Delay Gratification in a Troubled Economy

In years of plenty, American society operated largely on the pleasure principal – embracing the notion that ‘I want what I want when I want it.’ Accustomed to instant gratification and a sense of entitlement, people were emotionally conditioned to have it all. The average American carries nine credit cards with a total $17,000 balance. We have been living large for so long, that debt has become an integral part of our culture.

With individuals, families, our government and other countries leveraged now, it looks like the whole world has to adjust to a slow recovery. Credit card debt, amounting to 900 billion dollar in our country, makes putting off present pleasures for future gains sound like a very good idea. Getting back to basics may be just what society needs. If you’re waiting for a rainbow after the huge storms we’ve been weathering, here are some ways to make it happen:

1. Be realistic and face the facts. If you’re not already, live a simpler life within your means. Focus your efforts, because living your convictions is harder than just making the decision to change. Be accountable for your financial goals and create a concrete spending plan. You don’t have to panic but you can begin to take small steps. Learn how to have fun without spending money – invite another couple over to play cards, check out a book from the public library, catch up with a friend on a walk, take your family on a hike in the hills.

2. Stay centered about what you plan to buy, what you can afford and what really matters to you. Ours is largely a culture of impulsive recreational shopping. To begin the transition to mindful shopping, make a list of the items you plan to purchase. Then decide how important each one is and, if it’s not that necessary, let it go. Continue to differentiate between what you want and what you need.

3. Get to know the subconscious money script that you learned in childhood from your parents. If your family was extremely frugal, you may follow their example and have the same fiscal habits. Or, having felt deprived, maybe you go in the opposite direction and spend with abandon. Understanding the dynamics of how you spend and why will free you up to explore new money management options.

4. Turn calamity into catharsis. Pull back in order to reach your goals and see thrift as a virtue. Make it OK to put off buying a new car or a new dress now so that you can have a better life later. Begin to put some money, no matter how little, in personal savings every month. As you make sacrifices, keep track of your values – like restraint, accountability, self-reliance, working hard, determination.

5. You may have to work longer than you expected if you are a Baby Boomer nearing retirement. Or perhaps you’ll upgrade skills that will enable you to keep your job. Research findings indicate that, if you enjoy your work, there is added value in the stimulation, engagement and camaraderie it provides.

6. Multi-generational households are making a comeback for Sandwiched Boomers – especially with the rise in unemployment for new college graduates and the financial pinch felt by aging parents who are seeing their retirement income dwindle. Don’t be disappointed if you were dreaming about the empty nest. This new living arrangement can reduce stress, with more family members sharing household responsibilities, financial expenses and emotional support – as long as guidelines are clearly set and upheld.

7. Alter your expectations and focus on the long run as you put off present pleasures for future gains. Appreciate the changes you are making now for your future wellbeing. Let off steam and reduce stress – discover low cost fitness by gardening or scaling steps. Barter services by cooking a meal or building shelves in exchange for personal training. Fight the force of negativity and believe in yourself to awaken the strength within.

Chicken Little thought the sky was falling – but with all the anxiety and panic, avoid a knee jerk reaction. Instead of an automatic response, think about what’s driving your fear before reacting. It’s true that conspicuous consumption marked the rise and fall of empires. But you don’t have to go to the extreme of chopping wood and carrying water. Just be patient and tighten your belt – call an old friend, using free Sunday minutes, write a letter to the editor, play a game with your kids, thank your lucky stars.

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