“Might as well face it, you’re addicted…”

to debt! Ha! With all due respect to the late Robert Palmer, what’s love got to do with it? Dang. Sorry, Tina. Let me go turn off the CD player.

Americans are in debt up to their… well, you name the part of your own particular anatomy, but this truth has to be preceded by a single question. Why? Well, the “why” is the tough part, because there’s more than one issue at play. We’re in debt because the marketing managers of America tell us how vitally important it is to keep up with the Joneses, while at the same time the credit managers of America are offering us easy credit terms to keep us in that particular race. Oh, do you know that 75% of the U.S. economy depends on consumer spending?

From time immemorial, the first marketing messages cajoled us into buying one product over another, which we did, often because we liked or admired the icon who (or some times which) represented the product – remember the Marlboro Man and Ronald McDonald? Why would anyone ever consider home-rolled smokes or home-made burgers, if this was good stuff available? And what kind of Americans would we be if we didn’t smoke Marlboro cigarettes while chowing down on a Big Mac, which is a… come on, you know the jingle… two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun… I knew that you knew it. I’ll tell you what kind of Americans we’d be: Healthier!

But that’s neither here nor there. The here and now is that Americans are not only in poorer physical health, but, as well, we’re in poorer financial health. “Good” marketing techniques convince us of the “superiority” of one item over another, often at a considerably higher cost. These so-called superior goods are more expensive than their counterparts, not because they are actually superior, but because the manufacturer has to make enough money from sales to pay for the marketing company! Talk about a vicious cycle!

The Olympics may be over, but the marketers continue rising to the challenge – Nike head-to-head (or foot-to-foot is probably truer) with Converse, Visa versus MasterCard, Home Depot pitted against Lowes, Starbucks coffee going one-on-one with Dunkin Donuts coffee. When you get right down to it, they’re all the same stuff, just the packaging is different. How about this: Pour yourself a cup of coffee from that old fashioned but still operational Mr. Coffee pot, lace up a pair of no-name sneakers that do what they’re supposed to do (namely cover your feet and protect your soles), take a walk to the local mom and pop hardware store and pay for what you need with cash. There. I just saved you a lot of money.

But say you fell hard for the marketing message, and you decided to go right out and buy the latest pair of Nikes on the shelf. Wherever will you get the money? That’s easy; you’ve probably got a credit card offer in the mail today (or maybe two or three). Go ahead and accept one or all of them. Now, you’ll have the means to satisfy that desire for a brand new pair of Nikes. Everyone is happy. Nike is happy, Capital One is happy (it was them, wasn’t it?), the marketing companies for Nike and Capital One are happy, and you’re happy because you’ve got a new pair of sneakers that you needed. Well, maybe you didn’t really need it, but you were pretty convinced that you did, weren’t you?

It’s time to be happy with what you have, and stop competing with everyone else. Perhaps that’s easier said than done, especially when the marketing messages are so constant and they all try their damnedest to convince you that by missing out you’re losing. But you are the only one who has the power to do something about it, and if doing something means not doing anything, then you’ve won the race.

Our DebtStoppers Community section is filled with great ways we can prosper while living within our means. In particular, check out "Give Yourself a Raise," a free download that shows you how you can save $10,000 each and every year just by being a little smarter about the things you buy.

--Debt Diva

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