Who’s the enemy in our culture of consumption? “We have met the enemy and he is us,” said Pogo, the anthropomorphic character in the long-running American comic strip. It’s easy to blame the American consumer for the culture of consumption. But there are many and subtle enticements that make it ohhh so easy to overspend. The much-heralded Cyber-Monday (which we discussed yesterday) is only one, an unofficial day of purchase frenzy that makes people wonder if they’ve missed some great deals by not participating.
But it’s plastic, not Pogo, who is the real enemy. Plastic refers to our ubiquitous credit cards. I’m as guilty as the next, thinking of my credit card as not the equivalent as cash. Paying with a credit card puts the pain of paying off into the future, and the future, everyone knows, is uncertain.
How we pay affects what we purchase, says James Roberts, author of Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy. Think about that for a minute: How we pay—the method we use to pay—influences our behavior as consumers. Paying with cash or check is painful because we feel the cost of a purchase immediately. Credit cards are at the other end of the pain scale.
As Roberts said to me in an email, “Credit cards greatly minimize the pain of paying, making it considerably more likely that we will buy something. Why is this? First, as humans we tend to discount future events. Making a payment on the credit card in 30 days is seen as no big deal at the time. Second, with credit cards, we aren’t required to write down the amount of the purchase (unlike cash which must be counted or checks). We call this a lack of rehearsal. Both of these aspects of credit card use lead us to over-estimate the amount of money we have available which leads to a greater likelihood of spending what we don’t have.”
Have you overspent?
Do credit cards make it too easy?
Or, is the culture of consumption to blame?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.