One of the keys to saving money is cultivating the ability to delay gratification. Unfortunately, for many of us that’s easier said than done. 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.
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. Just because you went slightly off budget, you don’t have an excuse to completely bust it. 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?