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Think long term (or kiss goodbye to civilisation)

No tree was ever planted by someone working to a lunchtime deadline.

Most times in life, it pays to think long term. There are a few exceptions:

  • If you’re trying to decide whether to kiss her, kiss her
  • If you’re wondering whether to go to the party, go to the party
  • If he’s big and mean and about to hit you, duck out and live with the shame
  • If given the chance to stop over, stop over (I’m thinking cities here, but do extend this rule to suit your own personal level of debauchery)

That’s about it for times when short term thinking should overwhelm long term goals. If you’re not about to kiss, party, be hit or hit New York, look to the far horizon.

Long-term thinking is especially important if you’re planning to escape the rat race. This famous scramble is aptly-named in honour of experiments in which the hapless rodents pull levers for sweets and run nowhere in wheels to avoid electric shocks.

I doubt the rats think for more than two seconds beyond their next tasty treat or miserable let down. What an apt metaphor for today’s wage slaves and Saturday morning consumer warriors.

If only the rats got together, thought about it, and pooled their resources to break the code or form a little rat pyramid enabling one of them to vault to freedom! Alas, they go on eating bad food and getting shocked, stumbling from second to second.

We can do better than the rats, surely.


  • Short term thinking: I want that cake / music system / house I can’t afford.
  • Long term thinking: A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips / it’s all free on Spotify on my PC / I’ll buy a smaller house and pay off the mortgage early.


  • Short term thinking: If I spend £2,000 buying this sofa at 14% on my credit card, I’ll be more popular and have more girlfriends, like the guys in Friends. (Whoops – it costs nearly £4,500 in total at the minimum 2% repayment rate and I’m still paying for it 26 years later).
  • Long term thinking: If I lend the bank £2,000 at 4% for 26 years, compound interest will help me, not the bankers, and I’ll end up with over £5,500. (Whoops – I’m looking too smug).


  • Short term thinking: Darn! The stock market has dropped by 20%! Time to sell my investments like Cramer off the TV and buy lottery tickets!
  • Long term thinking: Great, the market has dropped by 20%! I’m still buying, so cheaper is better, and I can only hope to hit those 11% average annual long term market returns by buying low in the bad years.

Pensions and old age

  • Short term thinking: I’m young and immortal, and I look amazing in tight designer jeans. When I’m old I’ll be sitting about with nothing to do – better to live for now.
  • Long term thinking: I’m young and I’d look amazing wearing a bin liner. Better to save and compound my money for when I’m old yet shockingly still sentient, and when even using an escalator is a giddying ride of excitement that requires a minder. Wine, women, song and growing old disgracefully don’t come cheap.

How long is long term?

Obviously you’d don’t want to do this to excess and become a tightwad. Cooking baked beans on a bonfire of free newspapers while checking your portfolio on an ancient laptop powered by coal and dreaming of 2042 when you’ll finally crack open your piggy bank – that’s taking things too far.

But a lot of short term thinking is actually driven by a desire to placate unhelpful emotions like boredom, envy or impatience.

We buy expensive things we don’t need to try to plug a hole that isn’t thing-shaped at all.

Living in the moment, savoring the here and now, can bring the smallest and simplest pleasures to life:

“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” – Zen Proverb

Easier said then done (that’s pretty much Zen Buddhism in a nutshell) but more likely to bring you satisfaction than an attic full of useless clutter that you don’t need, bought with money you could have instead put towards replacing your salary and being truly, eventually, free.

Finally, here’s my favourite Greek Proverb about thinking for the long term. Once you hear it, it never quite leaves your head (but unlike Britney Spears that’s in a good way):

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

(Image by Powi)

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • 1 Financial Samurai November 13, 2009, 3:03 pm

    Excellent post mate! Love the juxtapositions.

    Important to think too long term though as we might be too dead to enjoy the moment.

    Did you regret kissing that girl way back in school? I know I did once.


  • 2 David October 24, 2014, 2:34 pm

    Does the above thinking on investments long term good the markets dropped and i am still buying) only apply to regular savers.I ask as i am a novice and about to commit for the first time with a lump sum and the market is doing well(so ive read) should i wait for a downturn my investment term is 10 plus years i have decided on vanguard life strategy but unsure whether to opt for 60 or40% equity any thoughts appreciated

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