303 Days ’til 40: Inhibiting Instant Gratification

24 Apr

Thank you to Silverbells2012, whose comment on my post 305 Days ’til 40…. was part of what inspired me to write this blog entry.

We live in a world of instant gratification.  In fact, if you live in New York you can have warm cookies delivered to your home even late at night.  If you have a desire, it can be fulfilled immediately, and that is what you want…… or is it?

Many studies have been done with children and instant versus delayed gratification.  One of the most famous experiments involved giving children a treat (perhaps it was a marshmallow) and telling them they could eat it now, or wait.  They were told if they waited until the researcher returned they could have two, if they ate it immediately they would only have one.  Many of the children could not control their need for instant gratification, and ate it immediately.  The children were followed over many years and it was found that the children who were able to delay gratification often did better in life.

I have one daughter who easily delays gratification (she can work her way through a bag of candy over months) and another one who wants everything instantaneously (she can work her way through a bag of candy in less than an hour!)  I often look at the two of them and wonder which one will find it easier to navigate our world.

I then think about our world today.  For the most part, the huge amounts of debt we are in as a society are a result of so many people not learning how to control their needs for instant gratification.  This is surely the case  with my family members and friends who have serious amounts of debt.  In every case they spent money they did not have on things they wanted, but probably really did not need – and ended up creating a mountain of financial issues as a result.  I wonder what would have happened if these individuals had participated in that experiment as children.  I am guessing they would have eaten the marshmallow.  Then I wonder, “what if they did?”  And, what if afterwards we worked to train and condition them to NOT eat the marshmallow so that they could learn the value and satisfaction of DELAYED gratification.

As I may have mentioned before, our family does not purchase anything that we cannot pay off at the end of the month.  This means that sometimes we must save for things we would like (things we think we need, but really do not need).  An example of this would be air conditioning.  Where we live there are some summer days (in fact, MANY summer days) that get as hot as 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  We have lived in our home for three years now and are just considering using some of our savings to purchase air conditioners for the bedrooms.  We spent three years with fans running and complaining that our sleep was not what it could be if we were cooler, we desperately wanted air conditioning, but we lived without it because at the time our finances just could not support the purchase.  It was a good lesson for us and for our daughters.  We are now talking with our girls about the possible purchase and they understand that we had to wait until we were in a place to invest without placing our finances in any compromising position.

I wish more people would learn this lesson.

As far as I am concerned, there are very few reasons to justify going into debt…..  here are some that seem to be justified to me, maybe my readers have a few more they will add in the comments section.

1.  Mortgage.  This is a necessary evil that eventually allows you to own your home.  STAY AWAY From balloon mortgages, if you cannot afford it today, you will not be able to afford the expanding payments a year or five years from now.

2.  Medical Debt.  Crappy things in life happen and people get sick.  In fact, medical debt is one of the largest reasons for bankruptcy and homelessness in the USA – so very sad.  I will not turn this post into a rant about insurance companies gone out of control, but I will say that debt to save the life of a loved one is never frivolous debt.

3.  Student Loans.  This is the only way many people can finance their education, and I am personally still paying off my loans.  I probably have 10 years left to go, and it is a substantial monthly payment.  Yet, my college education was critical to my current job (I would not have my current job if I had not received my degrees).  Therefore, when student loans result in employment, they seem to me to be an appropriate debt.

4.  Automobile…… sometimes.  If you live in New York, this is harder to justify – but if you live in a rural neighborhood with little to no public transportation and you need to get to work every day, then debt for an automobile may be necessary for your survival.

If you are planning to make a purchase that you do not need, that you cannot afford, I strongly caution you to delay the gratification until you are in a better financial position.

Today, 303 days ’til 40, I commit to plan my purchases wisely.  It is my goal to teach and model delayed gratification to my daughters in hopes that they will learn the self-control necessary to make wise financial decisions for themselves.  It is my hope that more individuals in our world will acquire this skills as well.



