Purchasing Wisely

In America, escape from advertising is futile.  Our lives are saturated with messages to buy – buy this widget, buy this lifestyle, buy this political agenda (1).  Even a necessity like food is marketed to us through a partnership of the United States Department of Agriculture and major players in the food industry (2).  Remember that old food pyramid we were taught in grade school?  It’s a plate now, but hey, whatever sells.

According to Michael Brower, PhD, and Warren Leon, PhD, writing for The Union of Concerned Scientists: “The average American is exposed to about 3000 advertising messages a day, and globally corporations spend over $620 billion each year to make their products seem desirable and to get us to buy them.”

Yes, escape is futile, but there are ways to reduce susceptibility – to wit, I humbly offer the three following ideas.  I employ these in my daily life, holding them up as mirrors to American consumerism.  Utilized in tandem, they help me to deflect advertising’s endless assault.  I believe they’ve bought me a fair share of liberty too.

1. Ask: if I don’t buy this, what will I do instead?

This is perhaps the most valuable tool I can offer.  It is miraculous how this single question can vaporize the veils, dissolving what I assume is a necessary purchase into the manufactured want that it really is.

We humans are amazingly creative, resourceful and adaptable – but we’ve been conditioned by advertising to forget that.  Corporations hawking their wares don’t want you to think creatively about solving problems: they want you to throw money at them.  So much so that they’ve contrived problems for us to solve – visit the cleaning supplies aisle of the grocery store and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

This single question: “What will I do if I don’t buy x?” cuts through all of it.  Sometimes, yes, the answer will be that you must buy x.  But if the y already in your closet, or the z you can make from scratch, or do nothing will satisfy, then you’ve saved yourself and the planet a needless purchase.

2. Restrict purchasing to one day per week.

In my family, we try to consolidate monetary outflows to a single day of the week.  Sure, we have to pay our electric bill when Duke Energy says it’s due, but what I’m talking about here is more general purchasing, including items like household supplies, gas for our vehicles, a bottle of water.  I visualize this approach as literally turning off the faucet.  I can see the dollar signs stop streaming away from my household.

Try it for one week: when I first started I was stunned at the number of times I had to tell myself no.  I was pretty damn proud though of how quickly I met those needs in other ways, and how quickly those other methods took root in my life.  It’s as simple as bringing water in a reusable container from home for the kids’ soccer practice versus buying it at the convenience store on the way to the field.

3.  Life is a journey: provision.

There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with the act of purchasing or acquiring goods and services.  We each need to consume a portion of the world’s resources to survive and in the 21st Century human realm, this exchange happens in the marketplace.  But how we go into this exchange can make all the difference.

For my part I like to aspect the pioneers.  I assess the state of our larder with the mindset of packing for a long journey.  What will I, and the three souls traveling with me in this proud wagon called home, need for the next leg of the trip?  I’m guessing we’ll not get far without the basics like salt – the commodity my history teacher taught us kept the Western bound pioneers linked to their Eastern brethren.  I’m also guessing we can probably do without those wrinkles they’ve recently advertised as creases (3).

When I engage purchasing from a necessities basis with the intention of provisioning for life, I regain control as the initiator in the marketplace exchange of resources.  I create demand, not the advertiser.

© Jennifer S. and harvestliberty.net, 2012.


(1) via TruthMove – Advertising & Public Relations.

(2) via Daily Kos: The Food Pyramid That Made Us Fat (Update).

(3) via Picasso Moon | Grateful Dead.


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