Do You Prefer Instant Or Delayed Gratification?

One of the favorite stories that comes up around the holidays has to do with my sister-in-law (my wife’s sister).  When they were kids, they both received Advent calendars around Christmas (a tradition that my mother-in-law now has started to introduce to her grandkids) which is a calendar sharing some of the stories of Christmas for the 24 days prior.  One of the mainstays of the Advent calendar is that there is one piece of candy that you get per day.

This works really well in most cases, except one year when she was little, my sister-in-law got a hold of the calendar and ate all of the remaining pieces (I’m pretty sure it was early in the Advent season).  I’m sure it wasn’t so funny at the time as it was discovered, but it’s now a funny story.

Even now, my sister-in-law will fully admit that she prefers instant gratification.  When a meal is served, she’ll eat her favorite part of the meal first, whereas I usually go from my least favorite to my most favorite.

I’ll even take it one step further when it comes to food.  I’ll do things like eat the crust of a slice of pizza first, nibble around the outside of a burger (since the insides are better) and one that my wife loves to watch, I’ll eat one end of a hot dog, then the other, before eating the middle, simply because (again) the middle is better and I don’t want my last bite to be an end, which isn’t as good.

So, I guess you’d say I’m good with delayed gratification.  I’m willing to wait out the meal and my ideal situation would be that my last bite is the best bite of my most favorite dish of the meal.

I’ve found that I apply my delayed gratification toward other areas in my life, including some which are finance related.  I think of myself as a saver, and I think people who become savers have to be OK with delayed gratification because by virtue of saving money, they are denying the ‘gratification’ that comes with spending it.  Conversely, those who are impulse spenders and who don’t save money would, if I had to guess, not classify themselves as delayed gratification individuals.

Benefits of Delayed Gratification

There’s a lot to be said for delaying your gratification. What are some of the benefits?

  • You save the best for last – As mentioned above, if you delay gratification you can often get the best bite of food at the end of your meal.  This can apply to other things as well.  If you delay gratification, you might be able to save up and afford a better car or a larger TV than if you went out and bought the one you could afford when it first crossed your mind.
  • You have time to think about it – By delaying your gratification, you can think about whether you really need something.  Often times, during your waiting period, you’ll find that you simply don’t need whatever it is you want.  This can save you from wasting money, overspending on an item, or in the case of eating, it can save you empty calories.
  • You are provided built-in motivation – Delaying gratification for something you want to buy or eat will give you motivation toward completing a goal to get there.  Delaying the purchase of a TV will give you the goal of saving for it.  There’s a sense of achievement that goes along with reaching that goal.  Those who act now and worry about the rest later may deny themselves that accomplishment.

Benefits Of Instant Gratification

From my tone and personal experience, you might think I believe that delayed gratification is the only way to go.  Not necessarily.  Here are some reasons that instant gratification sometimes makes sense.

  • You can’t take it with you – Some people deny themselves all their lives in the interest of delaying gratification, and all to what end?  If you get too used to telling yourself no, you will often deny yourselves things or experiences that you can very well afford to have, whether it be on a monetary, health or other level.
  • You probably have more fun (at least in the short term) –  Hearing the story of my sister-in-law, I’m not going to lie, I got a tad bit jealous when I heard it.  I’m the type that would dutifully eat one piece of chocolate per day from my calender, but getting to eat 20 pieces at once, that sounds pretty awesome, if just for a second.
  • You can actually save – One time I joked about how my sister-in-law eats the best bite of her favorite food first and goes in decreasing fashion from there, but she pointed out that by doing so, she guarantees that she gets her favorite and can stop at any time.  That gave me pause, because my strategy pretty much states that I have to eat my entire meal in order to get that peak level of satisfaction.  Does this mean I eat more than I need to in order to fulfill my hunger?  Maybe, where she doesn’t have to do necessarily do that.

What’s The Best Approach For You?

