Impulse Control, Wanting…Waiting…Savoring

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Do you remember those times when there was something you really wanted to buy and couldn’t wait to get it? It’s a familiar experience that fuels the credit industry. Borrowing money fulfills the desire to purchase the sought after item now. However, there is another side to this craving dynamic that is equally familiar. Sometime after having made the purchase, the luster has worn off the item and, in some cases, it becomes so familiar that it’s boring. We see it a lot with children who insist on having a certain toy. Soon after they have it in their possession, it is put aside, rarely to be played with again. Is it possible that wanting is better than having? According to an article published by Jeremy Dean on PsyBlog, Understanding your mind, evidently, the answer is yes! Wanting and waiting feel better than immediately having.  The article is entitled, “How to Get More Pleasure from Your Money,” and the URL for the blog is

Citing several research studies that validate the point, there is real pleasure in the anticipation of a purchase long before having it. Waiting before buying has several advantages. These include 1)Anticipation allows time to savor the desired purchase and, 2)Waiting or delaying spending the money allows time to see if the item loses its appeal, as well as providing a chance to prevent pure impulse spending. None of this is to suggest that there is no pleasure in owning and using the purchased item. It’s just that the pleasure of wanting and savoring are stronger than actual having.

Dean points out another pleasurable dynamic in delaying making a purchase. Allow me to give a personal example and then explain. My wife and I were in the market for a new car. If you are anything like me, the very idea of having a new automobile arouses lots of excitement. In our case, as, I suspect, is true for most people, a major purchase like this creates many uncertainties. For example, how much can we afford; how good is the gas mileage; how reliable is the car; which makes most sense for us, buying or leasing; overall, which is the most economical; and, which colors and models do we like best?

The dynamic represented by all of these questions is that uncertainty enhances the anticipated pleasure associated with making a purchase. It can be pointed out that all of these choices create dis-pleasure. I suspect that this is true but only under those circumstances where there is pressure to immediately choose and buy, a pressure that is created by the inner and childlike greedy need to immediately have something.

I can report that it was fun thinking about getting a new car, as well as thinking about and discussing all of the questions listed above. Once we knew the answers that were right for us, and that took quite a while, it was great fun to go to the dealership of choice and make the purchase. I can also report that, while we both enjoy driving the car, it does not equal the pure joy created by the process of waiting, deciding, savoring and buying. By the way, we also saved a lot of money by not allowing the car salesman to convince us that we “must” have add ons.

There is one more factor that needs careful thinking and planning. Other than in buying cars and houses, buy now and pay later is a dangerous path to follow, as evidenced by the worldwide economic downturn. In fact, even in the case of buying a house or car, it is essential to have a large sum of cash available for a down payment.

Happy, but Careful, Shopping this Holiday Season and for the Entire Year!

Your comments and questions are, as always, welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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