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60 responses to “303 Days ’til 40: Inhibiting Instant Gratification

  1. writerwannabe763

    April 24, 2012 at 01:43

    Some may not consider this a valid reason….but we have used our credit line to help someone else who couldn’t get it and did need it ….They paid the monthly payment and it was in effect not our debt….but I know that ‘caution’ for doing this cannot be stressed enough ….we really knew the person well and knew he was able to be trusted.. I also know that this would ‘appear’ to other creditors as ‘our’ debt but that too was taken into account and in our case okay…..Diane

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 16:17

      Wow, it sounds like you really took a risk on a friend… like you said, when you really know someone this can sometimes work, as it did with you – the sad thing is when people go into debt for a friend or relative and are then left with the debt when the person cannot pay it…… yes, it is always about balance and having the wisdom and discernment to know when to trust/ take risks/ etc.

  2. stephenedwards425

    April 24, 2012 at 01:49

    I have enjoyed immensely reading your blog. As a writer I know you will understand if I am absent from making comments for a couple of months. I have two books I’m writing and the push is on to get them finished…so with only 24 hours in the day, I am going to continue to read and like, but my comments will be limited to replies for those who comment on my blog…thanks for the grace.

    Be encouraged!

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 16:16

      Thank you for your comments…… good luck with your writing and please visit when you have the free time to do so – reading and comments are about the desire, not obligation. 🙂

  3. stilllearning2b

    April 24, 2012 at 02:02

    I love that marshmallow study. It’s a classic! I used to be the crazy person who delayed gratification too much. I would always save for tomorrow and delay fun until ALL the work was done (ie. never). I’m learning to balance fun now with saving for later.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 16:14

      Me too – isn’t it a great study? Good point re: balance… sometimes you do have to use some of that savings!

  4. narf77

    April 24, 2012 at 02:52

    Another great thought provoking post. As penniless student hippies we have found it easy to negate instant gratification down to nothing. We have no debt because we simply can’t afford debt. I think that its a brave parent who teaches their children about debt management these days. Every facet of our lives is being studied and manipulated so that we can be sold these unnecessary “necessities”. I am so glad that your girls will be reaping the benefit of their parents wisdom and that they will also learn that waiting for something makes it taste SOOOO much sweeter than having it at once. Often the thrill of the chase is more tantalising than the actual attainment of said article. “Beware what you wish for because it just might come true” is more poignant than ever these days.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 16:14

      Yes, very true words! I agree with you completely. We do have student loan and mortgage debt at our home – but we are not allowing any more debt and are very conscious about it – the next step will be properly saving for the future….. we are not there yet, but we know we need to get there soon.

  5. incidentallearner

    April 24, 2012 at 03:26

    Great job! Instant gratification is the name of the game!! Oh, and get the most expensive mortgage because the bank tells us we can afford it! Thank you for posting!

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 16:12

      Ah, such a good point – why do people take the highest mortgage they are approved for? So stupid! When my partner and I bought our home we could have borrowed more – we looked at our salaries and made sure the mortgage could be paid even if one of us lost our job….. we live in a tiny place, we could have had triple the size, but we are not worried about ever losing it….. many did not understand, but I believe it is wise.

  6. Kate

    April 24, 2012 at 04:09

    Excellent post. Like I mentioned in response to one of your posts last week, my daughter is a work-in-progress on the instant vs. delayed gratification. My son is following close behind. Hopefully, my experiences growing up in a home with 2 frugal parents who still believe in delayed gratification will be enough to to guide my children (and myself) to better discipline when considering purchases.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 16:10

      Thank you – it sounds like we are in similar places with our children! I find the opposite when it comes to role models though, I grew up with parents who always had to have instant gratification and I watched them get themselves into some pretty serious financial messes – which I am trying to avoid in my own life (and my children’s)!

      • Kate

        April 24, 2012 at 17:51

        My husband’s mom is/was very much like your parents. She still continues to struggle financially because every penny she earns goes right back out. So, it is very challenging to put the brakes on my husband’s need for instant gratification. His tendency to spend does not aid me in trying to contain my own impulsive tendencies. I work very hard at channeling my parents ideology when it comes to deciding on purchases. But, it is easier said than done.

        • 400daystil40

          April 24, 2012 at 23:14

          So very true, I think this was part of my parents problem – they egged each other on and together increased the debt as they both loved to spend and debt created together was somehow less scary and laden with less guilt. Good for you to work to follow in your parents footsteps… and yes, it is very hard to fight society and the advertisers who try to convince us that our life will be so much happier if we purchase a certain product that appeals to us.

