What is Hyperbolic Discounting?

Updated: October 12, 2023

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Imagine you’re given a choice between receiving P1,000 today and P1,500 after two months. What would you choose?

Most people would opt for the immediate P1,000. This common preference for immediate rewards over larger, delayed ones is a phenomenon known as hyperbolic discounting, and it has significant implications for personal finance.

What Is Hyperbolic Discounting?

Hyperbolic discounting is a psychological concept that reflects our tendency to prioritize immediate rewards over larger but delayed ones.

It occurs because individuals value instant gratification heavily and have difficulty envisioning the future in a way that makes future rewards seem equally valuable.

This bias can lead to impulsive financial choices that have a detrimental impact on long-term financial goals.

The Cost of Hyperbolic Discounting

Hyperbolic discounting can wreak havoc on personal finances in various ways:

1. Savings and Investments

People who suffer from hyperbolic discounting are less likely to save or invest for the future. They may prioritize spending money now on consumer goods, entertainment, or other immediate pleasures instead of saving for retirement, emergencies, or long-term financial goals.

2. Debt Accumulation

Hyperbolic discounting can lead to impulsive spending decisions, including taking on debt. People may use credit cards excessively or take out loans for things they want now, only to find themselves trapped in a cycle of debt with high interest rates.

3. Poor Retirement Planning

Saving for retirement often requires sacrificing immediate consumption for a more comfortable future. People who struggle with hyperbolic discounting may delay or underinvest in retirement accounts, leaving them unprepared for their later years.

4. Weight on Decision-Making

Hyperbolic discounting can influence various aspects of financial decision-making, from choosing between job offers with different long-term benefits to making investment decisions.

How to Overcome Hyperbolic Discounting

Recognizing and addressing hyperbolic discounting can help individuals make more sound financial decisions. Here are six things you can do.

1. Create a Financial Plan

Develop a comprehensive financial plan that outlines your short-term and long-term goals. This can serve as a visual reminder of the importance of saving and investing for the future.

2. Automate Savings

Set up automatic transfers to your savings or investment accounts. This “pay yourself first” strategy ensures that you allocate a portion of your income to savings before you have the chance to spend it impulsively.

3. Delayed Gratification Techniques

Practice techniques that encourage delayed gratification, such as the “10-10-10” rule. When faced with a financial decision, consider how it will impact you in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years.

4. Emergency Fund

Build an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses, reducing the need to rely on credit cards or loans when unforeseen financial challenges arise.

5. Financial Education

Invest in your financial education. Improve your financial literacy. So that you can better understand the long-term benefits of saving and investing. The more you know, the easier it becomes to prioritize your financial future over your immediate desires.

6. Seek Professional Help

Consider consulting a financial planner or financial advisor who can help you develop a strategy to overcome hyperbolic discounting and make informed financial choices.

In Conclusion

Hyperbolic discounting is a common cognitive bias affecting many financial decisions. While it may be challenging to overcome, the long-term benefits of doing so are well worth the effort.

By recognizing and being aware of this tendency, developing strategies to mitigate its effects, and prioritizing financial planning, you can make better choices for your future, ensuring your financial well-being and peace of mind.

Remember, while instant gratification is tempting, the rewards and self-fulfillment you experience by doing delayed gratification are often greater and far more significant.

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