I wrote this article over the summer and submitted it for publishing on one of my favorite sites. But it didn’t get published. Looking back on it I realize it needs work. But I am going to share it with you anyway.
The Art of Consumerism and How it Will Destroy You
By Bethanie Marshall
In America, we are capitalists, but more than that, we are consumers. We love to consume like monks like to pray. We replace religion with stuff: wonderful, glorious, expensive, useless stuff.
Here’s how the downward spiral to my consumerism started. Once upon a time I lived in a lower middle class-esque neighborhood in Glendale, Arizona. I went to community college, and worked for $5.35 an hour at Arby’s fast food restaurant. I took the bus, walked, or rode a bike anywhere I needed to go. I was saving my money for a car since I was still living at home. In this world, I had a goal in sight, and that was the freedom of car ownership. Silly things like designer purses and nice electronics didn’t matter to me. I enjoyed my lifestyle of free clothes from relatives, thrift stores, and simply wearing clothes for as long as they would fit and not as long as they were stylish. Simplicity equals happiness. Sure, I was surrounded by people who had all those nice things, but all I wanted of what they had, was a car.
After a year of this, I decided I would move to the other side of town, to live with the other parent, and start a new life. I obtained a job that paid slightly more ($2 more to be exact) and gave me more hours. I now lived in a nicer, newer middle class neighborhood. And I now worked with the spoiled little rich white kids of the neighborhood. I was lucky to be able to use my stepfather’s car while he was out of town, which saved me from riding the bus anymore. Now saving for my own wheels became an after thought, not a determined-must-starve-until-achieved goal like it had been prior.
Making friends was a whole new experience. Instead of having friends that had just as little as me, if not less, I now had friends that had more. Things like nicer clothes, cars they didn’t have to pay for, nicer phones (why are cell phones so important to us, as I write this I scoff at my stupid Blackberry for not being as awesome as the iPhone), and money to burn. While I went to school at the community college of this other suburb and worked part time, I found that I wanted more. I was getting older, but community college never quite makes you feel any closer to the end. Eventually the privilege of borrowing the car was taken away, and purchasing my own became the absolute necessity. I had enough to buy a starter car by this time, and with the help of the other parent I was no longer living with, I bought a white Ford Taurus named Bob.
Eventually cohabitation with the family was not an option anymore and I needed out. I worked hard at my demeaning job and got promoted and moved in with my best friend from this side of town. We rented a 3-bedroom house with the promise of another roommate moving in after two months, which didn’t happen. So we split the rent 2 ways instead of being 3. Ouch. And because we liked to party, we threw lots of them. And here’s what you don’t learn in teen movies about parties: they cost money, a lot. You have to provide booze for all of your “guests.” In our naivety we started out with the good stuff and not the cheap stuff that your “friends” really deserve (since they are essentially trashing your house and drinking all your booze).
During this time I also picked up a shopping habit that was worse than I had had before. Now I wanted nicer things because I was in a fashion design program at community college, surrounded by classmates with designer things their parents bought them. Since credit card companies practically throw credit cards at you during this age, I had three somehow. I started off responsibly, just paying it off every month. This only lasted so long, Christmas came along and I now wanted to buy everyone nice gifts. Hmm, in retrospect, that was a bad idea. And with a starter car of course, comes repairs. Well I never had $400 on me at any time, so repairs went on credit cards, but instead of paying it down over a few months, I didn’t.
After one year of paying more in rent than I had anticipated, spending money I didn’t have on nice things I didn’t need so that I could “fit in,” it was time to get back on track. I finally figured out how to get out of community college and get into the university. That required that I have four times more money to pay in tuition, though. With this, I moved back home and agreed to pay my parents a small rent payment so that they wouldn’t treat me like a mooching 22-year-old child. I cut back my hours at work from 40 to 32 to spend time studying and going to school. I now had money to burn like I had never had. I also paid down my credit cards a great deal during this time. Then my car broke down again, costing me roughly $850 in repairs, whoops there went my paid off credit card. Also though, I went out just as much, shopped just as much, and spent money on stupid shit I didn’t need just as much. It was the best of both worlds: spend frivolously and live inexpensively as you pay down your debt.
After one year of that, it was time to move out again. I obtained a super cheap apartment and let my younger brother move in with me. Another mistake. While I was definitely not living outside my means at first, when I came back from another trip, where I didn’t budget properly, again (budget? What’s that?), I found that my car broke down again. And this time it was a whole engine that needed replacement, quoted to me at more than the car had cost in the first place. I laughed at the idea of fixing it and went off in search of a new vehicle. I had a down payment in the bank, and shinier, cuter wheels were in my future. Most of my friends made more than me, thus having nicer cars than I. In my stupid American mind, I needed to keep up. I needed something shinier, dent free, vomit-on-the-paint-job free, and better on gas mileage. I deserved a better car. So I bought a slightly used 2009 model, in 2010 (and named this one Squishy), with a fairly reasonable car payment. With my cheap rent, everything was going to be ok.
But alas, what else did I need to feel more like an adult? Well, a new smart phone, that’s what. And so I got a new phone, and with a smart phone came a higher bill. And then what? A puppy of course, because I needed one. I always wanted one, and it was about time I got what I wanted. After 10 months of living with my brother who took advantage of me like I was our mother, it was time to move on again. I searched for a new place with a different friend. After living in a slightly upscale dump, one starts to look for all the things their last residence lacked, and guess what? That costs more. So with that, I found a new apartment that was nicer and closer to school, thus saving me on gas, or so I thought. It is further from work and I become inexplicably lazy and don’t feel like riding the train to class Downtown and drive, therefore paying for parking. These things add up.
My shopping habit disintegrates with having no money. But every semester when it’s student loan payout day, I go a little crazy. Vegas, anyone? Whoops, there goes $200 lost on gambling alone. Don’t forget how expensive everything is in Vegas. Without shopping, what does one do, well they still go out and buy nice meals, and drinks, and spend money on stupid things one doesn’t need, like cable TV. Oh the money I’ve lost to the cable company for TV I don’t even watch enough to make it worthwhile.
Let’s take this further. Fast forward to now. I need to intern and because I hate Arizona, I decide to do it Los Angeles. I also apply for an unpaid internship, because it is the experience that counts. I now have to pay two rents, two sets of utility bills, and gas is 80 cents higher here. Let’s not forget that you must pay the university for the credits to intern. So my $2k that I thought would be enough to survive on, needless to say, is not enough. I am now broke and my credit has become comparable to a homeless person’s, thus preventing me from obtaining any private student loans to ease the burden.
Of course much of this could have been avoided had I sucked it up, studied harder and finished school in a timely fashion, and thought of all these nice things as things a future college grad could obtain one day. But let’s face it; there are some things I would not change. Puppy? She’s my bundle of joy and I am completely content with my decision to get her, despite its financial implications.
The moral of the story is: stuff, you do not need it. Budgets: you do need those. If you want to end up looking at all of these prized possessions you have accumulated and wondering how much they can fetch for on eBay so you can pay for gas (I can’t sell that, it was limited edition!), then by all means, follow these footsteps and eat ramen for the remainder of your existence. If you are already smart enough to avoid the pitfall of “keeping up with the Jones” (the Jones being your friends) syndrome and bad spending habits, then kudos. I admire you, but I have nicer shoes then you I’m sure.