Why do we spend, FH wonders...
Why do we spend, FH wonders…

Quick Babywoods update: She has yet to make her arrival, but we’ll be sure to share the news when she does :).

If we spent money only on the things we actually need and can afford, then no one would have debt or bad credit or an unhealthy relationship with money. So why don’t we do that? How have we cultivated such bizarre associations with money in our culture? Why do we spend?

Since half of Mr. Frugalwoods and my journey to financial independence is dependent upon our ability not to spend money (the other half, of course, is dependent upon on our ability to earn said money), the question of why we’re compelled to spend as a society intrigues me.

Clearly, spending has transcended the role of simply providing the goods and services we legitimately require for our survival. Indeed, it has become something entirely more profound, controlling, and even dangerous.

Commercials Are Bizarre And Terrifying

As Mr. FW and I waited around for Babywoods to make her appearance on Thanksgiving day (which, by the way, she declined to do), we participated in a very rare and unusual activity: we watched real live broadcast TV, which means we viewed actual factual commercials.

Mr. FW's sage sausage Thanksgiving stuffing. Yum.
Mr. FW’s sage sausage Thanksgiving stuffing. Yum.

We were tuned into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which I’d never fully realized is basically one long advertisement: from broadway musicals to movies to TV shows to cars to Macy’s products themselves, it’s marketing on wheels. It was fun to watch this extravagant display (and realize how shockingly little Mr. FW and I know about mainstream pop culture), but it’s also quite alarming.

Our entire cultural heritage is essentially boiled down to our ability to consume. While there were a few college marching bands that weren’t vending anything (as a former band geek myself, these were my favorite parts of the entire pageant), the take-away from the parade is that we are a country of excess that bonds over the buying of more stuff and the consumption of entertainment. Our common cultural touchpoint is spending money.

The actual commercials betwixt the commercial spectacle conflated the concepts of familial closeness, friendship, and love with the outlay of cash. Huh. The deep psychological connection between our purchasing power as consumers and our very intrinsic happiness as people is not at all subtle in mainstream marketing.

…And They Are Pure Manipulation

Of course Mr. FW and I couldn’t just watch the parade like normal people and merely swallow all the commercialism coming our way–oh no, we had to have a lengthy discussion about it and subsequently share our thoughts with you all (aren’t you lucky?!).

Our scaled back Thanksgiving feast of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and rolls
Our scaled back Thanksgiving feast of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and rolls

Something Mr. FW noted is that each and every commercial was its own embodiment of a psychological trope cleverly designed to tempt you to make a purchase. Some commercials informed us that we have a horrible problem–bad breath, an ugly car (oh boy if they only knew), strained family relationships, or just a weird-looking face–and that our ailment could be fixed with their product. Others intoned that we live a really hard life, what with work and the kids, and that we should treat ourselves (again, by buying their wares). Another genre of commercial trumpets the old playground adage that “everyone else is doing it and so we should too” (I agree with that statement insofar as it relates to adopting greyhounds and drinking decent coffee every morning).

And then perhaps the most conniving of all are the commercials that play on nostalgia and guilt–buy this item because you had it as a kid and don’t you want your kid to have it too? Or, a variation thereof along the lines of: purchase this because your mom did and aren’t you nostalgic for those simpler times when you felt good, unlike now when you feel terrible, but buying this will make you feel good again! And let’s be honest here, no one drinks Folger’s coffee because it tastes delicious (trust me, it does not), which may be why their commercial was a particularly egregious–not to mention odd–panoply of nostalgia. Folger’s as nostalgia? Really?

We're getting a lot of cooking done... here's Mr. FW's spicy Cuban black bean soup
We’re getting a lot of cooking done while waiting for Babywoods… here’s Mr. FW’s spicy Cuban black bean soup

Additionally disturbing–and rather unfathomable–were all of the ads for Black Friday sales that began in stores on Thanksgiving day. I can’t imagine a worse way to celebrate a day that’s intended as one of gratitude and reflection than by purchasing things! Although Mr. FW and I did agree that going to a mall would probably send me into labor. However, in the interest of not wanting to drive ourselves crazy, we didn’t test the theory. I’d rather be induced than set foot in a mall on Black Friday. Just saying.

Every commercial we saw involved some level of manipulation. I don’t have a problem with acquiring the things we need, but there wasn’t a single commercial that provided a straightforward, factual reason for procuring their product. They all felt the need to employ tricks. For example, had there been a commercial stating: “Some people have drafty doors and drafty doors cause you to use more energy heating your home. If you have this problem, we have this drafty door caulk that you can use to seal up your doors. You can buy some if you happen to need it.” Now that is a commercial I would be OK with.

And therein lay the crux of what offends my anti-consumption sensibilities the most: it’s not that marketers are trying to sell us stuff, it’s that they’re trying to hoodwink people into purchasing things that they patently do not need. I think the root of why we as a society spend so far beyond our means can largely be found in the sense of entitlement that advertisements parrot. We deserve this new toy, we need these new clothes to complete our lives, and a new car is our right.

