Companies from Apple to Coca-Cola invest millions in the dark arts of marketing to convince us we need to buy their products for reasons we can't always put our fingers on.
Before moving into academia, AUT's Dr Jessica Vredenburg made her name in marketing - manipulating us ordinary mortals into buying eye-wateringly expensive exercise clothing and other products.
She says exclusive brands such as the ones she represented work hard to create the impression that buying their product will add value to our lives.
"People are willing to pay to feel like they are part of that group," she says. We also make the assumption with brands that we're buying quality.
That's why we are often driven to buy brands even when we can't afford them.
Sticking two fingers up to these con artists does wonders for your personal finances. It's one of the easiest ways to ensure you have money to spare at the end of each month for the stuff that really matters.
How you do it is simpler than you may think:
Get some satisfaction
Brands don't win all the satisfaction tests. The winner is almost always the challenger model, says Jose George, general manager at Canstar NZ, whose company reports on the brands and services Kiwis are most satisfied with.
While iPhone owners might all give their phones five stars when asked directly, more subtle questions almost always result in newer/cheaper brands coming top, says George. Strip away the self-justification of our spending and the new kids on the block offering better net value often win. An example is Electric Kiwi in the electricity market, says George.
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Open your mind
There will always be people for whom nothing but an iPhone X will do. I even once thought that about Samsung. Huawei, Motorola and other aggressive second-tier brands provide way more bang for your buck if you're prepared to give them a go. Not everyone is willing to do that, but the middle-range brand that provides great quality or service, could be the answer to tackling the hole in your budget.
Of course everything is a brand, including the budget-label products in the supermarket. There are plenty of examples where the budget brands really do just as good a job. Take paper towels, for example.
Look for new brands
When I mentioned my beloved Xiaomi robotic vacuum cleaner to a 16-year-old and his mother recently, he instantly knew the manufacturer and was impressed. Mum had only ever heard of the $1500 Roomba robot vacs. I simply can't praise the $300 Xiaomi E20 model enough for its design excellence, cleaning efficiency and value for money. This modestly priced robotic vacuum from an up and coming make has transformed my floors.
Do a blind taste test
I love watching the Eat Well For Less taste tests on TV. So often the interviewees find that they either like the cheap brands just as much as their expensive one and are quite blown away when they realise they're eating/drinking a cheaper alternative.
You can do this with more than food. Next time you want to buy an expensive branded product, try the cheaper option just once and you may well be pleasantly surprised.
Look for lookalikes
Who doesn't love Lululemon? The fancy-pants active-wear store has quite a following. But the Warehouse's $20 Active Intent Women's Seamless Pant, $20 in black and grey, is a dead ringer for the some of Lululemon's tights, saving you more than a hundred bucks in initial outlay.
Think: how can I make this work?
New optical shop Dresden offers frame and lens packages from a stunningly low $63. Maverick businessman Bruce Jeffreys set up Dresden because he was sick of being ripped off for having bad eyesight.
As many as 80 per cent of Kiwis who wear glasses think that their prescription is special and always say: "You won't be able to do my prescription," says Jeffreys. The reality is 95 per cent of customers including those with astigmatism have easy-to-fill prescriptions and could halve the cost of being able to see by avoiding the brand con.
Show off in other ways
Instead of posting your latest buys on social media, impress others with how much you've saved by beating the brand, or just how much better value for money your cheaper/newer brand is.