consumerism

How to Shift Your Mindset From Consumerism to Frugalism

The Mindset

There is a fundamental truth that everyone must understand before they can truly accept and unlock the keys to many of the ideas presented here on Money Saved is Money Earned.

Our world is built on consumerism.

Consumerism is an economic ideology that encourages the insatiable acquisition of goods and services, with the ultimate driving factor being money.

But what you need to understand is that the driving factor of money does not mean more money for you (although that’s what they’d like us to believe). Really, the only entities that truly benefit from consumerism are big corporations. While it’s easy to pretend that research and technology advances are to make our lives easier, the end goal with any enterprise is to make money. Why do you think Apple releases a new iPhone every year? (hint: it isn’t because the new model is THAT much better).

Consumerism is like a disease, and the more that disease spreads the more money corporations make. In truth, corporations want that disease to spread as far as possible, for the spread of the disease means an increase in their wealth. And the name of that disease?

DEBT.

Corporations are building wealth on the back of your debt.

It’s a game, and you and everyone else who buys-in to the idea that you must have the newest products is playing right into it.

The board for this consumerism game is marketing. Corporations invest in an outrageous amount of marketing for a reason: it works. We are bombarded by marketing every day of our lives. While in many cases we are no longer a captive audience (we can skip ads, and choose which networks/mediums to engage with), the sheer amount of media venues available to us mean that marketing exposure has exploded. In fact, the number of ads you see daily has increased by 1000% in the last 40+ years, from about 500 a day in the 1970’s to 5,000 a day today! And the real trick is that marketing ploys don’t just convince you that you must have it, but that you DESERVE to have it.

It doesn’t matter whether you can afford it. You need it. You deserve it.

These ideas, combined with increased personal attention and exposure on social media platforms, have driven the idea of consumerism to a whole new level. Now, it’s not just your neighbors and co-workers (along with the random passerbyers on the highway) who see your brand-new car, but everyone you know through Facebook and Twitter, and by extension, all their friends. We can now present a filtered life to the world, edited to show ourselves in the best light and to gain as much attention for our material possessions as possible. Social media and marketing have created a world where a heightened emphasis has been put on possessions, never mind the position people put themselves in to get those possessions.

As a result, people spend money they don’t have, for things they don’t need, and worse yet, are getting immense satisfaction from it all!

Shifting the Mindset – The Most Important (and Difficult!) Task

Consider this example featuring one of our favorite topics: cars.

Do you sleep better at night thinking of being $35,000 in debt, or $15,000 in debt? The former is the result of purchasing a new car, while the latter, a nice used car. Let’s say you buy the new car. You’re thrilled with it! After all, it’s got all the latest gadgets and you got a great deal. You absolutely love it! In this case, the salesperson (their job is to make sales, that’s why they’re called salespeople) did their job. They talked up the very latest technology and features, offered to make the deal work for you (never mind the loan parameters needed to do it), and made you feel like the king of the world with your new ride. The dealer has also made thousands from you.

Now, picture yourself a year down the road. The new car smell has worn off, you have a few dings, and you’re still making that monthly payment. Your feeling now? Gee, I still owe $30,000 on this car, and I have 5 years to go on the loan!

Scary, huh? That’s the power of marketing and consumerism.

So, what can we do about it? How can we break out of the cycle of consumerism created by our world and reinforced by social media? How can we beat material corporations and interest mongering financial institutions at their own game?

How can we gain satisfaction in frugalism instead of consumerism?

Satisfaction from frugalism comes from having more money in your pocket, while unchecked consumerism makes the corporations rich and leaves you with the disease called DEBT!

The answer is shifting your mindset. You can shift your mindset easily once you understand how various systems are manipulating you in order to take your money. That’s our purpose here at Money Saved is Money Earned. We would like to teach you how to manipulate corporate systems to your advantage. The most difficult part is undoing years of training and reversing the bad habits that have been force-fed to you all your life.

You must begin to gain satisfaction from working the system, rather than by being worked by the system.

We know it’s difficult. Everyone gets a little burst of satisfaction when somebody compliments us for our possessions, and we think (inaccurately) that people will only do so if our possession is the newest and best. A new car is one of the biggest boosts in satisfaction. Everyone ooh’s and awe’s. But what about the increased debt you put yourself in to get that new ride?

This is where your mindset can begin to change.

Begin thinking about things in terms of how much money you saved. Begin taking pride in how much usage you’ve gotten out of something. Begin gaining satisfaction from frugalism.

We have many examples from our lives of ways we have saved an immense amount of money, and we take equally immense pleasure in that fact. I (Tawnya) recently bought a 10-year-old Chevrolet Silverado in pristine condition for less than half the price of a new one. And guess what? Everyone thinks it’s new anyway! Having people ooh and awe over my 10-year-old truck when I saved so much gives me more pleasure than I could ever get from a new vehicle. All I would be able to think about would be the crazy amount of debt I’d gotten myself into!

Want more examples?

