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AS Christmas races toward us, how might we insulate ourselves from the crass commercialism that obscures the Reason for the Season?

My small financial planning practice provides holistic advice to clients. However, because of personal passion and escalating demands from the marketplace, I specialise in retirement planning.

In the last two decades I have seen my business activities evolve across three delivery channels:

1. Consulting

2. Speaking

3. Writing

Consulting is done one-to-one or, in the case of couples, one-to-two, while my speaking and writing are carried out on a one-to-many basis. A couple of months ago, a friend who heads an organisation I delivered a workshop to gave some sobering feedback.

While the middle-aged participants who formed the bulk of my audience at his event enjoyed my programme (based on their interactions during and after it), my friend told me some younger adults there had subsequently disparaged what I taught — concerning the importance of delayed gratification when planning our personal finances — as being “irrelevant” and “old-fashioned”.

It wasn’t nice to hear.

Still, I shrugged it off and told my friend I wasn’t surprised. The core financial planning principles I believe in and teach my clients, listeners and readers aren’t complicated. Frankly, most are simple enough for children to grasp, yet some are hard for adults to heed.

When I was much younger, I wasted a lot of time trying to convince those with opposing views of the correctness of my position and the error of their ways! Now, with the passage of decades, I’ve learnt I can guide some people but I can’t effectively force anyone to do anything against their will.

That’s why I wasn’t perturbed by my friend’s sharing. I did, however, tell him that denigrating and discarding common-sense teachings about delayed gratification — giving up something good (not bad) today so as to enjoy great things tomorrow — can lead to personal financial failure down the road.


A recently-released World Bank Group report, the 21st edition of its Malaysia Economic Monitor entitled Making Ends Meet, corroborated what I said to my friend. A line from the report was especially relevant:

“High rates of bankruptcy because of borrowing for consumption rather than for wealth accumulation are an increasing concern, especially among younger borrowers with limited financial knowledge and literacy.”

A subsequent newspaper report on the World Bank Group’s findings stated that young adults between 25 and 34 accounted for 60 per cent of borrowers made bankrupt in Malaysia.

Upon reading the commentary surrounding the release of that World Bank Group document, I noticed the connection between resistance to what I teach on delayed gratification and real world problems many people face.

In financial guru Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total MONEY Makeover, he writes for a US-centric audience when he points out: “Just as slaves born into slavery can’t visualise freedom, we Americans don’t know what it would be like to wake up to no debt.”

Frankly, with the spread of personal debt vehicles and credit expansion worldwide, that phenomenon is not restricted to the US. Ramsey continues:

“Literally billions of credit-card offers hit our mailboxes and in-boxes every year, and we are taking advantage of those offers.... Most people who made the decision to stop borrowing money have experienced something weird: ridicule. Friends and family who are disciples of the myth that debt is good have ridiculed those on the path to freedom.”

Regular readers know that I have suffered not one but two multi-year bouts with credit card debts: In the U.K. throughout most of the 1980s and in Malaysia for part of the 1990s. The high interest forked out during those periods from my modest earnings back then was the price I paid for NOT exercising delayed gratification.


In contrast, in my opinion today the way to use credit cards wisely is to opt to exercise delayed gratification in most of our spending decisions AND to only charge expenses on them that we:

1. Can afford to pay cash for immediately anyway because we HAVE the money in the bank for them; and thus

2. Can settle in full well before our credit card due date so we never EVER again pay usurious high interest rates that make us poorer, and our credit card companies and banks correspondingly richer!

Here are two liberating truths:

1. We should focus on spending less and saving and investing more; and

2. Despite low interest rates worldwide, little guys (and gals) like you and I usually pay much more on what we borrow than on what we earn from our hard-won savings and investments.

So, for those who don’t think this advice is boring and uncool, I suggest you heed this ancient blueprint for growing wealth:

Spend less than you earn, save and invest the difference; and do it for a long time!

And as most readers will be reading this just before Christmas 2019, here’s my heartfelt Yuletide wish to you and your family: Focus more on giving gifts of affection, care and time than on squandering cash (that you might not have right now) on depreciating baubles charged to your credit cards. Merry Christmas to one and to all. May you have a joyful, meaningful one with friends and family.

© 2019 Rajen Devadason

Rajen Devadason, CFP, is a Licensed Financial Planner, professional speaker and author. Read his free articles at; he may be connected with on LinkedIn at, or via [email protected]. You may follow him on Twitter @RajenDevadason.

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