You know you should save money, but why is it so hard to actually do it? You try to budget, you try to save, but you’re getting nowhere. Before you completely throw in the towel know this: you’re not alone. According to this study, 20% of Americans don’t save any of their annual income at all. Those who do aren’t saving enough. People say expenses are the main reason why they can’t save more money.

Sound familiar?

If you want to finally be able to save money once and for all, you have to master the art of… delayed gratification. Learn to master this one simple thing, and you’ll finally be able to achieve financial independence.  

Why Delayed Gratification Is So Hard

Delayed gratification is so hard because we view our future selves as strangers. When we have to choose between satisfying a current want or a future need, we’ll always choose the former.

One way to get better at delayed gratification is by defining what brings you contentment or makes you happy, and then using your money to support that contentment and happiness. Once you’re able to envision a brighter future for yourself, you’re able to change your bad money habits. It sounds simple because it is simple.  

How To Master Delayed Gratification Once And For All

Start Living By Design (Instead Of Living By Default)

Living by default means going with the flow of society. You don’t consider how your money choices affect you tomorrow. Instead, you’re focused on the here and now. If today’s self wants a new iPhone, that’s what you get. You don’t consider the larger context. You don’t know what you may want (or need) five years from now.

When you live by design—on the other hand—you make conscious decisions about where you want to be in the future and how today’s decisions can either help or hinder you from getting there.

Watch Out For Consumerism

When you aren’t crystal clear about what you want, you unconsciously give in to the messages that bombard you every day. For modern Americans, that message is a constant push to buy, buy, buy. As a result, you max out your credit cards and deplete any savings you had to begin with. You work hard for your next paycheck, only to spend it on more things you’re told will make you happy. As the temporary happiness fades, you move onto the next thing.

This is the hedonic treadmill. The longer you are on it, the further behind you can fall.

When I was a teenager, I saw a ton of ads touting how great this hot, new Canon camera was. I saw the ads so much that I convinced myself I needed it for an upcoming trip. I spent $600 on this camera, even though I’d never taken a photo before in my life.

After the trip, I developed the film only to learn that every single photo was overexposed. (I had never used a camera before, remember?) I never used the camera again, but I still have it 35 years later. Why? Because it serves as a reminder that the $600 I spent on the camera could be worth over $6,000 today – the very definition of opportunity cost.

Learn from my mistakes, watch out for consumerism.  

Create A Financial Plan

The last key to mastering delayed gratification is creating a financial plan. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Be Honest About Where You Are Now (HERE)

You must be honest about where you are right now before you can get to a better financial place.

Set aside a few hours to go over your earnings, debt, spending patterns, current investments, and credit card statements. These numbers make up your personal profit & loss (P&L) statement and balance sheet. Keep these numbers in front of you as you go through your financial plan. If temptation starts to creep up and you feel the need to give in, remind yourself of what you’re working toward.

Step 2: Be Clear About Where You Want To Be (THERE)

The next step is clearly defining what you want your destination to look like. Don’t be vague about this part. Ask soul-searching questions like:

  • What type of career do you want?
  • Do you want to have a family?
  • If so, what opportunities do you want your children to have?
  • What type of lifestyle do you want to live?
  • How do you envision your retirement?
  • What legacy do you want to leave when you’re gone?

By answering these questions, you can calculate the cost (in time and money) of what it’ll take to get there.

Step 3: Plan A Route And Make Trade-Offs (PATH)

You can’t have everything you want in the present and everything you want in the future. You must make trade-offs between what you want now and what you want then. Determine what’s more important and forgo the rest.

I’m not saying you have to deprive yourself of all the “extras” in life. If music is your jam, it’s still okay to set aside money for a concerts and pay for Spotify premium. But, if music is your jam, then forego the unecessary, even if beautifully hip, new suede shoes. Before you open your wallet, ask yourself if this purchase brings you closer to what makes YOU happy. If the answer is no, don’t buy it. This simple question makes it much easier to stick to your financial plan—and ultimately reach financial freedom.

The Bottom Line

Spending is fun and delayed gratification is hard. But you’ll never reach financial freedom if you don’t save enough. Your spending choices are the first dominant determinant of long-term financial success. Once you accept this—and learn to master delayed gratification—you can begin to make progress toward your goals.

The second dominant variable is the percentage of your portfolio you commit (I mean permanently) to owning the great companies of the U.S. and the world. If you’re looking to make investing part of your financial plan, we offer a range of low-cost portfolios designed to help you stay true to your values. Our goal is to help you make mindful investment decisions that help you reach financial freedom. To learn more, visit