Consumerism – just how did we get sucked into that?
I have been a part of this little planet of ours stretching over almost three and half decades and I have seen major changes in attitudes to life, especially where money is concerned.
As a child growing up in 80’s Britain, I was heavily influenced by my grandparents.
We lived a stone’s throw away and I spent a lot of time with them. I still remember the day they took me to the local Abbey National to set me up a savings account.
Granddad took time to explain to me that this money would not be for me to spend, but instead to save away.
The 80’s saver
Every time he made a deposit into the account he would show me the bank book with the handwritten adjustment to show how much I had saved and how my money had grew with interest payments.
It was all very exciting and I would obsessively check it over and over again.
Granddad would continually stress the importance of saving as I sat and watched in fascination as he checked his stocks and shares fluctuate on BBC Ceefax. (I bet that was a blast from the past!)
Fast forward to 1988 and my parents moved us away to Manchester to be closer to my father’s new job.
Their relationship didn’t last much longer, he moved out and eventually we were caught up in the recession of the early 90’s losing our house in the process.
It was my first lesson in overstretching yourself.
My mother did a sterling job bringing up three children on a wage that nobody would get out of bed for these days, plus a tiny bit of child maintenance from my ever increasingly estranged father.
But, robbing Peter to pay Paul was always going to catch up on her eventually.
Not one to sit around feeling sorry for herself, mum took on three jobs and went to college, eventually landing herself a much better paid job as a PA.
She’s our very own Super Woman!
The internet goes mainstream
New Labour swept to a landslide victory in 1997 and with them came the fresh faced Tony Blair and the promise of a prosperous future.
As we hit the naughties a new found consumerism was exploding with the internet and online shopping evolving at a rapid pace.
Life was changing fast for us all as the digital era begun to well and truly kick off.
My granddad had wanted to give me those savings I was talking about earlier on my sixteenth birthday, believing me to be sensible enough to manage it myself.
My mum knew me better and begged him to wait until I was 21.
He handed over a savings account to me containing £7,000 when I was 18. It was gone in less than six months.
That keen saver from my childhood had disappeared, I had now become a sheep that followed the crowd, I had given in to consumerism.
The rise of consumerism and debt
Remember the old style TVs? You know, those bad boys that weighed more than a family of five and took up a whole corner of your living room?
Well there was a time that these seemed to last forever, they were only replaced if they broke down – and even then they’d get sent for repair.
But, with the rise of digital TVs and the closing down of the analog signal they were now defunct and needed replacing.
I would never say that in particular was a bad thing, in fact with my dodgy eyesight I’m surprised I could see a thing on those old bangers.
However, this was the dawn of consumerism the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the first department stores opened over one hundred years ago.
Your TV now needed to be replaced every couple of years, or so the adverts would have us believe.
Flat screen digital, LCD, 3D, Smart TVs, it has been none stop since, and the TV that used to last you years and was a sound investment for the family had now become a drain on our net worth. It’s just one example, but you can see where I’m going.
With the digital revolution came music channels and more exposure to celebrity culture with shows such as MTV Cribs and the like.
Keeping up with the Jones’ had never been so hard.
After all, if Missy Elliot had a whole floor of her mansion for trainers alone, why couldn’t I?
Saving money, apart from a few, had become extinct among my friends, totally cannibalised by consumerism.
What a bunch of bankers
As if the urge to look like our favourite celebrity wasn’t enough, we now had to compete with each other on Facebook, buying things to impress people we didn’t even know!
The world had gone mad, but nothing could prepare us for the fall off the cliff coming up.
The bankers had gambled with our money and the biggest world financial crash in history broke out, what’s more, we also had to bail them out with our own taxpayers money!
Nobody was prepared for what was coming, save a few in the know.
It opened up our weaknesses as most of us had no savings to help when the crisis hit.
The internet and digital revolution had massively increased consumerism and debt, rather than saving for a rainy day, we had all been living a Champagne lifestyle on Lambrini wages.
It was as if Thomas Stanley, author of The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, had predicted the future when he sat down to write his famous book.
“Many people who live in expensive homes and drive luxury cars do not actually have much wealth. Then, we discovered something even odder: Many people who have a great deal of wealth do not even live in upscale neighborhoods.”
And this is where many of us went wrong.
Those flashy celebrities we envied on TV are not your average millionaire, they are in the super rich bracket.
The average middle earner can be a millionaire if they commit to living off 50% of their wages and saving or investing the rest.
Change of mindset
Thankfully my epiphany moment came with not a moment to spare and I have set out my fifteen year plan to retirement.
Taking inspiration from one of my favourite personal finance bloggers, J. Money, from this day forward I shall be known as David Jack Taylor – Future Millionaire, and you could be too if you put your mind to it.
He is also a contributor to Clear Debt, ICOUNT Money and M1 Debt Advice blogs discussing all things personal finance.