“Enough is a good as a feast.” Mary Poppins
“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” Gertrude Stein - “Reflection on the Atomic Bomb” - 1946
I love being able to instantly learn about a topic that’s unfamiliar to me. In a given day, I might Google mafaldine (a type of pasta); the German word for clock (Uhr); and if I really need the four crowns my dentist just recommended (I don’t). I also use the internet, textbooks, magazines, TV, radio, professional associations, and academic sources to keep myself up to date on all things related to finance, taxes, investments, financial planning, insurance, etc. Those sources generate more information than any human brain can hope to keep up with, even when the owner of that brain is happily immersed in the world of finance.
For my clients, potential clients, financial DIY’ers, and the rest of us bewildered by so much advice, the flood of information is even more daunting. What are some ways you can digest it all? How do you know what sources are valid? Here are five tips to deal with financial information overload.
Recognize the Problem – Psychologist Daniel Levitin defines information overload as the freak out (my word!) that “occurs when information comes in faster than we can process it.” He goes on to discourage us from believing in a manageable threshold, (like how long we can hold the bent arm hang); he thinks that's the wrong way to look at it. Attention is a limited resource that can’t really be “built” like biceps or Spanish vocabulary. Acknowledging that you have to limit information intake is the first step to solving the problem.
Filter – Most adults have gotten pretty good at filtering – just ask any inveterate Black Friday shopper or husband who can’t see the trashcan overflow. The barrage of news, facts, sales, political messages, and kitten videos assail us relentlessly, and we’re good at opening only the things we’re interested in. The problem erupts when we begin to explore a new field. The best way to solve this problem is to figure how to best structure the flood of words and images that come to your eyes, ears, and Inbox. It might be something as simple as changing your homepage when you first get on your computer to a plain Google site from your customary Bing or Yahoo page with its attendant clickbait articles clamoring for a quick read.
Delegate – You can successfully reduce financial overload by relying on a trusted friend or family member to do aspects of financial research for you. Your high-schooler who can’t wait to day-trade or your frugal computer-savvy mom might enjoy researching and condensing the results for you to keep up with current financial trends.
Immerse – Sometimes, especially when you’re trying to learn something new, it pays to really get into it, like a two-year-old who just learned to pour water, the pre-teen whose gone Harry Potter-crazy, or my husband with his new FitBit. Pick an aspect of financial learning – like options in the stock market – and dive into that particular area. In learning about a small aspect of the financial world, you’ll begin to pick up jargon and terms that will broaden your general knowledge.
Rely on Reputable Sources – Channel your Freshman English Comp 101 professor. Even if you snoozed through part of the lecture on credible sources, surely you remember her exhortations to avoid Wikipedia and use scholarly peer-reviewed journals. No need to teleport back to the twin bed squeezed under your roomie’s messy loft in your search for accurate financial information, but remember that advice from the Wall Street Journal or CNBC is way more reliable than the random Youtube of “Brandon’s Stock Tips.”
As thought - sociologist Eszter Hargittai points out, some of the stress we experience from information overload is actually just our underlying realization that the info isn’t true. Again, go to safe, verifiable places (see the list on our website). I can’t say you’ll never be misinformed, but it’s unlikely that Motley Fool or Investopedia will lead you far astray.
You can learn more about money to protect and grow yours without getting so overwhelmed you give up. Try these tips to find out what you need to know about financial basics so that you can protect yourself.
Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner ™, adjunct professor at Aiken Technical College, and financial literacy educator wrote the "11-Step, DIY, Comprehensive Financial Plan Workbook" and "Financial Advice for Blue Collar America." Her latest book covers basic concepts of money including insurance and taxes, financial traps to avoid, how to pay for college and tech school, and the bright future ahead for blue collar careers.