We’ve all procrastinated at some time. We’ve left it too late to pay a bill, buy a gift, book a holiday, or shop for cheaper insurance.
To procrastinate means to delay doing something (usually until you “get around to it”) and it can also affect how we manage our finances – delaying things like debt reduction, saving for a home or retirement planning. Financial procrastination carries both a financial cost and an emotional cost because of the guilt, shame and regret often associated with our financial failings.
Procrastination is a symptom of our emotional brain’s attempts to increase or bring forward pleasure and reduce or delay pain. Unfortunately, it can sabotage our best intentions.
However, there is a healthier type of procrastination, planned procrastination, that can help us plan ahead, control urges, and work towards achieving important goals.
Planned Procrastination Is Profitable Procrastination
Planned procrastination creates a gap between impulse and action. It’s an intervention plan for deliberate deliberation. For example, delaying a purchase gives you time to collect information, get better organised, explore options, and make better decisions.
Even interrupting a buying process that’s already under way can help you make a well-informed decision and avoid buyer’s remorse.
The greatest power you have at the point of purchase is the power to say no and walk away. You hold that power until the moment you buy.
Planned procrastination helps you rise above the push and pull of your emotions by allowing you to:
Evaluate your need. Ask yourself:
- Do I need it? How will I benefit? Am I sure I really want this?
- Why now? Why this in particular? What are the alternatives?
- How much will I use it? How often have I thought about it? (The more often you’ve thought about it, the more likely you are to use it.)
- How have I lived without it so far?
- Is it in my budget? Can I afford it? Can I get it cheaper?
- What’s the total cost of ownership (are there costs other than the initial cost of purchase)?
- What’s the opportunity cost? Could I this money to better use (e.g., paying off debts or building an emergency fund)?
- When will I get it? When might be a better time?
You intuitively use many of these questions already, so pick some that resonated with you and that you will experiment with.
Talk about your decision. Talking differs from merely thinking about something. Having to articulating meaningful sentences can help bring structure and logic to your emotional urges. Also, hearing yourself speak helps you decide if you like the sound of what you are saying.
Use rules and checklists to resist urges and build financial discipline by, for example, weighing up the cost of a purchase:
- If it costs an hour’s salary, think it over for a day.
- If it costs a day’s salary, think it over for a week.
- If it costs a week’s salary, think it over for a month.
It doesn’t matter what the exact rules are. By delaying a purchase for a time proportional to the cost, you give yourself a cooling off period.
Evaluate alternatives. Ask questions that force you to use different mental processes by reversing choice perspective and direction of comparison:
- Which option do I prefer? What do / don’t I like about it?
- Which option will I reject? What do / don’t I like about it?
- How is A similar / dissimilar to B?
- How is B similar / dissimilar to A?
- What similarities / differences did I notice first? How important are they? Why?
While checklists like these can feel awkward at first, they are invaluable for changing deeply ingrained spending habits.
To Change How Much You Spend, Change How You Spend
Planned procrastination gives you time to do in-depth research, negotiate better terms and search for better or cheaper substitutes.
Great alternatives to immediately buying what you want are to:
- Wait for a sale. Preselect a lower price at which you’ll buy the item and save up for it.
- Buy an older version. When a new version comes out, the price of the current version usually plummets but it doesn’t suddenly become obsolete.
- Borrow or trial the product before committing to buy it.
- Buy used.
- Have someone gift you the item, e.g., for your birthday.
You can also tame impulsive spending by:
- Setting no-spend time zones. This will curb the late-night sprees at your favourite online store or TV shopping channel.
- Separating browsing and buying. Decide not to purchase when you do your initial window-shopping or product search.
- Pre-planning your retail therapy. It’s important to enjoy your wealth. Decide in advance what you’ll buy and how much you’ll spend instead of splurging impulsively. (But don’t let this become a ‘save-to-spend’ habit that wrecks other saving goals.)
- Keeping a wish list. Add your latest want to the list and periodically review it to see if you still want everything on it. You’ll be amazed how often you change your mind about things you once needed and no longer want!
Planned procrastination can help you:
- Distinguish real needs from mere wants
- Reduce buyer’s remorse
- Value what you already have
- Improve budgeting and saving
- Increase financial wellbeing