When you drive through a rural landscape, you’ll often see vast swaths of land being precisely trimmed like someone’s immense front yard. But the similarity is only superficial.
Farmers regularly cut down grass and other shrubs on their land to create hay. It provides fodder for their animals in winter, serves as mulch and stable bedding material, and can even be used for construction or insulation. These more than justify the effort and expense in driving a tractor with a Krone hay mower attached repeatedly across a wide area.
By contrast, our well-manicured lawns are monocultures of grass that serve no real function. They only enable us to feel as though we’re conforming to a standard of appearances. And the effort involved is unsustainable, consuming vast amounts of water and emitting pollutants for the upkeep of these biological deserts.
The lesson here goes beyond landscaping choices. It’s about prioritizing function over form in our general consumption behavior to save money.
The consumer decision process
A lot of people might think that they do a pretty good job of managing finances. But the numbers tell a different story. Less than a third of Americans reported strong financial health in 2019, before the impact of Covid-19. A large majority of households are struggling in at least one aspect of financial management.
Spending behaviors aren’t the sole cause of this problem, but they are common for many of us. For those with incomes between $30,000 to $100,000 a year, nearly one-fifth actually spent more than they earned year-on-year.
How you allot discretionary income can make a world of difference. The trouble we often encounter is that our consumer decision process is complex.
In theory, we buy things starting from need recognition. Then we move through searching for information, evaluating alternatives, making a purchase decision, and looking back on the outcome once a purchase is made.
This sort of flow involves a lot of cognitive decision-making. Our minds naturally want to simplify that. And businesses have evolved highly effective strategies to take advantage and get us hooked into making purchases we don’t need.
Swaying the consumer
Consumer needs can be straightforward and basic. We buy food because we need nutrition to survive, for instance. But even such essential purchases can become more complicated because of psychological or emotional factors.
When you watch an appetizing advertisement for food or walk past a restaurant with tantalizing smells in the air, you can suddenly feel hungry due to external stimuli. Alternatively, you could be considering buying shoes so that you can start running and getting into shape, with nothing specific in mind. Then you see a Nike endorsement from a famous athlete and identify with its aspirational message.
These are just a few of how companies can sway our consumption decisions. Their survival depends on it, which can be bad news for your finances.
Sticking to function
There’s a common saying in the field of design: form follows function. Keep this in mind whenever you make a purchase decision.
Evaluate your needs and boil them down to their functional criteria. Food’s function is nutrition, so sugary snacks and empty calories can be eliminated. Clothing’s function is to keep you warm and appropriately dressed. If some people can get by with a capsule wardrobe, maybe you can, too.
Inevitably, marketing strategies will get to you. But you can resist their ability to convert your money into unnecessary purchases and definitely avoid getting hooked into ill-advised spending habits. Put function over form, and constantly draw yourself back to weigh only the essential attributes.