Delay Gratification - how I've done it

If you're wondering how to delay gratification to help secure your financial future, then I'd like to show you what I've done to accomplish this mission in my life.

These elements have worked well as part of my approach to frugal living, and I trust they will work well for you too. My suggestions come in a package of six steps or concepts. They can be implemented as a series, or put into action one at a time on a case-by-case basis.

The choice is all yours.

If you can't implement them all at once, you can at least let the ideas sink in, and try to start implementing them at your own pace. The key to success is once you see how well this set of recommendations works, you'll use them as a "set of tools" for future decision making.

With all the demands on your money, you need to get better at six things:

  1. knowing what's important in your life
  2. having a plan to get those important things
  3. differentiating between needs and wants
  4. prioritizing and sequencing expenditures
  5. asking tough questions
  6. rewarding yourself for accomplishing priority objectives

Essentially we're talking about having a plan and sticking with it. Let's look at the six areas of focus and see what each entails. Let's also see how each of these helps us delay gratification so we can provide for ourselves what we really need and what we will genuinely appreciate.

1. Know What's Important to You

Success in any endeavor requires that you identify what it is you're trying to get out of it. In other words, you need to identify what's important to you. Another way of stating this is to identify what you truly value.

Let me give you an example of how I knew what was important to me and how I decided to delay gratification to get it.

Long before I graduated high school, I knew that a college education was going to be important. My perspective was simply that a bachelor's degree was probably going to be a minimum requirement for any type of higher paying job, so there was no question in my mind that I needed a college education.

Education was also key to upward mobility and broader choices in life. My decision boiled down to working now for lower wages and crawling up the pay scale based on seniority, or getting an education and having much higher potential for income and promotions.

My natural tendency for immediate gratification screamed: "Get out there and start making money." The wiser half of me said: "Delay gratification and you'll make more money."

Clearly, an education would be important to me in the near future and over the long haul. Why was a college education important? Because it would show others that I:

  • could graduate a school of higher learning with a specific area of study

  • had a can do attitude and wasn't afraid of a challenge

  • wasn't satisfied with just having a job, but rather had a career focus that started with a foundation of education

  • had my "ticket punched" and ready for a career

There are other reasons to have a college degree, but those were enough for me. In order to get the degree, I had to delay gratification (earning money at a job) and focus on longer term goals (having a career that makes more serious money over the longer haul).

2. Have a Plan

Okay, so I was on my way to graduation from the university. Good deal. That was important to me, but how was I going to put that to work for me? How was I going to land my first career opportunity?

I started to think about me lined up with all the rest of the graduates with degrees and no experience. That would put me on the same level as others, and I wanted an advantage. Don't we all want an advantage?

So, to obtain that advantage, I decided again to delay gratification (graduation with my classmates) and headed into the co-op program. That would give me an education and some experience. And, it would give me something that other graduates didn't have - job references!

So, that was my plan. I would delay gratification in exchange for a job reference. That seemed reasonable to me. Graduation was coming my way, and a job was coming my way. I just had to wait another year, but it put me at a distinct advantage that another year in school wouldn't.

I served 6 months as a co-op in an organization in Chicago, then went back to school for 6 months, planning to repeat that pattern once more before I graduated.

There was a mix-up in the scheduling of co-ops, so instead of doing my last six month tour in Chicago, I did 3 months in Chicago and 3 months in Washington D.C. Some would have thought that to be a burden (and it was), but I saw it as another opportunity to get a different type of job experience and another set of references!

It fit well with my plan, so I embraced it instead of rejecting it. To me, it wasn't a burden, it was an opportunity.

So, when you delay gratification, it's okay, as long as you're working towards something that is important to you, and it fits well with your plan (assuming of course that you have a plan).

3. Differentiate between Needs and Wants

Here's another example from my life that shows how to delay gratification to put yourself in a better position to get what you need first, and then what you want later.

My first job out of college took me to California. I jumped on the opportunity because it was a different place and it had a lot to offer. I was 21, so I was ready for all it had to offer.

