Is Consumerism Consuming Us?
By Kate Meier
April 23, 2002
If you’re like me, you don’t consider yourself a consumer glutton. You don’t own the road with your pimped-out Excursion. You don’t own the neighborhood with your seven-bedroom uber-mansion. Nope, you’re just a little piece of the American pie. You take in a few dinners and movies with your friends, you drive whatever you can afford (and will get you there!), and when you splurge its rarely on a private jet or a gold-plated hot tub.
But whether we buy the bling-bling or the boring, we need to recognize we all have the potential to become consumer gluttons.
“So if I keep reading you’re going to tell me about how consumerism is evil, right?” The answer is yes, and no.
Most of the time when we hear about consumerism in America we’re led to imagine we’re all consumer gluttons. News reporters tell us about how Americans have a collective savings rate in the negative numbers; financial advisors warn us about those who carry debt loads double or triple their income.
Is this a picture of the American consumer? Sure. But, it’s a picture of a particular American consumer. When we take our spending to its outermost limits, pushing our budget beyond the max, we make consumerism bad and fuel the characterization of ourselves as consumer gluttons.
“What am I supposed to do then…just stop spending?”
Wait! This is a hysteria induced reaction to the feeling I’m about to ask you to give up your morning latte. Put yourself at ease. I’m hoping to offer a more realistic solution.
We all know it rarely works out when we attempt to run away from consumerism completely. How many of us have declared, “I’ll just live off of oatmeal for the rest of my life!” only to have our resolve vanish with the first sign of our favorite store? Don’t feel bad … it happens to the best of us.
Moreover, we should remember that a life filled with oatmeal alone is still a life that asks us to be a consumer. How do you think we’re going to get that oatmeal? So, let’s be realistic. Whether we consume from chain restaurants in the ‘burbs or mom and pop stores near our shanty, we’re still consumers.
But we don’t have to be unconscious consumers. We can know our limits. How? By becoming conscious spenders.
Conscious spending allows us to live average lives—where we buy some of the things that help us unwind—without becoming poster children for consumerism gone gluttonous.To become conscious spenders, here’s what we need to do:
FIRST: Take one week of our life and actually keep the receipts from all the stuff we buy and all the bills we pay.
SECOND: Get out the calculator, sit down with a cold beverage (you kept the receipt for that beverage, right?), relax, and add up the damage.
THIRD: Find our last paycheck (Most likely one that reflects two weeks of work) and divide this amount by two. Now we know how much we’re pulling in per week.
FOURTH: … and most magical! Compare the total we spend with the total we pull in.
When we walk ourselves into this kind of consciousness, we walk away from many consumer nightmares. Most people spend far more than they make and don’t even know it! By borrowing money from their credit cards every month, people mask the fact they don’t have the resources to pony up for the purchases they’ve made.
Conscious spenders run away from habits like this! If we’ve discovered we spend more than we make we need to do two things: (1) Locate the source we’re using to fund the expenses we can’t cover with our income. (2) Review our receipts and our expenditures. What can we cut out to make our income match our expenses? (Hint: This is our goal!)
Consumerism is bad when it’s not curbed. If you’re living month to month right now because you spend more than you make, expect to live that way most of your life. Consumer attitudes are not connected to incomes; they are connected to mindsets. If you currently earn $20k but don’t know that you’re spending closer to $30k, be prepared to spend $120k when you earn $100k and so on and so forth. It’s not the money you make, but whether or not you know how you’re spending it. Only this consciousness can transform you from a consumer glutton to a conscious consumer.
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