The Unhealthy Consumer: When is it Enough?

By Eric Perry, PhD-c

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” ~Will Rogers

Whereever we look, we are constantly being fed the idea that we need more “stuff.” We have 24 hour television channels devoted entirely to enticing us to buy more and more items we don’t really need. Every commercial break is an opportunity to sell to a captive audience. For those who do not watch television; the internet is always open, perpetually stocked with anything a person can imagine. Magazines flaunt the latest gadgets, cars, clothes, makeup, and anything else they are paid to advertise. Within social media, so-called influencers aim to sway the way we live. We are constantly encouraged to be olympic level consumers. The average American household has $5,700 in credit card debt. If we exclude those who pay their credit card off in full every month, the average debt is $16,048. Our closets and homes overflow with items that perhaps we purchased to make ourselves feel more connected to the world that is portrayed in magazines and on television. I realize some purchases are necessary and it is nice to treat ourselves once in a while. But, we must realize that material possessions are not the path to happiness. They may serve as a distraction to avoid truly connecting with people in our lives.

Here are 5 things to ask yourself before you make your next purchase.

1. Do I truly need this item or do I just want it?
It is important to distinguish between items that are considered life essentials vs. luxury items. Life essentials are clothing, food, rent, or any item deemed essential for living. A luxury item is something we purchase to satisfy a desire. For example, if it is another pair of shoes, ask yourself, “Do I really need an additional pair of shoes or am I buying them to satisfy an impulse?”  I am amused and shocked when I hear of certain celebrities proudly stating that they have hundreds of pairs of shoes. This is a luxury most of us cannot afford and it is a behavior we must not try to imitate.

2. Why am I buying the item?
What is the motivation behind the purchase? Are you making the purchase to please someone in your life or to gain someone’s love and approval? It is important that you are not making the purchase to gain validation from a peer group or person.

3. What am I feeling?
Are you buying this item to distract yourself from a negative feeling? Some of us shop to feel better after a difficult day. Others shop to gain a sense of self-worth. In either case you are utilizing shopping as a distraction to avoid sitting with the uncomfortable feeling. There is a saying that one should not go grocery shopping when hungry or without a list. My suggestion is to avoid shopping online or in a store when you are feeling any negative emotion. If you are feeling depressed, angry, or any other negative emotion, it is best to wait before making a purchase. It is important not to make a purchase just to pacify a negative emotion you may be having.

4. Is this your decision?
A known tactic in selling is the creation of scarcity. The seller will suggest or come out and tell you that this is an item that is almost sold out. They will create a sense of urgency in order to make you feel you have to buy the item now. I suggest you walk away. Do not allow yourself to be rushed and manipulated into buying something you do not need. If you truly want and need the item you can return another day.

5. Can I afford it?
Perhaps this is the easiest question to ask and the most difficult one to answer.  Can you afford the purchase? If the answer is no, do not buy it. Is this item really worth you getting into debt? If you feel shame at not being able to buy the item, ask yourself from where are you getting this feeling? We live in a world of excess where many of us watch celebrities on television or social media flaunting their wealth as if having a 100 pairs of shoes or a 100 thousand dollar car is the norm. We soon begin to believe that this is the life we should be living. Do not allow your self-worth to be shaped by the false world you see on social media.

Thank you for reading. If you feel you or someone you know may have an issue that relates to this post please feel free to reach out to me directly for help.

Best wishes,
Specializing in a solution focused and results driven approach to psychotherapy®


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32 responses to The Unhealthy Consumer: When is it Enough?

  1. kethuprofumo says:

    Dear Eric, this is the greatest post ever! So much to the point, in time in our consumption reality! Well-done! The dinosaur is perfect. What is his name, by the way? Buyingsaur?
    Best wishes,
    Maria 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hi Maria ✨✨ I am glad you found it meaningful to you. & Ha ha! Buyingsaur! 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      • kethuprofumo says:

        🙂 Your post attracted me as once I posted on the same topic: soulless mass market I called it. You have a huge audience. It’s very important to use the power of the proper word to make people think. Thank you again. Ah! Buyingsaur’s wife is name Spendysaura. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric, you must be an old soul. I spent my thirties and forties buying too much clothing, decorations, food, you name it. I always had the money, as I worked. I also shopped at the Goodwill and local thrift stores. The end result? Closets full of clothing I don’t like, or that don’t fit me any longer. Pantry is overstocked with bent and dent delicacies. When was the last time you used Star Anise in a recipe? I have a ton of it. And bags of household wares I don’t have the energy to deal with, but have had for over ten years. Your point is so well made. Word to the youngins? Remember, you are going to spend the first half of your life buying stuff you will spend the second half of your life trying to get rid of. Blessings.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. jfrels says:

    A.) I don’t use a credit card. That will solve a lot of this. If I can’t pay for it, I can’t afford it. I don’t want a shiny new thing AND debt, just a shiny new thing.

