Conscious Consumerism Is Not A Lie
U ntil recently, I didn’t have a catch-all term for mindful spending, but a recent article on conscious consumerism being a lie has finally provided me with a nifty name. Admittedly, the eco-friendly side of things is not a focus for me, so I’m not here to take away from Wicker’s contention that you can’t save the planet via conscious consumerism. I would argue however that conscious consumerism is exactly what each of us needs to set standards for what our money achieves for us in order to reach financial independence much more quickly. Without mindful spending, we are prone to spending money loosely given the prolific marketing, social media, and consumerism forces that we are exposed to daily.
It’s Not You – It’s Your SpendingJ ust why is it so damn hard not to spend money? According to Halina Szejnwald Brown, professor of environmental science and policy at Clark University, “70% of GDP in the US is based on household consumption. So all the systems, the market, the institutions, everything is calibrated to maximize consumption. The whole marketing industry and advertising invents new needs we didn’t know we had.” In a nutshell, consumption is the backbone of the US economy and market capitalism makes it incredibly difficult to make wise spending choices. I am amazed at what I see in monthly magazines and Pinterest boards, and know that I’m equally susceptible to falling for false needs.
S ocial mores also make it difficult to do the right thing. We’re planning to move this summer for example, and while I’m all about the savings, I’m also worried about bedbugs, other critters, or hidden structural damage to furniture, so we are definitely likely to buy a new sofa and bed frame – despite the fact that we could get away with finding used pieces. Our compromise is that we’ll buy the tables, shelving, and other pieces used, but it still gets me that I’m simply conditioned to worry about these frictions in a purchase – frictions that could be unfounded and will result in a mark up in the hundreds of dollars. The same goes for group eating as outlined in last month’s post – we’re better off requesting a separate check to save money, but we’re unlikely to do so because of the stigma associated with thriftiness.
W hat the author misses in her argument though is that there are basics we’re going to have to buy anyway: personal care products, bedding, home goods, groceries – there is a litany of products that we need to sustain our daily lives. You can’t live in a dense urban center with great public transportation (one of her recommendations for a more sustainable lifestyle) and expect to have the space to grow your own food or make your own household products because you probably don’t have the time either. In a perfect world, yes you can have it all – but I doubt the modern millennial is able to consistently follow through on this. Indeed, I find that my life is a series of compromises – the biggest of which is accepting a 390 sq. ft. studio to accelerate financial independence and go on bucket list trips.
Making The Decision to Increase Your Net WorthS o if you’re going to have to spend money anyway, then hot damn, conscious consumerism better be what you practice! You should know why you’re buying something, how it aligns with your values, and what purpose it serves in your life. Not knowing why you’re spending money on something is pretty much throwing away your money – if you’re not enjoying or deriving utility from a purchase, what’s the point?! It’s REALLY hard to buy something when you think about the graveyard of items lying in your household, or more realistically – the multiple bags of abandoned goods you left at Goodwill or the Salvation Army after going through KonMari.
S etting standards for your money is singlehandedly the most effective way to curb your spending. Do you want your products to be effective, natural, value-driven (i.e. not some ridiculous price), delightfully fragrant or touchable, sustainable, and eco-friendly? You’ve got your work cut out for you. It has taken me more than seven years to find a natural deodorant that works, but now I’m never going back and I am thrilled that my money is going to a startup that deserves it for finding the holy grail. The same principle applies to my skincare routine and hell I’m still searching for a green glass cleaner that’s as easy to use as Windex is. Similarly, when we go looking for furniture, we’ll be looking for pieces that are aesthetically pleasing, have built-in storage, are durable (no more flimsy particleboard), ideally serve at least two purposes (a sleeper sofa) are easy to maintain, and most importantly, fit in the dimensions of the new apartment! This criteria narrows the list down considerably and will make finding the right pieces a challenge. The thrill of conscious consumerism though is knowing that you’ve spent your money well.
I nstead of building an unintended graveyard in your life, conscious consumerism forces you to consider why an item or service is worth shelling out for. Sure you might not be saving the planet, but conscious consumerism ensures that you consume less in the long run, which in my books means that you are making a dent in the overall health of the planet and building up your net worth. Anyway, you’re also achieving financial fulfillment which in my books is priceless. There’s nothing better than surveying your surroundings (and your credit card statements) and being pleased with where you’ve put your money.
Do It For Future YouF or me, committing to my well-being to weather times of upheaval/uncertainty makes foregoing a current purchase that much easier. It’s never about the product or service I’m giving up, but more about giving myself options if the going gets tough and I am unable to help myself. This strange political regime we’re in makes me hunker down and want to hang on tight to all the money that passes through my checking account because I don’t trust where we’re headed, and I need leeway to buy things I may never have thought I’d need to like water purifiers or a one-way ticket to somewhere safer.
C onscious consumerism is not a lie when viewed from the lens of fiscal veracity. In being true to your current needs and finding a purpose for each of your purchases, you right-size your life and your spending, which contributes to your bottom line and keeps junk from accumulating in your home and the world. Judged in this light, I’d say conscious consumerism makes complete sense, especially when coupled with the political activism that Wicker advocates. You do vote with your dollar – it just may not have an immediate direct impact.