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My Fight Against Bandwagon Consumer Syndrome

medical injectionDo you suffer from constant cravings or restlessness? Easily excitable…prone to follow the crowd…worried about being left out? Can you become quickly dissatisfied with your possessions?

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?

Image at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Next Post: How to Tackle a Huge Looming Project

Prior Post: 5 Warning Signs When Choosing a Financial Adviser

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  1. Great term! I used to have BCS, but I was able to realize that the bandwagon was not a good place for me, so I jumped off. The only bandwagon I want to be on is the one that pushes people to save more money. That is better company for me!

  2. I think I have gotten better with this as well.. It used to be a real problem for me, and still can be, especially with technology. A big part of me still wants to go out and buy a PS4, and I really have no reason to do so. We already have a PS3, but I barely have time to use it. So why do I want a PS4? Because I have some friends that have one, and it seems fun.

  3. I feel like I’ve gotten better with this over the years. Even though I loved the iPad and felt the urge to get one, I waited until someone bought it for me. Even though I had an old boxy TV, I waited until someone gave me their old, really nice flat screen tv. So I guess the urge is there sometimes, but I have learned to restrain myself. And sometimes it’s not all bad to cave in if it’s within reason. Sometimes buying a little pick me up is just what I needed…like a new cute top, to give me a boost in confidence.

    • “I’ve learned to restrain…” That’s the cool thing, discipline can be learned. I think the urges will always be there. It’s what we do with them that can get us into trouble.

  4. Cashville Skyline says

    Confession: I actually love designer clothing. They are beautiful, well-made, and last WAY longer than anything else. Before I got into obsessively reading personal finance blogs, I obsessively read fashion blogs…yes, really. But I’ve grown out of my need for that stuff most of the time. I’ll buy something like a pair of Frye boots that I’ll wear for years, and cheap out on the rest ($2 sunglasses…holler!)

    • There is something to be said for quality and I see nothing wrong with indulging in it from time to time, given the logic for the decision is sound.

  5. This is something that I am constantly trying to battle – who wants to be a bandwagon consumer? – but I do struggle with. It’s not the stuff that everybody else has that interests me, it’s the reason they have it. I mean, the products must stand out for a reason. I am a sucker for anything that will make my life easier. I try to turn away from consumerism in general though.

    • “…anything that will make my life easier.” I certainly understand that. It’s the reason we ponied up the money to purchase our Macs years ago. I was losing precious work time because of the technical bugs with our PC.

  6. It’s hard to avoid BCS sometimes. I will see someone have an item, and although it isn’t anything more than a newer version of what I already have, I find myself wanting it, and picturing myself using it. Thankfully, when I do that, I realize that it usually won’t improve what I’m already working with. Of course, if it’s something I want and need and will use, and it isn’t too expensive, I’ll pull the trigger on it. Love the term Brian.

    • Your thought process sounds very similar to my own Ryan. For me, it’s about improving or creating better value in that particular product area.

  7. BCS! Good one, otherwise known as Big Case of Shopping. Mwah ha ha

  8. The hubs and I used to have closets-full of clothes and shoes. For me, it’s the nicest shiniest, tallest, most expensive stilletos, and it’s Jordans for the husband. Now I can’t even stand to see those things – we’re off that bandwagod. While we’ve downgraded the outfits, we’ve amped up the savings and increased our net worth – maybe we’re growing up afterall!
    Although my weakness will always be shoes, I just wouldn’t be able to rationalize buying $450 shoes, even if the whole world is buying them. I’m glad priorities have shifted. But BCS is a helluva disease – it flares up once in awhile. During those times, the PF blogs I read do offer a healthy antidote 🙂 Thanks for the diagnosis!

  9. I generally don’t suffer from bandwagon consumer syndrome. I only have a cell phone because my wife nagged me into getting one. It can be handy in emergencies, but I was happy without one. The one I have is a dumb Tracfone. My clothes are from garage sales and off-the-rack sales at places like Kohls or Sears. They look decent, but were not expensive. I drive a 4WD pickup truck because I used to go on dirt-bike trips all the time. I don’t anymore, due to health issues, but I still drive the truck. My wife drives a Prius. Main impetus to get that was the great gas mileage and her old Corolla wore out. Who cares how they look? We never try to impress anyone with what we have, and are not impressed by what others have. Oh sure, I might like the new Tesla S that one of my friends drove up in, and I wouldn’t even mind having one, but I’m not going to run out a buy one considering how expensive they are.

