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!

Investing

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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There are 29 comments to "Patience and Personal Finance".

  1. Joseph Librero says 21 June 2010 at 04:09

    I believe that this is just like farming. You need to plant, be patient and you need to water what you planted. Whether it be our career or getting out of debt, it pays just have a farmer attitude.

  2. Sam says 21 June 2010 at 04:56

    I’m not normally a patient person, most of the time I’m in a rush b/c I work too much and don’t have enough time to get things done. But with our finances, I’ve set up certain systems that help me slow down my decision making processes. For purchases we follow the $100 rule, anything over a $100 requires a day delay for each $100. A $500 purchase requires a 5 day waiting period, etc. Tracking our goals and our networth helps me focus on the progress we’ve made in the past when I feel like our numbers are moving in the wrong direction.

    One area in our financial lives that we need to spend more time on and be more patient with is our investments. We each max out our 401k via funds, in our IRAs we buy stock. I would like to have more time and more energy to do more and better research on these purchases.

  3. Adrian says 21 June 2010 at 04:57

    Patience is certainly, if not, the most important factor when it comes to debt reduction and savings.

    Effort aside, it’s that voice in the back of your head (or little devil on your shoulder) that often goades us into making incorrect decisions due to the ever-so-often need for faster gratification.

    I admit that at times on my personal journey towards freedom from debt, I do get restless and even occasionally grouchy. I may pine for a small item here or there, or think “why can’t I be debt free NOW? Am I doing something wrong being so patient?” But I often rear myself in by reminding myself “Adrian think about the future. Think about why your in debt in the first place, and NEVER forget above all, your commitment to yourself.” Usually that gives me the proverbial “kick in the butt” I need to continue to prosper.

    No one ever said getting out of debt would be easy (ironically getting into debt was VERY easy!) but I most certainly know that my due diligence, patience and self-discipline invested in a future I most certainly deserve is truly is worth while through out even the most trying moments.

  4. Kate says 21 June 2010 at 05:34

    I am, by nature, a very impatient person, which I’m trying to work on. Ironically, for me, developing patience has taken the most time of all!
    In the meantime, I set small goals for myself. After I bought my house, my savings were seriously depleted, and made a six month emergency fund my first goal. At the time, though, that was an impossibly huge amount to save! So, I broke it down and found that it takes me three months to save up one month of living expenses. If I continued my current savings rate, I’d make my goal in eighteen months. Along the way, I’d give myself a small reward (a “new” set of gardening tools from a tag sale, a set of colored pencils, etc.) to keep myself going.
    It helps me be patient when I know exactly how much I need, with a finite beginning and end to my savings goal, and rewards along the way. The big reward? I only have six months left until I make my goal!!!

  5. Everyday Tips says 21 June 2010 at 05:41

    Patience is one area I really need to work on. I am very patient with my kids, and that is about it.

    I think part of why people lose patience with debt reduction or any goal for that matter is because psychologically, they need ‘wins’. When the ‘wins’ come too slowly or they aren’t seeing a drastic change in their situation, it is just too easy to give up. We are such an instant gratification society that if it doesn’t happen right away, well then just forget it! There is too much focus on how far they still have to go instead of how far they have come.

  6. Kent Thune says 21 June 2010 at 06:08

    Virtues, such as patience, are the true producers of financial success.

    Other virtues I have experienced (and observed in others) to be valuable for financial success include humility, moderation and simplicity.

    “I tell you that virtue is not given by money but that from virtue comes money…” ~ Socrates

  7. Single Mom Rich Mom says 21 June 2010 at 06:44

    I used to be an impulsive spender and impatient was (and is) my middle name. It’s what got me into huge credit card debt.

    Oddly enough, knowing myself and using that impatience where it worked for me – to get rid of my debt (in one fell swoop by selling my house) and to retire early has been beneficial. Once I actually had the goal of retiring (thanks to YMOYL, the early-retirement.org forum and Cashing in on the American Dream) and the impatience to want to do it before I was 45, it seemed like the impulsive spending just stopped on its own overnight and I became impatient about building savings. I constantly challenged myself to reach the next $10k in savings, and the next – one right after the other.

    So I would suggest to others that are impatient to learn to use it to help themselves because that personality trait may not go away, but it can be used for good, not evil.

  8. Impulse Magazine says 21 June 2010 at 06:50

    One thing that I definitely have to get more of is patience

  9. Nicole says 21 June 2010 at 07:07

    To quote Ed Gruberman, “Patience, how long will that take?”

  10. Shara says 21 June 2010 at 07:19

    I don’t have time for impatient people.

