10 Ways to Delay Gratification

by Tracy · 11 comments

delay gratification
One of the keys to saving money is cultivating the ability to delay gratification. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done for many of us. Putting off pleasure today in anticipation of tomorrow’s needs doesn’t come naturally to many people. However, there are ways to overcome your natural inclinations and develop more thoughtful spending habits. Here are a few you should try.

1. Have a clear vision of yourself in the future. It’s much easier to want to take care of future you if you have a picture in your head of what you’ll be doing in 5, 10, 15 years and beyond as well as a firm plan for getting there.

Knowing what you want and how you’ll get it makes the reasons for resisting temptation seem much more clear and real than having just vague ideas.

2. Find ways to distract yourself. It’s much easier to resist temptation after we’ve forgotten all about it! Instead of dwelling on what you can’t have right now, throw yourself into doing other activities that you enjoy.

Fill your life with lots of activity and good friends and you’ll find that you won’t dwell so much on buying things or trying to fill time by spending money.

3. Don’t test your will-power to the point of exhaustion. Depriving yourself too much can make it more difficult for you to stay on track in the future. Just like an overly stringent diet can lead to binge eating, an unrealistically strict budget can lead to uncontrolled splurges.

Plan a bit of fun money into your budget so that you can let loose every now and then without putting your bank account in jeopardy.

4. Make spending money as cumbersome as possible. The problem with paying with plastic for many of us is that it just doesn’t seem real enough. Paying with cash can make you think twice and reconsider how much of a need this purchase is.

Try putting all of the money you’ve ear-marked into savings into a separate account as soon as you’re paid. Make sure that it’s just difficult enough to get the funds out so that you won’t be tempted to sneak a bit “just this once” to pay for impulse purchases.

5. Keep yourself accountable by tracking all of your spending. Knowing that you have to write it down can sometimes be enough to make you stop and reconsider. Even better, find a friend or family member that will go over your books with you and make you “justify” your expenses.

6. Give yourself visual reminders of your goals and priorities to keep them at the front of your mind at all times. Whenever you’re tempted to choose immediate gratification over long term goals, think about these reminders and ask yourself if this momentary pleasure is worth delaying your dreams.

7. Avoid all or nothing thinking. For some of us, all it takes is one little slip-up to fall completely off the wagon. You don’t have an excuse to completely bust it just because you went slightly off budget. It’s still worth it to stay on track, even if you took a slight detour. Don’t try to talk yourself into thinking otherwise.

8. Make a list of your most common rationalizations and then come up with a counterpoint to each of them. For example, if you’re prone to saying “It’s just five dollars”, remind yourself that five dollars a day adds up to over $1,500 in a year. Or if you’re always promising yourself to do better starting next payday, ask why put off what you can easily start today?

9. Remember that whatever discomfort you feel will soon pass. Do you remember the mild feeling of hungriness you experienced last July 15th when you put off having a snack until you got home? Do you mourn the shirt you put back on the rack, say the time you shopped on May 30th, 2009? Of course not. Tell yourself that if your desire turns out not to be transient, you can always buy it later.

10. Enjoy how much your self-control is paying off but be careful not to use your past success as an excuse to slack off. Look at delayed gratification as a route to leading a more mindful, less materialistic life so that it’s easier to stick with your good habits instead of seeing them as a short term solution.

How do you delay gratification? Does it come easily to you or is it a struggle?

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  • Wendy says:

    These are good, I know one or two people I’d like to share these with… 😉 And I agree with Patrick that many or all of these could be used for dieting, too! I especially like #6, as sometimes I just completely forget (until too late) about my goals. These two goals I have, saving money and eating healthier, go together. Does anyone know where one can buy a wallet that, when you open it, has a jack in the box come out??

  • I’m getting little better at delayed gratification, but I’m not all the way there yet. I think doing number 8 and rationalizing how an extra treat or two could turn into x amount of dollars would certainly help. Heck, that would work with the dining out budget too. I definitely need to do a little expense tracking and see how much money my little rationalizations are cosing me.

  • Khanya Ngonyama says:

    Great message!! The 10 commandments of financial success. If everyone followed these 10 rules, the financial crisis may not have happened.

  • denise says:

    I have to say I love this site. David you have inspired me to start my own site. I believe that is the problem we have to delay some gratification in life. It builds character. Hope you like my newbie site and others can come my way.

  • Patrick says:

    Great post. This can also be used for dieting! I’m trying to lose a little weight and I struggle with “Delaying Gratification of Food!”

  • DIY Investor says:

    As you point out “…good friends…” are important. I’m convinced that if young people get caught up with a crowd that has to have the cell phone with all the features and the latest designer jeans they will never learn delayed gratification.

  • bluesauger says:

    Great list here. For me, what gets me the most is number 3. I always seem to go too far into saving money where I don’t feel like I can allow myself to buy anything, but this simply isn’t a long-lasting method. I often then spend a lot to make up for past saving, at which point all my past frugality is wiped out by the splurging of a few moments.

  • Inspired Shopper says:

    Thanks for this list – They all resonate but no. 9 is the one I most identify with. Since I’ve become a more intuitive shopper I’ve become really good at hunting down bargains – but some of them just aren’t right for me or my budget. That feeling of deprivation as you put the $25 cream trench coat with black piping back on the rack can sometimes be gut wrenching! When I put something back on the shelf or rack I’ve got into the habit of telling myself that it’s meant for someone else, and it will be just right for them. The ‘ouch’ factor is still there, but it’s a part of shopping I’ve come to reluctantly accept.

  • Kathryn C says:

    I read an article about this and it said that a good thing to do is think about how good you’ll feel if you are successful at delaying gratification. So, instead of focusing on “not procrastinating” focus on how good you’ll feel if you are successful at it. Whenever we tell ourselves to “not do something” we want to do it ever more, like when the dentist says don’t swallow, I swallow! So it basically said to train ourselves to think of the positive outcome rather than putting ourselves on restriction.

  • KM says:

    These days I am just too busy to feel like I am not being fulfilled and I need to splurge on something. I just don’t feel the need to convince myself that something good is coming later – I am happy enough spending a little on things I appreciate and saving the majority. If anything, I am actually hesitant to spend money when I need or want something because I want to save it instead.

  • This is a great post. Delayed gratification is SO hard because you don’t get immediate results (that’s why we created ImpulseSave!) and you have to keep the long-range lens in focus. But for me the killer is #7 All or Nothing Thinking. Whenever I slip-up or splurge I feel as though I should just stop all together which is probably the WORST thing for me to do. Thanks for reminding us that we need to stick with it and that they way we feel now is probably not the way we’ll feel in five years, or five minutes for that matter!

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