  7. Kate

    April 24, 2012 at 04:09

    Reblogged this on kateschannel and commented:
    Thought this was a great post about instant vs. delayed gratification. Love this new blog I’m following.

  8. jodiks

    April 24, 2012 at 04:58

    Thank you. This is something I struggle with and am trying so hard to do better on.

    Though being 7 months pregnant made the thought of 3 am warm and delivered cookies rather tasty sounding. 😉 Of course I’m the kind who will baker hers herself (ask my hubby about the 2 am peanut butter cookie escapade)

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 16:09

      🙂 Your post made me smile! Congratulations on your pregnancy. I think that the key is to be aware and continually challenge ourselves in this area.

      • jodiks

        April 25, 2012 at 01:55

        Exactly! And I’m glad I could make you smile. 🙂

  9. Bob Faw

    April 24, 2012 at 05:26

    Great points all around. The discipline to delay gratification is key to so many successful things in life. I’m very good in some areas, but not so good at saving money. I need to continue to improve it myself. Keep up the grounded and wise blogging, please.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 16:07

      Thank you! Yes, I find I am much better in some areas than others when it comes to delayed gratification (true confessions, Ben and Jerrys gets be every time!) 🙂

  10. Lucianus Mauricius

    April 24, 2012 at 07:00

    I absolutely agree with you. We, as a society are greedy to the core the the instant gratification has become almost like a drug of choice. We crave it not just in regards to material things, but also emotional ones (something you didn’t mention in your post 😉 ). I often have wanted emotional as well as physical gratification now, instead of waiting til the right person/s came along to be able and honest enough to give it to me. In this way, I got what I wanted, yet it was never enough, I got “hungry” after just a few hours. The buzz burned out in a very short time. As I’m getting older and living far form the US now, I’ve learned to patience and self-control over expenses. Though I continue to live alone, and cover rent and other monthly bills on my sole salary, I’m not in debt like I used to be years ago, and thus I have finally reached financial independence from my family. I guess it took me years of struggling with credit card bills and one bankruptcy to learn that lesson, yet it was all worth it. Thank you for sharing this blog, and it’s always a pleasure reading what you have to say. Luc

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 16:04

      Ah, very true, emotional and physical instant gratification is also an important reality that people struggle with. Thank you for pointing this out as well. I have also heard more than one person say that moving out of the USA seemed to help with debt control, etc… probably removing the pressure to keep up.

  11. rabidmongoose

    April 24, 2012 at 07:21

    Hey 400days, great minds think alike. I was just thinking about my own need for instant gratification today…I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my case I believe my spending and need for instant gratification stem from my fear of aging, and the desire to avoid responsibility and adulthood and remain a perenial child. In other words, I somehow convinced myself that as long as I acted childishly, I was still a child physiologically…it’s a form of denial for me.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 16:03

      Wow, what an interesting point….. I do think that maturity does seem to lower that need, so fear of ageing could increase it. I never looked at it this way before, thank you for the new perspective!

  12. Eve Redwater

    April 24, 2012 at 12:59

    Hmm… student loans indeed. If all goes well I’ll have even more loans to add to the list once I continue my education past BA level. It saddens me that, for people like me who have little money, have to entrust themselves to massive debt just to get where they want to in life. In the end though, I guess it’s just another stone along the road. Got to kick it before it goes anywhere!

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 16:00

      Yes, me too – I had loans for my BA, MA and a post-grad certificate… I needed all three (had to have the MA before the certificate program) in order to get my current job – so for me it was a necessary evil.

  13. Spider42

    April 24, 2012 at 13:17

    An excellent post on a topic that is very important and highly relevant in todays world. Nicely done.