Then We Watched The Dog Show

Frugal Hound doing her dancing trick for a bit of sausage
Frugal Hound doing her dancing trick for a bit of sausage

As I still hadn’t gone into labor (despite our rousing discussion about the manipulation of the American consumer), we then watched the national dog show, which had a great deal less marketing. My only beef there is that the greyhound didn’t win.

But other than that, watching fancifully groomed dogs prance around a ring was pretty adorable. Also, dogs with super long hair are hilarious! Frugal Hound, for her part, didn’t watch at all–she was fast asleep recovering from the morning’s “attempt-to-induce-labor” long walk. We were really pulling out all the stops to encourage Babywoods.

What Frugality Is Really About

Sure, frugal hacks and taking your lunch to work and washing your own dog are all frugality tactics, but the core of successful frugality is rooted in disrupting the psychological pleasure cycle involved with buying new things. The association we have in our culture that buying = happiness is firmly entrenched in our lizard brains. We’re told, and hence we believe, that spending money is a means to bring jubilation into our lives. So if we spend and don’t experience a resulting jolt of euphoria, then the solution must naturally be to spend more.

This approach then puts us on the never-ending treadmill of hedonic adaptation whereby we must continually increase our spending, and our acquisition of stuff, in order to commensurately increase our pleasure. When we conversely embrace the joy that comes when less is enough, we’re able to liberate ourselves from this cycle.

The most crucial component of embracing the lifestyle that’ll lead to financial independence is to investigate, understand, and upset the flawed gratification we derive from spending. Everyone’s impulse to buy is triggered by different things, but the core of overspending is often rooted in a deeper connection with where we find satisfaction in life.

Coming to this awareness is vastly more important than working at the fringes of your budget. Our very connection to spending, and our ability to joyfully embrace extreme frugality, is much more profound than simply learning “five quick frugal hacks.” It’s about fundamentally changing the way we view money and its role in our lives. Mr. Frugalwoods and I see money as a tool to get the things we need—not as a substitute for human emotion, connection, fulfillment, or success.

Why do you think we spend?

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  1. Great insight–we have been conditioned to enjoy buying new things, and I’m sure there’s an element of nature in there, too. But being in debt, or enslaved to a job you don’t like, isn’t very enjoyable!

    I remember teaching an unit on advertising to high school students. They had a hard time admitting that ads had any effect on them. I wanted to ask why they were all dressed the same way. Ads are manipulative and sometimes it’s hard to see through the onslaught.

    1. Kids are so impressionable….although, adults are too. It’s amazing how we can be manipulated into buying certain (most) things. Advertising affects every aspect of our lives, even the way we behave. Even knowing that, it is difficult to break the cycle. Thank goodness for frugal communities like this one 🙂

  2. I’ve been interested in marketing for a while now and yes, the ads can be a bit horrifying. Marketing really is a form of manipulation since the end goal is to get the consumer to do what you want them to do – purchase your product!

  3. Ahhh…The Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade. It is must in our home, but mainly just for nostalgia. I love having it on in the background as we cook the turkey to perfect (yum). It is amazing how many commercials are advertisements there are. We mostly don’t notice because we mostly don’t watch it. But, I have noticed how many times it’s not on TV when I take a peek. Since we cut our cord we streamed it online. This was the first year we have done this. It felt so good to still be able to “enjoy” it without having a cable bill 🙂 Hope you and the frugal family had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Can’t wait to hear about the long-awaited arrival of Babywoods!

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

  4. Haha, my husband always jokes that the only selling point for Coors’ Light is that it’s cold. Their entire marketing campaign circles around the fact that their beer is cold. Maybe if it’s cold enough, you can get past how bland it is.

  5. Ideally, we spend (or don’t spend) in alignment with our values. I so seldom watch TV that when I do see advertisements, it’s a bit jarring. Teaching middle school, I find it interesting how rarely students react to televised ads. They have an impact, but there are more insidious ways that they are manipulated. I don’t recall ever seeing a TV ad for Hollister, A&F, Aero, whatever. But my students all know that that is the uniform. Top it off with North Face and Ugg boots, and you’re set. It’s my favorite thing to point out to them – they all hem and haw at the thought of a school uniform, and I tell them that they’re all wearing one anyway.

  6. deep knee bends. My son was born (a long time ago) after I wall papered his bedroom (I was a procrastinator). He was early, I went into labor the night we finished wall papering. I realized after that it must have been the deep knee bends I did while smoothing down each sheet of wallpaper at the bottom of the wall while my husband did the tops. Best wishes, hope she’s a December 1st baby!

  7. I, too, tire of all the encouragement and manipulation to BUY, BUY, BUY, when many Americans are so deep in dept, they’ll never see their way out. My biggest complaint, however, is the medical ads. “Ask your doctor if YOU should be taking, . . . . !” Almost all of these ads are for drugs that have a long list of very serious side effects; and many haven’t yet been tested or approved. Honestly – one of the side effects mentioned is even DEATH! Now, tell me where the benefit is? I would almost enjoy seeing a Folger’s commercial instead of all of these.

