We live in a world of instant gratification. Instant coffee, instant downloads, instant internet… instant everything. When something takes longer than instant we get all verklempt. So it’s really no wonder that we give in to our immediate desires more often than not instead of making longer term plans for the future.
When you see something you want, your brain doesn’t think: gee that’s nice, but I’d really rather save that money for fill-in-the-blank in the future. We’re much more inclined to think: oooh I like that, and I want it now. Instantly gratified.
That’s all good and fine if you don’t have any saving goals, or if you’re a kazillionaire- but if you’d like to save for some major goals in the future or save money for travel, it’s helpful to change your immediate gratification mindset.
“Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now.”
Instead of “I want this now,” start to think about what you could buy with that money in the future if you didn’t buy that now. It’s a great way to get excited about it and feel great not buying something you don’t need.
THE SWEATER SITUATION
For example, let’s say I’ve stumbled across what I feel at the moment is the grooviest, most awesome, amazing sweater for the semi-reasonable price of $60. First of all, most likely when you leave the store you’ll never think about the sweater again and your life will go on.
In that moment, stop and think: what could saving this $60 get me in the future? Then literally answer that question in relation to your goals.
Personally, I’m saving for an insanely epic trip around the world, so that $60 could get me: a night in this gorgeous house in Tuscany, or 30 cannoli, or 3 boat trips to surf breaks in Indonesia, or 20 bowls of Mie Goreng (a delicious Balinese noodle dish), or 2 nights at this beachfront bungalow in the Philippines… the list goes on and on. Let’s break it down visually:
I don’t know about you, but to me, it’s a no-brainer! The travel options far outweigh that $60 sweater.
If you can think of all those other great things you can put your money toward in the future, it’s actually extremely exciting and empowering to save that money. And you still get instant gratification- just in another way! Instead of the instant gratification of the sweater purchase, you get the instant gratification of dreaming about your goals.
It’s a win-win and your future self will give you a big huge THANK YOU when you’re settling into your beach bungalow with this view:
NOW VERSUS THE FUTURE
There’s a really interesting RadioLab episode called You versus You that explores this conundrum of desires in the present versus long term goals off in the future. The idea is that things offered right now in the present have so much more power than things in the future.
In essence, there are different parts of the brain battling it out- the now versus the future. The key is to turn that long term plan into an immediate feeling so it becomes a now versus now battle. We have to give the long-term battle a reason why it matters to us in the present to give it a fighting chance against the now desires.
The Radiolab episode gives an example of this phenomenon with a woman named Zelda who smoked for 30 years. Zelda repeatedly tried to quit smoking, but no matter what reasoning she gave herself- be it for her kids or for her health- she still couldn’t quit.
Then one day she made a pact with her friend and randomly declared: “if I ever smoke again I’m going to give $5,000 to the Klu Klux Klan.”
This idea of giving money to the KKK was so terrible to Zelda that whenever she would have the urge to smoke, she would think of how awful the KKK is and she couldn’t bear the idea of them having her money. What happened here is that Zelda had found a thought in the now that was more powerful than the urge to smoke (in the now). Zelda never smoked again.
The name for this is a “Ulysses Contract.” And the concept is that the future self finds a way to trick the now self. You should definitely listen to the podcast- it’s incredibly interesting!
So how does this all relate to saving money? Well just like Zelda found a more powerful feeling in the now to battle her smoking, we need to find something about saving money (future goal) that is powerful in the now to battle our desire to spend money on frivolous things we don’t need.
Whether it’s a material possession, trip, or another dream, find something you’re so passionate about and find a way to leverage that future desire in the now to compete with your desire for that instant gratification of buying something you don’t need.
The result will be empowerment, a bigger bank account for your long-term dreams, and winning the instant gratification challenge.