The personnel department at my new job put me in touch with a real estate agent that helped me find one of her customers that wanted to rent a condominium he owned.

A couple of days later, I had a place lined up that was about one mile from work, and reasonably close to shopping, bus routes and the mass transit system for the Bay Area. I sold my car, and packed up what few belongings I had into cardboard boxes to be shipped via UPS to wherever my new residence was located.

I bought a one way ticket to Oakland, and my adventure began - without a car.

Wait a minute! No car? In California, the land of slow moving parking lots known as freeways? Yep, no car.

I knew that what I needed was a place to stay that was convenient to work and essential shopping. I had just that. The car was a luxury at that point; something I wanted, but didn't need. So, I stayed focused on meeting my needs first, and then looked at satisfying my desires second.

Again, I saw how to delay gratification and use that delay in time and cash flow to make certain my first measly paying job would support my needs first and foremost. In the meantime, several of those boxes contained my bicycle, and with the great California weather, I figured that would do me just fine - for a while.

And, it did, for more than a year!

So, delay gratification of your wants by putting your needs out front. And, be realistic about your needs. They should include shelter, food, clothing, transportation and communication. What form they take is up to you, but I knew very well that I didn't need personal transportation just then, so I was able to delay gratification and allow myself to get on my financial feet.

4. Prioritize and Sequence Expenditures

Good fortune was smiling on me when I rented my first apartment in California. The landlord provided me a bed to sleep in, and a basic table and chairs for the dining area. I graciously accepted his offer to help me.

After my 13 cardboard boxes arrived, I unpacked them and settled in, but there were things that I needed to make this dwelling a functional home. I needed furniture.

Thinking the furniture thing through, it would cost for the furniture and delivery (since I didn't have a car), and there were many pieces that I needed, so it wasn't going to be inexpensive.

Instead of furniture, I bought a large bottle of glue. Yep, a $2 purchase instead of perhaps $600. Again, my instinct for frugal living was strong, and I knew to delay gratification for something that was more important than furniture - a place of my own.

So, I used a knife and the glue to fashion the cardboard boxes into makeshift furniture; a dresser, a night stand, and two end tables. What more could a guy want for his one bedroom apartment? I draped sheets and pillow cases over them, and they looked just fine.

It was never going to make better homes and gardens, but then I would never get there if I spent my money on furnishings instead of saving a down payment for a place of my own. Let's recap the concepts above to see how I put them together:

  • I knew that a place of my own was important, much more important than paying rent to someone else. So, that became a goal.
  • My plan to achieve that goal was to hold on until I was able to save up some money to make a down payment. That meant I had to delay gratification with such things as furniture, stereo, car and other things that were nice to have, but not necessary.
  • I knew that furniture was more of a want than a solid need, so I decided to get by with improvised brown corrugated furniture delivered via UPS from the Great Lake State.
  • So, I had firmly in my mind that a place of my own was my first priority for saving money, and I wasn't going to put anything ahead of it. Furniture purchases could be sequenced afterward, right into my new place where they belonged.

    Friends at work gave me an unused end table and an old couch, so that made my plan even easier to implement. My effort to delay gratification wasn't nearly as full of effort as it might have been.

    5. Ask Tough Questions

    One way to delay gratification is to ask yourself tough questions. Many times the honest answers will help keep you on course, or at least help you readjust your frugal living thinking and actions.

    Let's go to another story of my youth in California. Fast forward about 18 months after setting foot on the Oakland airport tarmac for the first time. My job was stable, I was putting money in the bank, and I was looking to establish myself more permanently.

    I decided that it was time to purchase a place of my own. With the help of a real estate agent, I found a nice quiet place that was a reasonable distance from mass transit. I thought long and hard about buying it because it would put me in debt and the down payment would require most of my life savings that I had accumulated since I was a kid cutting grass around the neighborhood.

    It was time for tough questions. Here were a few that I pondered:

    • Would rent and real estate prices go up or down?
    • Was this an investment or a whim?
    • Could I build equity with this?
    • Was it an over-my-head kind of commitment?
    • What had I been saving my money for?
    • Was there a better purpose for my savings?
    • What benefit would there be in waiting longer or for another place?
    • Was this general location a good place to live?

