Why do we spend? It’s a surprisingly personal question to ask somebody. Money is an aid to behaviour, and we may worry that the way we spend our money says something wrong about us.
But why do we spend? What are the reasons people usually cite?
For many, it’s status spending. We won’t call it that – we’re socialised to see being loud about our money as distasteful – but that’s what it is.
For some, it’s a bold, proud statement. We want the flash, the glamour, the cars, the big houses and destination events and holidays, the celebrity friends and bodies. In our professional lives, we want people to take us seriously as movers and shakers in the world. We dress for big success. Dress to be trusted. Dress to live up to people’s faith in us and to show our families we’ve made it.
We spend to spite our circumstances and to show the world how far we’ve come and how blessed a new car or house makes us feel. We enjoy and revel in our status spending because it shows we’re on the move and gaining on the world.
Most of us, even to a small degree, spend to gain social equity. Status spending and anxiety spending are externally motivated and driven by insecurity to ever more arbitrary displays of wealth. We doubt our intrinsic value. Our struggle is to uncouple our own worthiness from our car, our address, the school we can afford to send our children to, or the glamorous and expensive circles we run with.
To a more modest degree, we may status-spend because we feel the values of others being imposed upon us. To keep a nice home that will make people not think badly of us or worry about us. We want to look like we’ve grown-up and not just become older teenagers, and outfit our lives with all the things we believe grown-ups should have.
We want our lifestyles and our home decor to speak to the well-meaning, sociable values we have. Environmental consciousness, a good taste in art and books, fashionability. We have minimalist apartments full of new and incredibly expensive stuff, or environmentally-friendly houses that cost the earth set up. We want to blend our comforts and our social consciences. We might spend an astronomical amount on an electric car, rather than find ways to drive less.
Like status spenders, anxiety spenders worry about what others think. We value respectability as much as our parents’ or grandparents’ generation did. We are just as averse to embarrassment or looking like we don’t know what we’re doing. We will spend an awful lot looking like we’ve got it all figured out.
Feel-good spenders spend on sensualities and experiences. Life is short – or at least our sense of the future is rather short-sighted – and we live in the moment. There is nothing much we can see to do with money other than enjoy it. Saving seems kind of pointless because the trail disappears into the mists a few months ahead. Something blocks us being able to see the consequences of our choices clearly.
Feel-good spenders are generous – we want others to enjoy the moment with us. If others worry about money, the generous feel-good spender might well cover them, and don’t want to be burdened thinking about the future. We can’t control the future. We fear the future. We’re getting on well enough as we are now, so why shouldn’t this state of things continue?
Feel-gooders rely on being able to buy our way out of bad feelings. We cure a fit of ennui with a coffee, a fresh packet of cigarettes, chocolate. Medicate a bad day with a special treat – some take-out or new shoes or a weekend away. We spend to avoid feelings and feel trapped and irritable when we’re no longer able to spend.
Bargain-buyers shop for safety. We may be chronic-shoppers, disguising our buying with ‘sensible’ purchases, or we may be hoarders, who pile up our possessions as security-blanket…
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