The Disease of Consumerism

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Why the Majority of Americans are Sick and What You Can Do If You’re Ailing

Martine Osterhoff* is on her way to the mall for the fourth time this week. She’s going back to get shoes she saw earlier while shopping with her daughter. Martine admits she’ll have to use a credit card to buy the shoes, a card she’s already pushed to its limit, but as she tells her husband with a laugh, “I can’t help myself, it’s like a sickness with me.”

Martine’s problem is no laughing matter. She, like so many other Americans, is in the habit of getting what she wants, even if she doesn’t have the funds to cover her cravings. “With all the choices, I just get so caught up in the possibilities,” says Martine. “Besides, I work and pay for all my own things, so I feel like I’ve earned it.”

Gary Praxton* feels the same way. “Last year I spent $4,000 on electronic equipment for my home, simply ’cause I wanted it and I’ve earned it,” he says. “My wife was screaming at me by the end of the year, but even then I saw ads for a CD player I wanted for my office and snuck out to buy it.”

Martine and Gary are not alone in their relentless pursuit of clothes, electronics, music and other material goods.

The Disease of Consumerism:

Today’s product-oriented society screams at us for attention and demands that we buy. Americans have caved into the emotional media hype, becoming so accustomed to spending and borrowing in order to answer Consumerism’s siren call that they never question whether something should be purchased. Like Martine Osterhoff, they only ask themselves if there will be enough money to make the minimum monthly payment. Even if there aren’t enough funds, many Americans will buy a product anyway, driven to consume by a taskmaster of their own creation – one born of guilt, greed, pride, materialism, and expectation. We call this reckless spending the “Disease of Consumerism.”

This disease stems from a lack of respect towards money, a respect that’s been lost as a whole from our society since the ending of the Great Depression 60 years ago. The Depression taught people a profound respect for money and its power over life. It also taught them the importance of self-denial and the danger of over-indulgence. Unfortunately, as America came out of that great economic trial into the most prosperous time in all of history, it did not teach subsequent generations to fear and respect money as it ought. Instead, it taught its children to hold their hands out in expectation. Because of that, we now live in a time of great self-indulgence and very little financial self-control.

Today’s generation, instead of fearing that it will not have anything, fears it will not have everything.

Many people today spend money as a way to feel powerful and capable of meeting any and all desires. The Disease of Consumerism is apparent in our nation’s personal saving rate, which has hovered around a negative.02 percent in recent years!

If the Disease of Consumerism is making you sick, you can do something about it:

First, ask yourself if you may have a problem with excessive spending. Awareness is the first step.

Second, examine your feelings about spending money. Ask yourself why you need or want and item before you purchase it.

Third, begin to TRACK your spending. Examine your habits over the last 12 months by looking at receipts and other expense records. These will reveal your priorities and values. The experience will be highly emotional and may cause you to ask, “why did I spend money for that?”

Once you have a clearer picture of the way you feel about money and on what you like to spend, you are better prepared to make conscientious decisions about where money ought to be spent. Those sick with the Disease of Consumerism don’t feel the need to make a choice, but remember, you can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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