The way I go about making purchases is entirely impulse based, at the moment.


Inspiration will strike like lightning. My wallet will belch forth the necessary funds. And before I can muster a second thought, my mind is flooded with waves of dopamine.

I did it. I acquired something.

I’m self aware enough to know that my hunter-gatherer instincts have been turned against me.

The Paleolithic man’s thrill-of-the-hunt has been whittled down to the modern man’s online shopping.

As a primal man roaming the forest for prey, my neanderthal ancestor relied on this reward system to build a set of habits necessary for survival. Satisfaction from a crucial skillset: the ability to discern different leaves and fruits from one another, tracking an animal, going in for the kill.

Oh, if only my poor ancestor could see me now. Perusing reviews for which comforter is best, which sneakers are hot right now, specs from the latest Apple device.

The problem is, even while I’m self aware of this dilemma, I don’t want to stop.

I love developing my wardrobe. I get immense satisfaction from furnishing my space the way I’ve always wanted. I get so much joy from the lifestyle I’ve designed for myself.

I could never be one of those spartan minimalists. Maybe that’s where the conflict is coming from in my mind.

I used to want to be a minimalist. Now I feel guilt for not being one.

My problem isn’t entirely imaginary though.

I view pretty much all of my income not spent on rent or groceries as discretionary. My savings account is abysmal. The few times I’ve been able to stack my coin to a respectable altitude, I’ve then blown my savings on something big. More camera gear. A Tudor watch. A Ducati motorcycle.

As I’m writing this, I wonder if I have some kind of disorder. ADHD comes to mind, not just from my spending habits. Doesn’t that relate to impulse control?

Or perhaps I just haven’t learned to gain satisfaction from deferred rewards.

I remember reading about a study

I was never raised to appreciate deferred rewards. Perhaps because my mother was too strict growing up.

I was always forced to do things. It was never explained to me “Chris, you should do X because Y.” No, my stereotypical “Tiger Mom” of a mother operated more along the lines of “do it OR ELSE.”

By the time I left for college, I was quite the rebel (in so many ways, but we won’t get into that right now). I feel like to some extent my financial irresponsibility is defiance of her thrifty habits, which I always looked down on.

But she’s not around anymore. Well, she is, but we don’t live together and she’s not here to see me throw my financial wellbeing to the wind in an act of fiscal self harm.

My poor inner child. And my poor adult budget. It’s seriously crippled my ability to plan for the longterm.

Right now my odds of being able to maintain self control long enough to buy a car is laughable. A condo? No shot. I am at my wits end. I considered a no-buy-July as a way of short-circuit-ing the habit loop that currently runs my financial life. Desire, buy, repeat.

But I think I need to go a little deeper than that. I think I need to take a look at why I would want to save. What do I want to do with my life? Or if I don’t know this second, what kind of freedom do I want to enable for myself in the future? How do I want to set myself up? How do I feel about the decisions made by my past self? If I could sit past-me down and have a frank conversation, what would I say? And knowing that my future self is just around the corner, what can I do to make sure that he is set up for success?

Can I see past the instant gratification enough to look out for that version of me? And if so, how would I do things differently?