“If you are not content today, there is nothing you can buy this weekend to change that.”
Gofaone Nina Tladi
I screenshot this post shared in the DebtFree Community and return to it when the shopping bug hits me and most recently turned to it as Black Friday coincided with payday, and not just any payday, November payday. The November salary is like the infamous other sock that keeps disappearing, we can never account for it. The November salary has the shortest pay cycle of the year, where we would have to wait a month to get paid.
The “ding” of the happy face text comes early, 2 weeks early and so the November salary is the one we give the least amount of thought to. It also coincides with Black Friday. Black Friday is an American shopping day, after Thanksgiving. An American described it this way: you spend Thanksgiving on a Thursday to fight with family while gorging yourself to fuel your inevitable wait ing long lines and almost lose a limb fighting with strangers over sale items. We all know the influence Americans have on us, from the Migos blasting in my car to my favourite series and YouTubers. Black Friday has come to South Africa and Botswana and it is said that South African spent close to half a billion during this shopping frenzy. I wonder if people get leave to go shopping as I tracked the madness on social media. Fortunately, my pink Samsung s9 was not on Black Friday sale or I too may have punched someone to acquire it.
Every month, we are reminded that credit providers do not loan us money from the goodness of their hearts and if the deduction from our earnings is not enough, the “notice of sale in execution” should be a reminder. Behind the great amount of marketing geared toward us spending money to buy things we do not need, there is a thing I learnt called “cross selling or the up sale.” This is selling more than what the customer intended to get.
Stores lure us by drastically reducing the prices of a few items, but because of the sale environment we leave with far more than we came in to get. In my university studies, I learnt about the impact the store design has on overall consumption. As you have to go through the store to get what you actually need (which is at the back ), you have to pass the shelves near the paypoints, which happen to be laden with chocolates and other treats that parents have to negotiate with their crying children over.
As someone who still loves shopping, I remember going into a store just because of the big red sign with white letters in the display window. Brian Cornell, CEO of Target, which is one of the biggest retail stores in the US, explained the “Target effect” thus; “What I have been most interested in is the basket. You look at people who you know came out with a specific item, but then they have actually taken the time to shop other categories, which is really important. The fear here is seeing baskets or carts with only one item.” Though I was tempted to throw stones at him, I realised that he was a man who had a job to do; increase shareholder value which he excelled at with regard to his score card. My issue is not the shopping, it is the consumerism that is driving many people in or further into debt all in the name of Lifestyle. “December is not a month, it is a lifestyle.” the tweets, GIFs and memes have started to flood our feeds and my concern is the lifestyle that keeps us from financial freedom.
Sociologists define lifestyle as, “a lifestyle typically reflects an individual’s attitudes, way of life, values, or world view. Therefore, a lifestyle is a means of forging a sense of self and to create cultural symbols that resonate with personal identity.” They further stress that it is not always voluntary. We are all social beings and we function within society and for the most part aspiration is a great thing. However, in our context, I believe it is a trap for overspending in the hope of purchasing contentment, social status and acceptance. I am a very active Instagramer, not for uploading but for the viewing other people’s pictures and silently wishing everything I liked would appear in my wardrobe. I follow many a “slay-queen and king” on the “gram”, most of whom are South Africans and Nigerians. As December approaches, I notice that my feeds were full of “lifestyle” posts and what alarmed me was the rise of the credit card as the gateway or all access pass to a certain lifestyle. When discussing my concern with my friend, he termed it “slaying or stunting on credit.” My stance on debt is very strong but I do appreciate that many people do not share my conviction. It is my hope to inspire and encourage others to win with money. My concern is just as Black Friday and many other “American” things make their way to us, so will the bad like credit card debt and its slow choke hold on our American counterparts. Americans credit card debt US$ 1 trillion in November 2017 and continues to climb.
Credit cards are the most aggressively marketed financial product to Americans, some of whom have multiple cards that give the false impression of secularity as that is what they are there for, “emergencies”. But as I have come to realise, they can be very crippling because you can buy a plate of food etc on credit. I wonder how many people who bought stuff they didn’t need on Black Friday had debt and have financial difficulties. Consumerism is truly one of the driving forces of financial plight. It is fuelled by inadequacy. You are not a real woman if you do not have this makeup, dress or hair and you are not a real man if you don’t drive this car or pick up the tab.
Are you a bad person if you went shopping? No not at all, this is a judge free zone, but it is a truth zone. We are buying things we can’t afford, if you can’t pay cash for it-you can’t afford it, especially to impress strangers on the internet we will never be introduced to and wasting our income on things that do not have true value. Next year, will we still be fighting over things in stores, will we stand in queues from midnight to get a better deal. I pray we keep that same energy to go out in our numbers to vote. But if we keep doing the same things we’ve been doing with money we will keep getting the same results.
This is it, this is the part of the test we fail dismally: we do not account for our November salaries and YOLO through our December salaries (and/or thirteenth cheques for the lucky few.) There was a time you probably thought you couldn’t live without that gadget, car, dress etc. but look at you now, you are probably eyeing the newer, better thing. Just because something is on sale does not mean you have to buy it. Remember you 100% better off if you don’t buy it.
PS: You don’t have to be a hero, you just have to be what most people aren’t, consistent.