How about my iPhone 5s that I’ve had for 5+ years?

How about the $2,500 Ethan Allen queen sleigh bed I bought used for $500?

How about the Samsung flat-screen tv I’ve had for over 7 years, despite the plethora of new technology tv’s that have come out in that time?

How about my 2002 Toyota Camry that keeps plugging away at 265,000 miles?

The list goes on and on.

Now, here’s the thing. Consumerism is the engine that makes the capitalist world we live in run. It is not going away anytime soon, and frankly, it might not be a good idea to try and make it go away. Our systems (in their current forms) would collapse. Progress would be stalled. We’re not saying don’t ever buy anything, we’re not saying that big corporations only do bad and never contribute. In fact, corporations do contribute quite a bit in the form of donations and community service work (which they get to write off in their taxes, by the way), as well as jobs to millions of people. We’re also not saying that people aren’t entitled to some luxuries every now and then, or that it’s bad to want to make money. After all, we make money from this blog, and have advertisements and links on our site that generate revenue (see our disclosure). We are part of the capitalist world, and profit from it.

What we are saying is be informed about the systems we live in and how they attempt to manipulate you into making decisions you probably wouldn’t normally make. Know that advertisements try to instill a desire for things you didn’t even know existed in an attempt to get you to spend more of your hard-earned money. Know that every time you see an advertisement (whether a formal ad on TV or a t-shirt worn by a friend), your brain is being told that you need that thing. Know that you have been brought up to believe that all this stuff will make you happy, and your life easier. Know that the world portrayed in media sets us up to constantly strive for something that is unattainable for most. Everyone is part of this mindset, and affected by it.

How do you break free? You don’t.

Not fully anyway. However, when you understand how the systems work, you can make a concerted effort to not be swayed by them. You can learn how to use the systems to your advantage by getting good deals, not paying unnecessary interest, and not being caught up in the rush to get the newest and best no matter the cost. You CAN begin to shift your focus to saving money on new purchases and getting maximum usage out of what you already have.

When you begin to think in this way, your satisfaction will no longer be tied to the object itself, but to the money you saved through choosing that object both at purchase and through long-term use. Stop unduly lining the pockets of big corporations at the cost of your financial well-being, and start beating them at their own game.

Begin to value frugalism, Money Saved is Money Earned. Resist consumerism, money spent is money gone.

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Tawnya Redding

Tawnya is an elementary special education teacher by day and co-blogger at Money Saved is Money Earned by night. She holds an Honors BS in Psychology from Oregon State University and an MS in Special Education from Portland State University and has had a pretty successful writing career, first as a writing tutor at the Oregon State University Writing Center, and in recent years, as a freelance writer. Tawnya and co-blogger Sebastian have a wealth of knowledge and information about personal finance, retirement, student loans, credit cards, and many other financial topics. They teach people how to save money money, save money, and understand money.

49 thoughts on “How to Shift Your Mindset From Consumerism to Frugalism”

  1. Sam @ Thiswaymommy.com
    Very thought provoking post. I completely agree with you and I think social media is indeed fueling commercialism.

  2. Sam – Thiswaymommy.com
    Everything in this post is so true. We do live in a world where we always think that we NEED it and derserve it. Not to say that we don’t but like you said, the issue is the midset of having to have everything. We don’t need alot of the thinga we have. I am onboard with frugalism!

  3. I have always been more of a frugal spender and for a little while I didn’t even want to get a credit card because I don’t like the idea of spending money you don’t have. I’ve realized now that once you know how to use your money wisely, then having a credit card is fine. I’m definitely not one to spend money I don’t have though and the fact that I’m going to be in debt from college is pretty stressful.

  4. I’m a huge sucker for marketing tactics and its the worst. I have gotten a lot better with it though, I’ve had the same phone for 3 and a half years and I can’t say I’ve ever bought a car out of anything other than desperate need for one. Great post!

  5. I really needed to read this. I feel that so many people could benefit from this post. Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. Great post and I agree with just about everything. To play devils advocate for a second though, if people spent less, the corporations would make less. We employee’s of those corporations won’t benefit from that. Sooo I’ll take your advice and not be stuck in consumerism. Now I’ll tell everybody else to spend spend spend so I can get paid! Hahaha just kidding (sort of).

  7. “You must begin to gain satisfaction from working the system, rather than by being worked by the system.” Love this! So true.

    You’ve shared some great examples of ways to save money. My car has about as many miles as your Toyota. If it’s not broken, why fix it?

  8. I used to be way more of a consumer than I am now. Over the last few years I’ve really learned to tighten up the purse strings, and now it’s actually hard to get me to buy something! Great post!

  9. Some really solid advice. I am not a huge fan of corporations or mass consumerism so you have me sold. Keep up the great work.

  10. Ann Snook-Moreau

    I’m a weird mix of both of these. I have gotten years of use out of the same phone, laptop, and TV but I still love buying new clothes and shoes . . . never outside my means, though!

