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Invest or spend? How to fix a cop’s ‘need’ for retail therapy

Denying yourself something in the short-term in order to gain something larger in the long run is a better deal


As a culture, we are the equivalent of a toddler in the candy aisle screaming, “I want! I want! I want!” Our cries of “I deserve to have ____” and “I work hard, so I can buy _____” are little more than momentary whining.

Cops have it even worse, because we deal with something civilians don’t. In his book, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, Dr. Kevin Gilmartin refers to this as the ‘Hypervigilance Rollercoaster.’ In a nutshell, officers spend the majority of their shift way above the normal range of vigilance. The consequence of that much time in that range is, during our off-time, we plunge below the normal range (thanks to Newton’s Third Law) and we become lethargic and apathetic.

Our answer to regain the “high” of our on-duty lives is often retail therapy. All too often, we opt for short-term rewards at the expense of future benefits. Those rewards — whilst sweet at the time — tend to leave the tang of bitterness and regret when seen through the lens of the long haul. 

There is a way to avoid that regret. It isn’t easy nor is it always fun. There is one word that — if said often enough and appropriately enough — will grow to be the most powerful word in your vocabulary.

“No.”

Two letters — one syllable. People who don’t speak English understand it. Toddlers even grasp the concept. There is no reason you can’t master it.

Denying yourself something in the short-term in order to gain something larger in the long run is not only a better deal,  but also teaches you that delayed satisfaction is infinitely better and more powerful than settling for instant gratification.

Let’s use a real-world example that cops talk about all the time: cars.

We all love the new-car smell. We will talk ourselves into buying a new car after we’ve had our old one for only a few years. 

According to CNBC the average car payment  is $452/month. The average car loan lasts for a little over five years.

If you took that $452,invested it and got an average of a 10 percent return over that same five-year period, you’d make $9,305.47 in interest alone. The total would be $36,425.47. In five years, the car for which you paid $30,303 — the average new car price according to Forbes — will be worth somewhere around $12,000. 

You are trading $36,000 for $12,000. On what fiscal planet does that make sense?

And what if we extended that time period from five years to twenty years? You’re looking at $341,725.62 in your investment. 

How’s that car treating you now? Would your rather have a car worth $12,000 on your hands five years from now or $341,000 in twenty years?

Having the discipline to say “no” to ourselves is difficult, but the benefits far outweigh the costs — pun intended. You deserve to retire with dignity. You deserve financial peace of mind. Your family deserves security. Your kids deserve a decent education. Stop being selfish. Say “no” to that new car for as long as you can — and don’t even get me started on that new boat.

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