The Magically Frugal Power of Patience

When I was a little kid, my dad explained the power of prayer to me. He said, “When you ask God for something you really, really want, He’ll give you one of three answers: yes, no, or wait.”

And kids? That’s when I became an atheist.

Just kidding. I didn’t apostatize until I was about nineteen, and the decision to leave religion forever had nothing to do with my dad’s words of wisdom.

But at the time my dad told me this story, I was pretty fucking disgruntled. “Wait”? Dafuq kind of answer was “wait” from an all-knowing, benevolent, magical guidance counselor in the sky? “Wait” was not in my eight-year-old vocabulary and I was damned if I was going to be patient for anything.

But with the perspective and wisdom of years, I now have good reason to embrace this concept of waiting, of being patient for the things I want.

My dad thought he was teaching me about faith and adult-level patience and serenity and shit. But what he really taught me about was far more interesting:

Money.

Anticipation increases enjoyment and reason

Saving money, by its very definition, is a practice in waiting. You earn money, you don’t spend it, and over time it adds up. Patience builds your savings. But it also builds something else: happiness.

Studies show that waiting for something can actually make you enjoy it more. The anticipation is part of the fun, and when you eventually get to indulge in the experience, the pay-off is so much sweeter for having been delayed.

The same principle is why foreplay is such an important part of sexy times. (For those who don’t yet know, be advised: foreplay is an important part of sexy times.) It’s why smelling a delicious meal cooking is so gratifying and why kids get so excited waiting for Christmas morning.

It’s why setting up a slow-burning prank involving your brother, a rubber snake, and a gallon of frozen lard is so deliciously thrilling. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Apply this theory to your spending habits. If you really want to buy a thing or experience, it might be worth it to wait awhile rather than rushing out to purchase it. Being patient will build anticipation, and you’ll be more excited to receive the object of your desire than if you’d instantly gratified your wants.

But waiting has other benefits besides increased enjoyment. Your patience could be rewarded with better decision-making skills.

Research shows that delaying a choice generally helps us make better decisions. That’s why “sleeping on it” is such a time-honored method of figuring shit out.

Think about this in terms of your money. If you wait before making a purchase, the extra time will allow you to thoroughly think through the purchase, using your full capacity for logic, reason, and planning. And given that time, you may change your mind. You may decide against spending your money at all.

So you have nothing to lose by patiently waiting to buy something, and you could potentially gain money and fun!

The thirty-day rule

The next time you want something—a video game, concert tickets, rims for your sweet ride, a signed limited edition Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie poster—write it down on the calendar… thirty days from now.

“Whoa now! Hold the phone, Piggy,” you’re saying, “That’s completely ridiculous!”

You’re right. How could I be so daft? Allow me to rephrase.

Type it into your iCal or Google Calendar on a date thirty days from now.

Then just wait. Don’t buy the thing. Feel free to look at the thing. Feel free to take the thing for a test drive, search for coupons with which to buy the thing, tell your bosom bros you want to buy the thing. BUT—and this is very important—DO NOT BUY THE THING FOR THIRTY DAYS.

BUT I WANT IT NOW

At the end of the thirty days, when you see that thing you want show up in your calendar alerts, ask yourself: “Do I still want this thing?”

And if you do? Great! Buy the thing. You’ve been lusting after it for a month and you still want it just as bad now as you did when you first felt the urge to buy it. That must mean it’s real hella important to you and it’s going to add all kinds of joy to your life.

But if you find yourself at the end of a month merely going “meh”… don’t buy the fucking thing. Save your money instead. Waiting has tarnished its luster, revealing it for what it truly is: just a thing you don’t particularly need or want or have a use for.

Now aren’t you glad you didn’t waste money on that creepy Teletubbies high school AU art print a month ago?

The three-question test

The thirty-day rule doesn’t work for every purchase. Sometimes you just don’t have time for that shit.

But it’s still worthwhile to be patient for even a little while. Press the pause button. Be patient, if only in the moment. Take a breath and ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do I really need it?
  2. Do I really love it?
  3. Is it a really great deal?

If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, you may buy the thing! Clearly it’s going to improve your life in at least two ways, so hell yes you should buy it.

But if you only answered yes to one of the three questions? Or if you answered no to all of them? Keep your money in your wallet, peaches. It’s got more important things to do.

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23 thoughts on “The Magically Frugal Power of Patience

  1. The last question for me is if there’s a more frugal substitute for it instead of the thing in question. OH and if there’s a return policy because sometimes not even the devil himself knows why he needs to be evil.

  2. This is something I need to learn to do with books (although now I finally have access to a decent library, I’m training myself to go there first).

