Delayed gratification

Who likes waiting for something they really want? Not me! But thanks to my parents I can handle delayed gratification. Learning to save and invest are among the best things my parents have taught me: my mom is thrifty and is good at stretching a dollar, especially at the grocery store (all Nigerian women must be born with this ability!), while my dad is into investing. Because of my mom I love sales and find it nearly impossible to buy things at full price. I also inherited from her the inability to resist a really good deal, leading us to buy something that we may not necessarily need (I’m nearly cured of this).

Teaching me about delayed gratification was a process: my dad was concerned that I was spending my part-time job earnings too quickly—when I started officially working at age 14 I spent most of my money on treats and occasionally on brand name clothing and accessories to be cool (it didn’t work)—so he encouraged me to start saving for retirement when I was in my late teens. When I got a job at a clothing store, my spending got worse: I spent most of my paycheque on clothing because I got a 50% discount and in the 10 years that I worked there I managed to waste a lot of money. So my dad connected me with an investor and I started investing a modest sum, something like $25 per month, in my late teens. Whenever the investor would ask if I wanted to increase the amount, even years later I’d say no because I wanted to have money to spend, or waste as was often the case.

In my mid-20s I realized that my future husband might not show up when romance novels and movies had led me to expect him. I decided that I didn’t want to be living in my parents’ house at the age of 30—I felt there were lessons that I could only learn if I lived on my own. Rather than moving out to rent an apartment, I decided to enter into a long-term relationship with a mortgage, and when I told the investor what I wanted to do, he put me on an aggressive savings plan so I could take advantage of the Registered Retirement Savings Plan, Canada’s tax shelter retirement savings program that allows first time home owners to withdraw some of the money they’ve saved without being taxed on it. The money has to be repaid within 15 years, following a two-year grace period. If you’re interested in knowing more, read all about RRSPs here—several countries have a similar program. During this time I had very little money for anything else.

Needless to say, buying a car at that time was out of the question and I took the bus everywhere, (though generous friends would often pick me up for events like weddings, and my parents let me use their car too). Two people, a friend and a colleague, asked me so many times why I didn’t have a car, after all I had a full-time job and should be able to buy a car, but it’s all about priorities.

After I became a mortgage-owner, I was scared of not being able to handle all the house-related expenses, so I stopped making some contributions to my retirement savings. It was just last year that I decided (with the encouragement of my dad) to try something that can work if done right: you take out a loan in order to “max out” your retirement savings, and then you get a tax refund for this which you can use to pay off about 1/3 of the loan immediately. It was only by the grace of God and that I survived the bi-weekly payments which ended up being more than my mortgage, but it worked out.

Maybe home or car ownership isn’t a priority for you right now but an area where it can be hard to delay gratification is with electronic gadgets. I’m sure a new smart phone is released by one brand or the other every two months, one that has more features and a better camera than your own phone which was considered top of the line a week ago. One of my brother’s closest friends buys every new phone that Apple makes, and I know he’s not alone. When the screen of my iPhone 3GS broke after I had had it for about two years, I didn’t switch it, even though newer versions had been released since I purchased mine. Did I want a new phone? Yes, but I made myself wait until I could renew my three-year contract to maximize my savings. The phone still worked, it was just unsightly, and I was the butt of a few jokes. I always want the latest and greatest in phones (see #5 here) but I’m disciplining myself to keep my phone for at least three years because to me it doesn’t make economical sense to get rid of a phone that is still functional.

It’s not fun denying yourself things, especially when you see people upgrading various aspects of their life or taking lavish vacations, but the end result will be worth it. Having a mortgage and car payments helped me prioritize taking care of my needs before looking after my wants. There’s plenty of room for improvement though: my next money post will talk about practical elements of stretching your money—I’m sure you’ll have lots of great tips for being thrifty.

How do you handle delayed gratification? What’s the longest you’ve had to save or wait for something you really wanted?

7 thoughts on “Delayed gratification

  1. The thing about investing is that it is long term. My husband and I both have our own portfolios of stocks and bonds that we would buy when we have extra money. The portfolios are quite diverse, ranging from tech to health to lifestyle and more. It’s safer that way (opposed to putting all your money into, say, technology or energy, both which are not all that stable). We know that when we are seniors, we’ll likely have enough to purchase a winter home should we want to become snowbirds (and flights to said winter home). We also would be putting money aside for our future child (we only plan to have one) – tuition (private school as well as university/post-secondary), money for music classes, sports, language/culture classes, summer camp etc… Ensuring that a hypothetical child has the best kind of upbringing you can give him/her is delayed gratification as well. Also, does ordering shoes at a trunk show/pre-season preview count as delayed gratification? With my small feet, shoe sales are next to impossible! Size 4.5 doesn’t always exist!

    • Investing for retirement is the ultimate in delayed gratification, Cynthia! It’ll be great to reap in the future the benefits of decisions made today. Your shoe example seems to be delayed gratification by default rather than choice: if you could get them right away you would, but you’re required to wait.

  2. For me, it all comes down to being disciplined, having self control and even being secured in my identity. Knowing who I am and understanding that spending unnecessary money in order to measure up with my peers will not add to who I am nor take away from it. Also, being a good steward of what God has given me… To be honest though, it’s not easy nor fun. I still find myself wasting money on unnecessary things and I also need to learn how to manage my money well… Great post and I can’t wait for the next post!

    • Well said, Yetunde: being disciplined, having confidence in who you are in Christ, and remembering that God requires us to be good stewards of his blessings are good things to remember when we’re contemplating spending money. If I thought about that more often when I want to buy a sugary treat, I bet I’d make better choices! Thank you for reading!

  3. Ahahahaha @ all Nigerian women must be born with this trait. I am very prudent, and I am teaching my children the same thing. Prioritize! I always tell them! Separate NEED from WANT! Be FLEXIBLE in your choices. Don’t follow brand but FUNCTIONALITY and DURABILITY! Yes, it is not easy denying oneself of certain things to save for the future.

    To your question: The way I handle long or delayed gratification is by telling myself: Won’t I survive if such a thing does not exist? Or find an alternative that will give me a temporary relief if it is so important to me. Hmmm, I can’t remember how long I have waited because, if it is material item, I can ‘ fashie’ it completely! But if it long term value plan like mortgage, I will wait as long as it takes, because it is worth it!

    • I like your style, Nitty! Your girls may take your lessons to heart better than your boys…but maybe that was just the case in my family! One thing I know is teaching a child how to manage money is a lesson that will serve them so well in adulthood. Kids entering college or university can get into a lot of financial trouble if they aren’t careful.

      I like your tactics for handling a situation when you must wait before getting something you want.

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