We live in a consumer culture. The appetite to spend is worse the younger you are.

The University of Otago's Lisa McNeill, who researches youth consumption, says consumerism is the lived experience of younger generations from birth.

"Social media is prolific in its adverts and urging of users to buy," McNeill says.


"We then display the spoils of our consumption on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest."

But both young and old can counter the consumerism that eats through our earnings.

Will you use it?

I always used to ask myself when faced with a purchase, do I really need it? These days that's followed by, will I use it? Will it degrade the environment? Does it exploit poor workers? My spending starts to shrink.

When I followed a friend into a clothes store last weekend, I realised I couldn't even begin to think of buying anything for fear of the damage that clothing manufacturing does to the environment.

Are there alternatives?

Recently in a home improvement store I found myself coveting raised gardens, yet I have a grassy area above the driveway that could be become a raised garden for free. Sod spending $40. Making it yourself is one step better, and cutting it out is the ultimate aim.

Do the numbers

One of the reasons we fall for consumerism is that we don't do the sums, says Stuart Locke, professor of finance at Waikato University. It's so easy to buy a new MacBook or other object of desire when there's an interest-free offer. The pain point appears to be gone.

"From a finance perspective, the promotion of specials incorporating no internet or no payments to be made for 36 months etcetera plays on the average person's lack of sufficient financial literacy to work out there are no free lunches here," says Locke.

These deals are loaded with fees, which simply replace the interest rate as an income stream.


I've been ruminating lately on how zero waste warriors and those who lead community charges on important issues gain just as much admiration as those who like to display all the expensive things they buy.

Create a new identity

McNeill says in her research many students have firstly rejected consumption norms because of limited finances, but have learnt through this rejection that they are happier identifying as a conscious "reduced-consumption consumer".

"In this way, even as their incomes have increased, they have made choices to stay conscious consumers and limit their buying," she says.

That new identity for other people can be many and varied. Being passionate about something is often of more interest to others than what you bought last week. Garden, volunteer, make art, create things, help others, do imaginative activities with your children, socialise with friends and family, go to the park, visit the art gallery.

Get educated

The more I read about consumption and how to counter it, the more successful I become at standing up to the beast, albeit one small change at a time. Google "consumerism", join discussion groups, read books, attend workshops, sign up for a course, or watch related documentaries.

Feel grateful

The dark arts of marketing and advertising play on making us feel dissatisfied or even deprived with what we have. The antidote is learning to live simply and being grateful for what we have.


Be thankful for not just the things you own already, but your family, friends and others you have relationships with.

This is of course all counter to the idea that Western economies require growth or will implode. Individuals, however, can improve their personal financial situation by sticking two fingers up to consumerism as best they can.