The Merriam Webster definition of money is: “something generally accepted as a medium of exchange, a measure of value, or a means of payment”.
A simple concept. It is a social utility…
We need it to properly trade with each other in a fair and systematic way.
On the other hand, the responsible stewardship of money is something we need to cultivate, and that is simple, but not easy.
Obviously, the lack of money is the cause of a lot suffering in this world…
Some people are doomed to poor socioeconomic environments from birth, and must bravely suffer through the hardship that follows.
This article is not about those people.
This article is about those who suffer from the consequences of improper stewardship of money, which can mostly take place in first world countries, being there is an excess of money to steward in the first place.
Living in the “free world”, where all our needs for physical security like food and warmth are easily met, why do people repeatedly sacrifice their contentment and security by overspending?
1 of those reasons is “toxic consumerism”.
This article begins with an introduction to “consumerism” and how it has affected our day to day lives and why it has created a struggle for us to find contentment in modern life.
To conclude the article, I’ve provided a solution towards the struggle by laying out a healthier perspective towards consumerism/spending money that I’ve only recently epiphanized, but already have seen tremendous benefits from.
You can say that “Consumer culture” is a by-product of western economic values…
Values which make up a system that lets you wake up every day and enjoy the freedom to compete in the marketplace with your set of skills or wares. You get to go out and get what’s yours, and you should be grateful of that more often than you probably are.
For the most part, the competition is regulated with laws that allow everyone to compete at the best of their ability and also be appropriately recognized for it.
I say for the most part because systemic oppression will always exist at certain levels in certain hierarchies, but certainly not at the levels where the integrity of the system is compromised…
I mean, how can something as insanely complex as a Tesla Roadster ever be created with a system that oppresses competency instead of celebrates it?
For Elon Musk to have the resources and status to accomplish something like that beast of a vehicle, the system has to work to raise competency to the “top”…
If you’re still not convinced, then for the sake of this article, lets just say “western capitalism” is a fair system that allows the best to rise to the top, earn the most money, and thus bestowed power in the form of currency and wealth…
Therefore, by favoring certain brands, you, as a consumer, give them power by trading with them something that bolsters their status and value in society: Money.
Seems fair enough.
The Dark Side
There’s a bit of a depressing element to this system…
Put it this way…as companies grow, they reinvest, and develop powerful marketing campaigns and create ever-more enticing branding.
Now, we find ourselves falling for these marketing campaigns, and building our identities around their messages.
They become over-powering and all-ecompassing.
How many times have you purchased something that has no real utility to your life? Maybe it was the coffee maker that has a new feature. It replaced the coffee maker you bought just last year that works just fine- you never end up using the auto-brew feature since getting up early every morning to start it up has already been worked into your routine.
I know people that buy every new IPhone that comes out, rationalizing the purchase by explaining a new feature that the phone has that they’ll most likely never actually use. Rationalization happens after the initial impulse to purchase has happened. Not the other way around.
An effective marketing strategy that many clothing brands use is limited releases. Combined with powerful sponsorship branding, limited releases trigger our bias’ of being attracted to resources that are valuable yet scarce.
Powerful sponsorship branding create identities around clothing trends. Now, you have a closet full of clothing that you will use hardly ever use.
While branding and marketing strategy is something that needs to be established before you can experience growth in any business in any industry, most major business’ don’t pull any stops when it comes to enticing you to buy their shit… Often leading to toxic behaviors in most of their consumer-base.
Are We Being Played?
Upon reaching a level of technological advancement that no longer requires us to struggle in obtaining food and necessities, we developed a new struggle in climbing up the socioeconomic ladder within our individual expertise…
You are no longer a hunter or forager, but something more like an accountant or engineer.
Thank you, industrial revolution.
While our ancestors filled their schedule with hunting things for food and hunting our enemies for self-preservation, we work in cubicles doing repetitive tasks, plan out our weekend, and think about cool stuff we want to buy on said weekend.