  8. Haha — I think I would rather give birth than brave the mall on Black Friday, and I’m not pregnant! 🙂 Thank you for continuing to fight the good fight, and for spreading the word. Sending good wishes for a healthy arrival for Babywoods, and soon!

  9. I love watching the parade, more for the balloons, floats, and bands and to recognize the characters than anything else. The ads are really bothersome to hubby and myself – things like “Thanks-getting” and “winning the holidays.” I’m not sure when the holidays became a competition, or why they need to be. This year in particular, we have a very tight budget and no cash coming in so frugality is a must. It makes you much more careful what you consider spending your money on and how much you pay for items. And we have 3 kids! I hope BabyWoods comes soon and easily for you. 🙂

  10. Spending is an endless cycle of positive reinforcement and self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s much harder to learn to be content with one’s possessions than it is to run to the store and replace all of them.

    I do enjoy the dog show, too. 🙂

  11. I think we spend because the marketers tell us it will make us happier, it will allow us to fit in. My journey this year has been for mindful spending. I admit to feeling happier. We have purchased things we really needed (like a bathing suit that wasn’t so stretched out it stayed on or tires for the car) or have brought value to our life in some way. It is really liberating to think about every purchase.
    Now my commercialism horror story: There is an item on our wish list, that we are going to use our Christmas money for, a new camera. I have done all the research and I know the model I want. Canada is just getting into Black Friday, everyone at work was going on about it. I looked for this camera on sale (both on Friday and Cyber Monday). One place had it listed as on sale, but the price was the same as it had been not on sale several weeks ago. We are being tricked to purchase things, thinking we are saving money too, when we are not. I am not saying there aren’t deals out there for things we really need, but I think you need to be very, very careful.

  12. We watched the Macy’s parade too, and my kids were really confused by the commercials because they’re not used to seeing them. They watch TV on Netflix 99.9% of the time, with no commercials. My six-year-old kept saying, “Why does the show keep stopping? What is this?” She thought someone was turning the channel.

  13. I actually thought of you as I put that first bite of turkey in my mouth. I thought to myself….” I wonder if those people in Cambridge somewhere had their baby….sure hope they’re either enjoying their turkey or their new baby.” I see you had neither! She will arrive when she’s good and ready…..a omen of things to come with the female gender! Since it was only my husband and I, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at a B&B in New Hampshire…..far away from commercials and the maddening crowds! Great article!

  14. The Macy’s Day parade commercials are pretty disgusting. Funny how Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday “because it’s not commercialized.” I love the dissonance of seeing unknown pop stars perform on completely unconnected floats sponsored by Avocados of Mexico or Discover Card. But I still watched the whole thing beginning to end, along with the dog show. Was FrugalHound upset the greyhound didn’t get picked? They never even make the top picks in their category. I swear, dog judges have something against greyhounds!

    On Black Friday, I made my near annual shopping trip to Ocean State Job Lot before work. Ocean State is open all night long, and I can’t understand why, because no one shows up! I was there to pick up a snow shovel, rock salt, and a boot tray (for a wet, used snow shovel) all for our rental apartment. How’s that for Black Friday shopping! I managed to skip the tarps this year. 🙂

  15. I’ve been writing radio & TV commercials for our small local market for 25 years. And since I’ve embraced minimalism in the past year or so, I do have pangs of guilt sometimes, but it does put food on our table. While I feel a bit badly about trying to encourage people to spend their money, I try and approach it as solving someone’s problem with a good solution or making their lives better in some way. I’m on a spending budget for the next foreseeable future, and I often find it hilarious that my day job is trying to convince people to open their wallets. Life is ironic.

  16. Great, thoughtful post! Another troubling factor is that our brains are wired to seek pleasure (or at least, move away from pain). The holidays can be a difficult and sad time for many people. The transaction of purchasing something can provide pleasure. So if you’re having a tough time over the holidays, and constantly see messages of what you “deserve” / “need” / “should have”, it’s so easy to succumb to buying. You feel better immediately. (At least for the time being.)

  17. Personally I don’t think commercials have any impact on me, but who knows maybe subconsciously they do. I’m not really ever subject to them because if they come on while I’m watching sports, I usually go back to reading a blog post or do something else. Or even better if I dvr something, I can fast forward through them and make my TV watching more efficient 🙂

  18. Thanksgiving is probably when I see the most commercials. We usually host for our large family and one particular brother in law has to watch the big Thanksgiving day football game. I forget how annoying commercials can be, but I’m quickly reminded every Thanksgiving.

    It’s like a huge yellow sticky note telling me that my life is inadequate without whatever product or service they are offering. I’m making a wrong choice by keeping and using what I already have because the new model is far superior to last year’s model.