    I agree with your point. I am very frustrated with my sister and her husband right now because they have decided to move. They are not in a position to do so, but they don’t really care. They are ready to move. So rather than spend the next few months getting their stuff and finances in gear so they can do it responsibly, they are looking for a house. They figure their old one will take care of itself as a rental once they move out of there. Stupid stupid.

    On the other hand, sometimes where I work impatient people are the only ones who get things done. we have a lot of patient people who are happy to ponder a problem for weeks when we need a solution NOW. An 80% solution now is worth far more than a 100% solution later.

    I have also found impatience helps me distill down a lot of things in my personal life. If something isn’t worth waiting for, then it isn’t worth my time in the first place. When I walk into a restaurant and the wait is an hour, it isn’t so much that I’m impatient, but simply that the hour isn’t worth the enjoyment I would get out of the food.

  11. Meg says 21 June 2010 at 07:37

    I found it interesting to see the Easwaren article referenced because I just (May 1) started his 8-point program of passage meditation. One of the unexpected benefits has been progress in my financial life. I found it helped a lot to curb impulse spending–e.g. I used to just get take-out if I didn’t feel like cooking, but now I have the patience and the self-discipline to cook whether I feel like it or not. (Most of the time once I actually get myself into the kitchen and start cooking I end up enjoying it a lot!)

    If you’re interested in starting a meditation program independently, you might check out his program (www.nilgiri.org)–you may find progress in your financial life an unexpected bonus.

  12. Rob Bennett says 21 June 2010 at 07:47

    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.

    This is so. But it also takes patience to lower your stock allocation when prices are too high and the long-term value proposition for stocks is poor. That’s a side of the story that lots of people feel uncomfortable talking about. There are times when there just are no great value propositions available and you need to be willing to wait a bit for them to turn up. Prices always return to normal sooner or later.

    Rob

  13. Katherine says 21 June 2010 at 07:51

    This is just what I needed to hear to keep on track. Thank you!

  14. Nancy L. says 21 June 2010 at 08:00

    JD, another book that deals with overcoming plateaus, etc, is Seth Godin’s book “The Dip” http://www.amazon.com/dp/1591841666/ref=nosim/?tag=permissionmarket

  15. AC says 21 June 2010 at 09:03

    Patience is important and a lot of people don’t see or appreciate the work it takes to really break out in anything professionally.

    It’s good to hear that patience is hard for a lot of people. Any book recommendations? I know it’s a great strength to have in some aspects of my life (professionally it keeps things moving). Unfortunately, I really need help in how to manage it in my personal life and just relax (still 30 and childless, but have a loving, wonderful BF). I take it a day at a time and focus on the parts of my life I can control in the immediate moment.

  16. Doug Warshauer says 21 June 2010 at 09:04

    For people who aren’t naturally patient, here is a tip that can help: Make a long-term plan.

    For example, if your plan is to pay off debt, map out your debts in the order you are going to pay them, figure out how much you’re going to pay each creditor every month, and when each debt will be fully repaid until you are finally debt free. You can do this fairly simply on an Excel spreadsheet.

    Impatience tends to result from looking into the future and not knowing where you are going and when you will get there. Once you have your planned mapped out, you will find it much easier to be patient, because you will see how you are progressing along your plan.

  17. Khaleef @ KNS Financial says 21 June 2010 at 10:51

    This is an excellent article! I know that many of my mistakes – especially financial ones – are due to a lack of patience!

    Being patient with debt repayment is very important, as it is easy to get discouraged with small advances – we want to conquer it NOW!

  18. The Best Money Blog says 21 June 2010 at 12:14

    The intro to this article sums it up for me. Life is a balance of pleasure and perseverance, wants and needs, and successes and mistakes. All of these things take time, so patience is definitely required for a fulfilling life.

  19. Budgeting in the Fun Stuff says 21 June 2010 at 12:47

    Patience is something I REALLY need to work on. When it comes to saving for the future, I have a ton of patience. BUT, when it comes to needing to get stuff done or wanting something, I lose my mind and just go…I don’t know how much I could save if I was a better couponer or waited for the best deals all of the time, but I have accepted that people have limitations…even me, lol. 🙂

  20. chacha1 says 21 June 2010 at 13:53

    I learned patience through my yoga practice. Before starting yoga, I was in several auto collisions in a short period of time. I did not cause any of them, I hasten to add – I was rear-ended, side-swiped, backed into, and once hit on the front fender by someone making an overly-wide right turn as I sat at a stop sign.

    After yoga, I went for fourteen years without a collision. And that one I did not cause either: someone pulled an illegal u-turn right in front of me without signaling. But oddly enough I was in a hurry that time, just as I always had been in the past before yoga.

