I wish I could say delayed gratification comes naturally to me but it doesn’t.
I say this as a self-identified saver — someone who likes to stash away my cash, watch my account grow and ponder all the options before making purchases, big or small.
While I can’t say I’ve never made an impulse purchase, generally speaking, I’m mindful about how I spend my money.
Even so, waiting to make purchases, especially ones I’m excited for, is challenging.
However, I have learned over the years delayed gratification, while not always enjoyable, has its benefits.
What is delayed gratification
The American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology defines delayed gratification this way:
forgoing immediate reward in order to obtain a larger, more desired, or more pleasurable reward in the future.
This compares to the concept of immediate gratification:
the experience of satisfaction or receipt of reward as soon as a response is made.
When you practice delayed gratification, you are, in essence, practicing waiting — holding off on whatever it is you want because you believe the return following the wait will be worth it.
The practice of delayed gratification doesn’t apply only to purchases, but this is a personal finance blog so that’s the lens I’m using. In particular, I want to talk about delayed gratification in the context of my current, big-ticket want.
My current want
I want an iPad.
This realization surprised me because for a long time, I thought they were pointless. I have a smartphone and a laptop already. What use would a tablet be for me?
I held onto this belief until my iPod died.
Immediately after sending ol’ faithful off to the electronics recycling depot, I hopped on the Apple refurbished page to look for a replacement. No dice. That’s OK, I thought. I’ll keep checking.
After a few weeks of daily check-ins, I finally decided to peruse the regular price section. This is how I learned Apple only does the iPod touch now…and the 32GB model costs $249 before tax.
This new information sent me into re-evaluation mode. The main motivation behind replacing my iPod was to have access to my iTunes library remotely. The one thing I dislike about using an Android phone is not being able to have iTunes on it. Sure, I have Spotify but sometimes, I want to access the albums I’ve already purchased.
An iPod touch would solve this. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if a more versatile device might be a better option for me.
The iPad: the pros and cons
This thought is what made me circle back and reconsider my position on the iPad. To evaluate, I turned to the tried and true pro and con list.
Ultimately, I identified three key pros:
- Access to my iTunes library
If this wasn’t on the list, it wouldn’t be worth it since this is the main reason I started looking for a new device in the first place.
- Bigger than my phone, but smaller than my laptop
I currently have a Huawei p20 and a 13″ MacBook Air currently. The iPad would be somewhere in the middle of these two, making it a great portable device, but also offering a better screen size for things like practicing yoga or watching Netflix remotely.
- The ability to try some things I have been curious about
In particular, I am thinking apps like Procreate and GoodNotes, which I have been interested in trying for a long time.
As far as cons are concerned, I identified three:
- Not as portable as an iPod
An iPad isn’t exactly the kind of device you pop into your pocket when you go for a walk.
- Is it really something I’ll use?
This question still lingered in the back of my mind as I considered my options. While I can see more ways I might use an iPad, I’m still not totally sure how much use I’ll actually get out of it.
- The price
And, of course, the big one: the cost difference. Buying an iPod would set me back about $287 after tax (without a case). After tax, the iPad I’m considering clocks in at $631.35…and that’s without any other accessories. I’d also want to get an Apple Pencil ($148.35 after tax) and a case, too.
Big pros, but big cons, too. So I’m doing the one thing that has helped me make big purchasing decisions time and time again.
Benefits of practicing delayed gratification
When it comes to making big ticket purchases, there are three key benefits to practicing delayed gratification.
- It provides more time to save
Could I pull the money from my emergency fund and pay it back? Sure. But buying an iPad isn’t an emergency. Delaying a purchase results in more time to plan for how you’ll pay for it. Added bonus: by taking the time to save the money you need to buy the item, you get to keep other sources of funding (like your emergency fund) intact.
- It provides more time for research alternatives
While you’re saving up your cash, you have time to consider all your options related to the purchase. Maybe you can find the item you want to purchase on sale somewhere — or maybe even second-hand for a significant discount? Or maybe, through research, you’ll learn that another item or brand can give you what you’re looking for at a lower price. Whatever the case, practicing delayed gratification means you have time to take these things into consideration.
- It provides more time for evaluation
And by this, I mean it gives you an opportunity to really decide if the thing you’re saving for is something you actually want. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve determined to save for something…only to decide in the end that I actually don’t want or need that thing.
Of course, sometimes it goes the other way and the time spent saving and researching confirms you do, in fact, want that item. That’s cool, too! When you finally make that purchase, it means you’re more likely to be happy with it.
My plan for (probably) attaining my current want
The simple version of my plan for buying an iPad is this: I’m going to save for it.
To purchase all the things — the iPad, an Apple Pencil, a case and a screen protector — the high-end estimate cost will be something like $860. I can likely bring this total down a little, especially if I shop around a bit on the screen protector/case.
One thing worth noting: I intend to buy the actual iPad either new or refurbished from Apple. I know I could likely get a better price if I shopped Marketplace or Kijiji or something like that, but this is how I prefer to buy my electronics.
To pull the trigger and make the purchase, I first want to have at least $1,000 in my savings account — ideally a little more.
Why? I don’t want to totally drain my account. The iPad will be a big ticket purchase, yes, but I know it’s not the only purchase I’m going to want to make in the future. Having at least $1,000 saved means there will still be some buffer room.
There is a chance that I save $1,000 and decide I don’t want the iPad after all. Should that happen…cool? It means I’ll have $1,000 saved up, which I can use for…something else?
But honestly…I don’t foresee changing my mind.
Practicing delayed gratification is not always easy. I’m a saver and even I find it challenging.
It requires a degree of discipline to wait, especially in a world where everything is becoming increasingly instantaneous.
But while it is challenging, I can honestly say making delayed gratification a regular practice when it comes to big ticket purchases has served me well over the years. When I drop big bucks on something, I rarely ever feel regret because I have taken the time to save for it, research other options and really evaluate whether I want it or not.
It may take some time to get what I want, but that peace of mind is worth it.
When was the last time you practiced delayed gratification? Was it difficult?