You may be familiar with the marshmallow test, a test carried out at Stanford University in the 1970’s to see how a group of children’s ability to delay gratification would impact their future lives. The children were offered one marshmallow immediately or asked to hold out for 15 minutes and receive two. Those that were able to delay gratification performed notably better through life in terms of their educational attainment, overall fitness levels and life satisfaction.
I would have without a doubt fallen into the category of those who grabbed the marshmallow as quickly as I could get my hands on it and this has been a story that has played out throughout my life as I have struggled with my overspending. While I have not totally mastered the game of delayed gratification, I have learnt some skills along the way and I would like to share these with you if this is something you also grapple with.
Firstly, what is delayed gratification?
It is the skill of being able to put off getting something small now in order to build getting a bigger reward in future.
Let’s break that down a little….
It is a skill
The good news is just like any skill it is one you can choose to learn.
You are giving up something small
In the moment when that expensive handbag or pair of shoes is triggering all your want emotions, or that invite to try out that new expensive restaurant with your friends is playing on your fear of missing out it is extremely difficult to see the big picture of why you shouldn’t just pull out the plastic and spend. But if you start to train yourself to step back out of the moment of deep desire and shopping lust and start to look at how this bag or this pricy dinner is going to add to your life you may start to see how small and meaningless they are to your big picture.
There is a bigger reward in your future
Every time you choose not to spend frivolously now with money you do or don’t already have, you invest in yourself. Let me repeat that (for myself and anyone who is reading!) Anytime you don’t give your money away to someone else for something you likely don’t need you are directing it to yourself and your dreams and your big life. And that has got to be the most motivating driver of all.
How can you build this skill?
Know what is important to you
We have all heard this a trillion times before, know your values. And the truth of it is if you don’t know yourself and what is important to you, you are going to be externally focused and susceptible to any whim because you don’t have a clear direction. Spend some time getting to know you and what makes you happy, what you love doing and what the non-negotiables in your life are.
Have clear goals and know your why
Knowing what is important to you makes setting goals so much easier because you obviously want to live the life that lets you have more of what is important. More security, more time to experience life and enjoy moments with those you love, more time to travel, more freedom, basically more time to be 100% authentically you.
Write down your big goals and set little goals along the way to guide you on your path.
The secret in learning a new skill is to start in bite sizes and build up gradually. Plan some no spending days per month. Try doing one per week initially. Put a delay on all non-necessity spending. By non-necessity I mean everything outside of food, rent, utilities and bills. Implement a cooling off period of at least an hour whenever you find something you want to spend on. This means not pushing the spend trigger until you have spent some time in contemplation of whether you truly want that item. Increase the time required it for bigger ticket items. To make this cooling off period more meaningful I apply a bit of personal psychology. I calculated how large £1 could grow over 30 years at 10% per annum. It is close to £20. Every time I contemplate spending I multiple the expenditure by £20 and then consider whether it is worth taking this amount away from my financial future. Applying this philosophy I realised one latte is costing me a horrifying £57 out of my financial freedom. Ouch!
Have a plan
The eye opening realisation for me was when I really understood that choosing not to mindlessly spend my money now is not about deprivation it is about investing in myself and my financial future.
I am choosing to pay myself before I fritter my money away into someone else’s bank account.
Understanding this did not however make the actual physical act of not spending any easier! The challenge of being human.
What did help was having a conscious spending plan. I took a long hard look at my cash inflows and my cash outflows and got realistic about what I really needed to spend on and what was left after those items were covered. I included my pension and savings as a “priority” necessity. What was left after all my necessities were taken care of is mine to use in a way that makes me happy. I have also got very clear about what makes me happy and realise that by not spending all my “for me” money immediately and saving it for a period, I can accumulate enough to do the big ticket things that make me really happy, like spend on holidays or buying those pair of designer shoes that I absolutely love! You read that correctly, delayed gratification is not about deprivation it is about putting your money to good use and still creating the opportunities to enjoy the now! Yes my £20 mental calculation is hugely eye watering when applied to the shoes but the difference is that I am taking care of my financial future as I made saving towards my bigger goals the first priority and I know that I am not splurging as I have applied conscious thinking to this spending and ensured it is consistent with my values. The surprising outcome is that I in fact seldom spend on the “shoe” type of items now because I am really focused on those bigger life goals.
A sense of deprivation comes from a perception of not having enough, missing out and not being enough. The reality in this exact moment we all have everything we need. When we are able to move the focus from all that we feel we are missing and start focusing on all that we have, a real sense of gratitude starts to develop. Gratitude is a very powerful place to be. No one fully in gratitude has space for any negative emotions. Gratitude is all encompassing, it is magical and magnetic. When you focus on gratitude it attracts more good energy, possibility and positivity. It is the rocket fuel that gets us pushing towards our goals
Don’t do this alone
It is extremely challenging keeping the focus on your goals and not being tempted by all the pretty things. We are all human and we are going to need support. The best support you can have is another likeminded woman or better yet group of women on the same journey. Find an accountability group that you can count on for support and positive energy. Talk about money and your goals. Share your vision. Where focus goes energy flows, get this energy flowing wisely!