Is buying your vice?
Guest contributor and social worker Vicky Ang shares her thoughts on shopping.
For some, ‘buying’ (or the common word for it, ‘shopping’) is an art or a lifestyle; the way they sweep around town purchasing, occasionally haggling and bringing the goods back seems remarkable. While shopping is an actual job for personal shoppers, for others, shopping is not just about buying what you need but has become about keeping up with trends despite what one can and cannot afford.
This article is not really about buying in general, it is highlighting buying as a vice which many find hard to control nowadays. What does this even mean? Does this mean that retail therapy is something bad or deviant?
The act of buying and selling existed when currency came into the lives of our forefathers. Prior to that, barter trade was their thing. I am sure that there was a time when buying was not actually considered shopping and the usual things purchased were strictly for the most basic of needs. The ‘marketplace’ however changed as rapidly with the change of times, so much to the point that water which is a basic need and once free, could now be purchased in a nicely packaged bottle, imported from Europe.
We start panicking about many changes nowadays. When we read an article that states that our country or city has one of the highest costs of living according to some researches that have been carried out, our panic is converted to annoyance or anger. With the increasingly tough economic situations and rising prices, it worries many of us who do not see equally significant changes in our salaries or allowances.
Yet with all this panic and worry, we still do not see our shopping crowd thinning nor do we hear Samsung and Apple making less profit in our country. We do however continue to see more people hanging around hipster cafes, children playing with tablets at meal times and on public transports, die-hard fans for overseas brands, new converts for expensive hobbies that are trendy, and people getting caught with very bad credit card debts.
With rising costs of living with no significant increase in income, the increase in this buying phenomenon should be more shocking than another declaration of fuel hikes. I am no economist but had once heard of a theory of encouraged-buying from citizens in times of an economical slump to ensure that the market does not freeze or spiral down further. This is in extreme contradiction with some parental advice to save especially when times are bad.
So where do we draw the line? Keep the money and see your country’s economy go worse (which you will end up suffering from as a consequence) or spend, boost the economy, become a bit poorer and risk it all with the rest of the people?
Just as self-help books advise us to maintain balance in our lives, we should apply this to our financial matters! Buying is not just about luxury items, but it is about our daily survival. When you pay for anything at all, you are buying the product or the service to keep your life going according to your personal requirements.
You are in control of that definition. “I will die if I don’t have that pair of XX brand” or “I need my daily dose of (fill in the blanks with some branded coffee)” just may not be the wisest of choice if you CANNOT afford it.
Even if you are financially able to afford it, there is an ethical question you should ask yourself before you buy it. Whether it’s about the item’s carbon footprints or the brand’s environmental impact, the next question you may ask might be, “Should I buy this even if I can afford it?”
Disclaimer! This is not an article to make you feel bad about treating yourself well from time to time. This also is not a write-up to endlessly lecture you on giving and sharing. However, this is one that is aimed to hit your conscience to ensure that you do not end up with a severe debt problem (or if you are sadly already in one, get stuck in that vicious cycle).
What can you do to balance your personal accounts? Here are some tips to ponder:
1. Buying may make you feel powerful and good but it is just for that short period of time! Being broke is NOT a good after-feeling.
2. You do not need to splurge to feel good about your life or yourself. Allow treats, but do not link that with the word ‘NEED’.
3. Avoid going to places that would tempt you to spend. Adopt healthier choices like walking in a park instead of window-shopping.
4. The company you keep matters more than the ambience. You need not dine or hang out at places beyond your financial means.
5. Do not let other people and trends dictate your life. You determine what you eat, wear and use, so buy according to what you can afford, not what is ‘IN’. Being in debt is not ‘IN’, is it?
6. Prepare a shopping list before you head out. Chances are if you don’t, you will get distracted and buy more than you need!
7. Give your purchase a second or third thought before you buy something that is not needed for your survival. Keep that as a habit and the next time it will become second nature for you to reconsider whether that item is worth buying or not.
8. Be honest with yourself with what you can and cannot afford. Paying in the future is generally never a good idea.
9. You can afford to live life with no regrets and not let money matters hold you back! But as contradicting as it sounds, that would also mean having some money saved up for a rainy day. Our lives are as unpredictable as the weather!
10. Balance. Be just in your judgment to balance out what you buy!
Live sincerely without regrets. Enjoy life and take time to experience the joy of being alive! Let your buying power allow you freedom, not imprison you. It is pointless to buy more than you can afford because you will never truly be able to enjoy what you have bought!
Let’s live debt-free lives! Find the balance!