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Breaking the Consumer Addiction

The problem is that the ease with which we buy online is now rubbing off on our kids. The era of instant gratification blurs the line between wants and needs.
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As Americans, we live in a "buy it now" culture. We once bought everything that the TV told us that we "needed," but then we started recording our shows and fast-forwarding through the commercials. Soon marketers had to find another way to get in our heads, so they overtook our newest time waster -- our technology.

Whether it is a "Johnny Likes The New Whipper-Snapper" on Facebook, a popup ad on your iPhone or a link to a product from a blog that you read, propaganda is invading every second of our lives that we are exposed to a shiny screen. And why not? It is so easy to click that Buy It Now button... and we don't even have to have a credit card handy with PayPal. It is a win-win for the retailer in an impulse-buying culture.

The problem is that the ease with which we buy online is now rubbing off on our kids. The era of instant gratification blurs the line between wants and needs.

When I was a kid, we received new things on our birthday, Christmas, when grandma came to visit and when there was more skin showing through the hole in the knee than there was pant remaining. Now, however, my kids come to Target with me and think they NEED a new shirt because their friend has one just like it. They NEED the new candy and the new cereal. "Haven't I been doing good in school, Mommy?"

Our consumer-driven society has manipulated my kids and now my kids are trying to manipulate me.

We have become such a "Buy It Now" culture that we totally believe that we deserve that new dress, the newest gadget and the upgraded service. We work hard. It is our right to play hard, too.

But then we buy it and we realize that it isn't as shiny at home as it was in the store. So we stash it. We fill up our closets with our stuff, then we move our vehicles out of the garage and fill that up, too. When that is overflowing, we rent a storage unit. Since it is now our of our eyesight... we buy more. The space is there, why not?

It concerns me to see my kids grabbing onto these consumerist habits. It is not even a matter of whether we can afford the new thing or not, it is whether we need it -- and will we really use it?

I am changing the way our household is run. Even though we've never been big spenders, I want my kids to really get a reality check as to the difference between needs and wants. I am starting an open dialogue of that identification process so they'll hopefully understand the trap that is consumerism.

We are also making a donation of two items for every new item purchased. The less clutter, the better.

And above all, we are saying "not right now." Rather than a flat-out no that will inevitably cause a meltdown and not actually teach anything, a "not right now" opens the door to a conversation about want versus need and it takes away the impulse buying.

Finally, I have my kids maintaining a "want" list. As they come across something new they want, they have to scratch something else off the list. This allows them the ability to dream and ask, but to keep it reasonable and to think about what they really want and not what others say they should want. These items can then be bought on special occasions and I know they will be valued and appreciated.

What about you? Are you a compulsive shopper? Is the habit rubbing off on your kids? Have you found a way to balance the want versus need frustration?