueprint Pulse of the Consumer survey.

In another study conducted by Chase and the personal-finance website, half the people surveyed didn’t believe they would ever achieve the American Dream. About half regularly worry about money, and four in 10 felt that they don’t have control of their finances.

“There is a vein of research that suggests, well, people don’t make very good decisions,” said Nick Bourke, director of the Safe Small-Dollar Loans Research Project for the Pew Charitable Trusts. “They’re not optimal financial decision-makers.”

In making big and even small financial decisions, they fail to weigh all the choices and consequences. Lots of people would rather have $100 today than $150 a year from now, Bourke said.

One of the keys to a better financial life and security is to become better at making decisions. It happens one step at a time. So let’s go through eight steps to smart money decisions I use for the people I counsel.

• Define the decision. What are you trying to accomplish? State it clearly.

• What’s the need or want behind the decision? Why do you feel you have to make this decision now?

• What’s non-negotiable? What things are you not willing to compromise on if you decide to take action on this decision?

• Identify alternatives. Have you carefully considered all the options? Do you absolutely need a car?

• Assess the various alternatives. Once you’ve identified them, examine each one carefully. Don’t rule anything out. Often bad decisions are made because you make up your mind about a particular solution before considering your options.

• What’s the cost, and can you afford it? Calculate what each alternative would cost. If it’s buying a used or new car, consider everything, including gas mileage, insurance premiums and reliability/repair records for the car you’re thinking about purchasing.

• Take a step back. Give yourself time to think about the decision. Be patient! If it’s the right decision today, it will be right tomorrow. If the car you wanted is sold, there’s always another one.

• Make a decision. If you can say with certainty that you have followed the first seven steps, then proceed with confidence knowing you did all you could. Then, don’t look back with regret.

If you apply a systematic way of looking at financial decisions, you can avoid a lot of the bad ones that come back to haunt you.