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Have you ever heard of the Standford University Marshmallow Experiment on self-control and delayed gratification?  If you haven’t, at the end of this post I put a link to some pretty hilarious videos you should check out, after reading the post of course.

What is the experiment?

In the late 1960s and early 1970s psychologist and professor, Walter Mischel at Standford performed an experiment. Children were sat in a chair at a table and a marshmallow placed in front of them.  They were told they could have that marshmallow now OR they could wait 15 minutes and if they did they could have another marshmallow. One marshmallow now or two in the future.  The experiment tested for self-control and delayed gratification.

What was the result of the experiment?

2 out of every 3 children ate the marshmallow before the 15-minute mark. Additionally, there was a follow-up study performed years later on the test subjects.  The ones that had resisted temptation and received two marshmallows showed dramatically better “success” in life as measured by academic achievement, SAT, and Body Mass Index scores.  Pretty interesting!

Reflection and a Money Type Marshmallow Experiment. 

I often think about things, life, how people think, and I got to thinking about myself… that’s pretty normal right?… Right?  I was wondering where my interest in money and investing came from?  I grew up in Iowa and while my mom and dad made sure my brother and I had everything we needed and some of the things we wanted, for some reason I was very aware that we were poorer than most families. Maybe that was part of it… I tried to remember when I became aware of money and its importance. Then I remembered a challenge my dad gave me once that seems now, in a way, similar to the Marshmallow Experiment, but with money.

How the challenge worked.

One summer, my dad told me that for every dollar I was able to save by my birthday (which is in November) he would give me another dollar.  I remember thinking I would try to save as much as I could.  That summer each time I received any money I thought this, “Do I want one candy bar now or two in the future.”   It was that way with every dollar I had.  I didn’t want to spend money. I wanted to save it.  In fact, I remember selling old toys to friends and trying to mow yards (with my parents gas and push mower) just so I could save, and eventually double, more money.

What was the result of the challenge?

While I did save some money and my dad did double it, I have no memory of the amount.  Maybe that is just the thing… it wasn’t really about the money, it was about the discipline.  It’s wild looking back on it now that had to be the single most important experience when it comes to money and self-control.  That summer and fall I learned how to sacrifice now for something greater later.  I recently asked my dad if he remembered giving me that challenge.  He said he did but that he didn’t think much of it. After talking about it neither he or I realized until recently the impact that little challenge left in me.  It’s crazy how those little things in life can make such a big impact.

Now as an adult that is exactly what saving and investing, and in my life, not using credit, is all about. By not spending some of the money we have available to us today, we can put money away for a rainy day (emergency fund) or for a brighter future.

Have you had any childhood experience that helped you learn about money?  If so please share them in the comments! 

Marshmallow Test Youtube Videos


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