Many times, the blame for mindless consumerism falls squarely on the “social pressure” to spend. Here are just a couple of examples (out of many available) of how the “pressure” comes into play.
From a TIME magazine article “What America Buys and Why“, published in October 2006:
Status also drives us to shop. It’s what motivates us to buy televisions larger than our neighbors’, Compeau says. And as America grows more populated, we’ll only feel more pressure to spend, says Elizabeth Goldsmith, a Florida State University professor of consumer economics. “A lot of it is watching what other people buy. The more crammed in we are, the more we watch each other.”
According to Matt at One Million and Beyond:
The pressure to keep up with the proverbial Jonesâ€™ is in my opinion so strong in our society is hamstrings us financially from a young age.
Now, in light of such pressure plays, I have some thoughts:
- Who is forcing you to spend? Analyze what kind of answers you come up with - friends? peers? relatives? neighbors? or that idiotic bodybuilder on the television?
- How have they pressurized you? Did someone convey to you - either by words or by deeds that you are inferior because you spend less?
After contemplating on this for sometime and following stories about “Keeping up with the Joneses“, I have to admit that I don’t really see the origin of social pressure. I prefer to break this Joneses concept into two distinct features:
- The desire to keep up with the Joneses.
- The pressure to keep up with the Joneses.
In my opinion, it’s the desire part that’s playing a major role in increased spending - not the pressure.
My idea of “pressure” is when you are actively forced by someone to do something - when you don’t like doing it. For example, pressure is when my professor tells me: “I don’t see you in the lab often, you must spend more time in the lab if you want to accomplish something” - here, my professor is actively forcing me to spend more time in the lab - against my wishes. That is pressure.
I haven’t really seen or felt such pressure when it comes to spending money. No one (in real life) has ever told me that I am stingy, nor has anyone expressed displeasure over the fact that we live in a 600 sq. feet apartment, or made me feel lowly about the fact that I don’t have cable, or that I walk to school, or eat fruits for lunch. And, no one compliments me when I indulge in stupid splurges.
It doesn’t bother anyone else about how I choose to live my life and honestly, I don’t think anyone cares that much [just my experience - probably people in the corporate world have a different experience].
Think about it. If you buy an outrageously unaffordable car just because your neighbor bought one, would you say that your neighbor forced you into buying that car - while you were against buying it? OR is it because you wanted that car anyways - and the neighbor’s actions just provided you with an excuse?
Acting under social pressure is understandable when you are a teen and haven’t really developed an independent thought process - that’s precisely why endorsements by adults are needed (almost always) when teens deal with financial transactions. But 25~30~40 year olds succumbing to social pressure? I don’t think that’s quite social pressure.
So my question is, when people talk about the “pressure” to spend, where exactly is it coming from?
Have you felt it in anyway? Do you think you feel it more when you force yourself to “blend” with whatever is around you?
Am I mistaken in thinking that such spending pressures are nothing more than imaginary consumerism standards that we set in our own heads?
On this note, take a moment to understand this relatively new term “Affluenza“:
Affluenza is a social condition arising from the desire to be more wealthy, successful or to “Keep up with the Joneses.” Affluenza is symptomatic of a culture that prides financial success as one of the highest pursuits to be achieved. People who are said to be affected by Affluenza typically find that the very economic success they have been so vigorously chasing, ends up leaving them feeling unfulfilled, and wishing for yet more wealth - sometimes addicted to their economic pursuits.
Affluenza is arguably present in the United States, where the culture is one that prides itself on possessions and financial success. Mainstream media outlets, such as television broadcasts, tend to show how pervasive the idea has become. Affluenza also tends to bring with it very high social costs and strains already diminishing environmental and natural resources. (source: Wiki)
Seems to me that more people might be suffering with Affluenza, than feeling the proverbial “pressure” to spend (?)
A Thought Experiment
Here is a two-scenario thought experiment that I am toying with.
- Scenario #1: suppose there is a group of 10 people who usually drive to work. Let’s say that 4 of them dump their cars and start walking to work - do you think the other 6 would take to walking because they perceive some kind of a social pressure from the 4 who walk?
- Scenario #2: suppose there are 10 people who usually walk to work. Now, let’s say that 4 of them get new cars and start driving to work - what’s the probability that the other 6 would feel socially “pressurized” to get new cars and drive to work?
I am pretty sure that the perception of social pressure will be noticed in only one of the above scenarios. I think you can guess which one it will be. The concept of trying to “blend” with your surroundings may fall flat on it’s face with such an example. This is just an hypothesis, so I won’t attach too much weight to it… but it’s interesting nevertheless.
Other related articles on this issue by fellow bloggers:
- Which Jones Family Are You Trying To Keep Up With? by David @ My Two Dollars. Read this and try answering the question in light of the above discussion: is it the advertising “pressure”?
- Climbing the Consumption Ladder Together by KMC @ Advanced Personal Finance. Same issue of consumption looked at from a totally different perspective.