Our society is constantly telling us to spend, spend . . . and spend some more! From international corporations, to pop-culture and media to family and friends and coworkers. It seems like everyone and everything in our lives is constantly encouraging us to spend more.
We live in a consumer culture. But just because we live in this type of culture doesn’t mean you have to accept it. The first step in rejecting consumer culture is understanding it’s impact.
So, here we go: Here are five things about consumer culture that may be keeping you from financial independence!
1. Consumer Culture Doesn’t Value Time
Our time is limited. We only have 24 hours in a day, and within those 24 hours we can only really dedicate a finite number of hours for work. When we consume things, we typically have to purchase these things with money that we earn during those limited working hours. We have to work more in order to purchase things, and while there will always be more things to purchase, there won’t always be more time. Every hour you work is a bit of your life that you are giving up in exchange for a good or service. The new iPhone costs $1000. The average person in America working for minimum wage would need to work 142 hours in order to afford that iPhone. That’s around 3 and a half weeks of work, not to mention the time spent preparing for and commuting to/from work!
The same line of thinking can be applied to spending on a home, car, vacation, and even buying take-out. All of these costs are associated with your time.
2. Consumer Culture Normalizes Spending Over Saving
Because we’re in a consumer culture, many of us have been conditioned to think in terms of a savings rate rather than a spending rate. For instance, when people say that they save 20% of their income, that’s generally considered doing really well. But at the same time, this could also be viewed as spending 80%, which doesn’t sound as positive. Don’t get me wrong, 20% is a great savings rate, but perhaps we should start normalizing saving even more! Take us for example. Amon and I saved up to 70% of our income on our F.I.R.E. journey, which seems unheard of! But we were able to do this because we tried as much as we could to resist consumer culture. We didn’t upgrade our electronics or cars every year, we figured out how to house hack and travel hack, we didn’t eat out all the time . . . In other words, we prioritized our savings and we thought about our savings in relation to our spending.
Now, I’m not saying you have to save at least 70% to be financially independent. I’m just saying that if your bar is set at something easily attainable, like a 20% savings rate, then everything after that seems like a bonus. But if you set your bar at something that’s a bit harder to achieve, then you know you’re really doing the most to reach your goals.
3. Consumer Culture Values Social Media Based Purchases
Statistics show that over 47% of millennials’ purchasing decisions are influenced by social media and, to be completely blunt, I find the influence that social media has over consumer decisions really troubling. It's become sort of a craze, where people go out of their way to participate in certain activities, go certain places, or buy certain items just so that they can then can create an Instagram or Tik Tok post!
It's to the point where social media has started feeding into a sort of “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality, except now people are competing with millions of people around the world! If you really want to prioritize becoming financially independent, you need to resist basing your purchases on whether or not it would look good on social media, and instead focus on the utility of the item itself. Ask yourself, do you really need this product?
4. Consumer Culture Encourages Shopping as a Pastime
We’ve all likely been guilty of this one at some point or another. Feeling bored one Saturday? Why not head to the mall with some friends? Why not take a stroll downtown and windowshop in the cute boutiques? Days like these almost ALWAYS end in money being spent.
I’m no exception and have fallen victim to shopping as a pastime. I used to walk into a Target with the intention of buying one predetermined item and then I would leave with an entire bag full of stuff that I really didn’t need. And now with the popularity and ease of online shopping, what can start as simple browsing can end with hundreds of dollars being spent with the click of a button!
I know that shopping is a way to socialize and hang out with friends. Just keep in mind that just because you're out shopping with your friends, doesn’t mean you HAVE to spend money. And if this is hard for you, maybe even suggest doing something else, other than shopping.
5. Consumer Culture is the Opposite of Minimalism
If you ask me, the best way to avoid consumer culture is to practice minimalism. Amon and I LOVE minimalism and have really embraced it as a way to guide our lives. Minimalism doesn’t necessarily mean you have to live in a tiny box with only ten possessions to your name. All it requires is being aware of what your actual needs are and not being excessive in your purchases. Minimalism really focuses on the things that bring you value. It requires you to be cognizant about whether or not your purchase really improves your life and whether it brings you significant meaning.
Once you start thinking about this, you might be surprised to find that most purchases, despite the initial rush you get after buying something, don’t actually add much value to your everyday life. Ultimately you might find that there are better ways to spend your hard earned cash! So, needless to say: I’m not a fan of consumer culture. My advice to you: If you’re pursuing financial independence, reject consumer culture (and the mentality that goes along with it) at all costs! Don’t be like everyone else. Dance to your own tune . . . and while you’re dancing to your own tune, celebrate the fact that dancing is free!
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