Couponing Is All About Delayed Gratification

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Hand put coin to moneyWhat started you couponing? Were you, like Cindy, trying to get your family out of a hole of debt? Were you trying to avoid falling into the hole in the first place? Do you enjoy the puzzle of deal stacking and Catalina offers? Or, do you just consider yourself frugal?

It doesn’t matter what got you here, in our hearts, all long-term couponers share a simple philosophy about money and lifestyle that we often find hard to explain. In fact, this core element of couponing actually leads many people away from the practice before it ever really begins to take effect.

What Is Delayed Gratification?

Delayed gratification is at the heart of living frugally and understanding the benefit of saving and budgeting. This psychological concept first came to light in the 1970s through a series of experiments involving children. Psychologist Walter Mischel found that children who were willing to wait for larger rewards (in this case, two cookies instead of one) were more likely to achieve other successes in life, including graduating from college, scoring higher on the SATs, and earning larger incomes.

More than simple self-control or willpower, delayed gratification is an understanding that immediate rewards are not as satisfying – and often more detrimental – than those which are earned over time. Yet, in a world full of 24-hour news cycles and instant access to everything from books to new-release movies, many people, especially young people, have come to expect instant gratification instead.

Working Past Instant Gratification

Far more than a loss of work ethic, we live in a consumer-based society that focuses too much on “stuff” to properly promote delayed gratification. However, anyone who has successfully learned how to budget and spend understands that the luxury aspects of life are hard-earned – whether it is through pinching pennies in one area in order to broaden the budget in another or carefully saving for a large-ticket item. Years of careful money management and budgeting allow for financial freedom, but what most of us fail to see is not the work that lead up to the benefit, but the benefit itself.

Instead, we need to train ourselves to forgo the immediate benefit, whether it is a takeout salad instead of a careful meal plan or the purse we really want instead of the one a department store says is “on sale.” We do this through will power, yes, but even more importantly, it is a learned behavior that forces us to refocus energy on a bigger or different prize. Not surprisingly, in a follow up study to the original Mischel found that children told to wait to eat two marshmallows instead of one were more likely to delay their gratification when told to focus on a completely different satisfaction – in his case the salty, crunchy goodness of pretzels.

How Couponing Helps to Encourage Delayed Gratification

The essential philosophy behind couponing is planning to shop and eat according to what is on sale, not based on what’s easy or what you want. You can have what you want, when it’s on sale, or in smaller doses, but you cannot shop based on that alone.

In addition, most people find that the experience of couponing, particularly taking advantage of Catalina and rebate offers, is not so much about impacting the bottom line immediately, but watching savings, and your bank account, grow over time. Couponing is an investment and, perhaps more importantly, it is an act in delaying gratification.

No couponer is going to see a lasting change in just a few shopping trips. Sure, your totals will be lower, but how much is that extra $50 or $100 really going to matter unless you stick with it?