    Fortunately, once family leaves I get to hit the POWER button and turn the nonsense off till next year. 🙂

  19. Thanks a lot for another lovely post – I always smile when I get the email notifying me of a new post. Good luck to both of you and Babywoods for a safe birth and a healthy child!!! I completely agree with you on ads and (over-)spending – and have been guilty once upon a time too of falling into that trap (but I kept a sane head and only did so when I could afford it). Working my way through a mild chronic form of ptsd over several years, I found an immense pleasure in buying pens and pencils – ‘to have a bit of control over at least one aspect of my’ way my excuse to myself until I found a way of living which did me good. Have given most of my p&p collection away to schoolkids now. I also bought quite a bit of second-hand books when I moved back to my home country (from the UK) just because ‘these I bought in the UK’ – silly but to me as an avid reader it made sense. Moving house in spring next year I am going to sort through quite a bit of stuff to give it away to charity shops and others and am really looking forward to it. Now I only buy what I need and when I need it, all the more so since I’m a full-time freelance translator since late 2013 as teacher training and some bad circumstances back then rattled me quite a bit and I needed to quit the training. Not unhappy about this development, but I need to keep an eye on where my money goes (all the more so with the move next year) – this I do gladly, also since I retrained as a financial accountant for pleasure and like to crunch numbers. 😉 Luckily I have found a boyfriend (still in the first get-to-know-each-other-phase) who thinks likewise, though he’s got a steady job. So it’s really great to read your blog – seeing that there are others out there is always great!

  20. This was the first year in my life that I didn’t do any black friday shopping. You and your blog are partly responsible for that, so thank you!!

    I was also disappointed that the greyhound got hardly any screen time! We have a grey too (but he loves getting his teeth brushed, haha)

  21. Part of the reason I cancelled my TV was the neverending drone of commercials. Wasting money so that I can go spend more money on stuff I don’t need. No thank you. I didn’t do any Black Friday shopping and have no plans for any more shopping. I’ve done enough to last the rest of my life, no need for more. I was spending because I was unhappy, bored and unfilled in what I did for work each day. Trying to find more meaningful work now.

  22. Love it! Beautifully-written post! I felt the same way as I watched the parade. Instead of it being an uplifting experience, it drained my energy just like watching commercials usually does.

  23. I swear the parade used to be so much better, you know… when I was a kid. After watching it this year, I don’t think we will be doing that again. Super disappointing that it was so canned. Also kinda bizarre that I didn’t know any of the musical performers. I felt really out of touch. And of course there were way too many commercials and not enough footage of the marching bands! Both my teens are in bands, so we all agreed we wanted more marching bands.

    As for the lure of advertising, I get frustrated when I feel the tricks working on me. And I’m sad when I see my daughter influenced by marketing and advertising.

  24. In defence of marketers, if we were as clever as everyone thinks on here, well I’d be a much richer person. Yes, there are things that companies did in the past that do cross the line in terms of ethics e.g. cartoons on cereal boxes to encourage children to nag their parents. Most companies have anti child marketing policies and social responsibility charters these days. By and large though, it’s my experience that sales people and marketers can not sell to you, unless you want to part with your money.

    Sure, I buy things, and enjoy the spending thrill, and sometimes question my spending habits, but it really does come down to my choices. I agree that advertisements can encourage us to spend.

    I find seeing what other people have is a much greater spending signal than anything any marketer can do. This is why home shopping parties can be so successful because human beings tend to follow one another, and we are social creatures. Marketers know this, and try and use it, but if you don’t want to buy, you won’t.

    The best way to reduce spending, is to be content with what you have. No marketer is stronger than contentment.

  25. thanks for the baby update….sending you good wishes for the upcoming birth! My daughter was due on Thanksgiving 20 years ago…like yours, our Thanksgiving came and went with no sign of her…she was born the following Friday, December 1st!

  26. I’ve often wondered if my shopping was related to the primitive drive for survival. I imagine an ancestor foraging in the forest and finding a ripe fruit, or even better a tree full of ripe fruit. It would mean survival for her and her kin, so the feelings of pleasure would be pretty strong. Does this ancient instinct get triggered by my search for the perfect scarf? or a new pair of shoes? I don’t think of myself as a big consumer; I try to be careful with my money, but every so often I find myself really pleased with a purchase. Doesn’t have to be high dollar value, it’s the thrill of the find.

  27. The only time I have seen the Macy’s parade was live and in-person in NYC when I was there visiting a friend. It was fun, if you like huge crowds.
    TV does have too many commercials but that apparently how they support the programs. I just ignore them unless one is particularly entertaining or artsy. They don’t induce me to spend or buy the products advertised.
    I have heard that first children are often late. I was a first child and I arrived 10 days late. Talk about over-cooked! I was born during Dogs Days in August.

  28. Meant to add that spicy Cuban black bean soup sounds delicious! And I hope babywoods arrives safe and sound in the near future.

  29. ha ha I wrote about a couple commercials today, especially the car ones where either “santa” delivers a mercedes with a big red bow, or maybe the husband or wife bought one and said merry christmas (subtext: congrats on more debt!). I know some people fall for the warm and fuzzy commercials, but if you sat and thought about it more, you ‘d have to realize that you are totally being suckered. Not matter what the message, they still want you to buy something.

