By Michael Drak
Special to the Financial Independence Hub
“Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need.”
— Will Rogers
Recently the Contessa (my wife) and I went to see the Bette Midler show and at the unbelievable age of 69 she put on one heck of a performance. She still has it and had us laughing when she was poking fun at herself singing I Look Good and I Still Have my Health.
This was followed by a standup comedy routine in which she threw her usual zingers into the crowd. “I still look good, but I don’t know what happened to some of you,” she teased. “It’s 50 shades of grey in this section right here. I don’t know whether to sing to you or tell you something about reverse mortgages.”
At one point in the performance she came out dressed as the witch character from her 1993 film Hocus Pocus and sang one of my favourite songs, I Put a Spell on You.
Which brings me back to the subject of this article.
Honey, I think our computer is possessed!
I don’t know if it’s just me but recently I’ve noticed my computer seems possessed. It seems now that when I use it to surf the web or use Yahoo Mail it shows me items for sale that really appeal to me — like stuff from Bass Pro Shops.
Now I have to be honest here and declare that I’m not very tech savvy. This is a personal choice of mine. While sometimes it ends up costing me, I just can’t see myself spending a good part of my life trying to keep pace with technology. My heart just isn’t into it. When you think about me, visualize the person who had the VCR with the time flashing 000’s. That’s me! But back to the story.
So now I have this possessed computer and the advertisers have somehow found a way to chase me with their ads. It makes me feel like I’m living in a giant pac man game. But that’s not all. For some reason (maybe it’s because I’ve decided to work out again) girls suddenly want to meet me and their pictures keep showing up on my computer. Kind of makes me wish I had this computer back in my younger days. Life would have been so much easier!
While writing this blog I received an email from a retailer reminding me of some sale specials. This is my own fault and I must remember not to give out my email when asked at a checkout anymore. Boy these advertisers are good at marketing!
That’s my dilemma but the solution to fix it is not to just shut off the computer; because when you think about all the advertisements with which we are bombarded daily via newspapers/magazines, billboards and television it borders on the obscene. And don’t forget the radio ads, as the advertisers know we are captive audiences trapped in our cars travelling to work and they take full advantage of it each and every day.
What is the spell advertisers are putting on us?
The spell that has been placed on us is to keep buying more stuff with our hard earned money. The message from advertisers is that in order to achieve happiness and have the ideal life that we dream about, we need to keep buying more stuff. And stuff, of course, costs money.
We are constantly being bombarded with ads that tell us that in order to enjoy life and prove to people that we are successful, we need to buy the expensive car, the latest cell phone, the bigger house. And even if we already own these things, we constantly need to upgrade so we can keep pace with the neighbours, because obviously they are happier and more successful than us, because they have more stuff.
Would you buy a watch that’s just a watch?
Today a watch company is running an ad for their watch but unlike the Apple watch this watch is just a watch. Sure, it may come with benefits and help you fly a fighter plane and have a beautiful blonde waiting for you at the end of the runway but at the end of the day it’s just a watch.
Seeing that today most of us carry cell phones why would we buy a watch that’s just a watch? I just don’t get it but on the other hand I do get the Golf Town commercial where the funeral possession is held up while someone runs in a buys a club that is on sale. I can’t speak for you but for some reason that commercial makes me want to go out and buy a new driver; I haven’t played golf for a number of years so I guess you can say Golf Town does have a spell over me!
It’s amazing to note that the average child watches 20,000, 30-second commercials per year and adults spend at least three years of their lives watching commercials. We are being played but the good news is that once you accept that more stuff does not mean more happiness you can break the spell and begin to build an immunity against advertising. Once you reach this point you will begin to see advertisements in a different light and laugh at their attempts to seduce you.
Know the difference between a “Need” and a “Want”
These days there seems to be a constant battle going on in our minds between what we have, what we need, and what the advertisers tell us we should want; and in many cases the advertisers are winning. It’s important to understand that many financial problems could be alleviated if people spent the time distinguishing between a “need” and a “want” prior to buying something.
My family needed a roof over its head, but did we have to buy a 3,000 square foot castle? I was raised in a 1,250 sq ft home with a similar sized family and it seemed to do the job quite nicely. Think about it in terms of your mortgage. If I had bought a smaller house my mortgage would have been much smaller and cheaper to service. Financial Independence would have arrived that much sooner. So when I look at my current mortgage I need to view it as part need, with the balance of it being a want; and when I do it this way I give myself a real headache.
We all need to eat but do we have to have steak all the time or eat out three times a week? Everyone needs to eat (“need”) but eating more chicken is healthier and much cheaper than having steak (“want”) every day. When you finally start to realize the number of “needs” you purchase compared to the “wants” you start to see the world a little differently. One of the biggest challenges we face today is the ever expanding definition of need. Things that were once considered luxuries have somehow become necessities. How did this happen? Blame the advertisers.
It’s not easy to transition into this way of thinking but with us living in a world where we are constantly bombarded by the advertisers it’s essential in our race towards financial independence. We need to be vigilant and constantly filter what we see, hear and think in order to break the spell the advertisers have over us.
One method is the slogan Jonathan Chevreau includes in the US edition of his book, Findependence Day. In it, one of the characters suggests that the young protagonists with a credit-card problem should emblazon on their forewords the slogan Freedom, Not Stuff!
Maybe that will help break the spell every time you look in the mirror!
Mike Drak is part of the Komitas Mastromartino Wealth Management Group at RBC Dominion Securities, based in Toronto. He is currently writing a book about some of the themes mentioned in the above blog and at the Financial Independence Hub in general. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.