One of the key factors in our ability to live frugally and retire early is our habit of eschewing instant gratification. These days, it’s pretty easy to get what you want, when you want it. But that immediate satisfaction comes at a price. Waiting gives you the opportunity to ensure you are spending your resources wisely. I don’t know how much money waiting has saved us over the years, but I suspect it’s pretty significant.
One of my favorite examples of patience paying off is the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. In the study, researchers gave kids a marshmallow, then told them they could eat it right away, or, if they waited until the researcher returned to the room after leaving for 15 minutes, then they could have a second marshmallow. These kids had varying levels of success. We decided to try a much shorter version of this with my two-year-old niece, who loves cupcakes. We didn’t think she would be able to wait, as she was much younger than most of the study participants. But when Stephen left her alone in the room with a mini cupcake, although she talked to her stuffed bear about not eating it, she managed to wait until Stephen came back with the second cupcake. Our two-year-old niece is apparently more patient than many adults! (Side note: the cupcake experiment was conducted with full parental approval and participation.)
In the real world, patience won’t necessarily double your payout, but it can improve your results. When we decide we need something, we tend to do a significant amount of research about price, quality, and value. We don’t just run out and buy it. The more expensive the purchase, the more research and time we take to get the right thing. It’s not about buying the cheapest product, but about getting the best quality for the most reasonable price.
A few years ago, we wanted to have the exterior of our house painted. We got multiple bids, but the contractor we liked the best was out of our price range. Because of that, we procrastinated on making a decision. After a couple weeks of trying to decide, the contractor we liked offered us a discount in order to get our business. We ended up being extremely pleased with his work.
In May, I wanted to travel to my nephew’s graduation, but when I started looking at plane tickets, they were averaging $600. I kept checking prices and also making lowball bids on Priceline. Finally, on the third day, Priceline accepted my bid of $227 for the ticket. Because I didn’t buy the ticket as soon as I decided to make the trip, I ended up saving a lot of money.
We often wait until something we want goes on sale. We bought most of the camping equipment we wanted at the REI Garage Sale. We want to get the “garage” add-on for our tent, but we’ll wait until the next time they send us a 25% or 30% coupon. Many stores have yearly sales and regular coupons, which can help you plan your purchases in advance.
The little things add up too. We haven’t had cable for at least 10 years, so we have to wait until shows like The Walking Dead are available on Netflix streaming. Sure, I’d like to see them when they air, but it’s not a tragedy that I’m a year behind on The Walking Dead or that I occasionally run across a spoiler.
It’s not always money that you’re saving. I once waited three months to get an ice cream cone just because eating ice cream whenever I want it sets a bad precedent for my health. It also taught me something, because after a three-month buildup, the ice cream was a little disappointing. Sometimes, waiting allows me to see that I didn’t want something so badly after all.
In the end, just because I want something doesn’t mean I need it right away. My needs might be better met simply by waiting a bit. And sometimes I even find that my needs won’t be met at all.