by Ashley Smith

There’s no doubt that among all guilty pleasures, shopping is on the top list of most people. Why not? Buying something obviously brings us immediate pleasure, but simultaneously, the guilt sneaks its way into our bank accounts. You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think the prospect of a new Nike sneakers or a designer dress excites you (even a little). It’s totally natural!

As human beings, we are involved in a constant search for change and variation. Purchasing items at a store is a quick and easy way to fulfil this need for change. It is the perfect example of instant gratification. Unlike other anticipatable changes, where you must wait for days or weeks to see any transformation, shopping is instantaneous. You set your mind on a particular item and BAM! With the swipe of a Visa card and $200 later, it’s all yours. This is all well and good, but where is the line drawn between shopping and irresponsible spending? Do we need to be concerned about the current state of consumerism infiltrating our western culture?

There have been certain arguments made that as our society’s riches grow financially, they shrink spiritually and sociologically. This could be true because as we make more money, we become more independently sustaining. As individuals with a lot of money, we no longer need to depend on one another for community survival; it, therefore, decreases the communication and cohabitation patterns that once bound our population together.

The advertising companies of our day have conquered the psyche of young consumers. We have been programmed in a way that makes it difficult to differentiate “needs” from “wants”. Purchasable, consumable items are now associated with certain cultural status indicators. So to “keep up with the Jones’”, we over budget and overdraw for unnecessary things that we have convinced ourselves that we need.

University students are particularly vulnerable to the forces of consumerism. They are a concentrated market that advertisements focus towards. However, being full-time students, you inevitably do not have a full-time income to sustain the budget necessary to keep up with the list of things marketers are telling you that you need. So, to compensate, banks conveniently start offering you credit cards at the tender age of 18. Credit cards enable students to keep up with their purchasing “needs” without dealing with the immediate consequences. [IN ENTERS GUILT]. What ends up happening is that the debt accumulates, and it goes without saying that as full-time students, the bank account does not keep up. Then comes the interest….you didn’t think all that money grew on trees did you?

From the very beginning, we have been susceptible to the advertising world. As young children, we were exposed to a myriad of commercials marketing dolls, trains, bikes and more. Since the time that we learned to speak and communicate, we have been part of a target market to one or more companies. We have been brought up in a nearly helpless social situation where the consumer psyche became part of our upbringing, despite our parents’ best intentions. It is only natural that if everyone else has something, you want it to. I’m sure we can all remember this feeling from our school days. The reality is that not much has changed. Just like in primary school, we are observational and creatures of desire. We want things that we are surrounded by, whether it be a car, or a new wardrobe to chase the campus trends.

The fact of the matter is that we are living in a material world. We are nearly forced into thinking we need things that we simply do not. Students are a particular population who suffer most significantly from this cultural phenomenon. The only way to avoid falling into the financial trap is to plan out your investments wisely and assess which consumer transactions take precedence over others.