Some years ago I was discussing the weekly shop with a colleague. He told me that his wife had been to the local superstore, the previous evening, and returned with a car “full” of bags. She had spent most of the week’s grocery budget. On checking the bags, however, it appeared that there was little food included. As he said, it appeared that the cleaning products, toilet rolls, toothpaste, etc., far outweighed the food.
In 1943, Abraham Maslow developed his theory of The Hierarchy of Needs. In it he proposed that the physiological needs fill the most basic necessities – food and water, among other things. Safety, such as you may consider to be satisfied by cleaning products, comes second. That makes sense. We are not likely to be able to clean the house if we fail to eat or drink for too long a period.
All of this highlights the difficulties of obtaining “sufficient for each day.” What do we mean by “sufficient”?
Advertising Pays – But Not You
Without getting into a lengthy discussion about what we really need, let’s look at the concept of enough.
We are all aware that advertising works. We are all aware that we are influenced by advertising. Even those who say that they are not influenced have been influenced by the advertisements telling them that. In addition, when we visit the store, we know that certain items are displayed in prominent places to encourage us to buy. Consider, for example, why we have to pass through an entire aisle full of sweets (or candy), but then there is another display of the same products next to the checkout. If you take children shopping with you, then you will be aware of the danger zones.
Also, store owners will make a habit of locating those products which they want to sell on the middle shelves of the racks. Why? Because many people are too lazy to stretch to the top shelf or to bend down to the bottom. In fact, it is sad to say that many people in the Western world, today, find it impossible to bend down because of their obesity. Yet the “exercise” of bending down to the lower shelves, where the less fattening products may be stored, could be the best exercise they could wish for. The middle shelves are also at the eye level of children sitting in shopping trolleys.
Then, again, advertisers go out of their way to emphasize that they are being “fair” to their suppliers, that their “carbon footprint” is neutral, or even negative. One of my favourite anomalies in this regard is paying to offset your carbon footprint. With all due respect to those who commendably give consideration to using such a system, would you pay someone else to eat your food?
Enough is Enough
So how can we overcome the tendency to buy more than we need? how can we simplify our lives when it comes to consumer spending? Here are some suggestions that may help. They are by no means exceptional; nor is this a complete list. I’m sure that you could come up with equally valid, if not better ideas of your own. For now, though, this list is meant to get us all thinking about what we use and when enough really is enough.
- Use a shopping list. This might sound superfluous, but it serves two purposes. First, it prompts you to purchase only those things that you really need, thus providing some protection from consumer advertising. Second, how many times have you returned from the store without the very thing you went to buy? A list acts as a prompt to buy what is needed, sufficient for each day.
- Use cash. In these days of credit buying, it may seem old-fashioned to talk about using cash. Still, using cash has a remarkable focusing power, especially if you leave your cards at home. When you know that you only have a certain amount of money to spend, it is very difficult to go over that budget.
- Use a basket instead of a trolly. Shopping trolleys are designed to be filled, and we have an inbuilt distaste for empty space. Why else would we see so many overflowing trolleys at the checkout? Also, as it gets heavier, having to carry a basket will provide a constant reminder not to fill it too full.
- Use bags and walk or go by public transport. Walking is good for you. However, if you know you will be weighed down by bags of groceries, you will be less likely to purchase more than you need. Don’t be tempted to buy a shopping trolley that you can wheel behind you. That will only encourage over-spending.
- Look up and down in store. When you are passing through each aisle, do not be tempted to reach for the middle shelf. Check to see if the products on the upper and lower shelves are better value and/or healthier.
- Don’t be tempted to ‘Buy One Get One Free’. These offers are great – but only if you need the product. How many half-cucumbers have you thrown out? Why? Because you bought one for a salad and it sat in the fridge until it went soft and runny. Only buy more than one if you need it and will use it. Also, check that you really are getting one free. If you could buy one, walk out of the store, walk back in and buy another one, and the total price is less than the offer, then it is not a special offer. Also consider this: If stores are selling two for the price of one, how much money are they making on the product? If they can afford to sell two for the price of one, why don’t they drop the price? If we all refuse to be drawn in by such advertising, then stores will be forced to lower the price for everyone.
- Look for coupons. But only if you really need the product. The same rules apply to coupons that apply to special offers.
- Check the date. There are a number of reasons to check the date of products. First, if you are not going to use the product before the expiry date, then you do not need it, now. Second, if the product is near the expiry date, maybe the store would consider lowering the price. Third, buying and using a small pot of something about to reach its expiry date may be cheaper than buying a large pot that will waste cupboard space and be thrown out in a few months’ time.
- Leave the children at home. Not on their own, of course! If you can go shopping without the children, then you will be less subject to emotional pressure to buy things. This is especially true if you have trained your children (even inadvertently) to throw a tantrum when they cannot have their own way.
- Leave your spouse at home. Many wives lament the fact that, although it’s nice to have someone to carry the shopping, they spend more when their husband goes to the store with them.
As mentioned, earlier, these are just some of the suggestions that could help to meet our needs, rather than our wants. I have no doubt that there are many more. However, this list should be enough to get us thinking about when enough really is enough.