  30. Right on. It is SO EASY to fall into the trap of, oh I work hard, so I deserve this. Or, if i just buy this new {insert random item here], THEN my life will be better and i’ll finally be happy. it’s such a vicious cycle and it requires constant vigilance to undo some deeply entrenched habits. But once those are under control, there’s plenty of room for new, frugal habits that don’t require spending an arm and a leg. 🙂

  31. What kind of coffee do you drink? Read the folgers comment. Our hardware store sells Folgers, along with eggs, olives, canned items. Frontline for our GSP is cheaper than Costco too. Never been to a starbucks even though there are 7 in our small town. What coffee do you drink?

  32. Mr. Smith and I love to mock these advertisements but you’re right, it’s a pretty serious issue. I see so many people spending money without asking any questions.

    I did go out on Black Friday, because I had a coupon and a gift card. Unfortumately, the $10 off coupon was not good on any special deals and almost everything in the store was exempt. They did have a cart of non-exempt items near the cash register with things like $20 candles. Tons of people were scooping these things up so they could use their coupon. But, that means you’re still spending $10 on a candle?!?!?!? So many fools for advertising gimmicks.

  33. I agree that the worst thing you can do on “Black Friday” is to go nywhere near a store. Care to be trampled or beaten up, anyone?

    However, I am hoping that someone will accidentally discover my new book, released a couple of days ago on Amazon, called Home for Good; Homemaking Simplicity and Contentment. I have no TV commercials at all, sad to say. 🙂

  34. This is exactly why I don’t think people should feel bad about getting into debt. Lots of very smart people sit around all day thinking of ways to convince us to buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have. Remember when George W. Bush encouraged us to go out and spend money as the best form of patriotism following 9/11? Of course, once we recognize this madness, then we need to stop it. We are capable of critical thought and we need to take back control of our own brains. But it does make perfect sense that so many Americans struggle with consumer debt. There are a lot of very well funded political and cultural forces pushing us into debt.

    Ok, now I apologize bc this is going to be infuriating advice. But this baby did not come until I completely gave up on him coming, scheduled the hospital induction, and decided to spend the last few days of possible pregnancy relaxing and enjoying life. The last day was the absolute best day ever. He was born one day shy of 42 weeks, just hours before we scheduled the induction.

    1. The president of France also asked his citizens to “go out and shop” after the terrorist attack in Paris a couple of weeks ago to encourage a return to normalcy. But humans should be smarter than lemmings and know what they can afford to spend, and whether they should. Although I wouldn’t mind a shopping trip to Paris right now. 🙂

  35. Great post and so true. My husband has a theory that we should levy taxes on marketing industry to attempt to balance the scales. Good luck with the new arrival of the little one when she decides to appear!

  36. We watched the same Thanksgiving TDay lineup of the parade and dog show. I felt very burdened by the “selling” of nostalgia as well.

    Regarding the dog show- I’m a rescue dog person all the way. So the thought of buying a dog from a breeder is incredibly foreign to me.
    However, the dogs are very pretty. I definitely prefer my rescue pets!

    1. +1 on the rescued dogs … dog shows are all about a “breed standard” that is almost totally irrelevant to 2015 life, when most dogs are considered “pets” and not working animals. Many “pedigreed” dogs have genetic diseases because of inbreeding — the “books are closed” on most breeding stock. And whichever dog wins the show is almost guaranteed to become the must-have dog, with unscrupulous people breeding them in puppy mills.

      Rant over! Best of luck with the baby.

  37. Ahh, I’m getting so excited for you waiting for the baby! I was taken back to that time when I was waiting for my kiddos. It’s such an exciting a nerve-wracking time! A long walk worked with one and the other declined to make an arrival until he about drove me crazy. Good luck over the next few months. I’ll be thinking positive thoughts for you. 🙂 P.S.- Wooo for a Skye Terrier winning! Our first adopted dog was a Skye and, although she has since passed, we still think of her often.

  38. This was the first year my wife & I, along with my visiting parents, had watched the Macy’s Parade in several years. We turned it on because of the nostalgia. We really don’t remember how it was back in the 90’s or early 2000’s when it was a Turkey Day tradition. But we eventually turned it off, it was neat wathcing the various Broadway songs (something we don’t remember in the past) but we wanted to see the ballons, floats, and bands. Instead it was interviews of the different tv stars on NBC sitcoms with a quick snapshot of a float, band, or balloon. Was it like that in the 90’s & 00’s?

  39. We went to a time share presentation. I know, I know, but it had a somewhat lucrative reward for doing so. I was a little more vocal than my husband in the opposition to purchasing it and the salesman had the audacity to insinuate we had marriage problems. Perhaps he thought it would force my husband to “step up”, as it were?

