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Money Matters: Consumer Identity

*Post by guest blogger Chris Kingsley*

If you have an issue that you are dealing with, I have great news for you. There is some benevolent person out there who designed a product to help people just like you. You’re really fortunate too. You would usually need to pay twice as much for a product like this, but for today only (and any other day called today) you can have it for 50% off – with a fanny pack (a $40 value) – at no additional charge.

Gretchen is starting a series on simplicity and we were talking today about how there is quite the market for “simplicity”. You could fill up a whole house with advice on how to empty out your house! Experts (the self-proclaimed is implied here) who have years of experience simplifying (profiting off of people who want to simplify) have learned several important secrets to simplification that you should pay them for. As a little teaser, I’ll divulge step one: eliminate stuff. If you feel compelled to pay me for that profound expert insight…well, I’m sure you’ll find a way.

Simplification is simple. If you want to simplify, then simplify. As Dan John (my favorite strength training writer) loves to point out, simple is not the same as easy. It is a lot easier to think about getting rid of stuff than it is to actually identify stuff for elimination. I’m sure Gretchen will touch on this more in her articles. For my purposes, it’s a potent example of how we tend to embrace an identity as consumers rather than capable human beings.

Trillions of dollars are spent by marketers to ensure that when a particular goal or objective seems to us to be wise to pursue, our first thought is what do I need to buy? Step one to selling self-help books is positioning yourself as an expert in your niche so that people will come to you (for the obvious answers that they already know) to overcome their situations. Step two is to not give them these obvious answers (that would give away how simple the solutions are), but instead to devise a complicated sounding system with several companion books that helps people feel like they are moving in the right direction. Make sure that they do not start thinking for themselves or they won’t always come running back to you.

I’ve mentioned before that I think a lot of our behaviors reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the resource called money. In a consumer culture, money is literally postured as the answer to all problems (by product-pushers) and the source of future security. When something goes wrong, throw money at it. Pay people to make life better. The huge problem with this is that when money is the answer to everything, creativity, ingenuity, resourcefulness, thriftiness, and, frankly, confidence tend to become dormant. Money is absolutely an important resource, but these other resources are the ones that we should truly focus on developing if we are looking for stability and success. As we develop these other resources, we find more of the money resource sticks around to be used when needed.

We are not consumers, we are people. We really do have an amazing capacity (and mandate) to manage the resources, circumstances and settings that we are in. It is quite profitable to make us believe quite the opposite and rely on experts and product pushers to figure out all of life’s potential inconveniences. Consumer culture is all about products and profits. This idea that only experts can truly understand even the simplest and oldest of human experiences is truly absurd (and surely hysterical to so many cultures who are crazy enough to just do the obvious), and, going even further, sinister. Families, neighborhoods, societies and nations flourish when people rise up to the challenges of life and utilize the resources within them to succeed; not when they bow down to money and the people who want to take it.

Never let yourself or your children fall for the idea that money is the answer to problems (or products). There are a lot of wonderful products out there, but they shouldn’t necessarily be the first thing we always turn to. As for advice, all of us should be pretty selective as to where we run for it. As households, we want to aspire to practice problem solving, an invaluable resource in good times and bad. When the answers seem unclear, seek counsel from people you know and trust (even if you do not know them personally, look for people who you respect). Most people who call themselves experts are not  -and most people who are experts have seen enough to know never to label themselves as such.

I have written a lot about the importance of saving money and preparing for crisis situations from a financial standpoint. I believe in this and feel it is important, but probably more for the other resources that these practices develop in us than for the money itself. Money only goes so far and there are foreseeable scenarios in which our piddly emergency savings account might buy us a couple loaves of bread. Our internal resources are not subject to this same risk of devaluation. Critical thinking, problem solving, resourcefulness, ingenuity, perspective, discipline, patience, self-control, etc., etc., etc. will always have immense value. A consumer identity and mindset strips us of these and leaves us truly depending on such a here today, gone tomorrow resource like money. This is a truly pitiable state and one we should always seek to avoid. Money is important as much as a training ground and litmus test for our other resources than for any accumulation that results from good practices.

Manage money proactively and responsibly because of the priceless value of the character built in doing so in yourself and your household. Never, however, get sucked into seeing it as an end. Because of my job, I am always thinking about money and behavior and best practices. That being said, money really is far from the most lacking resource that I encounter. It grieves me to meet with many people who do not think for themselves and have become pawns of marketers and propagandists. We are designed for so much more than this.

Next time you go to purchase a book or magazine or wonder product, ask yourself whether it will just be more clutter. Perhaps you already have more than sufficient resources to deal with your dilemma or desire. At a more general level, whenever you spend money, ask yourself whether you are spending it as a person or as a consumer. You can feel the difference. A consumer is a pawn. A person understands his responsibility and authority regarding the resources he has been given to manage.

Become sensitive to any traces of a consumer identity in yourself and your family. Learn to distrust this alter-ego and see it for the leech on your true resources that it is. Rusty has posted some great articles on parenting children to have a voice and to not live as pawns. Breaking the consumer identity will have an immediate impact on your spending, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg.


This post was linked to  Welcome Home Link up at Raising Arrows, Better Mom Monday’s Link Up at The Better Mom, Seasonal Celebrations at The Natural Mother’s Network,  Homesteader Blog Carnival at The Morristribe, Titus 2 Tuesdays at Cornerstone Confessions, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable,  WLWW at Women Living Well, Simple Lives Thursday at Gnowfglins

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