My action was taken in response to my concern over the effects of consumerism on our society and the environment. I would like to see a world where people feel satisfied with what they have and are not constantly driven to buy more and more in an attempt to emulate the wealthy or to create a temporary sense of self-worth. If people spent less on products that they didn't need but wanted, the extra money could be used instead for socially beneficial projects, to alleviate poverty and the environment would also stand to gain from reduced production, pollution and waste.
This change that I would like to see in the world is not something that can be changed overnight but I thought that I could do my bit by monitoring my own spending habits in order to determine whether I buy to satisfy my needs or wants.
My action was to document EVERY purchase I made over a four week period and to allocate each item a rank from 1 to 5 depending on how much I needed it.
1 = Can't live without it
2 = Life would be very difficult without it
3 = I could do without it, but life wouldn't be as fulfilling
4 = I didn't really need it, but wanted it
5 = I haven't used it yet/ can't see myself using it for a while, if ever/ threw it away
I wrote everything down in a little notebook that I kept in my bag. My progress was documented on my ActNow blog, along with some conclusions and reflections.
Breaking down my spending habits this way was fascinating. I am someone who doesn't enjoy huge shopping centres but loves finding a bargain at markets and in specialty shops. I tend to shop impulsively, use a credit card to delay payment on items of clothing or shoes that I can't afford straight away and a big proportion of my earnings goes towards gifts (there are a lot of people I know turning 21 this year), phone credit, public transport and lunch and coffees at uni).
In the end, although the majority of my purchases fell between the 3 to 5 categories, I didn't spend excessively on items out of want rather than need. It was sometimes hard to allocate a rank to every purchase I made because determining what you need is somewhat subjective. For instance how much do I need more phone credit or dessert? I could go without it, and many people in the world do. Doing this little experiment made me realise just how much I take for granted.
All in all, my spending habits aren't obscene, (after all I am a student, and don't have that much disposable income to start with anyway). To be honest the experiment coincided with the busiest part of semester which meant that I didn't have as much free time to shop for fun. I think I spend more during the holidays in entertainment activities, transport and to generally catch up on things I've gone without during the semester.
Having said this, there is always room for improvement in my attitude towards money and how to spend it. I realised that I could save a lot more towards going on exchange next year if I weren't so frivolous with my money at uni. I accumulate a lot of expenses through social activities like coffee and dessert with friends or drinks on the weekends. I now try to limit what I buy when I go out because I can have a good time without it just as easily.
I would recommend trying this experiment to anyone. I think that it's very important to be aware of where your money goes in order to lessen society's obsession with obtaining more of it.