    Over the past few months, the idea of a nose piercing has been floating around in my brain, and someone told me that, for body modifications of any kind, they’d advise a waiting period of at least 12 to 24 months, which I think is fair – so I have that one noted down for 2019…

    1. Gawd… when I think about all the stupid tattoos I ALMOST got when I was 20… (shudders)
      Books and the library is a great example! I always have books on hold at the library. And if I ever get impatient… I just read a different library book instead. So many books, there’s no time to be impatient!

      1. I waited about three years before getting my first tattoo. I would even periodically draw it onto my foot to get a sense of what it would be like to have a tattoo (albeit one done by a terrible tattoo artist). It was definitely worth waiting for.

        I’m now about six months into dreaming about my second tattoo, so I should have another one in 2020.

  3. I agree! Patience is definitely virtue. I think I may start applying the 3-question rule when there’s a great deal in front of me. I find that when I wait 30 days, I lose out on a great deal.

    1. That’s a good point. The three-question method is much more useful for time-sensitive sales and such. President’s Day sales are coming up, y’all!

  4. I have a different strategy that has worked really well for me. In my notes on my phone I have one called “wishlist”. If I want/need a thing but not in an immediate dire way, it goes on the wishlist – stuff like clothing/shoes, household goods, outdoor gear, art supplies, kitchen gadgets, memberships to museums/parks etc. In addition to forcing me to wait (sometimes years!) and really consider the value of that thing to me, it also gives me a system for prioritization. If all the things I want are on one list, when I do have money to spend I can easily choose the most seasonally relevant/impactful/enjoyable thing to purchase in that moment. Also works great for the odd occasion when someone asks if I want anything in particular as a gift for birthdays/whatever. I can refer to my list and find something that is appropriate cost-wise and fits that person well in terms of what would be meaningful to them to give (e.g. socks from my mum, or games from my nerdy brother).

  5. Couldn’t agree more! This applies to wants, of course (just yesterday I had to shell out $750 for an essential home appliance – ugh). I had a great example of this lately though. I was craving the Rothy’s washable flats. Oh, and they sell for, like, $145, by the way. I nearly bought them, until I realized I was in a “GIMME DAT” mindset. I told myself to wait one month until my birthday to see if I truly wanted them. And you know what? I’m so over those shoes. It’s crazy how much money you can save with self-control and patience. It’s not about deprivation; it’s about giving yourself cool-down time to realize if something will hurt your financial goals.

    1. …not to be the devil on your shoulder, but if you DO change your mind and want to reinstate the waiting period, I have a pair and I LOVE them. I commute by foot often (hey, NYC) and they are an amazing alternative. I’ve washed them a few times with the salty/wet weather and they’ve held up beautifully.

  6. Although I generally believe patience is overrated, I’m actually not an impulse purchaser….I believe in delayed gratification for material things. Free things however….I want them all now!

  7. I guess this is one of the (few) times that chronic illness helps. Going out can sometimes take planning — as in, making sure we save energy for it — so purchases tend to get planned more, which means they are often put off for a little while, though not generally 30 days. Of course, that does bring the fourth integral question: “Do I really want to leave the house to get this damn thing?” That discourages us from a fair number of purchases.

    On the other hand, this also means that we may have to make a quick decision (because we’re not sure if we’ll feel up to coming back out). And we don’t always answer correctly. But that’s usually on smaller purchases. On medium- to large-sized ones, I almost always put it off at least a little with my infamous, “Let me go home and see if I can find it cheaper online.” Then once I’m home and price shopping I tend to hem and haw at least a few days about whether we should actually get it. Again, not 30 days, but it’s something.

  8. Time really does help turn decisions that are often driven by external factors (marketing, social pressure) as well as sub-optimal internal factors (impulses, emotions), into something that is more driven by logic.

    For the past year, I’ve been wanting a new car. But yesterday I was listening to the Masters in Business podcast, and heard from a behavioral economist talking about how the happiness that car would bring me is surely going to be temporary. Hedonic adaptation pretty much guarantees I’ll feel the same way about the new car as I did about my old car in about a year or so.

    Had I not been patient, I might have already dropped five figures on that car…

  9. “Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget, that until the day God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, ‘Wait and Hope.'”

  10. Those gifs may have made me laugh out loud (and maybe go re watch that movie to see if I still know all the words).

    30 days is basically an ETERNITY when it comes to waiting to buy something. But you’re totally right – if you still want it that much later, you really do want it.

    1. I was so excited when I realized I had the perfect opportunity to use that pair of antici…pation gifs. Basically built a whole article around them.

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