The Instant Gratification Club: are you a member?

Yesterday, I was watching something on TV that was featuring a husband and wife at odds about spending money, and who could spend how much, when and on what. The crux of their argument was all around instant gratification, and how we justify that.

Person A says:  We need (insert anything here – a trip, a car, a new sofa, a night out, etc).

Person B says: How are we going to pay for that?

Person A says: I dunno, but we need it, let’s just get it and we’ll pay it off soon.

At different times in my life and in different relationships, I’ve been both person A and B. Not in the same conversation of course! In the past, I’ve booked weekend getaways because there was a killer deal on airfare, or because I had free hotel nights I could use. I bought a new car once because I had a windfall. No, the windfall didn’t cover the cost of the car. Ages ago I bought a cell phone before they were cheap and tiny. Why? Because I thought I/we needed it.

Truthfully, I didn’t need any of those things, I wanted them. The car served me for a lot of years, but a used car would have been a lot cheaper. The cell phone barely worked in the rural area I was living in, and was back-in-the-day when signals were poorer than dirt. I have fond memories of that weekend getaway, so do my kids.

I have totally been a card carrying member of the instant gratification club in the past. I have no idea how I got there. I can say that many of my friends and acquaintances are also in the club with me. Whether it’s a sense of want that’s been justified as a need, or whether it seems like too good of a deal to pass up. We see it, we get it. We shop for sport.

When did this happen to our generation? My mother didn’t behave this way when I was growing up. We had what we needed, and we didn’t have anything more. Mind you, I doubt the banks and the credit card companies called up my mom all the time offering to give her a credit card or extend her a line of credit. I don’t even think she had a line of credit until she was fifty-something.

As a parent, it makes me a bit sick to think of the example I set for my kids. I don’t want to paint myself as a parent who spent our family into bankruptcy – I didn’t do that. Still, if somebody wanted something bad enough, they usually got it.

Trouble is, this stuff sneaks up on you. Maybe it’s $10 here, $45 there. Eventually, you’ve spent a couple hundred dollars that you simply don’t have. You may not even notice it for a few months. The deficit floats around on a credit card, or in overdraft, or on a line of credit.  Suddenly it occurs to you, you can’t recover quickly from that deficit. You’re slowly sinking into the debt hole, twenty and thirty bucks at a time.

The bonus for me this year, particularly as a parent, is this:  it’s never too late to join a new club! My kids have totally signed on to the budget, and the ability to pay for what we have. My budget spreadsheet is on the computer, and often open and available. They can totally see where we’re at, all the time.

We all want to take another trip to Disney before they get to the ages where they move out on their own. It’s not the most original vacation in the world, but we were there six years ago, and we had a blast. I would totally love to take them back and just do it up right. We’ve already identified this as our 2011 savings goal.  They’re totally motivated by the big goal. They get the idea that we could spend our money a few bucks at a time in the coffee shops, ordering for pizza delivery or in the bookstore, or, we could do less of that, and put more toward a big savings goal.

I could moan and whine and say I wish I were smarter younger. While that’s true, I’m overwhelmingly proud to be able to go through this with my kids when they’re at an age of truly getting it. The eldest is 22, and the youngest is almost 17. A few weeks ago the youngest said “when I move out, I’m taking a copy of your spreadsheet with me!”  It was a great compliment.

She knows the power it holds, and the opportunities it creates.

For me, I’m starting to get excited about seeing that line of credit at a zero balance. I know it will happen. How do I know that? Because I’ve proven to myself that we can make it happen by our actions over the last five months. We’re almost half way there!

It’s super exciting to know that our next financial goals will be all about saving for something fun, rather than paying stuff off that we already have. I’m proud of my kids. I’m particularly blessed to have them as my financial partners in this journey. They may not contribute anything to the revenue side, but they’ve sure kept my nose clean on the expense side.

Now our conversations look like this:

Person A (that’d be me): Wow,  I really want this electric bike, isn’t it gorgeous? Won’t I look like Audrey Hepburn on it, except with a bike helmet? Look, it’s $300 off!

Person B (that’d be the 17 year old): Yes Mom, that’s a really nice one. You’re gonna look great on it. Won’t it be satisfying when you save up your money and just walk in here and pay cash for it next year?

Me: Yes, that’ll be really, really great. C’mon kid, I’m buying a round of hot chocolate!


One response to this post.

  1. Hi, I’ve just found your blog and find it completely inspiring. I’m spending far too much money on lattes, books, take-aways etc and not thinking of the bigger picture. Love the Audrey Hepburn dialogue!


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