    After asking the tough questions, the answer was clear to me. This was the time and place, and it was a good use of my savings.

    Most importantly, I recognized that delay of gratification had brought me to this point. Delay of gratification had positioned me well. Delay of gratification was now allowing me to make this decision with confidence.

    The words "it closed" sounded good to me over the phone. I had indeed earned that good feeling.

    6. Enjoy Your Rewards

    To delay gratification is to deny yourself some of the sweetness of life in anticipation of something even better. To help keep your approach to frugal living and wise planning on course, you need to give yourself a reward for your accomplishments.

    For me, buying some furniture for my place was a nice reward. Later, I purchased a piano, something I never thought that I would ever own. It was a true reward for having established a permanent foothold in California. And, as you can imagine, I paid cash for it, and not nearly full price either.

    When you delay gratification, you should have a goal in mind. Sometimes achieving that goal is sufficient reward, and other times you need to give yourself an additional "pat on the back," but don't get too carried away. Stay focused on frugality so you can achieve your next important objective.

    Delay Gratification - a summary

    Following along with the story, you can see that the decision to buy a place of my own was relatively easy to do. As always, one might have reservations about the purchase, but I was satisfied that the decision was wise because it fit well with all my delay gratification criteria:

    1. A place of my own was indeed important in my life.
    2. I had implemented a plan to get to this point, and it had worked well to put me in a favorable position.
    3. Having my own place was very much a need and not merely something that I wanted.
    4. A home was my priority, and once purchased, I could start to sequence other important expenditures.
    5. I had asked all the tough questions, and none of the answers gave me cause for concern, nor did they sway me away from my decision.
    6. With a permanent roof over my head, I could reward myself by satisfying some of my wants (furniture, piano, stereo) that would be safe inside my new home.

    One Last Important Point

    When we set about to delay gratification, we're doing something that is a bit unnatural. It's like denying a scratch for your itch.

    So, in addition to the key "how to" points above, let me offer one more technique that you can employ to help delay gratification. It isn't a pill that you take that allows you to delay gratification, it's a cultural aspect of America that you must turn a "blind eye" as well as a "deaf ear" toward.

    It's advertising and the American popular culture. It's the constant bombardment by TV, radio and print media that tries to convince you that you are dissatisfied with your life. It tries to convince you that if only you would get a new car or have the latest personal electronic device, your level of satisfaction would turn around immediately.

    The truth is that if you focus on your interests and ignore the mass media, you'll find that your life can be filled with wonderful moments, great friends, fun times, and levels of satisfaction that you never realized because you were distracted from all of these positives by the advertising drone that suggests you're just not quite as satisfied as you would be if you were spending more money.

    America has a TV addiction. It isn't hard to see. And, television is a powerful form of advertising. When it comes to TV, that's where I'd start with my "blind eye and deaf ear" program.

    If you are to delay gratification, then you must avoid the toolbox full of temptations that are the mainstay of the advertising agencies. It's really as simple as that.

    Good fortune to you and your approach to frugal living, and may you be successful in your efforts to delay gratification until you find something that is really worthwhile and stands up to all the tough questions one might ask to be certain it's a good spending decision for you.

    Done with Delay Gratification, take me back to Frugality

There certainly is a broad scope of topics here at Frugal Living Freedom. When you think about it, money permeates so very many activities in our lives, therefore, being frugal encompasses a wide range of interests, from being employed to taking a vacation, and just about everything in between. Enjoy the variety, pick up some new ideas, and start making frugality a part of your signature.

I'm a big proponent of being debt-free, and I mean entirely debt-free - no mortgage payment. It's not essential for financial freedom, but you'll love the feeling once you get there. If you didn't have a rent or mortgage payment, how much more could you do for yourself with your current level of income? I suspect plenty.

If you ever hope to see an abundance of wealth, you need to plug the hole in your boat. The wealthy don't necessarily make lots of money, instead, they know how to hang onto what they make, and make it work for them.