Reassessing the value of your purchases

Criticizing Americans’ consumer habits has become an intellectual cliché, a pastime for professors and AdBusters magazine.

Going beyond negative commentary on “corporate deathmarts” and understanding why we meet our material needs the way we do is constantly on the minds of CEOs, product designers, marketers and even shoppers like you and me. We also think about how to improve our consumption habits.

Last week’s issue of Newsweek featured an article on the neurology behind saving and spending habits by science columnist and editor Sharon Begley.

She wrote that neuroscientists have mapped out differences between the brain activities of those who save more and those who spend more. Some notable areas include predicting consequences of actions, the sense of reward and control of memory.

“All told, the gray matter responsible for some of our most crucial (financial) decisions is finally revealing its secrets,” Begley wrote.

She continued to write that those of us who are more likely to blow their paychecks in one place as opposed to those who assign portions of their paychecks to certain expenses “often simply don’t accurately foresee the consequences of not saving.”

Training our brains to focus on future rewards, as opposed to the immediate gratification of this or that, might make saving less painful and make us happier with our purchases, Begley wrote.

Perhaps a part of the solution to the problem of wasting money and resources lies in our relationship with the products we buy.

Continuing and innovating reusing and recycling habits will help our country's economy be more stable, and it will improve our spending habits and overall satisfaction with the things we buy.

Overall, I think that if companies demanded customers do something such as return a glass milk bottle or mail in plastic wrappers or return medication bottles, that participation somehow makes us feel ownership of what we bought.

We had to put a little bit of our own time and effort into it, beyond buying it and opening its packaging, which arguably give us instant gratification or pleasure.

“Rewire the brain to find pleasure in future rewards, and you’re on the path to a future you really want,” Bagley wrote.

Mental mechanics, but why not create a value for everything you buy? It seems simpler and maybe even more enjoyable. Train yourself to not spend the money in side your wallet wastefully and help the of the planet.

Rewiring our brain might be a bit tough, but we can easily appraise the things we buy based off their importance to us.

Those that aren’t as important are where you can go ahead and save your hard-earned green and keep the planet green at the same time.

Reach the columnist at jlgunthe@asu.edu

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