Health, fitness, strong relationships and a good financial life are possible if you can delay gratification.
It’s natural to want cake, nicotine and to binge watch a show. It’s hard to read, focus and limit spending. Self-Discipline is your ability to do hard things today – to delay today’s pleasure.
I define self-discipline in two separate ways:
- The ability to endure present hardship for a better future.
- The ability to forgo present pleasure to improve future pleasure.
What Is a Good Saver?
A good saver can sustain a high savings rate. Put simply, a good saver maintains a solid gap between their after-tax income and expenses.
They don’t just have a gap between income and expenses for a few weeks. They sustain the gap over decades.
There are only two ways to become a better saver:
- Slash expenses; or
- Boost income.
Also note that there is an interesting limit on expenses. Expenses can only get so low. Eventually, you’ll need to cut into your shelter, transport, food, and clothes. Income has no upper limit.
Your savings rate is the fraction of your after-tax income that you save.
It is the most important measurable personal finance number.
Want to learn more about the savings rate? If so, read The Two Most Important Factors to Grow Wealth.
Why Is Self-Discipline the Key to Becoming a Good Saver?
Self-discipline is necessary to cut expenses and increase income.
You can put a leash on spending by electing to delay pleasure today:
- Taming your short-term spending impulses
- Tracking expenses with the expense audit (see free expense audit tool)
- Implementing expense control measures (budgeting)
- Use credit cards carefully. Throwing them out if you can’t.
Furthermore, self-discipline can help you increase income by choosing to do hard things today:
- Focusing to solve challenging problems
- Improving education
Self-Discipline and Income
You must make sacrifices to increase income. Either you sacrifice time to work, you sacrifice spending to invest, or you put in the work to improve your knowledge and skills to increase your salary.
I love Elon Musk’s take on income. It is simple.
Elon states that “you are paid in proportion to the complexity of the problems you solve”.
You can solve problems for individuals directly or indirectly through an organization.
Self-discipline is needed to improve your ability to solve hard problems.
Salaries for many high earning occupations increase with educational commitment. A student is delaying salary (pleasure) while putting in work (embracing hardship). That’s self-discipline.
For example, a doctor must delay gratification for 10 years of schooling (including 2 yrs of residency), before they start earning. This is why a surgeon is paid more than a mechanic. The surgeon had to delay gratification for many years.
The education must also be useful in solving specific problems. Therefore, the ideal education is that tailored to a specific job. A PhD in philosophy will not provide the same earnings potential as a Masters in Electrical Engineering.
You can educate yourself all you want. But it won’t matter unless you DO.
When you start doing, you will encounter failure. What you do next separates the successful from the mediocre.
The mediocre quit. But the successful self-reflect, gather lessons learned, implement the lessons learned, and move forward.
Failure is hard. Quitting is easy. You need the self-discipline to avoid quitting, to admit where you went wrong, and to persevere.
Business owners must often grind for years with zero income before they start to earn. During this time they are failing over and over.
I talk about this more in the post on Self Discipline: The Key to Building Wealth
Self-Discipline and Expense Reduction
Catch Your Short-Term Impulses
People often overspend to satisfy short-term impulses. It feels good when you buy that new TV, or when you upgrade your vehicle.
But these short-term dopamine hits do not last. They don’t make you happy in the long run. I talk more about sustainable sources of happiness and wellbeing in this post.
We have all caved to short-term gratification at one point or another. It is hard not to, especially when everything is marketed in a way to convince you that you “need” something.
Ads are targeted to make you spend. Fast cars are marketed to associate the car with a sense of freedom. You and I know the reality – you’ll be parked on the highway most of the time.
Expense Control Measures
Self-discipline is key to implement systems to control your expenses. Most refer to this system is the dreaded “budget”.
Budgeting doesn’t have to be hard and overcomplicated. That’s why I’m an advocate of the Forced Savings method and a frequent expense audit. Forced savings can be automated and it limits demands on your willpower.
Credit cards make spending easy. They allow (and incentivize) you to steal future wealth to boost spending today. This is the opposite of delayed gratification – the opposite of self-discipline.
For those who struggle with spending, a credit card is akin to an alcoholic at an open bar. If you find yourself misusing a credit card, I suggest getting rid of it.
Otherwise, the massive interest rates on credit cards will imprison your future self.
At a 20% interest rate, you will pay $2,000 per year for $10,000 in credit card debt!
Self- Discipline Provides Freedom
Self-discipline may seem restrictive. It is, but only in the present. Your ability to control yourself in the short term will provide freedom in the long run.
Let’s go through some examples of financial freedom brought upon by self-discipline.
Pay Down Debt. You can use savings to pay down debt. Removing consumer debt reduces anxiety and frees up cash that was once used to pay interest.
Emergency Fund. Worries about money nearly disappear once you have paid down debt and built an emergency fund. Hot water heater broke? No problem. Car broke down? Non-issue.
Financial Independence. Your savings rate will determine how quickly you reach Financial Independence (FI). You reach FI when your passive investment income covers your expenses. Now you are free to do to what you want with your time. Read more about FI here.
This is just another example of how discipline equals freedom down the line.
How you can become a better saver? Cut expenses or increase income. It is simple but hard.
Both require delayed gratification: self-discipline. That’s why it’s hard.
Self-discipline can help you increase earnings. It can increase your focus on complex tasks, it is needed to improve education. Finally, you need self-discipline to learn from failure.
You can curtail spending by limiting your impulses, implementing a budget, and controlling credit card use.
All of these actions must be done consistently.
This is where habits come in. Discipline is necessary to carry out the initial work to build a new habit. Then the habit runs on autopilot. Demands on your willpower diminish.