I heard a presenter make this statement many years ago at a conference; it rang so true and I’ve often gone back to reference it. In fact, life’s synchronicities always amuse me:
- My husband, daughter and I recently started watching The Wonder Years on Netflix; a great tv series about life and, specifically, life in middle school
- A colleague and I were talking the other day about catty girls and middle-school bullying
- A friend and I recently had a falling out, leaving me to wonder, in a very existential way, who I’ll sit with at the proverbial lunch table and
- I’m (almost done) reading Shoptimism, a cheeky yet insightful book about consumer behavior by Lee Eisenberg
I recall, perhaps too vividly to be healthy, being in 7th grade and NEEDING a certain pair of Nike sneakers. My parents were not the type of people to spend lots of money on sneakers to impress twelve-year-old girls. I didn’t get the sneakers and I fretted over how I would possibly attend school without them.
I figured that, rather than trying to obtain a cheaper version of Nike’s, it’d be better to go completely off the mark and buy some unobtrusive, simple white buddies (remember that term, “buddies?” yeah, it meant “loser”). I remember thinking to myself (and later writing in my diary) (which is a real hoot to read now) that I would always work hard to provide high-end sneakers to my children so that they’d be accepted socially. Our daughter, ironically, couldn’t care less.
But that incident left a lasting mark on my personal style and values. It was rather selfish of me to want ridiculously expensive sneakers when my parents were busy using their money to raise, feed, clothe and host the weddings of six daughters.
But I simply needed those sneakers.
At a recent gathering of the “I HATE Budgeting (But I Like Having Money)” support group, one attendee commented that she wasn’t expecting to have to deal with peer pressure in her 50s, but her co-workers mocked her for brown bagging her lunch while they made plans to eat out. That bagged lunch is the buddy sneaker.
I share with you a couple of significant excerpts from “Shoptimism” as it pertains to the social pressure to buy things: Eisenberg writes about advertising author Michael Schudson who, “points out what’s obvious to most people: …that human ‘needs’ are both biological and social…” and that in a widely used college textbook on marketing, “Wants are shaped by…’one’s society and are described in terms of objects that will satisfy needs.’ ”
Plainly said, our wants become needs simply because of the social pressure placed on us and our inherent desire and need to be accepted by our peers (and even non-peers).
The synchronicity fairy dropped this nugget on me as I read “Shoptimism” further, “it’s tempting to decry our kids’ lust for the right pair of Nikes…” (is this guy in my head or what?) “but it’s hardheaded to ignore the fact that a kid can pay a high tariff if he doesn’t get these shoes. The price, says David Wooten…comes in the form of other ‘adolescents [who] use ridicule to ostracize, haze, or admonish peers who violate consumption norms.'”
Is it any wonder that so many people are in debt up to their eyeballs? The deep desire to fit in, impress, and in many other ways be part of the group infiltrates many of our money decisions and overrides rational, logical thoughts. This is how our best intentions go “poof!”
Financial “Buy Scolds” (as Eisenberg terms them) will encourage us not to buy to impress people at our own financial peril. Of course we know that. But in order to get to this rational point, we all have to investigate why approval is so important, why it keeps us imprisoned, enslaved to an ongoing effort to obtain, possess, showcase.
Don’t tell me where your priorities are.
Show me where you spend your money
and I’ll tell you what they are.
– James W. Frick