Know who you are.  I think most people, if they are honest with themselves, can identify if they are delayed or instant gratification type of people.  I think it’s one of those things that is driven by your personality, and you can’t just flip a switch or take a class or watch an online video and change it, because your personality traits are inherent and trying to change those is all but impossible.

Identify if you’re completely satisfied.  If you’re a delayed gratification type like me, you might be perfectly happy with how things are.  If that’s the case, then that’s awesome.  Personally, though, there are times when I was I was a little more impulsive.  Knowing that and understanding that allows me to think that maybe there are opportunities to ‘live a little’.

Strike a balance.  If you do think it would be to your benefit to ‘try’ the other side of the fence, then start thinking about a way you can do so.  If you know you’re too impulsive, look at something you commonly buy on impulse.  Once you’ve identified it, come up with a plan to delay that, whether it be skipping your weekly trip to a particular store or changing up your routine in some other fashion.

Understand what you’re doing.  Again, if you make a change or two and it works, that’s great.  As I mentioned above, though, you are not changing your personality, so don’t think that just because you had success on the other side of the fence that you can (or should) make the transition to the other type of person.  Think of it along the lines of expanding your horizons or bringing an element of control to that part of your personality. Your basic urges will always guide you back to the behavior that you’re most familiar with.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Understanding is power here.

Readers, I would love to know if you consider yourself one who is all about instant gratification, a delayed gratification type, or somewhere in between?  Has your position ever resulted in a funny story that you could share?

34 thoughts on “Do You Prefer Instant Or Delayed Gratification?”

  1. I don’t know….I guess I do a little of both types of behavior. I am very patient and prefer holding off gratification in some cases(typically when it comes to money), but I eat dessert for dinner sometimes =)

  2. I think there’s a balance to be had between the two. If you constantly delay it then life will not be fun. I try to delay as much as I can when it comes to finances but leave a little room for some fun or spontaneity.

  3. I have to agree with John and Holly. There should be a good balance between them. There are some instances where I like instant gratification, but the majority of my habits revolve around delayed. I have found that this works for me.

    • Finding out where your personality lies is the key here, and then making sure that it works for you from a financial impact.

  4. I used to be like you when it came to food, but it turns out, I have a terrible time figuring out whether I’ll still be hungry by the time “last perfect bite” comes around! So, instead of stuffing myself, and making the perfect bite be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, I eat what I want. 🙂 But I think I’m into instant gratification, which is why sometimes seeing numbers rise in my savings account gives me the hit I need.

    • Few people get a charge out of their savings account balance (I do but I know I’m in the minority) so if you do, then good for you and keep it up!

  5. Haha…I’m definitely the one who saves the “best” bite(s) for last! But I agree there should be a good balance between both options–sometimes dinner can be dessert just as Holly mentioned. 🙂

  6. When I was in credit card part f the reason why was because I had to have instant gratification all the time. I couldn’t wait for anything and the idea of savings up to buy something was just laughable. Now, as a responsible adult I tend to enjoy delayed gratification more because, like you said, I have to work for a goal and it tastes so sweet to reach it and not have to go into debt in the process.

    • I had a roommate in college who got himself into massive debt because he went through that same approach. It was fun living with him but I did try to reason with him. He eventually saw the error of his ways but it was a long road to recovery after graduation. He now is a lot more restrained.

  7. I tend to prefer delayed gratification, and would do like you on the food, eating the best stuff at the end. I am looking for balance though, once I brought a few treats from France and wanted to save them and eat a little bit every day, but they went bad and I couldn’t eat it all in the end…

    • I HATE when I wait too long and I miss the opportunity to enjoy something. Most recently, I had a coupon for a free treat somewhere, and by the time I went to print it off, it had expired!

