Delay your gratification, and live well

Future planning and delaying gratification is an absolute necessity in managing your money, writes Sally Patten.

I remember being dismayed a couple of years ago when I read about a survey purporting to show that women's menstrual cycles could influence their shopping and consumption habits. The researchers found that during the fertile period, women were much more likely to focus on their appearance and hence were more likely to buy clothes, while during the infertile phase they experienced cravings for high-calorie foods.

The authors of the study reasoned that in ancestral times women needed to focus on mating-related activities, such as grooming, when the likelihood of conception was greatest. By contrast, during the non-fertile period they could concentrate on foraging for food.

The trick is to put in place strategies that help you to delay gratification.

Catherine Robson, Affinity Private

Perhaps I should have felt comforted that there was a physiological explanation behind my shoe habit. Explanation or no, it is hardly going to help me to save for my future.

Controlling our spending on unnecessary items in the short term, after all, will help us to save for things we want further down the track, such as the kids' education or a decent lifestyle in retirement.

"The trick is to put in place strategies that help you to delay gratification," says Catherine Robson of advice boutique Affinity Private.

She recommends strategies such as reducing the limit on credit cards to an amount equal to, or below, the after-tax value of an individual's monthly salary.

"Remove the temptation. It's like taking sugar out of the cupboards when you are on a diet," says Robson.

One woman whom I spoke to and who asked not be named said she had long since thrown away her credit cards and has no store cards either.

"The only way I can discipline myself is not have cards. If I had one I would use it," she says.

Another trick is to avoid supermarkets, which are full to the brim with attractively packaged goods. Between the greengrocer, the butcher and stores such as Big W or Bunnings, you should be able to buy almost everything you need.

If you do go to the supermarket, take a list and stick to it.

You have to be responsible for your own finances.

Lyn Long, retiree

Lyn Long, a retired school teacher from Newcastle, is a self-confessed lover of shoes, handbags and clothes. But, she says "I try not to be frivolous; you have to be responsible for your own finances".

Long, who receives a part-pension, sets aside some money each fortnight into an emergency account and some into a holiday account. Then she makes sure she has a little bit left to treat herself.

Robson agrees wholeheartedly. She likes the three-bucket, or FFF, approach to money: Fixed (day-to-day living costs), Fun (consumption on non-essentials) and Future (retirement).

Having set aside enough money for the day-to-day stuff, she recommends a 50:50 split between fun and future.

'It gives you time to think'

Retrenchment two years ago has made delaying gratification a way of life for Lene Andersen (pictured).

"I didn't think it would be so hard to get re-employed again," says Andersen, a desktop publisher. "I'm 60 but really it's anyone over 40 who struggles to get work." 

Happily, Andersen last month gained her first shifts. The shifts are as a medical receptionist – using some of the many skills she has paid to retrain in, while living carefully on her redundancy payout.

"Government assistance doesn't even cover my rent in Sydney," she says.

Andersen had received six months' notice of her forced layoff from the large company where she had worked for 20 years.

"I think I got off lightly. Most staff had mortgages and families. But I wasn't ready to stop working."

Naturally buoyant, Andersen set about adjusting her lifestyle to curb her spending.

"I kept my healthcare but I don't go out as much for lunch. I still have a social life – which as a single person is important – but I watch everything."

Now there's some money coming in, she plans to top up her super. In fact, Andersen believes delaying gratification should be applied to all facets of life.

"It's a bit like a diet. It might be a little bit tough when you first get started but after a while you see the results and it works well," she says. "There are lots of relationships that haven't survived because no one wanted to wait to get to know the person they were attracted to.

"Delaying gratification gives you time to think and understand what's right for you." 

Case study by Natasha Hughes


September 2015