Consumerism: Deals, Coupons and Saving Money

A while back I started doing a little bit of writing on my struggles with the consumeristic tendencies that I see in our society, myself and the church. I’ve got a few more posts to add to the list so I’ll be writing them over the next little while.

Consumerism: The Myth of Reliability
Consumerism: Something That Will Last

About twice a week I get a mailbox absolutely full of flyers. Here are some of the headlines, I’m only taking these from the last set that came in.

Low Prices Every Day!
4 Day Madness
Clearance Priced
Buy one Get one ½ Priced
March Price Breaks
Do Not Pay Until June 2010
Shop Our Spring Sale
Best Deal Ever!
99$ Down Delivers
HURRY!!! Pre-Owned Sale
Great Ways to Save
We will Not Be Undersold
Save 60%
Always more for less
IT ALL ENDS NOW MARCH 31st….NO EXCEPTIONS

And that was only from the first 5 or 6 flyers. When did buying things become reduced to prices and money only? How many of us when we get our shipment of flyers look through it for the “sales?” Advertisers use words like save, clearance and deals not because they want to beat their competitors with lower prices, but because they are perpetuating a system of convincing us that we need whatever they are selling. These words have absolutely nothing to do with our needs, and they have nothing to do with what they are selling. These words are simply saying we’ve got more shit for you to buy, who cares what it is, but we’ve got lots of it, and at our low prices you can have more of it.

We can be coerced into buying something before we even know what it is, simply based on the deal we are going to get for it. This is probably why in infomercials they spend half the commercial telling you about the product and then the other half about the deal you are getting by purchasing it. What does this tell us about ourselves? It tells us that we care more about our financial situation then we care about where the product is coming from, who is selling it, who had to die to get it in your hands and if we even need the product in the first place. This poses a serious issue. If you notice, I didn’t mention any products or stores in the list above, but I’m sure you, like me were enticed by the great deals. We barely care about what we are buying anymore. We love the chase of the deal. We love filling our homes with newer, brighter, cheaper, and more stuff. We don’t really care if we use it or have use for it, but as long as we get to hear the sweet sound of the cash register scanning our items, and get to feel the shrink wrap coming off for the first time we are content.

Coupons, good deals, and the constant bombardment of saving money end up serving to hide the real truths of what we are buying. However, somehow we keep telling ourselves that we are being good stewards and responsible just because we got a good deal and spent less money: as if our bank balance is a true litmus test of responsibility. If we are to truly be living in a kingdom that practices justice, grace and love then we need new motivation for the things we own. I suggest by leaving the price out of it all together. Look at what your needs are and look at what the needs of the people around you are. Count the true cost of purchasing the item: the cost to the environment, other human beings and your own freedom. A culture that continues on a path of buying stuff because its cheap will always be convinced they are getting a good deal, and will always be convinced their needs are greater than they are. If we keep it up, eventually everything will be sold at a price and we’ll pay for it not because we need it but because we are getting a good deal. Wait, we might already be there. Such as bottled water. How many times have you bought the 30 pack of bottled water because it was only 2.99? The very stuff that pours out of our tap we are willing to pay for now because it’s a great deal. Sure we convince ourselves we do it because of convenience, but really it’s just another thing to buy and it makes us happy when we get a good deal. Not to mention all the environmental impacts 30 new plastic bottles of water has. Sex is another big one. It is marketed and sold as a commodity and most of us don’t bat an eye. Sex has been completely removed from its context and can now be bought in a neatly bound 72 page magazine at our local mini mart.

If we are going to stay in a monetary society let us not live with monetary standards and live by something greater, something more Jesus-like. This is what we are called to, and I hope we can learn to do it.

2 Comments

  • Solid post.

    I particularly like the “counting the true cost” bit. I mean, something may be a ‘great deal’, but how often do we stop and ask ourselves why the hell this shit is so cheap?

    Maybe why this stuff gets me going so much is because it’s something that I hate about myself. I bought a new shirt the other day (and it *wasn’t* even a ‘great deal’!). Then I look at my bedroom and see the abundance of clothing I already own and hardly wear. That’s an ugly part of my life that I’m struggling to divorce myself from.

    God help us.

  • Nathan,

    There is certainly truth in what you have written here. I too struggle with the idea of want / need, trying to redefine both and prune out the former.

    At the same time, I try to be careful with throwing out generalities. It’s not fair to lump everyone into the category of not caring or being conscientious consumers.

    A bigger part of this is the fact that parts of the church, (and therefore many, but not all, Christians) has become so cozy with culture that ‘the Way’ is the answer to the bigger / better question instead of the intended alternative. Rather than focusing on counting the cost of our purchases and taking surface steps to make it seem like we are on the Way, maybe the starting point should be listening to Jesus’ words in regards to the true cost of discipleship and taking steps toward that more meaningful and lasting inner transformation.

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