  8. I mostly delay gratification. I tend to plan my purchases and depending on the item do a little research. This in itself delays gratification! In addition, I generally make my purchases on sale or at discount stores. In either case, you have to plan because you never know what they have at any particular time. The rest of my purchases I buy online. I won’t buy unless I can have a 50% discount to retail. I just bought some socks at a discount store on sale, I paid $4 and they retail for $13. I waited for the January sale

  9. I think I go for delayed gratification most of the time. I tend to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about something before I buy it. Sometimes my waiting is borderline comical. My laptop has been hovering on death’s door for sometime now, but yet I’m still thinking about whether I should buy a new one or not. And then there’s the times where I go clothes shopping and spend hours circling the shirt rack deciding whether or not I really want to buy that shirt.

  10. I really appreciate the topic of this post. I want to instantly gratify myself all the time but have learned to fight off that urge in my spirit so that there is more balance in my life. When I was 9, I spent all my saved paper route money (maybe $15 worth) in two hours playing video games at a laundry mat around the corner from my house – all because I had to beat this one game. Anyone remember Kangaroo, circa 1982? Man I got good at that game. But a day later when my friend called and wanted me to go to the local YMCA to play basketball, I didn’t have the $1 needed as the guest entrance fee. I had to ask my mom for it and confess I had blown all my money. Needless to say, that was not a pleasant evening for me.

    • That you remember all of that in such vivid detail means it was a life lesson, one that has hopefully paid back the wasted video game money and then some!

  11. I’m with you, I am a little bit too good at delaying gratification. I do the same thing with pizza, but if the middle is going to be a little cold by the time we eat it, is it worth it? Maybe we should just stop eating the crust if we don’t like it?

  12. Great post. You really can’t take it with you and so I think it’s important to practice instant gratification on SOME things. It depends on the situation. I think the problem is, that it’s not easy for many of us to delay gratification. We may know that it might be best for us, but we can’t control ourselves.

  13. I’m a hybrid. When it comes to food I totally go for the best stuff first lol. And I’m also not very good at waiting to open presents. But I’m am pretty good at setting goals for saving and not buying things until I reach that goal.

  14. I try to have moderation 🙂 I would not put something off indefinitely if I had the means to accomplish it. You never know, if you put it off long enough you might not get the chance.

  15. I’m in between. With food, I take bites of everything on my plate in a rotation so I get to taste all of it…my favorites, my least favorites, and then dip things into each other (rolls into the potatoes, or meat and potatoes on the same forkful…). With money, I am fine saving quite a bit, but I also know what I want now and make sure I can do both at least some of the time. I try to sit on my wants for several weeks though just to make sure I really want whatever it is…but sometimes I just splurge and deal with it. So I am definitely in between…

  16. I think I am more of a delayed gratification type at the moment. The instant gratification thing got me in trouble with credit cards. They make it too easy to have it now. The only thing that kills me is my kindle. I love to read and sometimes if I hear of a good book, I have to have it rather than waiting to go to the library.

    • That’s funny. I haven’t bought a book in years, where I used to buy them all the time. I’ve just conditioned myself to depend on the library, and I’ve never been without a good book to read!

  17. I think it’d be fun to watch you eat.

    I’m totally a delayed gratification guy with “have it now” streaks that occur generally when I’m tired. I try to stay away from buying opportunities when I’m tired because I’ll pull the trigger on anything at any price and have regretted it later.

  18. Thanks for the post. I have seen my brother go the instant gratification route wit his finances and he’s not doing as well as he thought he would. My parents and sister however paid attention to theirs and worked on things like retirement Income strategies that, while do take a lot of time, worked out a lot better.

  19. Being a shopaholic I am all about instant gratification. However, with age I finally started to realize that instant gratification does not yield long-term results. Now, I am slowly learning how to delay any gratification for the sake of evaluating what I really need vs want. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. 🙂

  20. I have definitely learned to appreciate the delayed gratification… for years I would have said, “instant gratification” but the long game is definitely more rewarding if you can hold off.

  21. Sometimes I feel like I am a real outlier when it comes to delayed gratification. Even when I want something, it feels better to wait to puchase it. I like to think things through and actually enjoy anticipating the fact that I will purchase something in the future rather than right now.

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