  10. “Everybody is doing it,” Ah, yes. I do recall those words slipping from my mouth once or twice, or a few dozen timeswhen I was kid. I’m much better at Bandwagon Consumer Syndrome these days. There are days I still fall prey to media hype (they are so darn good at their jobs) but it doesn’t happen often, thankfully! I only try to follow the crowd when what they are following is actually something I want. Something that will make my life easier or make me happy. Not to fit in or impress others. This Fall when we were going through the girls’ closets, Lauren had a pair of Converse shoes that she only wore a few times. She admitted she bought them because all her friends had them but she never liked them. It was a good lesson for her to recognize that her friends still liked her, even though she never wore her converse shoes and to learn that she could have used that money on things she truly wanted. BCS is tough to cure but it can be managed!

    • Thanks for sharing that lesson from your daughter. We faced something similar this past winter during basketball season. A lot of the kids on our school team wear these Elite Nike socks and our daughter wanted some. They are $14/pair…yikes! We bought her one pair and the rest were basic white with no swoosh. Fitting in and following the crowd is real tough during the kid/teen years.

  11. For me, I found that age and setting new priorities took these urges away. When I was in my 20’s and had good cash flow, I paid $350 for my first XBox, over $200 for my first DVD player, and over $1,200 for a pretty state of the art desktop computer. Now, I still play that original XBox, I paid $40 for my last DVD player (several years ago), and have the same desktop computer, over eight years later. My priorities are elsewhere with my family and with providing things and experiences that we can enjoy at lower cost.

    • I agree that age completely changes priorities. Those things we once couldn’t do without and would pay anything for don’t seem as important when family comes along.

  12. Done by Forty says

    Good stuff, Luke! I think we’re all on the bandwagon, despite our best efforts. I’m not wearing an old shower curtain or combing my hair with a fork, after all. I wear shirts and pants and use a brush on my hair, because that’s just social convention. My individuality is limited by the constraints of today’s society, and that applies to my purchases, too. I own a car and live in a house and have the typical American consumer purchases, mostly because that’s what society deems appropriate. I have some flexibility within those constraints: I can buy a good used car, or shop at a thrift store. But there’s a point at which my frugal choices would be too far out of the norm. We can’t really get off the bandwagon without there being other, social costs.

    • “…we’re all on the bandwagon…” Right…at some level we are. I wrote this as a way to help process why I jump on some things and not others. I think it’s very important for all of us to evaluate the choices we make and why.

  13. “Well, if someone was going to jump off a bridge, would you follow them?” Man I hated hearing this phrase from my Dad when I was a kid. Now that I’m older, I wonder how he put up with me, lol. I used to be a hardened bandwagon consumer, but have learned to be content with what I have and save up for the items I truly want as opposed to spending like crazy.

    • And nobody who asks that question ever expects the answer to be “Yes.” I was always tempted to give that smart aleck answer just to see the adults reaction. But I knew what the reaction would have been in my house.

  14. I can remember being five and wanting the new Nintendo. My dad loved video games, too, so one was purchased. I think the only other thing I really wanted back then was a computer and an iPod. I’ve really tried to get off the consumer bandwagon in the last few years, getting on the debt payoff wagon instead. Material things don’t mean as much to me anymore. I felt more pressure to fit in as a kid than I do now, which might explain that!

    • “…I felt more pressure to fit in as a kid…” That’s a great point E.M. While I don’t know if that desire wanes over time for everyone, it certainly has for me. Probably because I’m more comfortable with who I am and have experience in making both good and bad decisions.


  1. […] from Luke 1428 and I were on the same wavelength this week as he shared His Fight Against Bandwagon Consumer Syndrome. We all have “catnip” items that we see and automatically covet, and Brian shares how […]

  2. March wrap-up and some link love - impersonal finance says:

    […] Brian at Luke1428 shares his fight against Bandwagon Consumer Syndrome. […]

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