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How to Program Your Brain to Resist Impulse Buying and Manage Your Finances

Patience and self-control may not come natural to everyone. However, waiting – delaying gratification – does have its rewards.

Psychologist Walter Mischel’s “marshmallow studies” in the 1960s and 1970s may tell us something about delayed gratification. The children who participated were given a choice to receive one or two marshmallows. To get two marshmallows, the kids had to wait several minutes. Otherwise, they alerted the tester to receive one marshmallow immediately.

One-third of the children waited and all were tracked in follow-up studies. Interestingly enough, the “high delayers” were also the highest achievers. They had better SAT scores, responses to stress and social skills.

Clearly, good things come to those who wait, right? That’s really what delayed gratification is all about, resisting the urge to grab the immediate prize in hopes of winning a better one in the future.

If you are investing in your future by earning a college degree, delayed gratification can help you focus on the bigger picture and stay on track in school. And when financial rewards are at stake, many experts believe that delayed gratification is instrumental to financial success.

Practicing self-control on your spending can put you in a better position to cover educational expenses. It can also help you get out of debt or avoid going into it while you are in school.


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Jumping into a loan or unnecessary purchase can have an impact on your finances. Delaying on expenses gives you more wiggle room to save in the interim. And the more sparingly you use credit, the better your credit rating will be for the time when the need to borrow is unavoidable.

Various strategies will help you delay unnecessary spending and manage the money you do have smarter. Check out any budgeting apps, coupon managers or money management tools available online. Renting your textbooks instead of buying them may be another way to save. But also learn what it takes to delay gratification and master your impulses to spend. Here are three ideas:

  • Focus on something more gratifying, even if it’s more expensive. Thinking about the long-term “win” versus the short-term gain can help keep your money in your wallet.
  • Let your mind wander. Daydreaming is a great way to find your way back to what will be gratifying over the long term. A 2013 article in Consciousness and Cognition found that the more a person thought about something else, the longer he or she would wait for a reward.
  • Think about what makes you grateful. Researchers have found a connection between your gratitude and your ability to wait for bigger rewards, according to a 2016 article in Emotion.

Unexpected temptations to spend can hold a powerful sway. But remember that it’s ultimately all in your head. You can resist the impulses – and your finances will be better off for it.

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