    B.) What do I have that I am going to get rid of when I buy this thing? This works well for me.

    C.) For a big purchase, like a camera lens or computer, I sit on it for months mulling it over. I think a lot about how I will use it, what value it will bring me, what else I can do with the money. By the time I buy it, I have already emotionally let go of the money and come to terms with buying it. No buyer’s remorse.

    D.) The day after you spend the last of your savings on some cool thing you have been wanting, your water heater or refrigerator or HVAC or car will break down and you will be in a bind.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Nicolle says:

    Great post! I’m the type who takes 3 million years before deciding to buy anything, especially big purchases like laptops, because the “Do I need it?” vs “I want it!” debate takes a while to resolve. 😆

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Olivier says:

    I like the idea about: “They may serve as a distraction to avoid truly connecting with people in our lives.” I use to focus more on the social media that disconnect people from people. But it’s true that shopping and the image people want to give of them selve with shopping and what they buy and the way they expose themselves play a big role in the people disconnection

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Scott says:

    Me and my wife differ at times on what to buy but we both ‘spend’ more than we should. There is a lot of advertising and enticements out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. gaillovesgod says:

    I find sometimes when I am upset that I shop trivially till I am depleted of funds and energy. Though I can sense it getting out of hand, I feel the need to have no money or resources, to remove the possibility of making any decisions. The more reckless I see I’m being the more determined I am to not care… kinda like I need to validate my recklessness. Crazy huh? This is where your post took my thoughts… lol. Good post.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. ChristianPathShare says:

    I recently began a minimalistic lifestyle and I’m pleasantly surprised that so many are so positive to rethink their purchases. My hope is that everyone you have reached is putting it into practice.

    In three years I have proudly sized down from a 6BR, 3200 sq ft home filled with “stuff” to the necessities equaling less than 800 sq ft with room to spare. I would love your list to include the following questions:

    1.) What is the useful life of the purchase?

    2.) Are there multiple uses for this purchase?

    3.) Do I already own something that can be multi-purposed or recycled to fill the need of the purchase?

    4.) How is it packaged? How will the packaging be disposed of? Can it be repurposed?

    Just a few ideas to expand on your insightful approach to the shopping craze. Be well always.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. We moved recently and I was working on destashing my craft room all of yesterday. It’s amazing how much stuff I had in there that I didn’t need, or that I had bought thinking I’d use it and then never got around to it. Consumerism is almost like a disease here in the U.S.!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I enjoyed this article. I wonder if I might have it a little better with the excessive ads out here in the country than someone in the city? It is definitely possible to swamp yourself with ads from internet, tv, etc. no matter where you live, unless it is in New guinea or something, but at least out here you are looking at thousands of trees rather than hundreds of billboards and storefronts.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I wrote an article about this for the church I worked for. I focused on the fact that we have to to rent storage space to store the excess. I was born in 1940 and remember a time when we didn’t have so many things…. and things were not so important. Television and other media have now influenced our thinking, I am appreciating the new ideas of the current young adults and applaud the downsizing and concentration on living. Suzanne

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Ashish Bhatt says:

    Appropriately said, “we must realize that material possessions are not the path to happiness”.

    Moreover it reminds me of something similar from “Fight Club”:
    “You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your khakis.”

    My take on it: People always identify themselves with something, knowingly or unknowingly. Maybe because this has become the trend and they feel left alone if they don’t do it. In my opinion, the root cause is when we identify ourselves with something(say a nice condo or maybe new Audi R8).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great info! Is this your decision? Sometimes this is the hardest one for me. I honestly feel bad for sales people sometimes because I am that client that will ponder, think and ask too many questions and then I have to gracefully figure out how to get out of the situation before I say okay. Example, big ticket items that you have to research first, great now I feel like I wasted the salesperson time if I don’t buy and then I actually feel guilty. It is horrible but I am glad this made the list which tells me I am not alone!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This post definitely speaks to my state of mind lately. I feel like I’m drowning beneath the unnecessary clutter of excess “stuff” that I or a family member bought because of an acquisitive urge.

    It’s not enough to purge your home of extraneous items you no longer need or want. You have to change your whole mindset about acquiring them in the first place. Excellent advice. Thank you for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

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