  14. jeandayfriday

    April 24, 2012 at 14:58

    Great post and oh, so true! It is amazing how instant gratification has become the norm and delayed gratification is almost non-existent.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 15:57

      I agree, delayed gratification is not a familiar concept these days….. sadly

  15. saymber

    April 24, 2012 at 17:30

    Awesome article and you and your families philosophy regarding not living beyond your means is what my husband and I do also. It keeps life simple. The more stuff you have in your life, the more complicated it becomes and pretty soon you are doing more taking care of the things than enjoying them! Making the best use of what you have is also good – I love to repurpose things. Very little goes to waste for me, if I can’t use it I try to make sure it goes towards recycling and that doesn’t just mean traditional. Recycling can mean donating usable things to worthy charities.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 23:15

      Thank you! I agree with you, my life definitely got more complicated as I acquired more “things” – most of which were probably unnecessary. Yes, we do a lot of recycling at our house, which I think is so important!

  16. Dion Burn

    April 24, 2012 at 17:43

    I sometimes think that everything I’ve begun in my life is in a state of suspended delayed gratification. True gratification, for the things that are actually important, is difficult to attain.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 23:14

      Hmm… very deep and interesting thought… I will have to ponder this one a bit…. 🙂

  17. antarabesque

    April 24, 2012 at 18:07

    One other thing to consider about medical and student loan debt. Almost everything we borrow money for can be seized by the lender upon non payment of debt. The exceptions are student and money borrowed for medical expenses. If you default on your student loan, you still have your education/degree/certificate. Granted in the case of medical loans, you may lose whatever secured the loan, but you will still have whatever medical proceedure(s) you needed. I am so grateful that the latter is not of such a major concern here in Canada.
    Thank you for these thoughts. I am definitely the delayed gratification type. I always save the best part of a meal to finish.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 23:12

      This is a very interesting point! Thank you for commenting!

  18. Pasturepilot

    April 24, 2012 at 20:07

    Great post. An old captain I used to fly with had a theory on how the microwave oven ruined American culture by bringing instant gratification to the masses. I tend to agree with him.

    I will say, automotive debt is an unnecessary debt even in locations where wheels are a necessity. If you’re willing to go from point A to point B without that new car smell, save your money and buy used cars. My current car was 12 years old when I bought it. If you learn to take care of your toys at an early age, that lesson will pay dividends for the rest of your life! My Toyota (purchased at 4 years old/48,000 miles) still gets to town and back at age 16 with 320,000 miles.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 23:11

      I love your blogger name! It sounds like the captain you flew with was a wise person. Good point on the automobile debt, you are correct, you really can get an older car and save money and be okay (as long as you have something to pay for that older car with!!!) 🙂

  19. viveka

    April 24, 2012 at 20:09

    Great subject again .. so happy that I don’t owe anyone anything when it’s about money. Don’t have a credit card … no loans, no mortgage, no car … every penny I have is my own – that is FREEDOM. Had it all … a couple of years ago and I decide enough is enough and paid everything off. Have an AMEX gold – that I have to pay off in the end of the month. It has never been easier to live. Made fair amount of money when I was working- only get 50% of it today and I happily free. And what I did when I paid everything of – was my Instant Gratification

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 23:09

      Thank you – you are so very correct – it really is about freedom and an important freedom. Good for you for making the decision to pay everything off. I did the same when I was finishing graduate school and it was such a wise decision I made.

      • viveka

        April 24, 2012 at 23:41

        Yes, to own our own money is freedom. Good on you too.

  20. artistspromenade

    April 24, 2012 at 20:19

    l really enjoyed reading your post and I couldn’t agree with you more. Trying to teach my sons the value of money, of looking at people for who they are and how they behave rather than what they have, and to trust their instincts when living their lives and making choices.
    I was just laughing with a friend that we love our Ipads and Iphones, just swipe your finger and the answer appears, but what about problems that cannot be solved so quickly.
    Kudos to you and your family for toughing out the air conditioner situation and I can only imagine the sheer joy you will all feel this summer.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 23:08

      Yes! We cannot wait for our A/C!!! And we do love all of our igadgets…. but try to remember moderation!

  21. Jules Rules

    April 24, 2012 at 20:37

    I am a firm believer in holding off on what is not absolutely necessary. My friends refer to me as “Frugal Jules”, but I refer to them as “Up to your ASS in debt.” My good friend is facing eviction because she spent foolishly.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 23:08

      How hard to watch your friends suffer the consequences of their bad money choices – I like what you call them, as it is so very true (harsh, but true!) 🙂

  22. Rebecca Stibrany

    April 24, 2012 at 21:31

    I’m a newly wed, and before my husband and I met he was a big spender. He loved to buy things. He had the money to do so, so it was never problem. Then I came. And I can’t work. Suddenly, he was supporting two people, but because he’d always had surplus money, he’d never had a need to budget.

