Temptation. How do you deal with it? Do you eat the cake in front of you or keep your goal to lose 10 pounds?  Do you drain the vacation fund to stay in a 5-star hotel or save some for next year’s trip?  Do you watch one more episode of your late-night Netflix binge or wash the dishes so you wake up to a clean kitchen?

According to an article in Inc. Magazine, many of us spend three to four hours each day resisting desire. Neuroimaging studies show there are literally different sections of the brain battling it out! It turns out that willpower is a limited resource that gets depleted with this constant effort.

This is especially true in the realm of financial decisions. How many dollars should you spend today vs. how many to save for tomorrow? Recognizing that it is human nature to make poor decisions when faced with now-vs-later tradeoffs, my goal is to help clients allocate their dollars in a way that helps them the most—short-term and long-term.

We all face these types of time-based money tradeoffs. Here are examples:

  • Do you maximize your current take-home pay or invest for retirement which could be 10 or 20 or more years away?
  • Do you devote some of your income to disability insurance, or do you hope illness or injury won’t keep you from working for an extended time?
  • Do you use the balance transfer checks your credit card sends to buy new furniture which you would enjoy now, or do you keep your debt low and work to build your investments for the future?

Neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, notes, “Things offered right now have so much more power than things offered in the future.” He offers some advice, “The only way we ever win these long-term battles is to give them some sort of emotional salience, some reason why they matter to us right now.” 

If you can tie a far-off future goal to an immediate feeling, it puts two options on more even footing. Think of it as now-vs-now instead of now-vs-later.

Here are two examples:

  • Clara had tried and failed to quit smoking for 20 years. One day, she told her best friend that if she ever smoked a cigarette again, she would write a $4,000 check to her ex-husband. That did it. From then on, every time she reached for a cigarette, she pictured him cashing her check. She never smoked again.
  • My client Lynn found it difficult to save the extra $6,000 per year we calculated would set her up for retirement. She spent a lot of money eating out. I had her visualize daily life once she stopped working, including leisurely days and exploring new restaurants. Once she was able to picture this future in detail and feel the happiness and fulfillment that she would experience without stress about money, $6,000 a year didn’t seem like such a high price to pay.

Here are some ideas you can try. If you create reminders and anticipate situations when you are most likely to give in to impulses that don’t further your long-term goals, you’ll be prepared for the times when temptation threatens to sap your will power.

  • Keep a photo of where you want to retire taped to your laptop to dissuade you from late-night online shopping binges.
  • Give savings accounts names aligned with their purpose. You are less likely to pull money from the “Month in Europe” fund than “Savings #2.”
  • Put motivating quotes in your car and your bathroom mirror where you can see them every day.

How do you picture your future? Do you see yourself financially comfortable or scraping by? A little preparation goes a long way. By putting into place a few practical steps, the next time you are faced with a now-vs-later tradeoff, you will be able to resist temptation.

If you could use help creating your own tangible reminders or have any other questions, call or email stephanie@sofiafinancial.com.  If you have a great idea or tip, please share it!  You can find me on social media at @sofiafinancial.

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