The Cultural Shift from Bargain Hunting to Buying Things that Last

OWNx TeamRetirement Planning

things-that-lastWe’ve all thrown away the cheap frying pan and the broken umbrella that initially seemed like a great deal in the store. Whether it was the buy-one-get-one-free, the red price on the tag, or the pressure of a friend telling us “it’s only $10,” somehow we’ve all been maneuvered into buying things that break, wear, tear, and honestly just weren’t worth it. This article will explore why bargain hunting can lead to excessive accumulation and the psychology of why viewing purchases as investments eliminates noise, rush, and clutter in our lives.

The first problem arises in the craze of bargain hunting. While finding a great deal can sometimes be fun, this concept has been sensationalized to form a community of coupon-cutting and barcode-scanning fanatics. Entire financial blogs, apps, and even television shows are dedicated to fueling this lifestyle of price-matching and finding the best deal. Yes, taking advantage of coupons or finding less expensive alternatives can be a convenient way to save money. But the bargain hunting habits have the potential to consume time and energy that could be spent in more meaningful areas of life. And many times, the bargains can be deceiving or unnecessary purchases anyway. So why all the attention on coupons and bargains and great deals? One word: control.

“The bargain price is appealing to you because it challenges the status quo. The retailer appears not to be in complete control of the final price of the product, and this makes you feel that you are now in control,” said Dr. Tsivrikos, a consumer psychologist from London Metropolitan University, in a BBC report.

People like to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to control. We seek to establish a measure of power over others in relationships, careers, spending habits, and just about everything. While this attitude can be helpful in trying to control and manage our finances, it can also lead to misguided solutions. The need to control can divert our attention away from making sound financial choices to searching high and low for the cheapest, easiest, fastest option. These impulse buys make us feel like we’re saving and cutting costs, but a bargain-hunting lifestyle has the potential to end up in unnecessary accumulation.

However, not all individuals are captivated by big red signs and the get-it-now deals. In fact, they channel their desire for control to a more calculated decision-making process.

A deal or a trick?

For some, blatant advertising tactics create feelings of skepticism and mistrust towards the producer or seller. If someone senses urgency, it can lead them to either an immediate purchase (like bargain hunters) or to question the authenticity of what is being offered. According to Dr. Tsivrikos, brain studies show that bargains often interfere with our “ability to clearly judge whether it is actually a good offer or not.” As someone reaches this state of unclarity, the excited and urgent activity in the brain might serve as a catalyst to buy the deal or it could serve as a warning sign.

“If you show a woman an ad in red, the woman is skeptical of what is going on and thinks she has to be extra vigilant. ‘Am I getting tricked?’ she asks herself,” said Nancy Puccinelli, who holds a PhD in Pyschology from Harvard, in an article in Oxford Times.

The possibility of feeling tricked into buying something we don’t need can cause a distaste for advertisements that feel sudden, urgent, or loud. So while someone might see an advertisement as an opportunity, another person might see it as an invasion. Both parties are trying to be in control, they just veer towards two vastly different solutions:

  1. Take the opportunity to buy the quickest, most convenient and least expensive options available.
  2. Take their time to research, compare, and strategize their purchase, and don’t mind paying more upfront to save money in the future.

Both the bargain hunter and the minimalist share a common goal of reducing excess. The difference is that bargain hunters want to reduce cost while minimalists want to reduce things. The bargain hunter may have more things for less money while the minimalist pays more money for less things. But while the minimalist movement itself is not the answer to fully alleviating anxiety or making our lives free of noise, it does unveil a cultural desire for a simpler life.

Culture Shift: Slow down the pace

The minimalist mindset seeping into our social media feeds and conversations with friends uncovers a growing trend: a desire to slow down and live an uncluttered life. The capsule wardrobe encourages men and women to turn their backs on the “need for stuff” and embrace simplicity. Slowing down the pace of our lives changes how we view ourselves and our needs. When our houses are clean and our thoughts aren’t jumbled, we can avoid buying something because we “need it right now.” We don’t have to buy duplicates, and we can justify spending more money upfront on something we actually need that will endure beyond the short-term. We can focus on building a lifestyle that values quality and longevity and long-term impact. Ultimately, we want our things to last––to perform and do their jobs over and over again.

A simpler lifestyle might seem like it costs more upfront, but it saves more than just money in the long-run. Sure, cleaning out the garage seems like a daunting task, but having a clean and cleared garage will maximize the space and its usefulness to you in the future. An article in Psychology Today suggests that “perhaps minimalism isn’t primarily about minimizing the amount of stuff we own” but about maximizing “the amount of time, attention, and energy you have available for the most important things in your life.”

This is called the maximizing goal of minimalism. The goal shouldn’t be to reduce items for the sake of being a minimalist but to maximize all areas of life to give you the most time to actually live. While coupon-lovers could scout a deal for the least expensive pair to minimize costs, a person who buys a pair of Frye’s boots understands the upfront cost eliminates the need for them to buy a replacement pair years down the road. Just as we are attracted to the idea of saving money to gain control over our finances, we could also channel this control to spend more now to save a repeat cost in the future.

All of this boils down to what we like to call acting like an owner. If you’re looking for something to buy, it makes sense to look for the most inexpensive and convenient option. But if you’re looking for something to own, you’ll consider how that purchase will serve you not just now but years from now. When we shift our focus and choose to view purchases as investments, we realize how important it is that the things we own last us as long as possible for our own convenience and to maximize the investment we spend to own them. For example, a cast-iron skillet, if maintained well, can last a lifetime because it does its job over and over again and likely won’t need to be replaced.

The decision to buy things that last ultimately enriches our lives. By minimizing excess, we will then seek to maximize our lives through the things we do have. We spend less time fixing, maintaining or replacing things and more time actually living our lives and investing in our relationships.

There is a time and place for a spontaneous bargain, and the search can be a blast every now and then. But by removing obstacles from occupying the space in our thoughts and our homes, we can slow down our pace of life. We can breathe for a few minutes unhindered by the need to fix, clean, or buy one more thing. We can cut out some of the noise or the pressure to accumulate stuff we don’t need so we can divert our attention back to investing in things that add real value to our lives.

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