The Case of the Martini: Is Instant Gratification Financially Responsible?

by Nora Dunn on 12 March 2012 9 comments

Few people would deny that we've become (perhaps degenerated into) an instant-gratification society. If you click a button on your computer and don't get an instant response, you click it ten more times in frustration. Waiting in line is excruciating. Waiting for anything is excruciating. And since just about everybody has a smartphone, there's no excuse for a less-than-immediate response to our SMS/emails as we wander through this world tethered to our devices.

But how does instant gratification translate to our finances, and managing them responsibly?

More often than not, it doesn't translate so well. (See also: The Frugal Balance: Staying Away From Financial Extremes)

"When I Want Something, I Get It"

A friend of mine relayed a conversation he had with his date last New Year's Eve:

Girl: "Do you want a drink?"

Guy: "I'd like a vodka martini, but I want to check first that they aren't going to charge me $35 for the vodka because it's New Year's Eve."

Girl: "That's the difference between you and me — when I want something, I get it!"

Initially, my friend found this inspiring and felt miserly with his price-conscious attitude. “What a way to get what you want out of life!” he exclaimed, in awe of his date's ability to squeeze the marrow out of life.

Shortly thereafter however, he realized how alluringly deceptive this idea is.

If you can afford to spend money at will, with nary a care about what you're spending on or how much you're paying, then by all means — go bananas.

But most of us aren't in that situation. If you're reading this site, it's likely because you subscribe to the ideology of frugal living and agree that there are choices to be made about how we earn, spend, save, and manage our money.

What's It Worth to You?

Would you be happy to spend three times the regular price on a vodka martini because it's New Year's Eve? Or would you be just as happy to spend less and order a non-premium drink (or even two, or three)?

More importantly — do you even take these things into consideration when you're in the moment?

As much as my own bias is towards spending less — and spending consciously — I don't believe there is a clear-cut answer to the “what's it worth to you” question. I like sushi, and despite the fact that I travel full-time for $17,000/year or less, I'm willing to spend money on it (and make concessions elsewhere in my budget to ensure I can).

The personal value of what we do, how we spend our time, what we buy, and who we keep company with is uniquely different for everybody.

For some people, an overpriced vodka martini is the perfect way to “splash out” and truly celebrate New Year's Eve. As somebody who collects life experiences rather than "stuff," this indulgence could be right up my alley. 

Where it can go horribly wrong is if I “indulged” every day. This is the inherent danger of the “when I want something I get it” mentality. Where does it end? How do you remain financially responsible in the face of this way of life? 

Instant Gratification and Finance

Managing finances (and life, for that matter) is about balance. Sacrificing all enjoyment today in order to save money for tomorrow is a losing proposition, begging for an act of financial rebellion that destroys your progress in one fell swoop. (Or worse yet, a life lived in vigil for a future that may never come to pass).

But ignoring our future needs in favor of wanton impulsive spending now (especially if it's on things that don't add some form of value to our lives) is also financially irresponsible.

So how do we navigate the corridors of life — lined with instant-gratification incentives, and media messages that constantly tell us we aren't happy or hip if we don't spend more money now — and feel satisfied at the end of each day?

Balancing outside influences with the chords in your heart that know what's important to you is a delicate exercise. And unfortunately, there's no right or wrong answer, nor a step-by-step guide to navigate this. That $35 vodka martini is an entirely personal decision, based on what is important to you in life, and what you're willing to “sacrifice” to have it. 

When You Want Something, Do You Get It?

How conscious is your spending? Do you have your wallet out before you consider whether the money you're spending is adding value in some proportionate way to your life? Or do you keep your credit cards in the freezer and think long and hard before spending money?

How do you balance instant and delayed gratification in your life and finances? And would you buy a $35 vodka martini because it's New Year's Eve?  

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Guest's picture

"Balancing outside influences with the chords in your heart that know what's important to you is a delicate exercise." Well said!

Knowing what is truly important to you is the first step. I find that getting away from everything once in a while helps me gain that perspective of what truly makes me happy. It turns out that I'm much happier going camping that going on a cruise. The less expensive (and healthier) option is almost always more appealing in the long run.

As for drinks, my rule of thumb is that if the drink is less than $7 (I will not pay more than $7 for a drink!) and I'm feeling spendy and the time is right (ex: I'm at my best friend's bachelorette or something), then I might splurge. But, I do it consciously and I enjoy every single sip. I can count on one hand how many times I've ordered a $7 drink. Honestly though, it was never worth it... :)

Guest's picture

how cute was the date? maybe she doesn't have to pay!

Guest's picture
Guest

Paraphrasing: "Lead me not into temptation, I already know how to find it." One of the best ways to manage my money is to make sure I limit my exposure to places where I know I'm going to impulse-buy the most. If I'm going to the ballpark or an amusement park, I bring cash; if I'm grocery shopping, I shop in the middle of the afternoon and not when hungry or tired. And so on.

Guest's picture
Diane

Are you serious? No way would I pay $35 for ANY drink of any kind on any day~! So I guess that's not where my priorities lie... I'm not really big on instant gratification. Unless maybe it's a $4 smoothie? That's about my limit for impulse purchases, any major purchase is a researched decision.

Guest's picture
J.

What strikes me as wrong with the $35 martini is the unconsciousness rather than the price. I might go to a ball game, fully intending to spend $6 on a beer and $3 on a pretzel, even though I consider those prices ridiculous, because I don't go to ball games very often, and a beer and a pretzel really enhances the experience for me. If the gal in the article had said, it's New Year's Eve, and what would really make the night for me is a martini, so I'm going to buy it even if it's $35 -- that would be something I could relate to. But the "when I want something, I get it!" comment suggests to me that this happens all the time, without thought. That pattern will surely get her into trouble in the long run, if it hasn't already.

Guest's picture
Lauren

I balance the instant (Grande Mocha Frappuccino) with delayed (new clothes) by giving myself permission to spend xxx number of dollars per week on indulgences. Without those few bucks and forcing myself to buy only needs, I'd burst and slurge in about 3-4 weeks. So, it's best to just give myself permission to spend $5 once a week on a fancy coffee or treating myself to another tasty treat and not feel guilty about it than to not spend a dime. In the long run, my impulses are more under control that way.

Guest's picture
Robin

No - I would get champagne

Guest's picture

I am not a drinker, so I definitely wouldn't spend $35 on a drink. This instant gratification comes from immaturity and a lack of self discipline. We live in a society where people want what they want now, regardless if they can afford it or not. Come on, we're adults here. Grow up!

Guest's picture

While I believe that getting what you want is a good thing, my wants change if the price triples! I am frugal with my money and therefore spend it very carefully. I've also find that what I want today may be very different tomorrow. So in most cases it is best to sleep on it for a few days and see if I still want it!