Patience and Personal Finance

I used to describe myself as impatient as though it were a trait of which to be proud. While I still have a long way to go, I think back on that and have to smile and shake my head. Impatience is the quickest route to misery.

I recently read an article by Eknath Easwaran, teacher, author, and founder of Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, called In Praise of Patience, where he asks where the extolment of patience is in today’s society. Easwaran writes:

There almost seems a conspiracy in our modern civilization to counsel just the opposite: be impatient, be angry, “look out for number one.” But what is life without patience? What use is money if we live in exasperation with those we love, if we cannot stand to live with our own family? What good is it to have your picture on the cover of Time [magazine] if you cannot be patient with yourself?…We seldom realize what power there is in patience.

It’s often been said that personal finance is simple — spend less than you earn. The implementation isn’t easy, and what prevents you from developing good habits is largely psychological.

Most people don’t want to get rich slowly, they want to win the lottery or pick a hot stock. They want the fast track. They don’t see how saving a mere $50 per month matters, so they don’t bother saving anything at all. Getting rich slowly requires a great deal of patience.

Paying off debt

When you make the decision to stop acquiring new debt, it’s like being at the bottom of a mountain and starting the climb to the top. You see the peak; it seems impossibly high.

I once heard someone say, “We’ll never get out of debt. We’ll just be in debt until we die.” My heart sank for this person. With no end in sight, they were choosing to continue to make monthly calls to creditors for extensions and shuffle around money to make the minimum payments.

It’s hard to stick with a debt repayment plan. You’re usually trying to change ingrained money habits, as well. It’s discouraging when you make a mistake, when you have to turn friends down for dinner at a pricey restaurant, or when your kids are complaining that they don’t have the things their friends have. You feel like you’re going without, yet your credit card statement shows you’ve barely made a dent.

For an impatient person like me, paying off debt was torture!

Buying decisions

Impatience with a buying decision is another example. Maybe you put something on credit because you’re too anxious to wait and save the cash. Maybe you just want it done, even though you know you could have found a better deal with one or more of the following actions:

  • Searching the Internet for deals and coupon codes
  • Visiting different retailers
  • Waiting for a sale
  • Finding a free or DIY option

I know impatience is a big reason why I acquired some of the debt I once had. “This trenchcoat is an investment piece. I’ll just buy this now, and then I’ll never need to buy another one.” Puh-lease!


A couple of years ago, The Motley Fool published an article about why Warren Buffett is a better investor than you, and some readers were quick to point out Buffett’s advantages, which The Motley Fool addressed in a follow-up article, writing:

It isn’t anything artificial that makes Buffett a better investor than you; it’s his patience, discipline, and willingness to act when others won’t. Buffett’s abilities did not develop overnight. It’s been a lifelong process — one that he began at age 11. So while he may be a better investor than we are today, we can at least learn from his experiences and — like he did — become superior investors over time.

The article describes how Buffett researches extensively, buys small, and thinks long-term. It takes a great deal of patience to be an astute investor, especially in tough economic times when the market seems risky and the evening news is giving you heart palpitations.

Starting a business

J.D. once addressed what it takes to start a business, so I’ll borrow his words on hustle and patience:

[Most people who begin blogging for dollars] come here, for example, and see that Get Rich Slowly has 70,000 subscribers and gets over 25,000 visitors every day, and they imagine that maybe it makes a lot of money. They figure they’ll start right up and do this, too — they’ll get rich quickly.

But they don’t see the fifteen years I’ve been writing on the web, the ten years that I’ve had an online journal, the eight years I’ve had a blog, the three years that I’ve been building Get Rich Slowly. They want to go from zero to 70,000 in two months. It doesn’t work that way. It takes effort — and lots of it.

And when you feel like you’re working incredibly hard and it’s not paying off as quickly as you might like, that’s when most people give up. Most don’t push through the pain period.

I doubt there’s anyone who couldn’t exercise a little more patience in their lives, and you can find some great tips on the web to help develop and increase your patience.

What works best for me is fairly simple. When anxiety and restlessness take hold, I stop for a moment and think about the Big Picture. And when I think about the Big Picture, I remember everything I have for which I’m grateful. Emptying myself of impatience and refilling with gratitude never fails to make me laugh at myself for losing perspective. As comedian Bob Newhart once said, “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it, and then move on.”

Finally, remember that patience is a work in progress. You’ve spent your entire life creating your present personality, so don’t expect to change it overnight. Have patience with yourself, too.

J.D.’s note: April’s article reminds me of a book I read a couple of years ago, but have never reviewed for GRS. In Mastery, George Leonard argues that to master a new skill, you must practice it patiently, diligently, and consistently. It’s easy to get frustrated by plateaus (or worse yet, pitfalls), but in order to succeed, you have to be patient and work through the problems. Mastery is a great book, even though it’s not specifically about money. Pick up a copy at your public library.

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