  40. Was wondering if Babywoods made her arrival yet. Hope she comes soon!

    Over the break, I watched a documentary on happiness. It was interesting to see that much of what our culture promotes (aka buying material goods and focusing on status and image) is actually scientifically proven NOT to bring happiness. Commercials are a prime example of that. I figured that was already the case but it was fascinating to see the science behind it. My favorite factoid: Only 10% of our happiness comes from our circumstances (which includes wealth in addition to life events). So you Frugalwoods are clearly doing something right 😉

  41. It’s crazy how much people try to get you to buy and spend even more money on things you really don’t need. We had to get a new washer and dryer over the weekend (neither could be fixed cheaply) so we just opted for the cheapest front loading washer and matching gas dryer. But we could have easily spent three times what we spent on a washer and dryer just to get something fancy with all sorts of bizarre add-ons. And the buying doesn’t stop there…. you could go crazy on appliance shopping for major appliances and even small appliances. I love fresh pasta and they had a super easy fresh pasta maker for $300.. but that’s all it did! I could never justify that cost—I would have to make fresh pasta at least 75 times to break even on that price (not including ingredient cost).

    Also, speaking of the parade, the only part I was happy to catch was the short bit from The Wiz they’re doing live this Thursday on NBC. I worked at a high school previously that did The Wiz as a spring musical and it is close to my heart. But outside of that, it really was mostly a bunch of ads. I found a local program on how they make pretzels at Hanover Pretzel factory and that was more entertaining to have on in the background. (plus I never knew small pretzels are made via extrusion… crazy!)

  42. I like to mute the commercials since the volume is usually turned up several notches and there is almost nothing that interests us.

    BTW: would Mr. Frugalwoods be willing to share his cuban black bean soup recipe? It looks yummy!

  43. It’s not only the ads themselves, but how often they’re repeated. I must have seen that Target “don’t forget we open for Black Friday at six p.m. Thanksgiving Day!” ad twenty-five times during the football games. Oh–and that stupid Pioneer Woman Walmart ad.

  44. I guess I just don’t pay much attention to television. The hubby seems to always have a game on and I’m so not into sports. I know, crazy, right? I do LOVE to check out the newspaper ads every Sunday. It’s always fun to find a steal of a deal. I’m working super hard at only going for the deals on stuff I would buy anyway. We did good on Black Friday!

  45. Oh, you asked a good question. I could probably write out an answer that will last you through your entire labor… or maybe send you into labor?!?

    In this life I am a professional pooper scooper, but in a parallel universe I am gainfully employed as a respectable evolutionary biologist. I guess sometimes worlds collide because I get these horrible bouts of Big Thinking when all I want to do is be a simpleton cleaning up dog poop. Alas, I’ve fretted over this particular question excessively (as I often do with these things) because despite my deeply frugal lifestyle and ba-hum-bug against the capitalist machine I still take sheer delight in consuming (which I suppose is probably somewhat appropriate when your better half works as a PM for Amazon). So why did I enjoy going out on this past Black Friday to buy: a live tree, nativity scene, glass ornaments, LEGO Christmas village set (I’ve got’em all!) and a Nightmare Before Christmas bobble head? Here is my explanation:

    First let me scaffold the all important philosophical framework so I can dig in deep: I believe that ALL cultural constructs are (or were) developed to serve some sort of biological utility. Give me any sort of strange or archaic social custom and I will likely find it’s utility as it relates to individual or group survival. This very useful concept also enables me to explain terrible realities like murder, rape and genocide… but fortunately, you didn’t ask about that, now did you…

    The most crass and crude way of saying it: Collectively, we spend because we’re thrill seekers.

    Humans love novelty and pattern-seeking, likely more so than any other species on our planet (I haven’t really asked a bonobo how much it enjoys its curiosity therefore I abstain from making an absolute statement). Indeed I would say it’s the human capacity for curiosity and pattern-seeking that sets us apart in the animal kingdom. But what is curiosity more than the craving to know and understand? And how does one have comprehension and knowledge without perception? And how can one have perception without the employment of sensory organs and input?

    Without a deep craving for sensory stimulation humans would not have been capable of developing into, well… humans. Humans have an amazing ability analyse, organize, rationalize sensory information so that we can make predictions about the future.. quite useful for very basic functions like survival and reproduction. The thing is, in modern times life is pretty peachy (at least for the moment).. collectively, we’ve won the game of life (at least for the moment). Most of us today, especially in the western world, don’t have to rely too much on this biological impulse to survive or reproduce, but… since this is probably THE determining difference between us and frugal hound, we still feel it (at least I do) that need for novelty: a new dress, a new look, a trip to somewhere we’ve never been… a new ride or new wife(!).

    So how do those nostalgic, pulling-on-the-heart-strings gimmicky commercials play into this? Hmm, well, the way I figure it.. it’s no different than an addict trying to recreate the moment of his first hit, or drink when the sensory gratification was probably at the optimum that first time… I think for most people who get baited by those sorts of commercials, they’re unfortunately trying to recreate a particular sensory ambiance: the scent of holiday foods, the colorful festivity of lights and decorations, the delight of surprise when opening gifts.. even simply being with loved ones… unfortunately when this concept is taken to the fullest it means that “nice”, “good” or “wholesome” constructs such as sense of meaning, love and togetherness are all ultimately broken down into the same idea of biological utility, but you probably don’t want to go there (I don’t… it makes me empathize with philosophers who have mental breakdowns a little too much).

