If there is one skill you need in order to reach Financial Independence it is this one: delayed gratification. The FIRE community as a whole is very good at it. Maybe a little too good.
A certain level of self-control and is crucial on the path to FI. So is the ability to avoid instant gratification. However, delaying gratification can be a double-edged sword, especially if it is used as an excuse or a distraction.
Ask yourself: Are you practising self-discipline to achieve your big goals or are you really just delaying happiness?
What is Delayed Gratification?
Delayed gratification is the ability to resist temptations and immediate pleasures in order to achieve more important, longer-term goals. Delaying gratification means disciplining yourself so that you can enjoy greater rewards in the future. It’s an important factor for success.
Here are some examples:
- Saying no to a night out (instant gratification) so you can study for your upcoming exams.
- Not eating chocolate every day (instant gratification) so you look good in your swimsuit in summer.
- Giving up smoking (instant gratification) so you stay healthy for your children.
- Saving and investing your money instead of blowing it on a holiday in Bali (instant gratification) so you can retire early.
Delayed Gratification and Financial Success
It is obvious that delaying gratification and a certain degree of willpower are important prerequisites for any successful FIRE plan. It’s a major factor in all the major “levers” you can pull to get you to FI:
- Spending less
- Saving and investing more and better
- Optimising/increasing income
So without this skill, you will probably get stuck on the hedonic treadmill without ever building enough wealth to retire early and fulfil your dreams.
However, you can have too much of a good thing as we all know. Delayed gratification is an excellent tool when it comes to avoiding impulse purchases and building wealth for the future. However, when it turns into delayed happiness, it’s a problem.
Let’s examine the dynamics at play here.
Your “Why of FI” is Just the First Step
In the FIRE community, we often talk about our “Why of FI”. And don’t get me wrong – it is definitely important to know why you are pursuing FIRE.
However, it is just as important to realise that defining your “Why of FI” really is just the start of a long process.
People often say things like “I want to reach FI so I start my own photography business”. But instead of taking steps towards achieving their goal (starting their own business), they spend days researching which brokerage firm offers the cheapest trades and which ETFs have marginally lower MERs. They tell themselves that once they reach FIRE they can finally do what they have always wanted to do.
I have some news for you: You don’t need $1 Million, $2 Million or any other arbitrary number in your portfolio before you are allowed to be happy and work on the things you are interested in.
Here is the formula manly of us in the FIRE community use (knowingly or unknowingly):
- Reach FI
- Be happy (live the ‘Why of FI’)
This is not how it works, unfortunately.
This really is no different from someone saying “once I lose weight I’ll start dating” or “once I feel a bit more confident I’ll ask for a raise”.
A Better Formula
If you don’t work towards reaching your life goals along the path to FIRE, you likely won’t be happy when you get there. Money is just that – money. Money can make living your best life easier, but it won’t magically make it all happen for you.
Here is a better formula:
- Figure out what you want out of life
- Find the type of Financial Independence that suits your lifestyle and goals best. For some, the standard path to FI is the logical and most sensible choice. We opted for Flamingo FI, but Coast FI, other Semi-FIRE strategies might be a better fit for you. My point is that there are lots of options to choose from and you can always change your plan along the way.
- Strive to be happy (live your ‘Why of FI’) WHILE you work towards FI
If you follow this approach you won’t actually need to change anything in your life once you get to FI.
Mr. Flamingo and I prioritised building a great life for our family while we were chasing our financial goals. When we finally reached our target and semi-retired in 2020 we had a very smooth transition – and nothing in our lives changed (except for the fact that we are now working less).
Don’t delay your happiness along the path to FI. While it is definitely necessary to make some sacrifices along the way you should never put off the things that you know will make you happy long-term.
Are you using FI and Delayed Gratification as an Excuse?
If you want to start a photography business, then start a photography business!
I’m not saying that you should quit your six-figure job to be a full-time photographer. In order to reach Financial Independence, you need a decent income so you can invest on a regular basis.
However, it is completely possible to start working towards your goal while you work towards FI. Take a photography class, start a portfolio by offering family and friends free photo sessions, build a website.
Just take little steps towards your big goal over time. Eventually, you will have both – your life goal (a photography business or whatever else you want) AND Financial Independence.
The same principle applies to all other goals in life, by the way. Don’t wait until you reach FI to train for that marathon, lose weight, find a partner, move overseas…
Remember, not blowing $200 on a night out so you can invest it instead is delayed gratification. Not buying a new phone every year is delayed gratification. Not looking after your health, cutting costs so much that you can’t enjoy yourself anymore, and putting off plans to find work you actually enjoy are all examples of delayed happiness.
If you delay your own happiness, you are likely using FI as an excuse. Maybe because you are scared. Maybe because you don’t believe in yourself. Maybe because you don’t want to fail. Don’t.
If you are using FI as an excuse to live your best life, then you should ask yourself why and start working on these issues first. They won’t magically disappear once you become a (multi-)millionaire.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you caught yourself delaying happiness along the path to FI?