To make good decisions, one must be grounded in reality. Unfortunately, most people aren't grounded in reality.

The problem centers on the past. People anchor to sunk costs, which are past costs. We've seen this with home prices and mortgage rates.

People will automatically assume that past prices and past rates have to reappear in the future. That's not necessarily true. Just because a home sold for $400,000 in 2006 and sells for $350,000 today doesn't mean $400,000 will reappear. The same goes for the 3.5% 30-year fixed-rate loan. It was here once, but that doesn't mean it will be here again. The focus should be on where things are going from here forward.

Making good decisions requires thinking on the margin. For example, if you had a $50 ticket to a football game and lost that ticket, would you still attend the game? Many people wouldn't attend because they view the ticket as now costing $100 instead of $50 – the cost of the lost ticket and the cost of the ticket that would need to be purchased.

But that's the irrational way of looking at it. The rational way is to ask, “Am I willing to spend $50 to attend the game?” The first ticket is a gone, so it shouldn't factor in the decision. For most people, it does.

Similarly, we see people anchor to home prices or mortgage rates that no longer exist. It's always important to let our clients know that the prices that prevailed in the past shouldn't influence today's decision. What matters is what today's data lead us to believe for the future. This sounds like a simple concept, but it's one few people grasp.

 Courtesy of Jessica Regan.

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