    We thought we were fine. We bought expensive clothes, ate out all the time, then we woke up one day $20,000 in the red.

    None of it was good debt. He didn’t have student debt, our car is paid for, we have a few medical expenses but that’s it.

    It took us a year to get on top of it. We’re just learning now about delayed gratification, that we have to save for what we want – and what we want and what we need suddenly have very different definitions.

    I wish you’d written this a year ago :p

    Great post, and though it seems like common sense, so many of us get into this pattern. It’s obviously something a huge number of us need to hear.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 23:06

      Thank you for your comment and I am so happy for you that you were able to get all of this under control early in your marriage! Think of all the people (like my parents) who lived a lifetime struggling with these issues…… when you get them under control earlier you break bad habits and you create healthy patterns for your family!

  23. T. R. Kolbe

    April 24, 2012 at 21:57

    I used to be the type that I when I wanted things, I charged them regardless of whether or not I had the money. Then I learned what it was like to be poor–to not have enough money to eat or pay the rent. I went hungry and nearly got evicted. Now I’ve become much more responsible with money. We only buy what we can pay off at the end of the month and I have found that there were so many things that once I thought about it, I just didn’t need it or want it. I agree with your list of justified debt, unfortunately in our society, it’s the little things, the instant gratification, that always get us.

    • 400daystil40

      April 24, 2012 at 23:04

      It is so good that you learned that valuable lesson….. you are correct, the little things are what get us and they add up quickly!

  24. pamela68

    April 27, 2012 at 07:11

    We must have the same daughters for my two are just like that. The interesting thing is the daughter that saves also has become more perservering in life where the other one gives up way too easily.

    • 400daystil40

      April 27, 2012 at 07:44

      Yes, I am finding that too – which is what worries me about my daughter that does not save/ needs the instant gratification…. parenting always keeps us on our toes! 🙂

  25. Russel Ray Photos

    April 28, 2012 at 21:51

    Just remember that if 60 is the new 40 like everyone says, then 40 must be the new 20. Another year and you’ll be old enough to imbibe a little. lol

    • 400daystil40

      April 29, 2012 at 23:46

      Thanks for making me smile with your comment!!! 🙂

  26. nelle

    May 4, 2012 at 22:45

    Good post and so true. Now cookie delivery, oh my gosh.

    • 400daystil40

      May 5, 2012 at 23:57

      Thanks! Yes, tonight is one of those nights that I could really get into that cookie delivery!!! 😉

  27. liquorstorebear

    May 5, 2012 at 21:21

    Great post. We often talk about that marshmallow study. Of my adult parents (typists), one would eat the marshmallow and the other would wait. So the question becomes: which one controls the purse strings? It’s the only issue where there’s disagreement in the household.
    How does somebody in their forties learn how to wait for the marshmallow?

    • 400daystil40

      May 5, 2012 at 23:40

      Oh, good question! This was the problem my parents had (they both would eat the marshmallow!) I think the answer is usually to let the person who can delay gratification be the one to hold the purse strings… this can bring some tension, but keeps the family in a healthier financial balance.

  28. greenfrogknits

    May 6, 2012 at 03:21

    I came over after you had liked my post, and wow, I am glad I came! This is an awesome blog, and I am glad you posted this about instant gratification: I do the same thing. It’s freeing especially for me, because as a college student I move from dorm to apartment, etc and have to take all my stuff with me each time. I’ve learned to enjoy life with less, and when I wanted something, I would write it on a slip of paper and see how I felt about it in two weeks. Most things I crossed out, or forgot about until the end of the month, cleaning out my room. I am constantly learning to value memories more than objects…it’s a work in progress. Thanks for sharing your insight with us.

    • 400daystil40

      May 6, 2012 at 22:41

      I LOVE your blog name!!! Thanks for stopping by my blog! I wish you the best in your college life! Such a good point that many moves force us to purge. I agree, that was a very big advantage of college life! 🙂


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