By Lola Olvera, Lead Copy Editor
Illustration by Marissa Espiritu
In consumerist America, money doesn’t come easy and it goes fast.
Everybody wants your money. That clothing store. The bank. The cosmetics company. All of them want your money.
On top of that, they really know how to pry it out of our hands. From using colors and shapes as psychological triggers to just plain old making us feel like crap about ourselves, advertising has proven to be a hugely effective way to get us to buy things. Nowadays, thanks to our reliance on the internet and companies pouring more money into marketing, it’s becoming more effective all the time. At this point, it can be downright invasive and manipulative. Ads tailor-made to our personalities can attack us from everywhere, exploiting our insecurities and the data we surrender to use popular services.
We like to think that today, with the accessibility of the internet and sites like Yelp, consumers are more empowered and informed than ever, but I am still surprised by how indignantly people deny the impact that advertising nonetheless still has on our daily lives. “No one’s telling me what to buy! No one’s telling me what to eat!” I think it’s gross that we are helpless and controlled by external forces and I don’t relish reminding people that their freedom of choice is in jeopardy. But once we do accept that, we can start to consume more conscientiously.
We get pushed to waste our money all the time. We buy new clothes because someone told us it’s not cool to wear the old clothes anymore, even though you only bought them three months ago and used them twice. We buy limited edition and collectible items even though they aren’t really all that different from the original items (which we probably didn’t need in the first place either). We buy new cars, new TVs, new furniture, so that our neighbors can admire them enviously from the driveway next door.
It’s important that we notice how consumerism affects us so that we can fight the urge to shop recklessly and instead make the most out of our money.
Because money is important.
I’m guessing whoever told you money wasn’t important has probably never been without it. Money is one of the most versatile resources we have in the world. It’s hard to deny the usefulness of cold hard cash in providing people with basic needs, guaranteeing education and improving people’s quality of life. Money buys goods and services, which offers the wielder great power. In a consumerist culture, we’re constantly falling over ourselves to make it and, just as quickly, spend it.
We work our faithful 50 plus hours a week, wearing out our physical and emotional energy, whittling away the hours of our day and putting strains on our personal relationships. All of this to make money to buy things that we don’t need, but are somehow convinced we need, by the advertisers that be. We find so many things to buy that we work even more hours in order to afford it all or even worse, fall down the rabbit hole of debt. When we “own” things that we haven’t paid off yet, we’re not working for ourselves anymore. We’re working to pay off our lender, who in turn profits off our helplessness by charging interest. Our direct shopping choices may have put us in that situation, but we’re not entirely to blame, either.
At the risk of sounding super conspiratorial, some people stand to benefit from keeping us poor, tired and trapped. Companies want us to feel sad and stressed and dissatisfied because then they can convince us that their latest product is the solution. Politicians and unethical CEOs probably prefer us to work all day long so we don’t have the time or energy to wonder what they’re really up to, let alone do anything about it.
When we buy a shiny new TV that has like, one more useless feature than our old one, we aren’t able to donate that money to our favorite underdog political candidate. When we come home from one of our part-time jobs too tired to do anything but eat and sleep, we aren’t able to watch the news, learn something new or create art. It’s awfully convenient to convince the proletariat we should feel grateful for having work and earning money, but then snatching our money right back.
We can put our money, which is also our power, to good use by refusing to buy stupid things. Instead, we can focus on the things that make a difference in the world.
When everybody’s asking for your money, who do we know who deserves to have it?
I’m not anti-business. It’s okay to be an entrepreneur and make some money. But once you own more than one yacht, once you’ve secured trust funds for your grandchildren and their grandchildren generations into the future, what on earth do you need more money for? You’re being greedy and gross. Bye.
The homeless person on the street needs the money. The shelter cat about to be put down in two weeks needs it. Your friend who can’t afford to buy a textbook needs it. And, because many of us are so broke we can’t always afford to give our money to other people, we also need it.
Next time you want to buy something, ask yourself if you need it to fulfill a basic need or if will improve your life in some way. If you’re buying it just because it’s a newer version, because everyone’s talking about or because you’re having a bad day and are in a vulnerable state of mind, maybe hold off on it. Part of advertising’s schtick is banking off our impulsivity and convincing us we need to buy something as quickly as possible. Take some time to think about whether this will make your life more efficient or enjoyable in the long run.
Do we want to buy the $50 Ariana Grande sweatshirt or do we want to put the money in a jar (metaphorical or otherwise, I know you hipsters love your mason jars), save it for a few months and buy yourself one of those memory foam pillows that will actually help you sleep at night? Or a piece of equipment that will allow you to bring your radical, opinionated art visions to life? If you think it through and the sweatshirt still sounds super cute and comfy and will warm and cheer you up when you wear it, then buy it with confidence.
Because as usual, this column has begun to sound preachy despite my attempts to avoid that and I need to always remind you that I’m not here to tell you what to do.
(The advertisers are, though, trust me on that one.)