We live in an Instant Gratification society!
Every day, our minds are bombarded with messages that not only can we instantly get what we want, but that we deserve to instantly get it.

Instant cereal.
Instant message.
Instant pain relief.
Instant credit.

We live in an Instant Gratification society!

Every day, our minds are bombarded with messages that not only can we instantly get what we want, but that we deserve to instantly get it. In the words of one of the all-time most successful commercial jingles “You deserve a break today.”

Advertisers spend millions of dollars every day convincing us that we can have every desire met instantly; even the needs we create by our own inappropriate conduct. Eat the wrong foods or too much? No problem, pop a pill for instant stomach relief. Advertisers are effective at convincing us that there are, indeed, magical solutions for all of our needs and desires. Feeling stressed? Take a cruise. Not six months from now when you have saved up…but take the cruise tomorrow and just finance the cost. All this advertising has had effects far beyond the goods and services that are advertised. Most of us have developed an “instant gratification” attitude. We expect continual instant gratification from our relationships with service providers, with employers, and even with friends and family.

“(Fortune Magazine) You recall the famous experiment in which researchers offered marshmallows to 4-year-olds. One by one each child was brought into a room, given a single marshmallow, and told he could eat it. But, said the researcher, I’ll be back in five minutes, and if you still have the marshmallow when I return, I’ll give you another one. Eat the marshmallow or save it–it’s up to you.

The researchers then tracked the lives of those kids for years afterward. Chief finding: The kids who didn’t eat the marshmallow were more confident, had more friends, got better grades, and got better jobs. Is anyone really surprised?

We have become a nation that can’t resist eating the marshmallow, and like those 4-year-olds, we’ll pay a price down the road. Starting soon, the boomers will desperately need the second marshmallow. Trouble is, they’ve already eaten the first one.”

Specifically, America’s savings rate has plunged to the lowest level ever. In the past few years, we’ve saved between 1% and 2% of income. So we’re spending 98% to 99% of everything we earn, and we’re shocked to find that we can’t pay for our retirement? That is beyond poor judgment. It’s simply delusional. In light of rising life expectancies and living costs, we are by no means well fixed for the future. Yet we still save hardly anything. We just can’t believe tomorrow will really come.

Experience shows that an instant gratification attitude seldom contributes to lasting peace and happiness. In fact, having an instant gratification attitude leads to an insatiable appetite for instant gratification… dooming you to unpleasant after-effects which frequently outlast the quick fix.

Last week, a friend of mine, Andrew, told me about his friend. Both he and his wife work, and Andrew estimated that together, they brought in more than $100,000/year. Despite this, they live with the husband’s parents in their basement and have their credit cards and line of credit maxed out. However they have a big screen TV and a very nice stereo system, they drive new cars and have what would seem at outward appearances, a very luxurious lifestyle. However, it is all a facade. Andrew asked him one day about one of his recent purchases, and he replied, “Hey man, we live in an instant gratification world.”

It always strikes me as odd when people don’t follow basic financial principles in order to satisfy a craving to keep up with the Jones’s. But I think rather than people being foolish, it often comes down to a lack of good financial planning education. I mean it’s not like they teach this in schools very well. We rely on our parents for most of this education, and unfortunately, many parents are not in a good position themselves to be able to pass on good financial planning skills.

We need to get back to basic, sound budgeting principles. They boil down to a few things (more on these in future blogs):

  • live within your means (ie. spend less than you earn)
  • get rid of bad debt
  • differentiate between needs and wants. Address needs first and wants can be addressed when your savings support them.

Application of these basic principles will keep you and your budget happy.