    Suffice to say, spending or consuming is simply the vehicle in which one obtains sensory gratification and it’s inherent to the human condition.

    If we were living on a planet of infinite resources this would probably be okay, but unfortunately as you already know we’re literally burning through a millions of years of stored energy just trying to appease our sensory appetites. There will be a recourse and it’s likely going to be bothersome for many uneducated individuals and societies…

    So where does that leave us? I don’t know. I try to redirect my yearning for novelty by reading National Geographic magazines and focusing in on my intellect, but it doesn’t work all the time….

    I’m expecting my new West Elm side tables on Wednesday 😉

    1. Thanks for the Babywoods update! She will come when she is ready – my daughter was due on Thanksgiving, 20 years ago. Well, same as yours, our Thanksgiving came and went – no baby. She was born the following Friday, December 1st.
      Best wishes to you all!

  46. There are things we are just frivolous to buy but more and more vendors of life’s necessities are stitching us up: health insurance which doesn’t really cover us, car and home insurance advertised as ‘ check for the gaps inyour coverage ‘, medicines for cancer and serious illnesses which are unaffordable…it’s all getting highly immoral.

    Pretending to care about my wellbeing and safety and security?

    Disgusts me. I mute all ads and try not to purchase the crap they are pushing.

  47. It’s absolutely frightening the tricks that go into commercials, and you’ve highlighted them beautifully here, as well as a really powerful description of frugality that resonates with me. Occasionally I pay attention to ads for the same reasons – to laugh and cringe at the tactics and messages – but I do get very angry very quickly that this stuff is beamed into homes all around the world!

  48. It is nice to know shockingly little about our pop culture! So when we encounter it…it’s really shocking and elicits very very very long discussions. Even blog posts! I was hoping today was the day for Babywoods to arrive….guess not! Will check back in a few days! I think you should post a picture of all your feet when she’s born. Happy Labor (I went through it 6 times…and each time I forgot how much fun it was!)…..Joy Joy Joy!!! Awaiting your good news….there really is nothing like a new baby….

  49. Good luck and best wishes for the (hopefully soon) arrival of Miss Babywoods.

    Thanksgiving has started annoying me in my family since it is when we exchange Christmas wish lists with my parents, my Aunt and her family. With them it’s always bigger, showier presents every year, and my mom was pushing on me that since I’m no longer in grad school I need to spend more on gifts for Aunt, Uncle and their 3 kids this year. It makes me sad that just because I choose not to have my presents exceed a certain dollar amount ($30 split between my brother and I gives room for a nice gift) that the presents are somehow not “good” enough regardless of how much thought I put into them. My Aunt and her family are extremely brand conscious, good consumers who always want the bigger better version, even if the version they currently have still works well. Their wish lists are always all large high dollar items, whereas most thoughtful people provide lists with a range of items at different price points (i.e. I include stocking stuffer ideas like for more of those hairbands I’m always loosing, so getting more makes me happy).
    People just baffle me sometimes

  50. I can hardly watch a commercial these days without rolling my eyes. The emotional manipulation is ridiculous. My favorite: the gum commercial where the guy draws a picture on the gum wrapper of him proposing and the girl sees it and then breaks down in happiness. For goodness sakes…it’s gum!! P.S. Hope that little one comes soon.

  51. Adults can often see reason eventually and young kids can be easily won over with a large but inexpensive gift or even used ones. I do think we are all wired slightly differently. Congrats to the teacher above who is trying to teach the students about the affects on marketing. My teenage daughter is quite happy with a $12 pair of look alike Uggs type boots from Wal-Mart; my teenage son has a shoe obsession consisting of Nike Air Max and foamposites that are $200-$300. Same parenting used on both kids!!! 🙂 Lots of the kids have high end items in high school and they compare and want to keep up with Jones no matter what they say! I will often suggest group gifts for relatives. I come up with creative ideas, deals, explanations about life for each of my three children differently because they are so inherently different. Marketing aside, I would love to see the Macy’s parade one day in person with my family!!!

  52. Personally, I read during commercials. I agree, they are super jarring when you’re not used to them. Mr. FP sometimes subscribes to MLB TV, which simply goes dark during the commercials. Like, let’s just all take a break so we don’t get overstimulated.

    It’s not just TV. For some reason, I keep getting Shape magazine in the mail and I was looking through it for exercise ideas. Almost every page has something to buy! There are the actual ads, of course. Then there are features like “best sporty winter coats” and, of course, a gift section since it was the December issue. Then even the articles about actual exercise tend to feature a model wearing fancy workout clothes, and a little bubble helpfully tells you wear to buy a $52 sports bra and $79 pants. (The $19 sports bras I bought circa 2006 are still going strong, thanks.)

    Pssst: Babywoods–time to come out and play! Everything is ready for you!

  53. Very best wishes for the upcoming birth! My daughter was due on Thanksgiving 20 years ago…similar to your experience, Thanksgiving came and went and no baby. She was born the following Friday, December 1st and was worth the wait!

