This guest post is from The Digerati Life, a personal finance site. You should check it out, ’cause it’s one of the most read personal finance sites on the interwebz.
In the 1960’s, an experiment involving a marshmallow and a child was conducted. In this experiment, a child was led to an experiment room, where a marshmallow was on the table. The child was told that the researcher would be out for a while, and if the child could wait for him to come back, he’d give him another marshmallow as a reward. But if the child decides to eat the marshmallow, he only needs to ring a bell and the researcher would return. In the event that the child rings the bell, the researcher won’t reward the child with another marshmallow.
This was the famous Marshmallow Test. The results of this test reported that those children who were able to resist the marshmallow and wait for 15 whole minutes for the researcher to come back tended to do better in school. The kids who were capable of waiting eventually ended up with SAT scores that were, on average, 210 points higher than those of kids who could not wait. The follow-up studies of the children who participated in the experiment showed how they eventually dealt with life. The kids who had greater patience appeared to have more focus and drive compared with the kids who were less patient.
This experiment became one of the most important studies on delaying gratification. Apparently, the ability to delay gratification is one necessary tool for success. The ability to put off one’s desires allows someone to work in a focused manner towards his or her goals. Distractions abound, but if one is able to control their impulses, he or she will be able to stay on track.
“So, what’s in this for me?” you may ask. Well, think of it this way. Has it been too easy for you to turn to your Mastercard credit card when you’re faced with a purchase? For instance, you may feel the urge to buy a new Gucci bag. Or worse, you may decide that it’s time to trade in your car. If you’ve got $4,000 in credit card payments to go, plus a $20,000 mortgage, then a new car purchase at this very moment could prove disastrous for your budget. So should you put off purchasing a new car or succumb to financing? Sure, you could try to get a personal loan here and there, get cash advances on your card, then pay in cash. But is that sensible?
A person who can delay gratification will typically wait until the debts are paid and the bills are addressed before he gets the car. He may figure that once the problems are gone, owning a car could be justified. Maybe he’ll even start a savings account for a car purchase as he pays off the bills. That way, he could kill two birds with one stone: get out of debt, while saving for what he wants.
On the other hand, a person who can’t wait, may do everything he can to get the car: apply for loans, pile the purchase on his credit card bills, possibly even borrow money from friends and relatives. Truly a recipe for disaster.
If you see yourself in the person who can’t seem to defer gratification, then don’t despair. Don’t think that this behavior is hard-wired. It’s something you can unlearn with a little bit of work. Here are our suggestions on how to beat this behavior:
- Make a list of those things that you believe show your inability to delay gratification. Work on unlearning one habit a month. If, for example, you tend to buy donuts on your way home from work, but you know that you really don’t need the extra calories, then scrap this habit. If you feel the need for munchies, then start buying organic fruits and vegetables instead.
- As you work towards beating one bad habit a month, make sure that you chart your progress. Use a to-do list to mark off the habits you’ve started to overcome. And as you make progress on changing your habits, reward yourself with little, inexpensive treats. Rewards for good behavior could include a book, a sinful treat you’ve done without for the past month, or even just taking an hour off of work and chores to enjoy the sunset. “Simple” and “affordable” are our bywords for these treats.
- As you make adjustments on your spending and self-indulgent habits, surely you should be able to save. Start a new account at your local bank or a top online savings bank like the Sallie Mae Bank. This way, you’ll be able to save for your major purchases; like that car, for example.
A person’s lack of impulse control should not determine his or her financial destiny. We believe that a person can and will be able to change. The first step is admitting that one needs to change. The second step is to figure out how to change. Then following through and working hard to be consistent with these changes should lead you to success. We can do this!
Ninja’s Questions: In what areas of your life do you struggle to delay gratification? What about areas that you can easily delay? Do you know anyone that has put themselves in a bad situation because of impulse purchasing? I personally am a sucker for electronics, if it’s shiny and new…I want it, and I want it NOW!
p.s. The winner for the T-shirt give away is….TRINA!!!! I’m a little disappointed right now because Trina has emailed me a handful of times, and I’ve learned she is a Washington State University Cougar fan… I hate the cougs. Im a Husky kind of guy (UW). But the Random Number Generator sought mercy on a Coug I guess. Congrats Trina! The proof….