Saturday, 1 October 2016

Weekly Column: Consumerism is a Costly Cycle

Consumerism is a costly cycle

In years gone by, frugality was a way of life—not out of stinginess but out of necessity. Families were larger and were quite often supported by a single income. Handing down clothes, growing food, spending cash only and waiting until payday was how most everyone got by. Basically, if you couldn’t pay it off in full, you didn’t buy it.

Today, it’s a different story. Most families have more than one vehicle, at least one credit card and various loans besides their mortgage. Often both parents work and must pay for after school care, a sitter or day care. Add extra-curricular activities to this already busy schedule and it’s understandable that people no longer have time to cook and eat at home.

Gone are the days of waiting for a movie to become available at the video store or, worse yet, be shown on TV. Pay-per-view, downloading and live-streaming provide almost instant availability of anything we are interested in. We are steeped in convenience and we don’t mind paying for it. In fact, convenience is so much a way of life that we don’t always realize the cost.

Everything is disposable

Older folks will remember that eating in a restaurant was once a rarity. Now we have play structures to entice families to bring their kids and turn them loose. An added bonus is the plastic, throw-away toy included in every kids’ meal. Our homes are overflowing but we are conditioned to accept, and even expect, more all the time.

If children grow up receiving a new toy every time they have a meal out, at a restaurant geared toward their total satisfaction, should we really expect them to treasure their belongings or are we fostering in our kids an “easy come, easy go” attitude? I lost that toy, or this one broke. No worries, I’ll get another next week. Besides the McHappy lifestyle, do you let your kids pick out a new toy or treat whenever you are out? Are you drowning in debt but have no idea how to save yourself? Are birthdays and Christmas becoming ever more extravagant just to elicit a response from people that are bombarded with new things year-round?

We have Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram (the list goes on) to show us daily how everyone else is living. Often we feel that they are living better—either more stylishly, with more adventure, fewer worries…happier. Seeing inside people’s homes and vacations, not to mention the carefully staged presentation of their relationships, can leave you wishing for more. But maybe it’s time to strip away all the layers of consumerism that our culture has piled on us in the last few decades.

Is your consumption sustainable?

Have you ever put a price tag on the garbage you throw out of your home every week? Have you added up the cost of clothes you have never worn that you either donate or give away when you purge your closets? How much food rots in your fridge before you toss it out and go buy more? To be honest, we are all guilty of waste to some degree. The question is at what point will we say “enough is enough”? When will we tire of the cycle of working and worrying, spending and purging? Is there actually a simpler way to live?

In most countries in the world, having unworn clothes, uneaten food and a surplus of belongings is a dream that will never be realized. Many nations don’t have a reliable food system and the little food there is has become unaffordable or inaccessible because of war and crime. Compare that struggle to our preoccupation with getting the latest fashions, keeping up with trends and competing on social media. It really puts things into perspective.

Many families effected by job losses have already altered their spending to match their income. They would probably agree that keeping up appearances is not important when it comes to keeping the roof over your head and the kids fed: “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”.

It takes courage to make changes in your life. You may notice that certain people are not supportive of your desire to stop mindlessly spending. You have to decide what is right for you—living according to their standards or choosing your own priorities.

Frugality in and of itself will not guarantee you a good life. It may get or keep you out of debt, but it is up to you to find the pleasure in the little things and give meaning to your daily interactions. Do you choose to stress and worry in order to preserve an unsustainable lifestyle or do you step off the consumerism treadmill, set some goals and get back to basics? 


  1. I needed to read this today. I'm slowly inching towards getting back on the frugal wagon. I don't want to be wasteful. I try not to be in so many ways but there is such a HUGE amount of improvement still possible in my life.

    1. Thank you for your honest comment, Pru. I think most of us can improve. There are so many emotions and so much baggage tied to income and spending and lifestyle in general. Cutting back is not as simple as it sounds, in many ways. For me it is much like eating right and exercising--I feel so much better when I do it but sometimes it is a challenge!