Instant gratification is a disease worse than cancer.
A few days ago my wife and I went to a baby expo. We wanted to do all the free training on offer so we can do infant CPR, change diapers and understand the nuances of breastfeeding. I naively thought everyone else at the expo was there for the same thing.
The expo was just a giant consumerism party. I got friendly with a few of the stall owners so I could ask them questions.
“How do most people pay?”
“Ohhh, no one’s got any real money! It’s all paid for with buy now, pay later.”
I got some version of this response from all the stall owners I asked. Most of them giggled when they told me, as if the giant debt bubble we’re in is as obvious as the 2008 financial crisis caused by bogus home loans.
A day later my wife and I caught coroni-roni from the expo.
(Despite wearing N95 masks the whole time.)
It gave me a few days to think about what I’d experienced, in between coughing my lungs out until they bled.
The most common stuff parents at the expo bought weren’t items their future babies would actually need — like nappies, supplements, first-aid courses for parents, or blankets. Nope.
Parents were mostly buying items that show status, such as Louis Vuitton baby clothes and oversized SUV prams trying to look like Lambos.
Rather than buy the things they truly needed with money they’d already earned, they mortgaged their future to buy useless, overpriced status items to live a fake-rich life.
Ironically, the things they bought for their babies would keep them from their babies. All a baby really needs is your time.
“The quicker you want something, the easier you are to manipulate”
Modern payment methods increased the speed of transactions.
The old days made mass spending harder. You’d have to go to the mall, find a car spot for your SUV, walk around, wait in line, count out the cash, go to the ATM when you need more cash, and endure other shoppers.
The friction was high.
Now an entire paycheck can be spent in minutes on Amazon. There’s zero friction thanks to one-click checkout that even remembers your credit card number.
We’re all so used to getting what we want as speed. It’s why new business models from the likes of Amazon are encouraging us to get used to having our purchases within one hour of ordering. Any longer and we’re pissed.
Speed makes us act like drunk shoppers. We spray and pray. The downside of buying all this crap appears low because we think we’ll return anything we don’t want later. Refund policies help keep the delusion alive.
The truth is we’re not returning all this junk. It’s too good.
The more time we spend with our purchases, the more likely we will get manipulated by them to think we need them.
The naughty description of marketing
Marketing’s job is to make you think you have problems that don’t exist.
Before all the products we have now there were other solutions. Our grandparents may not have been able to afford a car, yet they still got around.
They may not have drank creamy frappuccinos from Starbucks, yet they still had their guilty pleasures while listening to the radio of an evening.
Most marketing is dishonest.
The evidence and visual display is so good you forget to do your own research.
We want to believe the message is true even though we know it’s probably not. The dopamine hit we get from slapping the buy button simply feels too good, because it’s psychologically designed that way to manipulate us.
The brutal solutions to the ‘buy now, pay later’ epidemic
1. Use this psychological trick
Every purchase you make today reduces your options in the future.
So don’t think about what you get now from a purchase. Think about what you have to give up to get it.
See money as a measurement of time. That $2000 watch you don’t need is a measurement of hours you have to work to get it.
Go even further. Work out how much you roughly earn per hour, then start measuring purchases in hours worked. That’ll quickly change how you spend money aka time.
2. Slow progress feels better looking back
Author James Clear wrote in his newsletter that “most big, deeply satisfying accomplishments in life take at least 5 years to achieve.”
This same mindset applies to our money. The purchases that feel the best are the ones you have to work for. Just ask homeowners. They work their butts off to afford the deposit and go through the complex process of getting a loan.
One day, when the loan gets paid off, that purchase will likely give them the greatest satisfaction. That’s because they got to experience the beauty of slow progress, rather than the fast food effect of buy now, pay later.
3. Don’t buy products the first time you see them
I find when I’m tempted to buy something and then sit on it, the temptation subsides. My policy is to try not to buy things the first time I see them.
“Sleep on it” is my mantra.
4. Replace instant gratification with instant gratitude
Whenever I’m tempted to buy dumb stuff I practice instant gratitude as a replacement for instant gratification.
When I’m grateful I don’t need to try and fill a void in my life with a purchase. Gratitude reminds us of how much we already have so we don’t feel we need to have more.
Money buys options in the future.
Stop giving away your freedom for dumb purchases that make someone else wealthier, while keeping you from your family.