  54. Most commercials seem to assume that the person watching is not very smart… I also, would rather have factual information.

  55. There is a good reason we prefer Netflix/Amazon for Daughter Person’s TV watching – she can’t stand commercials either, but she’s also at the age where she’s easily manipulated. If she doesn’t see an ad for something, she can’t ask for it. She sees the ads that come in the paper, but they don’t seem to affect her the same way. I know that commercials tend to sway me, so I avoid them and if I can’t, I’m not allowed to buy anything from a commercial without thinking about it – for a week…

    I think most people buy things because they don’t realize what they have – a general failing of human nature, but one that advertisers and marketers take advantage of.

  56. Hah I wonder why people actually fall for some of these ads. I get bored with TV and don’t watch much of it especially commercials. Junk mail is the same way too. I get about 5 junk mail ads for TV service each month and just toss them since I really don’t want/need tv service. There was one time though that the bill for the internet came as a long bill with multiple pages of TV ads and the actual bill hidden in the middle that got mistakenly tossed out and then paid late after I realized what happened. Got that fixed now with autopay, but ugh so frustrating.

  57. I totally agree with you. I don’t like at all those commercials with nasty slogans like ” ..because you deserve it!”, or ” …for a better life” ( your present life is horrible) or ” you can look beautiful” (now you don’t)…etc.
    I can’t wait for the big news about Babywoods’ arrival. Now, she is something that ” you really deserve”, ” your life will be better” having her by your side, and ” you will look beautiful” as a mother- all those, just holding your daughter in your arms, without buying anything 🙂

  58. On our trip down to our winter destination (because it actually may be cheaper to rent than heat our Northern home!), we subjected ourselves to “Fat Men in the Woods” (a show I admit I kind of actually enjoyed) in Motel 6 to keep our dog distracted from any outside noises. Repeated blatant attempts to seduce us into eating more food, making sure we have a really nice car, making sure our home is completely spotless and clean, and above all we better find the perfect gift which just may happen to be a really nice car (really???) forced us to turn it OFF even if it meant barking mayhem. And lest we forget how sick we all are – probably from eating too much “food” – there’s a pill to make it all better. There’s even a pill to make your skin clear now! NO need for kale ha ha.

  59. I have always loved to live frugally even when it wasn’t in vogue. I received a lot of ridicule for it. Now it is the thing to do. I haven’t had tv for 4 years and only miss it when there is severe weather. I miss the live reports.

  60. To answer the question “Why do you think we spend?”, here are my own motives/weaknesses…

    Quite simply, I spend for physical comfort, social contact, convenience, the expertise of others, and novelty. I also hate ads. I rarely buy “stuff”. I appreciate simplicity. I don’t own a car. I avoid Black Friday like the Plague…

    But I’m a sucker for a gourmet meal or taking a cab home when it’s late. I’ll gladly pay to see my favorite musicians perform live, buy a plane ticket to visit a friend, or pay for private lessons to improve my [insert hobby here].

    Although I spend less and save more than the majority of my peers, all those habits add up. And I still haven’t quite decided whether I’d rather have that $ in the bank…or have cocktails with coworkers and a vacation in Prague 😉

  61. Interesting bit of synchronicity. I discovered your blog last week when I was researching upright vs. chest freezers. Without any thought of holiday weekend sales, we wound up at Lowes on Sunday during Thanksgiving weekend and bought an upright freezer (with the brand new, higher-standard Energy Star rating, of course) which just happened to be on sale. Getting delivered tomorrow!

    So, I am only now getting around to perusing your other interests and articles. I have a friend who is a volunteer/cheerleader for a greyhound rescue society. (You don’t happen to know Ilene Reeves, do you?)

    Since it is now Dec 3rd, I congratulate you on the arrival of Ms. Babywoods. Enjoy your many weeks ahead of being a bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived zombie!

  62. I was watching a little tv last night and saw an Old Navy commercial. Two of the adults got put at the children’s table and ignored because of what they were wearing. One of the kids tells them about some Old Navy sale and they’re off and running. One of the few commercials I’ve seen that made be kind of angry.

  63. Frugalwoods,

    How the heck have I never found this blog before? Heard you on madfi and knew I had to check it out.

    I stopped watching TV for all practical purposes several years ago and when I do turn it on every couple of months I am mortified. I guess when I was watching a couple hours a day the commercials felt normal, but now that I have detoxed them from my system I feel oddly uncomfortable watching them. Now that I have ‘unplugged from the matrix’ so to speak, I can see the blatant and subtle manipulation contained within. I actually think of them as aggression towards me – psychological warriors trying to pillage my hard earned dollars!

    Congrats btw 😉

  64. I am in one of those college marching bands that performed this year in the parade. We have been advertising the trip to New York for two years to convince people to come to our school and be in band. Our band jumped from 300 last year to 400 this year all because of Macy’s. It was a great opportunity and I’m sure a moment I will remember forever, but it’s also basically a commercial for our school and band program.

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