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Monday, November 30, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 48 - Consumer self-defense

Kanko, Flickr

Minimalist or not, all of us do have to go shopping at least once in a while, even if it was just for groceries.

This time of the year, most of us will multiply their purchases in preparation for the end of year holidays.

It might not feel like it, especially for those of us who spend a good amount of time in stores and have become pro shoppers, but as a consumer, and despite our illusion of choice, we are rather vulnerable. The smartest of us are at the mercy of numerous marketing tactics, each one more cunning than the last.

How do we fight back and avoid wasting our precious money on less than precious items? Let's be prepared.

Location, location, location: Know that you are more likely to buy items located at eye level, at the end of aisles, and by the checkout. Especially if they are colorful and/or sparkly. Do you need those items, or are you having the exact impulse that marketers are looking for? Did you come to the store with that item in mind? You might be better off leaving it there, and if it is still haunting you a month or two later, then go back and buy it. My strategy for those situations is that I usually shop equipped with a list, whether it's for food, clothes, presents, or anything else.

How much will you appreciate it once it's in your home? Objects have a lot of appeal when positioned strategically in a store, in their new, bright and shiny glow. They lose a lot of that appeal once in the house and after a couple uses.

Quantity: Bigger is not always better. What's the best value? If you're going to use a lot of something, bigger packages are often worth it. But not always. To compare accurately between the small, the medium and the big packages, you'll have to be good at mental math. Plus, sometimes, it's better to just go for the amount you can actually consume, instead of buying more just because it's a good deal... and ending up wasting half. (Or feeling like you have to finish it - this is particularly insidious when food is involved.)

Quality: Are brand names better than store brands? In some cases, yet. In some cases it makes no difference whatsoever. When it comes to clothes and outdoor gear, it's usually a good idea to go for quality... but that does not mean you have to buy new. Second hand, high quality items can last quite a while, and often look nicer than new, but low quality, items.

Is the price fair? Studies show that minorities pay more for the same products. For example, equivalent health/beauty products are significantly more expensive when they target women buyers. Women (and ethnic minorities) also end up paying more for the same car, among other things. Are you okay with that? What can you do to vote against this unfair practice?

Preparation: Processed foods come with a higher price tag than foods you will prepare and cook yourself. Would you pay someone $30 an hour to shred your cheese? Because that's the cost it comes to when you calculate the price difference.

How much of your effort is this worth? How many hours do you have to work in order to acquire this item? (Calculate using your net income, not your gross income). I know someone who uses that strategy whenever he sees something he likes: Is this something that's worth an hour, a day, or even a full week of my work?

Do you really want to spend that much? Marilyn Monroe might have sung Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend, I suspect that, as a group, diamond jewelry retailers embrace the saying more than women. Don't feel you have to spend an awful amount on the people you love. Or if you really can and want to spend, pick activities over objects, so that you can create memories together.

Does this item you are about to purchase agree with your ethical standards? Is it fair-trade or was it produced in a sweat shop by underpaid (and possibly underage) people? Does it contribute to intensive deforestation or pollution? Is it good for you? (if it contains added sugar, perfumes, dyes, or simply a lot of plastic, you might want to reconsider).

Remember that a good deal is only a good deal if you need the item, and that although sales are tempting, you will save 100% on any item if you don't buy it.

If you are lucky enough to have leftover money and aren't sure what to do with it, please consider donating it to a charity!


All my holiday shopping is done - mostly a few presents for the kids. It was completed before Black Friday (I don't buy a thing on that specific day). I like to shop early because I know I make better choices when I have time ahead of me, as opposed to feeling rushed to buy something, anything. I also find it less stressful to shop when the stores aren't full (and the clerks aren't overwhelmed and tired). 

Speaking of stress, getting the house ready for the holidays also feels less stressful now that I have been decluttering for so long. Everything has a reason to be in the house, and everything is in its place. Cleaning around that is quick and easy.

Project 2016 is in the making! In the next few weeks, we will report on how 2015 went: struggles, successes, and lessons learned. We will then be ready for a new challenge! Stay tuned, and to make sure you don't miss anything...

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  1. That's a great breakdown of how to prepare and shop smart, Julie!!

    To use a martial arts saying, "You fight like you train." Same with shopping :-)

    For me usually the answer is MEH NOT MUCH :-)

    1. I know, eh? Thinking like that is a great way to save money (and space in the house).

  3. All worthy considerations. Part of minimalism for me is less work. With that, there is less money for gifts for anyone. My family knows this and they are good with it.

    I have enjoyed following this, Julie. I look forward to your next area of focus!

  4. I love living with less, I truly believe it's MORE!!! People keep asking me what I want for XMAS. I don't want anything, and I really don't need anything - I don't need ANYTHING ELSE in my house - NOPE!! I am trying to get RID of things! ha ha.

  5. I agree that even the savviest of shoppers can be vulnerable to marketing genius. Great tips for thinking through purchases.

  6. We do as you do and shop with a list. We know how much we are budgeted to spend and we go out and concentrate on only those items. You are right, the merchants do a good job in placement of items at eye level to be seen and hopefully purchased. We fall for it when it is something that makes sense but that seldom happens. You did far better than us. We just finished our Christmas shopping yesterday.