Money management

What you should know about consumerism

18 August 2020 | Posted by Clare Seal
writing

A bit of a buzzword at the moment, consumerism is what encourages us to buy more than we need. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way that we shop (along with almost everything else we do). But it has a massive effect on our everyday lives, so it’s important to understand it properly. 

Consumerism dates back to the industrial revolution, where goods were produced at such speed that supply exceeded demand. Businesses had to encourage people to buy more products than they technically needed by making them desirable. 

Most of us can’t remember a time when consumerism wasn’t the norm. But recently, our barriers to consumption have been lowered even further. This is largely due to a rise in online shopping and easy access to credit.

Consumerism has its benefits…

The biggest benefit of consumerism is the economic growth it has fuelled. Consumerism has created millions of jobs around the world at every stage of the supply chain. 

Another advantage of a consumerist economy is that it gives us access to higher quality goods and services. Competition in the market means we’re constantly being offered upgrades on the things that help us in everyday life. Just think about the device you’re reading this article on compared to its 2010 equivalent, for example.

…but it has many disadvantages, too.

With the rise of social media and the pivot to online in the last twenty years, the way that we consume has shifted. Instagram in particular encourages us to constantly compare ourselves to others and ‘keep up with the Joneses’. This is to a point where many people are buying more goods than they can afford.

This desire to keep up, coupled with the instant availability of credit, has led to a rise in consumer debt (which hit an all-time high in 2019). This pressure to spend more coupled with the financial effect of overconsumption can have a negative effect on your wellbeing. So it’s a good idea to keep your personal consumption levels in check.

What about the impact of consumerism on the planet?

Another reason to limit consumption is, of course, the environmental impact of consumerism. Increasing amounts of fossil fuels are needed to keep the wheels of the manufacturing industry turning. Waste is also being generated at an unsustainable pace. We’re destroying animals’ habitats, thanks to climate change and the over-consumption of natural resources. Unfortunately this is causing the extinction of many species.

Finding a balance for the future

Does that all sound a little bleak? Well, it might reassure you to know that minimising the effects of consumerism on the planet and our wellbeing are top priorities for younger generations. Millennial and Gen-Z generations are increasingly factoring the environment into their decision-making, from where they shop to who they vote for.

The challenge has always been how to reduce the impact of consumerism without pulling the rug out from under the economy. But there are ways to shift your behaviour to making more responsible purchases. Buying second-hand, especially when it comes to fashion, is growing in popularity. More eco-friendly choices such as reusable water bottles and coffee cups are perfect examples of how small changes can add up. 

More importantly, we need to take a good look at the kind of companies our money is funding. Shopping with greener brands is a start, but making sure you’re investing in ethical businesses will have an even greater long-term impact. 

Key takeaways

  • Consumerism dates back to the industrial revolution, but still has a strong grip on today’s society.
  • Consumerism fuels economic growth, but can damage personal wellbeing and the environment. 
  • We can start to tackle the damage caused by consumerism by shopping more responsibly and investing in ethical businesses.

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