Instant Gratification: What It Is and How to Avoid It
Updated: November 3, 2020
We live in the age of instant gratification: we receive whatever we want almost instantly. Push a button, scan a phone, tap or swipe a card and it appears. Anything over 2-day shipping is too long to wait. Marketers have capitalized on this, offering immediate delivery to get us to spend money. Happiness in an instant is possible, they promise except that as quickly as it arrives, that happiness can disappear. Constantly indulging in instant gratification can cause grave danger to our financial health. You may find yourself chasing that warm feeling right into the trap of debt.
Instant Gratification Definition
Also known as immediate gratification, instant gratification is choosing an immediate, but less rewarding benefit over a future one. The term not only covers the action but also the temptation. Examples include:
- Staying out late drinking with friends instead of leaving early and having a good night’s sleep.
- Purchasing a new car with a high-interest loan rather than waiting until you have the money to buy the car with cash. (Or at least, waiting until there is a 0% APR offer.)
The Opposite of Instant Gratification: Delayed Gratification
If instant gratification is getting immediate satisfaction, delayed gratification is the opposite. It’s where you give up an immediate or short-term pleasure so that you may have a significant future or long-term one. A few examples include:
- Choosing to save the cash to purchase an item rather than purchasing it on credit.
- Investing money today so it will be available at retirement.
Delayed gratification is great for curbing unnecessary spending. Remember, saving and investing are the cornerstones of financial independence. The more you practice delayed gratification, the easier it will become.
How to Resist Instant Gratification?
Avoiding instant gratification isn’t easy, especially since we’ve been conditioned to expect an immediate response to our needs. However, by adopting good habits, we can retrain our brains to accept delayed gratification.
- Develop specific short-term and long-term financial goals. Then track them. Having a goal to focus on has been proven to help you achieve success. Define your goals and benchmarks so you can stay on track. They should be written in places where they are easily accessible if a tempting option appears.
- Realize that happiness doesn’t automatically come with the next purchase. Despite what the ad says, buying that product won’t necessarily give you lasting pleasure. Deals come in cycles. You miss this one, there will very likely be another one soon.
- Think about your future. What would you need 1, 5, 10 or 30 years from now? Consider immediate needs (for example, bills), but also think about the future. Ensure your financial health is on track as you age. Incidentally, you should also ensure that your physical health is good as well. Medical costs can be one of your major expenses in retirement.
- Budgets: get one. Develop it and stick to it. Remember to give yourself some room for a little fun.
- Learn your triggers. By now, you probably know what things and activities cause temptation. It could be a bad day at work, or hanging out with certain friends, or targeted marketing. Identify these triggers, and design a plan to avoid them or push through the temptation.
- Make savings automated. When the money sits in your checking account, it’s so tempting to use. Set up an automatic transfer to move the money to a savings, investment or retirement account each payday. Once that’s done, you don’t have to do anything else, except making sure that your account doesn’t end up overdrawn. There are even a few apps that can help make this painless.
- Shopping? Use a list. Sometimes it’s really this simple. Sticking to a list can help you resist temptation and control your spending. Make a list and resolve to stay true to it.
- Practice the 10-second rule. (No, it’s not about whether it’s safe to eat food off the floor.) Imagine you’re standing in the store, and you’re debating whether to get that item in your hand. Spend some time (a minimum of 10 seconds) to determine if purchasing the product is worth it. How much use or pleasure will you get out of it, and for how long? Will you get it somewhere else cheaper? Is there a substitute for it that is easily available? Practice the same when making online purchases. Let it sit in your cart for a little while and ask the same questions.
- Try the 30-day rule. If there is an item that you really want, write it down. Over the next thirty days, you can choose to wait, or do a little more research on it. If you still want the item after 30 days, then make a plan to get it.
- Shop strategically, not socially. Shopping with loved ones can be fun. Sometimes you need a person you trust to give their honest opinion about your purchase. Social shopping adds pressure on your wallet: you may be easily talked into getting things you don’t need. Plus, you may find yourself wanting to please or impress your friends and family. Offer to meet your loved ones somewhere you won’t feel pressured to spend money, like your home or at a park.
- Reward yourself. It sounds counterproductive, but it helps with long-term motivation. You give yourself a small, temporarily satisfying reward for staying on course, after which you refocus and get back on track. This isn’t a distraction. It’s indulging yourself in a controlled way as congratulations for your success.
The idea behind these strategies is to deter the need for instant gratification. Training yourself to be patient when purchasing non-essential items helps filter the real wants from the temporary ones. Spontaneity is controlled and used as a reward for good behavior. Using these methods can save you money and help you towards financial independence.