10 Mental Barriers to Paying Off Debt: Instant Gratification Syndrome

rfz_mental_barriersAt the start of The Debt Movement, we introduced the topic of mental barriers that prevent us from paying off debt. Why? Because even the best-laid plans can fail and, when that happens, we’re left to wonder what to do about it. The fact is, good intentions and solid planning are important but they won’t move us forward without self-awareness. So for the rest of The Debt Movement, we’re going to talk about each mental barrier that prevents us from paying off debt so they can be conquered once and for all. Remember, there’s a lot more to securing a solid financial future than simply crunching numbers in an Excel spreadsheet!

Mental Barrier Number Eight: Instant Gratification Syndrome

One major cause of debt also happens to be the very thing that makes it so hard to get out of debt: instant gratification syndrome. What is instant gratification syndrome? It’s the inability to delay obtaining something you desire. If you see something you want, you buy it now – whether or not you have the money, could get it for cheaper later, or take the time to evaluate if it’s a real need. Does this sound like you? You’re not alone!

Understanding the Prevalence of Instant Gratification Syndrome

Why is it that so many of us seem to suffer from instant gratification syndrome? Several reasons:

1) The ease with which nearly anyone can obtain a credit card: If you don’t have the money or access to funds to buy something, it’s pretty easy to walk away. This is one reason debt has become a bigger and bigger problem in the US – 50 years ago, people simply didn’t have the same access to credit. But now nearly everyone has a credit card – or two or three. And it’s just so quick and painless to swipe that card and convince ourselves that we’ll have the money to pay back the charge later.

2) Fast-paced society: With the advent of newer technology comes the ability to work faster, but also causes us to have shorter attention spans. We communicate over text and Twitter in 140 characters or less, we send emails to co-workers sitting right next to us, and we have to make snap decisions all day every day. It’s no wonder that it can be difficult to keep our longer term goals in mind!

3) The desire to keep up with the Joneses: Keeping up with the Joneses is by no means a new phenomenon, but it certainly does make delaying gratification on purchases hard to do. I may not even realize I want a new car until I see the shiny new one in my neighbor’s driveway. But what we don’t always realize is that the surface of what we see with the Joneses may be very different than the reality. The Joneses may be knee-deep in debt themselves while we think that they have it all. That’s why it’s important to remember that seeking fulfillment through possessions is a losing game.

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How to Cure Instant Gratification Syndrome

Now that we know a few causes of instant gratification syndrome, it’s time to identify your cause and then forgive yourself for it. This is not something to feel guilty for – nearly all of us suffer from it! Once you’ve accepted the past, it’s time to figure out how to improve the future. Here are a few steps to curing instant gratification syndrome:

  • Cement Good Budgeting Habits

What’s the easiest way to delay gratification? Use a budget! Spending money freely is easy to do if you’re not tracking your spending, but if you have a budget you’ll be accountable for any purchases you make. At the time of purchase you’ll have to ask yourself questions about whether or not this fits into your budget and, if not, whether or not you have enough extra funds to cover it.

So how can you take away the feeling that budgeting is simply a way to restrict yourself? Pay yourself first. This is the most reliable way to ensure that extra money is going into your savings account or to debt payoff before it goes to extraneous purchases. So when you do your budget, find out how much extra you have after bills with each paycheck. Then either deposit that money into your savings account or pay the extra on your debt before you do anything else. Then pay your bills and allot the rest towards miscellaneous unplanned expenditures.

  • Relish Financial Success

Budgeting may not be fun but that feeling can actually change as financial success nears. I’ve experienced this first-hand and it was a shock! I used to get a thrill out of fun purchases and later feel bad about my finances. But once I saw my savings account growing, I felt actual fulfillment. It was so gratifying to see my savings grow that I no longer felt joy in purchases because they would take away from that growth. This is a longer term, delayed gratification, but it’s a gratification that lasts.

Do you feel like you’ll never reach that point of success? If so, that could stop you in your tracks. Luckily, there are plenty of people just like us who’ve conquered debt and come out on the other side. Borrow inspiration from their success! Take a look at the stories of Jennifer and Mike for real-life proof that small changes can make a huge difference. Pretty soon, you’ll be sharing your own success story as you’ve conquered instant gratification and achieved your larger financial goals.

Stay tuned next week as we move on to mental barrier number nine. And don’t forget to join The Debt Movement and help us reach the movement’s goal of paying off $10 million of debt in 90 days!

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  • Financial Black Sheep

    I started an allowance for myself with my budget so I can still spend, but not feel bad about spending money. It isn’t a lot of money, so I still have to save for things like a new computer, but it is enough that I can have a daily coffee, or go out with friends and not feel bad about spending.

    • Shannon_ReadyForZero

      That’s a great idea! It’s important to allot some funds, even if a small amount, for fun things like coffee or going out with a friend. But also very smart to have an allowance so you know you won’t go overboard!

  • http://www.facebook.com/laurasnoox Laura Snoox

    Instant gratification syndrome is so real! In fact, I find myself practicing this concept more often when I need some “retail therapy” from a rough day or frustrating situation. I have to really try hard to not cave in to my deisres!

    • Shannon_ReadyForZero

      I know that feeling all too well Laura! I used to be a big practicer of retail therapy and it’s taken years to break the habit. I hope these tips can help somewhat!