7 Steps to Decide What to Do With Your Money

Man comparing information on a laptop screen with papers in his hand

Pinkypills/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images 

Before you can decide what you should do with your money, you first need to know what you need your money to do for you.

A thoughtful and realistic review of what you need your funds to cover should come before you make impulsive spending or investment decisions.

1. Read, Study, and Learn

Don't rely on someone else's advice until you've learned the basics. If you don't know much about money right now, one thing you can do is invest in books, quality financial magazines, and investment classes to start learning more.

Read investment books and financial magazines before you invest. For example, do you know the difference between a stock and a bond? If you don’t, you may not be ready to invest.

2. Set Financial Expectations

Before deciding what to do with your money, check out historical rates of returns for savings accounts, stocks, and bonds. It will give you an idea of what you might expect in good economies and bad ones.

3. Know Your Investing Horizon or Time Frame

If you have a short time frame, don’t take ​a risk unless you’re just as willing to lose money as to make some. If you take a risk and put your money in a stock expecting it to double, you need to realize it is just as likely it will lose half its value.

Safe investments are appropriate for short time frames. Growth investments are appropriate only for longer time frames.

4. Decide on Your Investment Risk Tolerance

If earning 10% returns was as easy as picking the right stock, everyone would be doing it. You know there’s no free lunch. Safe investments pay low returns because there is no risk, and those returns are available to everyone.

Growth investments contain risk; accepting risk is the price you pay to potentially earn a higher return than what you could get in a safe investment. Focus on deciding if managing risk levels is more important than higher return potential.

All investments have ​some risk, and you need to know what that risk is before you commit your money.

5. Make an Investment Plan

Instead of rolling the dice, before deciding what to do with your money, make an investment plan, then follow it. People don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.

Successful investors follow a disciplined process, and they stick with it. An investment plan helps you align the investments you choose with their intended purposes.

6. Avoid Bad Investments

There are a few simple rules you can follow to steer clear of bad investments and binding decisions. Learn them and use them. Most importantly: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Some examples of possibly bad investments are those that offer pie-in-the-sky returns for limited risk and investments that are hard to understand or explain to someone.

You should cringe when you see “Hot Stocks” or “Best Funds.” Researchers have gone back and tracked the returns these “best of” lists earn. Their results show you’ll do better buying an index fund that tracks the performance of its benchmark. 

7. Get Advice When You Need It

Once you’ve followed the steps above, you should have a much better idea of what you should do with your money. If you don’t, consider talking to a financial advisor who will ask you clarifying questions about your goals and objectives and put together an investment plan for you. 

A word of caution: When seeking professional advice, asking what you should do with your money is like walking into a pharmacy and asking what kind of medicine to buy. What good is cough syrup when you have a splitting headache?

If someone offers you advice without learning about you, be cautious. They may be suggesting cough syrup because that's all they have to sell, not because that is what you need.