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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?