The Anticipation Effect

When I was young (in the 1950’s), one of my favorite books was about a suburban Midwest family. In it the wife and husband have a chance conversation about taking a trip to Paris. The wife takes that conversation as a promise and puts out the word to the entire neighborhood that the family is going to take a cruise to Paris. It’s a comedy, but one of the key takeaways I had from my oft repeated reads of that book, is that it took years for the family to save up for the trip. During all of those years, the anticipation of the trip was full of fun activities, conversations and bragging rights for the family.

We went on our one and only (4 day) cruise to the Southern Caribbean for our 25th wedding anniversary. Our good friends, who happened to also have their 25th that year, went with us. Getting together to plan the trip was just almost as much fun as being on the trip. We got together to show each other the clothes we would take, we talked about what it was like to be on a cruise ship (they had already been on one), we planned out our activities and discussed what accommodations on the ship we should get. It was wonderful.

I’ve always had just about as much fun planning a trip as I have had taking one. The same holds true for making purchases, especially large, discretionary ones.

I plan ahead to see what things I will want or need in the future. I save up for them, thinking about how great it will be when I finally can plunk down the cash and bring that thing home. I explore different options, features and places to obtain that thing and of course, I look for the best bargain I can find! For me, it is just part of the fun. My spouse and I call it ‘the thrill of the hunt’.

A lot of people experience that thrill, not just me. Every child, on every Christmas eve, is starry eyed thinking about all of the possibilities that could happen when they unwrap those brightly wrapped gifts. Every parent, going home to Mom’s for Thanksgiving dinner, salivates just a bit, remembering past dinners with the traditional family favorites and imaging biting into this years turkey and gravy.

Have we lost that thrill in this century of instant gratification? Until the Great Recession, many American’s didn’t wait, didn’t anticipate, they just whipped out the credit card and bought. I believe they missed out on many hours of anticipation. They refused to delay gratification. When you delay gratification, I think you appreciate what you finally end up with to a greater extent.

Life right now for me doesn’t involve much delayed gratification. This year is a rest up year from vacations, so I am not actively planning one. I don’t have any major purchases planned so I am not doing any anticipatory work on them. However, that doesn’t mean I am not anticipating some fun! In a couple of weeks I get to stay with my grandchildren and take one to Biz Wizards Junior Achievement camp where he will learn about business with others his age. In the fall, I get to go to a financial bloggers conference and may even get to speak. I’m looking forward to both, anticipating the experiences, but these particular ones don’t really involve delayed gratification!

What is the latest thing for which you delayed gratification? What did you do in anticipation of getting it?

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