Scroll through Instagram and it quickly becomes apparent that happiness and “living your best life” have become synonymous with purchasing new cars, wearing eye-catching “on trend” outfits, home renovations, building a property portfolio and taking endless holidays to luxurious destinations.
With COVID-19 impacting economies around the world, what has also become clear is how heavily reliant businesses and governments are on consumption to drive economic recovery. With 70% of the US gross domestic product dependent on household spending and $230 billion spent on advertising in the United States alone each year, the onslaught of marketing campaigns designs to help people part with their hard-earned wages and savings is to be expected.
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As social media influencers too become more effective in turning their viewers and followers into paying customers, reminding people that they have agency over their purchasing decisions and that consumption is not the only measure of happiness becomes increasingly crucial– especially at a time when overconsumption has become a serious threat to resource sustainability.
With the population expected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2050 and knowing that a finite earth cannot possibly support the infinite resource demands of every individual, business and government it is important to curb mindless consumption.
Before blindly following the purchasing advice and recommendations of your favourite influencer or getting seduced to spend by clever advertisers, here are some questions to ask yourself before you buy anything:
1. Do I really love or need the item?
For many people, accumulating material possessions is a mindless habit, a way to ease boredom, to achieve fulfilment (no matter how temporary), and a way to measure self-worth. But before you dip into your savings account or spend money you don’t have, ask yourself whether purchasing the item will really bring the value you are looking for.
Here are some things to reflect on: Do you really love it, and why? Do you really need it, and why? Will you cherish it? Will it make you any happier?
By doing this exercise, not only will you save money and resources, but you’ll better identify the things you really value and the items worth spending your money on.
2. Has the item been produced responsibly and sustainably?
Documentaries such as The True Cost, China Blue, Tapped and Seaspiracy uncovered the dark underbelly of some of the world’s biggest industries and how consumer choices impact the natural environment, communities and the lives of workers in the supply chain.
Voting with your dollar is just one tool that you can use to help build a more equitable and sustainable society. So before making a purchase, consider the following:
- Who made the item, were they paid a fair and living wage and under what conditions did they work?
- What is the environmental impact of production and how is the business mitigating this?
- Does it come with any ethical or sustainability certifications such as fair-trade, certified organic, etc.?
- Does the manufacturer have a reputation for making products that are built to last?
- Is the product made locally or overseas and what is its carbon footprint?
3. Can I actually afford the item?
Thanks to personal loans, credit cards and financial products such as Afterpay, it has never been easier to live well beyond your means. But think carefully before you fall into the debt trap. A general rule of thumb is to save your earnings and then pay for things that depreciate in value such as cars, clothing and holidays.
In this day and age where social media has fueled comparinitis it’s important to remember that your life is your own and that you are responsible for paying back debts and dealing with the stress it often brings. Don’t get caught up in how other people are living and how they curate their “best selves” on social media. The more you see through the trap of keeping up with the Joneses the better off financially you will be in the long-run.
4. How many hours of my life am I trading to afford it?
Think of your purchases in this way: How many hours do you have to work to afford it? If your job pays you $25 an hour and the item costs $500, you are trading 20 hours of your life just to afford the item. Since time is a finite commodity, are you really willing to trade precious hours of your life for that item? Once you become accustomed to looking at your purchases in this way, you are less likely to waste both money and time.
5. Can I find a second-hand version of it?
Buying second-hand is not only better for the environment since there are no virgin resources required to produce the item, it is also better for your bank account. You’ll find lots of second-hand clothing, furniture and other household items at local thrift stores, op-shops, Facebook marketplace, Gumtree, Craigslist and even online via platforms such as ThredUp and Depop.
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6. What is the cost per use of the item?
Another way to determine how much value you will get from purchasing an item is to work out how frequently you will use it. To do this, you will need to calculate its cost per use. Simply divide the cost by the anticipated number of uses the figure will help you determine whether it’s worth the expense. For example, many people purchase clothing items they will only wear a handful of times, such as a ball gown for a special event. If the cost of a brand new gown is $700 and the anticipated usage is 2x, the cost per use is $350. And if you also consider the hours of your life you have to trade to afford it, you may determine that the dress is not worth the cost and decide to borrow or rent a dress – which works out cheaper and reduces waste.
7. What are the item’s ongoing costs?
If you purchase a vehicle, white goods or even a swimming pool, you will usually need to pay for ongoing maintenance costs in the form of replacement parts, repairs and so on. In the case of a vehicle, there’s also the costs of registration, insurance and fuel. Then there’s also the time and energy required to maintain these items. Are you prepared to pay these costs? Are you prepared to trade your time in order to afford and maintain these items? The answers to these questions will help you to determine whether the items are worth purchasing or whether you’re much better off without them.
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Cover image by cottonbro.