    I found that just by not being in a hurry (I was never late; why hurry?) I somehow took myself out of the trajectory of careless drivers. After coming to that conclusion I stopped being in a hurry about pretty much everything, and life has been increasingly peaceful.

  21. Hassan from Bank on LA says 21 June 2010 at 15:00

    EXCELLENT post and the comments are GREAT as well.

    This reminds me of what I’ve read in the book “Outliers”, which tracks the histories of some visibly and not so visibly successful people and uncovers the variables (environment, luck, etc.) that attributed to their success. One thing that stood out (I’m not finished reading yet) is the 10,000 hour rule. Many times when we look at people like Bill Gates it seems like their transition to wealth was fairly quick. We assume a lot of work was invested to get there, but we rarely see the whole picture. What we didn’t see, in his case, was the hours upon hours Bill spent as a young boy in his school’s computer lab teaching himself programming. What we didn’t see is how he spent most of his HS nights doing the same thing at the local university. By the time he was a freshman in college he had his 10,000 hours of computer programming training. He was already reaching expert level.

    Many of us only see the finished product and hear a few anecdotal tales…after the fact.

    Thank you for this

  22. Shara says 21 June 2010 at 15:00

    @ Chacha1

    I’ve noticed the same thing about my mom. She has notoriously bad luck with windshields, but I realized recently that it’s how she drives, following a little too closely so she’s right in the path of stuff thrown up by cars ahead of her.

    A couple years ago she was on the freeway in MY car and had a truck kick up his tire as it shredded. It wasn’t her FAULT (although not getting his information so we had to pay for it was), but if she had been in less of a rush she would have had a few more feet that could have meant avoiding it completely.

  23. My Freelance Road Trip says 21 June 2010 at 17:17

    This line is so true – “Impatience is the quickest route to misery.” I like your description of starting at the bottom of the mountain. That is what it feels like, but being out of debt is the most liberating feeling there is, which is what it feels like to be at the top of a mountain. It’s all about habits. Once you break the habit of using debt to finance purchases and use savings instead, you’ll love the change. There’s something so fulfilling about paying for something in full in advance instead of paying it off in reverse. And earning interest instead of paying interest.

  24. My Freelance Road Trip says 21 June 2010 at 17:58

    I love Sam’s $100 delay idea. That’s great!

  25. David/MoneyCrashers says 21 June 2010 at 20:19

    Patience is huge when it comes to finance, especially getting out of debt.

    The deepr in debt you are the easier it is to lose patience and give up.

    Sometimes, you have to forget about the short term and foucs on your long term goals.

    With a little perserverance and stick-to-it-iveness, you’ll get to whereyou want to be.

  26. April Dykman says 22 June 2010 at 06:58

    @chacha1–Yoga definitely helps. It’s what caused me to look at my impatience and question it in the first place, among so many other characteristics! And I agree that translates into driving. I’m normally on time (early), but on the rare occasion that I’m late, I used to get anxious and impatient while driving because I disliked being late *so* much. Now I just take a few breaths, tell myself that I’ll get there when I get there, and I’ll do it safely. Then it seems utterly silly to risk my safety by being in a hurry or distracted.

  27. partgypsy says 22 June 2010 at 11:15

    When people I know are impressed that I have a PhD, I have often said one of the biggest difference between those who do or do not finish a PhD program is not innate smarts or talent, but the ability to delay gratification. That is the hardest thing, to put in work every single day on a huge amorphous project that takes up 5 years of your life with little to no positive feedback or reward. It helps in other areas of life too.

    I love yoga, but often I am not in the right state of mind to appreciate it (too impatient/distracted). So I’ll get up and walk the dog instead. And that brings me to the same place anyways.

  28. nyxmoxie says 22 June 2010 at 19:35

    JD: Outliers is a good book about how people must do something 10,000 times to become good at it. I read the book when it first came out and its really good.

    April: I can relate to not being patient, it can be tough. I have some debt, not a lot but some, and it just kills me how stupid I was with it. With debt you’re paying for past mistakes in the present.

    It just kills me giving part of my paycheck to my bf and the credit card company. I have one credit card that got maxed out, and I borrowed money from my bf so I’m paying him back as well.

    Of course my bf is really nice about it, and doesn’t harass me about paying him back but still before we were friends, we were best friends so its important for me to pay him back in full.

    Its really not fun having to work extra shifts at work but I’ll be relieved when the debt is paid off.

  29. Landon says 25 June 2010 at 18:08

    Patience and personal finance go hand in hand. The key is setting modest goals and changing your lifestyle. The earlier you start the easier it will be because of compound interest and increasing your knowledge to live more and more frugally get better value for your money. That’s why financial education should be a requirement in high schools. I’m trying to be patient right now getting people to my blog! 🙂

    -Landon

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