  11. What an inspiring blog post! It is really hard to change, a mindset which we all grew up with. But its a step worth doing

  12. You couldn’t be more right about the industry of debt. It’s amazing how much we as a society have bought right into it and it’s become our norm. Have you ever read the book “Your Money or Your Life” It really changed the way my husband and I think about our finances. x

  13. Great article! Interesting that you used a car as an example, because for me, the biggest waste of money is not buying a brand new car, but leasing one. You pay for years and come out empty-handed…

  14. I learned the value of a dollar at a very young age and this has helped me avoid many financial pitfalls later on in life. That is why I believe it’s never too early or late to shift your mindset when it comes to money.

  15. This is a great post! I always try to save, but sometimes it’s just not my choice, ’cause the rent in a city I live right now is super high and have to save. I’m from Ukraine and I was born in a family with 20 years old TV and 30 years old fridge 😉

    1. Tell us about it! Housing prices in Portland are outrageous. Continue searching, there may be ways to reduce the cost. Maybe live with roommates or outside the city limits.

  16. I need to learn the art of staying on budget! Sometimes I buy things that I actually don’t need. It is due to the impact of consumerism. Thanks for the reminder!

  17. Very interesting article. Particularly as you agree at the end that though we can control our addiction to consumerism we can never delete its affect on our lives . As you have said it may not be a good thing if we could. Monitoring our spending and our debt balance is a great way to control it.

    1. Like your insight. Unfortunately, there is no way to completely escape it. Personally, we wouldn’t be too upset if some companies went out of business (payday loans!), but we do need to consume to some extent if our economy is to keep running.

  18. One of the great lessons my parents taught me was to live within my means. It’s really important to save up and to not make expenditures that are just on the whim.

  19. I’ve had my Galaxy S5 for… five years now, or longer? And my TV is an old one I inherited from my grandpa. I just don’t have a need to replace them. The TV is an HDTV, but not one of the UltraHD 4K TVs, and definitely not a smart TV. I don’t even know what I would do with a smart TV.

  20. You hit the nail on the head with this post.

    Marketing creates a perceived need you never even knew you had. And it’s a very appropriately named term, consumerism, because it really consumes you.

    The biggest change I made is that purchase I make now on big ticket items are made with cash (or cash equivalent (put it on a credit card I know I can pay at end of month or if want to take advantage of 0% financing over x months but have money already in hand that could pay it off).

  21. I enjoyed this article thanks – I suffered from overconsumption for many years, and as a result had lots of consumer debt. Understanding how advertising works was a game changer for me!

  22. Very well written article. You highlight a lot of the problems we have bombarding us every day in terms of marketing trying to get us to consume items and let the corporations profit when in essence all we are doing is consuming ourselves.

    Every kid wants the latest Iphone. It starts a habit of always wanting the latest and greatest when as you said there really is not that much difference in technology year over year.

    1. Thank you. Yes, everyone seems to want the newest of everything. It seems that social media and technology have made it so people want to keep up with the Jones’s now more than ever. It’s not that you can’t have nice things, it’s that you must carefully evaluate the value you’re getting with purchases is worth the cost.

  23. It takes time, but the more you educate yourself, the easier it is to make that positive mind shift. I recently purchased a “new-to-me” used car (after my old one finally wore out) and it felt good to pay cash. It feels even better to have no debt!

    1. It’s certainly difficult to make that mindset shift if you’re fully entrenched in consumerist ideology. But you’re right, education is key in making the shift, which is our goal with the blog. Glad you were able to upgrade your car while remaining debt free!

  24. This sentence is something to remember ‘getting maximum usage out of what you already have’! Sometimes we purchase something, and end up not using it that much…

  25. Great post, and it is rather amazing to see the growth in advertising in our day to day lives across many mediums. And that advertising has taken on a new spin with social media, as it isn’t even always the corporations doing the advertising but seeing our friends/followers sharing their rosy view of new possessions.

    I feel fortunate that I have taken more pleasure in seeing our investments grow versus the rush of a new purchase, although that wasn’t always the case as we did have a fair amount of debt coming out of college. It is definitely a mindset shift and can be extremely difficult to overcome.

  26. “As a result, people spend money they don’t have, for things they don’t need, and worse yet, are getting immense satisfaction from it all!”

    I think there might be a typo at the end of this sentence. Isn’t your point (in the example about the new car) that people are NOT getting immense satisfaction from it all? Or if they are getting satisfaction, that feeling is quite temporary?

    This is the idea behind the “hedonic treadmill” concept. “I used to wear a $250 watch; I love my new $500 watch; now I’ve got my eye on that $1,000 watch.” It never ends. As the Buddhists have been saying for thousands of years…the root of suffering is desire!

    1. Actually, we were trying to point out that people are getting satisfaction from buying things, or at least they think they are. Your point about the hedonic treadmill is well-taken though. People always want more and don’t ever seem to be completely satisfied, but most these days do get short-term satisfaction from spending money and gathering more and more things.

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