We live in a world of now. Instant communication, immediate access to information. Even our Amazon purchases can arrive the same day, so long as we are willing to pay for it. We don’t wait for much these days, and when we do, we aren’t exactly happy about it. But all that instant gratification comes with a hidden price tag.
With the expectation of now so firmly rooted in our society, we’ve lost our ability to exercise patience. And when our day to day decisions are rooted in the need for immediate satisfaction, what are the odds that we are giving our financial decisions the contemplation or patience they deserve?
One of the habits that Mike and I strove to develop in our pursuit of Financial Freedom was the ability to delay gratification. We were convinced that learning to embrace waiting was a habit that would ultimately make us wealthy. It turned out to be an essential component in obtaining our goal.
Getting used to delaying gratification was a habit we were both forced to develop in our mid-twenties during periods of financial strain. But it was a habit that we strove to maintain even as our financial stability and capability grew. We also noticed that the people who’s lifestyles we admired and aspired towards frequently demonstrated this habit, despite having the financial means to do otherwise.
There is certainly a time and place to be decisive and to move quickly, and it is definitely an advantageous skill set to possess, but decisiveness does not mean reckless or haphazard. The people we considered to be the most successful, being those with the financial means to choose how they spent their time, were excellent at knowing when to move quickly and when to wait. When to indulge and when to abstain.
When we first bought our house it didn’t come with central air conditioning. Where we live AC isn’t an essential item, many people get by without ever having it. But when you don’t have it, there is about 3-5 weeks where life inside the house gets pretty intolerable. It’s a short stretch of time, but when you’re in it, it seems long, and every year during those 3-5 weeks we would ask ourselves why we hadn’t installed AC.
We knew the answer. The installation was thousands of dollars, and although we could have set aside the money to do it, we knew that, at the time, that money was better used elsewhere. AC was an indulgence at a time when we had bigger financial goals and bigger priorities that required that money. So we delayed the gratification (and comfort) of having AC.
We’ve lived in this house for 6 years now, and this year after much thought, deliberation and planning, we finally decided AC was something we were ready to pull the trigger on. That delay equated to 6 extra years of that money working elsewhere (along with lower electricity bills from not running the AC!) I think the 6 years of waiting is going to make this summer that much more enjoyable.
Similarly, when we bought the house we also considered putting in a back deck and pool area. The renovation would have been beautiful, and given us a lovely back yard to spend our time in. We did our homework, got some estimates, and then sat back and really assessed how much use and enjoyment we would get from it compared to the cost. As well as how much extra each month it would cost us to maintain a pool. Ultimately we decided that we could wait for that upgrade. That was 6 years ago, and I still don’t think we’ll be doing it anytime soon. Maybe one day, but right now it’s just not the priority.
When we wanted to buy a Tesla, we waited 5 years to make it a reality. Mike researched the company endlessly, followed the performance of their vehicles and battery life, and only once we had paid off our mortgage and reached Financial Freedom did we allow ourselves the indulgence of purchasing the vehicle.
Those are of course some big examples, but the habit of delaying gratification can and should be applied to small purchases as well. When I go shopping for clothes I will often walk around the whole mall and only once I’ve tried on everything I’m interested in will I then decide what purchases to make. Sometimes I even wait to buy until the following week. Even those small delays change what I am actually willing to go back to any given store for, translating into me avoiding impulse purchases, buying only what I really need, and simply spending less money.
Some people might argue that we should have just got the AC and not felt like we were living in a sauna for those 6 summers, or that we should have gone ahead and done the pool and been enjoying that and worried about saving money later, or that we could have been driving a Tesla for the past 5 years. After all, you only live once (YOLO as they say…..I hate that acronym. It just sounds stupid.).
Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to remember that we each only have one life to live, and to make the most of however much time we each may have. But the “YOLO” movement seems to use this as an excuse for instant gratification, indulgence and poor financial decisions. If we had taken that approach, our money would always be spent on life’s wants, our mortgage would not be paid off anytime soon, and we would most definitely not be retired.
Embracing the delay has literally saved us thousands upon thousands of dollars over the years. Sometimes the delay allowed us to put the money to better use in the short term and we ultimately made the purchase down the road, but many times with a little delay, what seemed like something we really wanted was quickly forgotten, and the money never spent.
One constant outcome is that when you wait until the right time to financially to make a purchase, and you’ve given it appropriate consideration, you will appreciate it that much more, and you’ll never experience buyers remorse.
You may tell yourself that this one extra pair of shoes, this fancy dinner, or this monthly cable bill won’t be the difference maker in whether or not you reach financial freedom. And you’re right, it won’t be. But the totality of those small decisions likely will be.
The truly essential key to implementing this habit is to find the right balance. Some people can and have taken this approach way to far. Doing so can cause a lot of unhappiness, strife and conflict, even ruin relationships, so finding the balance that works for you AND your significant other is the real art of successfully implementing this habit.
Mike and I have managed to find our balance, indulging in the areas where we get real and substantial value, and abstaining where we don’t. We delay in a way where neither one of us feels that we are over-sacrificing our current life for future goals, but we are still able to achieve those future goals.
It takes some practice to find that balance, and a lot of communication with your significant other, but patience and the willingness to delay immediate gratification is both a financial and life habit that’s worth the effort.