Some Thoughts on Delayed Gratification

Over the past few years, I’ve come to believe that learning to appreciate delayed gratification is one of the best things a person can learn in terms of their psyche and their finances. Here are a few stories illustrating what I mean.

Watching your garden grow This past year, I really got into our garden. I went out pretty much every day to check on it, often pulling a few weeds or doing something else related to it.

In years past, I somewhat viewed this as a chore. This year, though, I began to really notice how the plants were slowly growing each day I went out there. They were a bit bigger. This one had started to blossom. I could finally see some small snap beans. Look, at last there are the beginnings of some squash.

Those little visits became a pleasure themselves as I began to appreciate where my food came from and also anticipate the vegetables that were coming.

Approaching a big goal One of our biggest goals is paying off our house. Sarah and I have been working towards it for the past four years, making extra mortgage payments when it’s been reasonable and keeping careful track of our progress.

Since we’ve been so careful to track this, it’s been a lot of fun watching how our little actions have translated into a snowball effect against our debt. The balance goes down. Our normal monthly payment pays a bigger part of the principal than before. An extra payment knocks our balance down a little more.

Our little moves directly translate into a small part of something big, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the progress as we go along.

Waiting for an item A few months ago, using a gift certificate I received for my birthday, I preordered a board game, Kingdom Builder. It’s a game created by the same person who created Dominion, one of my favorite games I’ve ever played, so I decided to give his new creation a chance.

Anyway, once I preordered that item, around the middle of August or so, I found myself anticipating the item quite a bit. I subscribed to a few forums related to the game. I participated in some discussions about it. I read the rules for the game, as well as some early reviews.

Even more interesting, all this focus on a game that I knew I would be getting in the mail eventually kept me from spending money on other items. I might consider buying something, but then I’d tell myself, “Well, I have this other thing coming in the mail soon, so why buy even more stuff?”

The anticipation became part of the fun. It also became something of a guard against buying other things.

Delayed gratification is the common thread here. When you have something immediately, you get a big burst of excitement and joy, but that quickly fades. If you get used to that burst of gratification, it becomes something of an addiction. You must have a perk now.

If you hold off on that gratification, the anticipation itself becomes fun. You have more time to plan out what exactly you’re going to do. You have more time to savor the options before you.

Most importantly, you have a chance to enjoy the journey. Instant gratification takes that option away from you. At the same time, instant gratification means that you’re going to be spending more, because the joy doesn’t last very long.

Learn to enjoy the anticipation. Your spirit and your wallet will thank you.

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