An Earnest guide
to life’s biggest decisionschoosing a career path, renting or buying, going to grad school, life’s biggest decisionslife’s biggest decisions in this changing,
and often overwhelming, world.


Gian Gonzaga

Gian Gonzaga

Chief Data Officer at Earnest

“What will I eat for breakfast?” and “What will I do with my life?” seem like vastly different questions, but the ways in which we approach each decision have more in common than you think.

In the past 50 years, we’ve learned a lot about how the decision-making process works—from the information we consider and what we ignore to how we fill in the gaps.

For a long time, scientists thought humans were completely rational when it came to our choices (a concept called homo economicus). However, we know now that the decision-making process is much more complex.

The field called behavioral economics, which melds psychology and economics, has revealed that most of our choices are not, in fact, made through careful deliberation. Instead, our decisions—both big and small—are often guided by our emotions, our surroundings, and a host of subconscious mental “shortcuts.”

While some call these behaviors “irrational,” many of the ways we process decisions make perfect sense. Consider one of the biggest choices you’ll make: a lifelong partner. Being in love motivates behavior that seems irrational at first—hyper-focus on one individual, more money and time spent—but it can lead to many long-term emotional benefits such as social support, shared labour, and perhaps most importantly, the possibility of having and raising children.

Why does knowledge about how we make choices matter? So much of our long-term success depends on the decisions we make (and how we make them) in our 20s and 30s. Should we put money away in our 401(k) or blow it on a weekend trip to Vegas? Do we buy that fixer-upper or continue to rent? Do we stay on our current career path or try our hand at graduate school? The better we understand the emotions, motivations and subconscious behaviors behind these decisions, the better equipped we are to make the right ones.

Welcome to Earnest’s New-Fashioned Guide to Decision Making. Our team talked to experts, dug into the data, and heard from people in their 20s and 30s about how they make decisions, so you can use this knowledge to make smarter, better choices in life on your own terms.

Choose from life’s big decisions

Going to Graduate School

It’s common to consider a graduate or professional degree as the next step in your educational career, or as a logical “checkpoint” after a few years of experience in the workforce. But how do you know it’s the right option? We’ll explore the ins and outs of graduate school decision-making—from “Should I go?” to “Where should I go?” to “How do I pay for this?”—and how our inherent behaviors influence these difficult questions.

Starting Your Career

Choosing a career is a big decision for any generation, but today’s work landscape makes it a particularly complex choice for young people. With new industries emerging, the typical career path shifting, and student debt to consider, defining the beginning years of your career can feel daunting. Between deciding where to look for a job, choosing a field, and evaluating salary and benefits, we’ll walk through how to weigh each decision with behavioral frameworks in mind.

Renting vs. Buying

Homeownership has long been at the center of the American Dream. But today, many Americans feel homeownership is out of reach or, in some cases, even unfavorable compared to renting. In this section, we’ll examine how to balance psychology and money to decide whether renting or buying makes sense for you, and how to stay financially healthy no matter which decision you embrace.