When you’re walking past a store window and something catches your eye, do you stop and buy it? Or do you wait a few days and think about it before making the purchase?
How you answer that question could have strong implications for your financial future, according to personal finance blogger Lance Cothern.
On his blog Money Manifesto, Cothern says that when it comes to impulse buying, most Americans are pretty bad at practicing self control: “Have you seen the way people have been acting the last few years? They see something they want, and they have to have it immediately.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that as of this January the average U.S. household owed $US7,123 on credit cards, according to the Federal Reserve. Americans treat consumer debt — using dollars earned in the future to pay for current expenses — as a normal budgetary practice rather than as a last resort.
Cothern argues that the crux of the issue is people’s inability to wait. He writes:
The key difference between people with consumer debt and those without, everything else being equal, is that the person with no consumer debt has mastered delayed gratification while the person with consumer debt has not.
What is delayed gratification? The ability to wait 15 minutes to get two marshmallows instead of one marshmallow [now] is delayed gratification. The ability to wait to buy something in the future after you’ve saved for the item rather than impulsively purchasing something as soon as you realise you want it despite the fact that you don’t have the money to pay for it is delayed gratification. The ability to invest money today to have money when you retire is delayed gratification.
Those looking to practice more patience could try one of Cothern’s strategies to nix impulse buying: