In "the Men who made us spend", a documentary which could only be shown on a channel not reliant on advertising, Jacques Peretti dissects the origins of consumer culture. Over a month Peretti goes down the debt lined rabbit hole to investigate the sometimes insidious world of behavioural consumerism, the infantilisation of a generation and the men (and women!) that make it happen.
If you haven't seen it, I would strongly urge you to. In the meantime consider these truths;
Consumers are suckers
Companies design for planned obsolescence - so that products breakdown forcing us to buy more and more often. But it was us that created psychological obsolescence.
We want the newest, shiniest whatever the second it is available regardless of whether the slightly older, slightly less shiny thing is still working perfectly or is in no way demonstrably inferior.
Concern with perceived social value and a desperate need for constant distraction drives our desire, actually our need, to spend. It is the modern day version of Rome's bread and circuses.
You have to be stronger than peer pressure
Consider the title- the men who MADE us spend.. made us. Companies invest millions to make us desperate to buy a solution to a non-existent problem. We are pulled towards pointless apps and made-for-consumption TV shows. We are bombarded by feelings of inadequacy, an unavoidable consequence of competing not just with the Jones's but also with the Beckhams.
But the idea "He made me do it" absolves us of responsibility for, and the consequences of, our decisions. This puts the onus on the "Powers That Be" to implement policies to protect us from ourselves.
The world famous marshmallow test was designed to test the ability of 6 year olds to delay their satisfaction.
A marshmallow was placed before them and if they were able to hold off 5 minutes before eating it, they would get a second as a reward. Follow ups have since proven that those who can delay gratification score higher across all "success measures" from health to wealth throughout their life.
The rise of electronic payments, same day delivery and one-button-purchasing encourage us to us to blindly purchase. When delay is removed - doubt, consideration and common sense don't have time to wake from their slumber before you've made a purchase. This often leaves only a single emotion. Regret.
Peretti calls it the organised creation of dissatisfaction. We are driven by FOMO (the fear of missing out) and by the manufactured feelings that we always need more, need faster, need newer or we cannot possibly be happy. A moment's delay is a moment of feeling unsatisfied.
Spending is a drug
We spend when we are sad. We spend when we are happy. We spend when we feel lonely. We spend when we feel overwhelmed. We spend when we get paid. We spend when we feel poor. We always spend, all the time.
Spending helps us to feel fulfilled when we are aren't reaching our own expectations of self.
Credit is at the enabler
What if we want to spend to feel better, or to fulfill a base desire to own the latest whatever, and we have don't have spare money to fulfill such frivolity? We use credit. Credit cards, store cards, overdrafts and most worryingly payday loans make the cash we need instantaneously available.
The further removed you are from cash; the more abstract the payment, the more you will spend.
And this is what financial education is up against.
Not just product confusion, incomprehensible jargon and general confusion over personal finance but we smack up against relentless marketing, magic-men trying to engineer behaviour and the ubiquitous credit.
Watching, and cringing, it became increasingly evident that our Blackbullion approach to financial empowerment is correct. We need more clarity and transparency of product, that is for sure. Ultimately though spending is emotional so being financially capable boils down to emotions and behaviour - the ability to withstand peer pressure, to make educated decisions and understand the consequences of the ones we make.
From the 2011 riots the embarrassing displays of near-savagery displayed during Black Friday sales, if this is the new normal - it is time to get weird.
Spending, buying and consuming are part of our world, they tick over the economy but an economy built on consumer debt is not-sustainable (or desirable). An economy built on consumer debt makes us slaves to consumption... Constant upgrading for its own sake is what makes us poor and if a 2nd hand car is good enough for Warren Buffett, the world's greatest investor, then perhaps last year's mobile model is good enough for you?