Our biological systems that were built for intense reward and punishment scenarios, like chasing down a hunt, which done unsuccessfully will result in starvation, or fighting off a rival tribe lest we lose everything, are now left to play out in this new landscape where the sensory input is often dull and markers of success, vague.
Progress for humanity means an “easy life”, which means being taken away from the life and death struggles of our ancestors…
The unintended consequence of this is that we now stumble upon a new struggle, a lack of deep meaningful existence.
Addictions of any sort have arisen. Think of something that can cause addiction and there is an epidemic of it.
Porn. Food. Opiods. Video Games…
We have become zoo animals, robbed of our true nature, and seeking fulfillment through drips of random dopaminergic sources.
One of those dopaminergic sources is consumerism…
And it’s an especially bad one because it robs you contentment and security by promising it in a diet of branding and marketing. Leaving you to continually seek that nice feeling of attainment.
It Feels Good To Buy Stuff
Yes, attainment of any sort feels good. The nervous system likes to release the right kind of chemicals right when that payment gets approved and the cashier asks you if want a copy of the receipt.
This makes logical sense if you look at it from an evolutionary stand-point: Throughout most of the specie’s history, it has been very difficult to get things…. like anything: food, resources, a mate, a great place to live.
For most of the time us humans have been around, any time we did actually attain anything, it was certainly worthy of immense celebration, as it would have come through great effort and even sacrifice.
Uncle Jim lost all his lower teeth in the Mammoth hunt and is surely going to die of infection soon, but that’s okay… We have food for the next 7 days.
Well, obviously, it isn’t really like that anymore these days…
We made this thing called civilization- and we’ve made huge progresses in it. Progress, to the point where life and death are irrelevant to our daily struggles…
Now, I can get a hit of happy chemicals in my brain when that girl texts me back. A hit when I get notified of an important business email. A hit when my YouTube channel gets a new subscriber- When I get notified of the comment you leave below.
So, In this hodgepodge of reward system dopaminergic hijackers, so to speak, you can start losing track of any definite purpose in your life…
Instead of the built-in systems working to reward you for accomplishing a meaningful action, they are now just injections of happy brain juices. What is there but to chase more of those sweet, sweet, happy brain juices?
Spending Money is Easy… and Fun
It is literally a marketer’s job to make sure that a product is emotionally stimulating to a consumer.
There has been billions of dollars invested into research into consumer habits and psychology.
There is a technique and angle of advertisement for every industry you can think of.
We have the ability to create extremely enticing and attractive marketing.
As a result. We find ourselves influenced by these messages. The over-consumption of media, being that is also where most of the marketing media is distributed, is the catalyst which leads to consumer culture.
At this very moment, untold amounts of advertisers are competing to find the right message, to show the right video, alongside the right kind of media, so that you can choose them over a competitor.
Leaving the percentile of our population that are highly susceptible to this influence, the young, old, or impulsively-minded, who have no ability to rationalize away this influence, in a weird consumer-zombie trance.
They will want and they will even crave. And they will live for this shit.
A study shows that poor socioeconomic conditions means that impulsively is heightened. There is a paper about that somewhere, but take my word for it- I’ll source it for you later.
Basically, If there isn’t a lot of chance at a “bright future” in the form a stable economy and environment, the brain defaults to get-it-while-it’s-there mode. Impulsive behavior becomes heightened.
The combination of these socioeconomic conditions and powerful and strategic marketing creates easy prey.
A few markets where this may happen are:
First Generation Immigrants
A huge group in the general population fall in the category of first generation immigrants- children of parents that are seeking better socioeconomic conditions. This group, myself being among them…have a hard time dispelling the influence that media has over them…
This is because, burdened and stressed already by the responsibility of adapting to a new cultural environment, while at the same time devoid of a strong culture in money-management, we might satiate our desires to “fit-in” with buying the marketing messages that brands feed us.
Case Study: Louis Vuitton (yes I link to Wikipedia- fight me) has locked down the Asian immigrant mom market in a way that makes me wish I thought of it.
