Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Consumed by Consumerism

Alright, I've been busy polishing up the "Tao of Psychology" series, making minor corrections, adding clarifications, rewording things and so on. I'm basically happy with it now, so I don't expect to be doing any more editing on that in the future. I had also been contemplating rewriting manifesto and sins, but ultimately I decided they don't need it for the moment. I'll probably end up rewriting them at some point so that they flow better, but it's not a top priority. I'm still far from running out of ideas of things to write, although I feel like I need a short break after writing 'tao'. I've already got ideas for the next few articles, so expect business as usual.

Today I want to talk a bit about consumerism (durr) and how your money disappears on things you don't need. For many people, no matter how much money they make, it always seems like it disappears just as quickly. They like to spend their time 'going shopping', they associate entertainment with spending money, they load up on debt, buy an expensive car, and always need to have the latest toy to show off. They keep "perfect" lawns and then spend more money spraying poisons on those lawns to keep them 'perfect'. These people then end up working till they're 60 if they're lucky, usually at some job they despise, and then 'retire' to a life of vegetation and maybe growing vegetables if they actually have enough money and health by that point to maintain hobbies like gardening.

Those that aren't so lucky end up in a retirement home somewhere where they're ignored and rot until there's nothing left of them (or until the bed sores dig completely through their body). Others will end up working as a greeter at wal-mart until they fall apart. There's a term for this lifestyle; it's called the 'rat race', and even if you win you're still a rat.

Impulse Buying

For most people in the developed world, buying things is a matter of desire. Whatever catches your attention this minute is where your money goes, no real thought goes into how much value you're actually getting for your money. As a result, most of that crap ends up piling up around your house and pretty soon you're throwing expensive things away because you really had no use for them in the first place.

Consider a set of knives, for example. If you buy a set of knives at wal-mart, you end up with a bunch of knives, most of which you have no use for, and all of which are equally dull no matter which way you turn them. For the price you paid, you could have gotten a few good (or at least decent) knives that you would actually use. If you buy a cheap pair of shoes, you end up replacing them within a year, often less. For the price you would pay to replace cheap shoes every year you could buy a nice pair of shoes that would last ten years and be far more comfortable. Then you have garbage like this which works even less well than wal-mart knives.

Most of this stuff will get used once (or at least a good attempt!), or maybe a few times, and then it's off to the landfill, along with the mountains of packaging it all came in. Other stuff may sit around in your drawers and on your counters, maybe to come out for a minute once a year. And this junk is where the majority of your money ends up going.

Rat Food

The rat race wouldn't be complete without genuine rat food. Not coincidentally, a large chunk of where people's money disappears to is the overpriced and nutritionally bankrupt packaged/instant foods, fast foods, and eating out in general. Not only does eating that kind of food relieve you of your hard earned dollars, but it also leaves you feeling like a caged rat. If you ever get the chance to visit a country where the people eat fresh produce as the norm, you can see a huge difference in how the people carry themselves, their general attitudes, and the striking lack of obesity and other problems which are epidemic at least in the US.

Cost wise, it's not even a fair comparison. Just as an example, a TV dinner might cost you $2.50, and feed you for one meal, whereas for $4.00 I can buy a 10lb (4kg) bag of potatoes that I can cook out of for two whole weeks. For the cost of 7 TV dinners (ie one meal a day) I could eat for a whole week, and much healthier at that.

Technological Inferiority

In the modern world, we all assume that technology is making our lives easier, better, and more productive. Is this really true though? With the advent of cars, we can now travel farther in less time than was ever before possible. However, you also have to change the oil and spark plugs ($), get things repaired on it ($$$), buy gas regularly ($$$), have your tires rotated, balanced, aligned and occasionally replaced ($$), potentially clean it and other things like putting air in the tires which are fairly time consuming. Then, on top of that you get to sit in rush hour traffic for hours a day going to and from the city just so you can work to pay for all that.

Then you have cell phones and computers. While they started out as practical business devices, they've since evolved to become (mindless) entertainment centers; expensive, complicated, and with their own associated upkeep costs. Now you have a generation of children who live with their faces glued to a phone, and who are so shallow and mindless that they stand no chance of contributing anything meaningful to the world.

And of course the myriad of plastic gadgets and knick-knacks that you can buy for just $19.95! They'll change your life forever by annoying you for several minutes before you give up on trying to make them work and throw them away.

Life in general has, without question, become more complicated, faster paced and more stressful in modern times because of technology. We were probably better off when the most complicated thing we had was a watermill.

Bad Habits

Habits and hobbies alike can also be a life-sucking money pit. The most popular 'hobby' in the western world today is undoubtedly TV. Even the 'educational' stuff on TV generally isn't, it rots your brain, shortens your lifespan, shortens your attention span, and results in delinquency amongst children, who learn to rely on it for attention and to keep themselves entertained. Additionally, TV is both the platform through which consumerism is indoctrinated in the masses, and one platform by which governments keep their citizens intentionally misinformed.

There are of course other hobbies which are destructive to one's wallet. Shopping for instance, if taken on as an activity and source of entertainment in itself, is the fastest way to see your money disappear. Malls are an epicenter of mindless indulgence and useless junk. Going out to eat, watching movies and taking expensive vacations are equally bad. Drugs or alcohol of course also cost money, and even more so if you drink your alcohol in a club or bar.

There are also hobbies which can save you or even make you money. Gardening, for example. If you're skilled and well-educated on soil systems, you can grow a significant part of the food you would normally have to buy. Not only do you save money, but what you get is fresher, and with good choices of breed and soil management much more flavorful and nutritious as well. Knife sharpening is another, not only is it a very zen sort of activity, but people will pay you to sharpen their knives. You can even make a career of it. Watch, clock or bike repair are also similar. Most of these require some investment in equipment and learning, but can easily pay for themselves. There's a large list of other crafts that fit into this category (soap making, tailoring, etc), your imagination and preferences are the only limits.

Economic Consequences

In order for a market to run efficiently, it is necessary that consumers are well educated about the products they buy, and that they choose quality over junk, given the same or similar price. If consumers will buy any garbage that is sold to them, then garbage is what the economy will gear itself to produce. Likewise, the health of an economy and the wealth of a nation both depend on savings and investment. When the average person buys a house, a car or a college degree using debt rather than saving money, then wealth cannot be built and inevitably decay and poverty will result. An economy which both accumulates debt more than savings and which produces garbage more than things of value is doomed to collapse. Similar catastrophes are bound to occur wherever people act without making the effort to understand the consequences of their actions.

Further Reading

If you want to learn more about how not to be a consumer, and how you can live comfortably for ~$7,000 a year, check out Early Retirement Extreme.

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