Do you have an uncontrollable desire to buy what everyone else is buying? Is your time being spent in the activities of the masses just to feel connected and valued?
If any of the above descriptions sound familiar, you may have contracted BCS – Bandwagon Consumer Syndrome. Seek help immediately.
BCS is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide (note: statistic estimated, not actually calculated). It’s the tendency to spend excessive amounts of money or overly engage in activities that have become fashionable within culture. If not treated, it can sabotage budgets, wreck financial futures, waste time and ruin relationships.
Total immunity to this syndrome is rare, as anyone can develop a moment of weakness. However, with the proper medication you can ward off occurrences and resist the onset of BCS 90% of the time (non-calculated statistic #2).
My Personal Fight Against BCS
The first product I ever craved was an Atari 2600. Two of my friends who lived several blocks away had one with the hottest games of the time…Pac-man, Space Invaders, Defender, Q*bert, Frogger…a video game connoisseur’s dream. Boy, I really wanted one and begged my parents to jump on the consumer bandwagon and buy a system for our house. “Everyone was getting one,” I pleaded.
They declined my requests and I was forced to get my video game fix on the games at the local laundry mat or at my friend’s house.
As the years went on, I began to notice the “everyone-is-doing-it-so-you-should-to” mantra creeping into other consumer related areas of my life, challenging how I spent my money and time. The temptation to jump on the bandwagon and join the throngs of people doing “that thing” was overwhelming at times. In many instances, I did choose to reject what popular culture was screaming at me to do.
The universally loved Friends sitcom of the 1990s I turned a blind eye to, as well as the more recent phenomenon American Idol (never seen an episode). For three years, I waited to see Passion of the Christ even though all my Christian friends said it was a “must see now” movie. Even though I love shopping for clothes, I’ve never fallen for the hottest fashion trends. My purchase of an iPhone did not come until version 5, even though we had owned Macs for years.
It may sound as though I have this syndrome licked. However, as I said before, it’s near impossible to produce total immunity.
My parents did eventually get a Nintendo Entertainment System, launching me into all things Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt, just like my friends. The Bermuda shorts craze in the late 1980s pulled me in hook, line and sinker (hide those photos in the album please). Like many others, the TV show Survivor was my Thursday night religion, especially after I saw Michael Skupin fall hands and face first into the campfire during Survivor: Australia. More recently, I was one of the earliest adopters of the iPad in my circle of friends (because of its applications for my work, of course.)
Why do I choose to follow the crowd at times and not at others? Maybe it’s whether or not I see “that thing” as a fit for me, as something that provides value. Perhaps I don’t want to appear shallow by following the crowd or lacking contentment by always falling for the latest gadget. Maybe I’m simply turned off by other people’s enthusiasm.
Needless to say, I’m still working on the answer to that question.
Rationalization – The Gateway to BCS
“Everybody is doing it,” is a phrase I know spilled from my lips as a child. Usually it was directed at my parents for something I wanted. Oh, how the tables have turned. I now hear those same words on occasion from my kids and even more so from my students at school. Funny how the retort from adults to that statement hasn’t changed after all these years…
“Well, if someone was going to jump off a bridge, would you follow them?”
Of course we say “No way” and we get the point. I would never jump off a bridge. Yet, the next word that follows “No way” hints that we really do want to follow and believe we have sufficient reason to do so. That’s the word “but.”
When we “but this” and “but that,” we are really rationalizing our decision. Rationalization acts as the gateway to BCS in that we justify any action just to get what we want. We know the decision is dangerous but…We know we can’t afford it but…It’s not the best choice but…I could use my time better here but…and on it goes.
Discipline and Patience: The Proper Medication to Fight BCS
Do you remember VCRs? These videocassette recorders could actually play a film of tape that was rolled up in a plastic case and project an image from that tape onto your television. It was amazing technology when first introduced. Unfortunately, they were priced in the $1,000s of dollars, making them unaffordable for the average consumer. Even when mass marketing hit in the late 1970s through the 1980s they were still priced in the mid-hundreds of dollars.
Had a need for a VCR recently? You can find them anywhere for under $30. That’s less than a nice pair of jeans or a trip for my family of six to McDonald’s.
The same can be said for any new product. The prices we see on the first product run are not the prices we will see in a year, two years or ten years down the road. I was in Best Buy the other week and noticed how much the price of a flat screen television has fallen since I purchased my Panasonic plasma TV 8 years ago. Made me want to buy a new one on the spot just because the prices were so low.
The point is that discipline and patience can be positive. You don’t have to follow the crowd just because they are buying the newest and brightest. Waiting to spend your money can allow product cycles to work out technical bugs on the newer models. It will allow manufacturers the time to reduce the cost of production, which then gets passed on to you in a lower purchase price. Those manufacturers may even enhance the product, so you get something of higher quality waiting for Version 3 instead of jumping on Version 1.
Better product and lower price…the best of both worlds.
The Search for a Cure
Like many syndromes tracked by the Center for Disease Control, BCS may never fully be cured. With any health issue, the steps toward a cure start with education. So keep reading here and at other great personal finance blogs around the web. Maybe we can beat this together.
If you are struggling today with jumping on the consumer bandwagon to buy the hottest trends without thinking about the costs, know there is hope. If you find yourself wasting time following the crowd in meaningless activities know that value can be found elsewhere.
It will take patience, discipline and a steady diet of self-control. In the end, it will feel good to lick the temptation to follow the crowd and “have it now,” thus defeating BCS at least 90% of the time.
Are you a bandwagon consumer? How do you fight the urge to follow the crowd? What trends of society have you not followed? What trends have you fell victim to? Have you ever rationalized a decision and then regretted it?
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