A blog about "nothing"!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Brainwashing of the American Consumer

Sorry I haven't written much lately.  There are a lot of reasons-lack of time, lack of ideas, I haven't even been doing much thrift store shopping, so I can't even share that with you.  I went yesterday, but came home empty handed, selection is poor at best for some reason, plus I really don't need much.  I think I need to make a trip out of town!

Yesterday my husband mentioned something that set me off.  Not at him, but at the stupidity of Americans when it comes to this subject.  What is it?  The tendency to take the word of others in regards to our financial stability, instead of looking at the big picture, and going by our own comfort zone levels.

If you live in North America, you have had the good fortune of watching gasoline prices plummet over the past few weeks.  It's crazy how far they have come, it certainly is nice for the wallet.  Yesterday the hubby heard an advertisement for a car dealership:  "Gasoline prices are at an all time low, now is the time to buy that new truck you've been wanting!"  ARGH!!!!  The part that bothers me with this is unfortunately, there will be a portion of the public who will actually believe this.  That drives me bananas.  Seriously, gas prices have been going up for the past 15 years, what makes you think that this drop in prices is going to stay this way?  Especially if you've done any reading in to some of what is causing this.  If you are one of those stupid people who falls for this sales ploy, don't come running to me when you can't afford to fill the tank later on.  Idiots.

This is nothing new.  I remember being appalled (I hope it didn't show on my face) at the story a customer told me about how they bought a much bigger house than what they'd planned because "their real estate agent told them they could afford it."  WTF?!?!?!  OF COURSE THEY ARE GOING TO TELL YOU THAT!!!  Are you really that dumb?  The lack of common sense of the average American is mind-blowing.  The bad part is the final outcome, which we all got to see a few years ago when the bottom fell out of the mortgage industry.  Too many people fell for these lines, fed to them by unscrupulous mortgage brokers and real estate agents.  When we bought the house we currently live in, not only were we questioned as to why we were wanting to go backwards in our home value (we moved from a larger house with acreage), but also, gee, did we want to borrow more money than we were asking for because we qualified?!  This wasn't the first time we had ever encountered this either, when we took out a loan to do some home improvements, we ran it fairly close to what we knew we would need and nothing more, but the bank wanted to hand us extra money.  Thanks but no thanks.

Back in the early 1990's I read a book called "The Tightwad Gazette" by Amy Dacyzyn.  Written originally as a newsletter, it was a compilation of all of the best tips previously published.  To me, this book was invaluable as not only did it have lots of great information, but it also was a great contributor in changing my attitudes towards money.  I had only been married a couple of years at the time, but the lessons I learned in that book served me well over the years.  Probably the biggest thing for me was learning to distinguish a need from a want.  This is something that too many people have the inability to do.  It doesn't mean that you can't buy yourself something nice once in a while.  But you should have certain things in order before you do.

Another good influence for me was a television special called "Affluenza".  Produced in the late 1990's, it focused on the social, emotional, and financial affects of mass consumerism, but done in a fun way.  Throw in Suzi Orman, Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey--if you haven't listened to any of these folks, you really should.  Sure, some of what they have to say has a certain amount of salesmanship, but deep down, there is some really great information that can change your attitudes towards money. 

The simple fact is we, as a society, have been brainwashed in to believing that living a good life isn't based on experiences, but more on what you own.  HOGWASH!  I think back to an interesting experience I had back in the late 1990's.  I left my job to take some time off and pursue my photography further.  We were living off one income, and doing just fine, we just didn't have tons of extra cash to spend on frivolous stuff.  Not long after I quit, our VCR died.  While it would have been nice to have just run out and purchased another, it not only wasn't in the budget, but to us it wasn't a necessity.  My gosh, you should have heard the comments when people found out we didn't have a VCR at the time, I was stunned.  I never realized that not owning an electronic item directly affected my net worth as a person?!?!?!  It didn't change my attitude though.  We did eventually replace it when I went back to work and our finances were better, but it was more because we wanted it, not because of what anyone said.  We are currently experiencing a similar reaction when people find out we don't have satellite or cable anymore.  Sorry, but I like that $90 in our bank account far more than I need to watch some brain numbing television program.  (oh, and by the way, we still have that VCR!)

I recently read an article that was based on a number of studies involving consumerism and addiction.  To quickly sum it up: "consumption without need is the hallmark of addiction, and "consumerism" is defined as "the equating of personal happiness with the purchasing of material possessions and consumption." *  After some of what I've seen and personally experienced, I can say that this statement is probably close to 100% accurate.  As a result, we've become self centered, disassociated, depression is at an all time high.  And advertisers, retailers, sales people, etc. have all been taking advantage of this, much in the same way drug dealers tempt their clients.  Scary, huh?

My advice?  Quit listening to those who want to sell you things, and to those who seem to judge your self-worth by what you own.  Figure out where you are comfortable when it comes to money and debt.  Only YOU can ultimately control what you spend and what you have. 

For further reading:
Your Money Or Your Life by Vicky Robin, Joe Dominguez and Monique Tilford

Clark Howard

*"Are You Unhappy? Is it Because of Consumer Addiction?" by Charles Shaw

1 comment:

dan said...

Happiness ( with capital H ) has not much to do with what you own and it's silly judging people by what they have!
But, I have to confess, that a new bag or a pair of beautiful shoes somethimes ... make me feel terribly happy!!