Experiencing Growing Pains
Another group that is especially susceptible to marketing influence is the socially dispossessed…
That may be a bit of a dramatic label. I’m pointing to those who lack mobility in status or lack clear vision and ambitions in their life.
Feeling despair from repeated failures and heartbreak, or nihilistic because of the lack of direction in life, this group finds temporary relief in a marketing message- the product made out to embody what they desire on a primal, but subconscious level
Instead of finding fulfillment in a journey of personal growth, it is replaced by a hit of dopamine with the attainment of branded products.
Case Study Market: HYPEBEASTS.
Lacking Money-Management Skills
Time and time again, we see evidence that a lack of strong skill set in money management, the stewardship of money, can cause poverty and suffering.
Powerful branding and marketing exacerbate this issue.
Think of the lottery winners that end up worst off than where they started before the windfall. Think of the professional athlete, most often times coming from poor socioeconomic conditions, that ended his career broke or in debt.
The sad thing is that a system that is shaped around competition in the marketplace- centered around making people buy stuff- will offer no mainstream guidance in restrain and conservation of money.
This leaves a lot of the money-misguided population to suffer in discontent, debt, and financial ruin…
All of which can be alleviated again when we buy that next IPhone that comes out.
Obviously, it is necessary to be a consumer. We need to eat. We need to fix things. We need supplies to do our jobs.
However, I hope you see that consumer culture is often to the benefit of revenue-hungry companies rather than your individual well-being. Are you looking for a better consumer lifestyle?
Stop Buying Shit
“Do smart shit with your money before you do dumb shit with your money.”
– Grant Cardone
You know that nice dopamine happy-feeling surge you get when you make a purchase?
If you reduce the amount of times you feel that, there will be far more clarity in your life- giving you room to discover what is actually important and what is actually meaningful in it.
For 2 months, buy what is only necessary to your day-to-day function. Fight off the cravings for new versions of electronics and new releases in clothing.
Like a recovering addict, there will be a lot of cravings, and there will be a lot of relapsing. Oh god why did I prepurchase that sweater yesterday…
But, in this practice, you may begin to have the space to learn a deeper sense of contentment.
You will discover an intensely meaningful existence through:
- Gratitude: Meditating on what you already have, both spiritually and materialistically, and the gratitude for the opportunity to become more than you were yesterday.
- Security: Money in the bank (and in other smart allocations) gives you the ability to weather storms and fight off chaos. Growing financially and spiritually will give you a lot of security in your life. This is enough. You don’t need those Yeezys.
- Love: Providing value, financially and spiritually, to those you surround yourself with. Get rid of the stress of “keeping up with the Jones'” and begin to genuinely enjoy the company of those around you.
Money As a Means for Growth
Now that you’ve gotten out of this dopamine cycle, chasing the proverbial dragon, and found contentment through more wholesome means, like personal growth, there is all of this extra money lying around to use productively!
And productive, you will be with it, because of the mindset you developed about contentment, and the realization of the defeating nature of consumerism.
With clarity of vision, you may begin to feel the inherent desire to reinvest into a growth lifestyle.
Now, you spend money to invest into your growth, both in experiences, education, and the development of those around you.
Begin to seek to find out: What kind of productive things can you do with our resources- what can benefit not just your family but society as a whole?
Bill gates has a charitable foundation (BMGF) worth $40 billion and employs 1541 people. Imagine the about the amount of Gucci sweaters and Lambos he could have bought instead!
I hope this article has, at the very least, made you think about your buying habits. If you lack a deep sense of fulfillment in your life, perhaps it could be discovered when you take yourself out of the consumer trap that is marketing and branding.
Of course, just simply stopping a habit is not going to magically give you a more meaningful life. However, it does give you a lot of mental clarity so you can work on yourself and achieve it. For example, you can work on creating a personal brand for yourself.
Gaining clients and gaining an audience in your passion is far more rewarding than being a zombie-consumer! Take my word for it.