Episode-751- Common Sense vs. Consumerism

Today I wanted to take a moment to take a look at the concept of consumerism and how it directly conflicts with the preparedness lifestyle.  Now don’t get me wrong I am a capitalist libertarian, I believe in the free market but I also believe in making informed consumer decisions.

Consumerism is the opposite of that, consumerism is a heard mentality where providers and producers spend time competing for existing market share and replacing products that are still functional.  An informed consumer market requires producers and providers to innovate and create better longer lasting products and services.

Join me today as I discuss…

  • Early Retirement Extreme – a book that got me thinking this way
    • Are we in a “climax stage” as in Permaculture
    • Are companies innovating or competing in existing markets
    • Working Man v. Salary Man v. Business Man v. Renaissance Man
  • How our grandparents evaluated a purchase of a product
    • Do I need it
    • Does anything I have fill the role now
    • How long will it last
    • What will it do for me and my family
    • How long must I work to pay for it
    • If I don’t buy it what difference will it really make
  • How companies market products today
    • Can we create a fad/cult following around it
    • What existing market share can we capture with it
    • Can we build a market to sell subsequent products to
    • Is it a consumable or designed to fail
    • How cheaply can we manufacture it
    • Can we outsource most of the work
    • Will it last long enough to avoid returns
    • Can we sell it for less than the competition
    • Or can we justify a premium at little to no internal cost
  • How do we avoid the consumerist trap and still have fun and cool stuff
    • Avoiding debt solves most of the problems
    • Have a 48 hour waiting period on major purchases
    • Ask the questions our grandparents did

Additional Resources for Today’s Show

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23 Responses to Episode-751- Common Sense vs. Consumerism

  1. I was alive yesterday and didn’t have it and I’m alive today and I don’t have it. Hah! I love that saying!

    Really thought provoking topic you have here. And it certainly goes along with survival; as in everyday survival. If we just spend willy nilly on things that we don’t really need, then we won’t have anything left over for the things we actually do need; like food, shelter, heat/air & water.

    Will definitely have to listen to this a couple times, but I love it!

  2. I’m a graphic designer by trade 20+ years. Our profession has been subject to ridiculous engineered software obsolescence on a yearly basis. It’s pretty much like you are just buying a subscription — an EXPENSIVE subscription — and they’ve even gone to the extreme of literally making the software unusable and tied into mandatory hardware upgrades, by not allowing backwards compatibity. It seems punitive even. The things that they add (I’m talking Adobe) are absolute fluff which few real world designers actually USE, but it is not an option to not upgrade when they say upgrade, because of the need to transfer files between designer/director/printer. It also is a subtle “push” to what they really want us to do eventually — “cloud” usage. I can’t wait for the day when I can heave my computer off a cliff into a dumpster.

    • Ellen, what does it mean it “cloud” usage?

      • Cloud computing is basically having everything as a service, not a product. See more here:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing
        My objection is that they also want everyone to put all their data in “the cloud”. Just how secure do we all think that is, in terms of access by federal government, hackers, with a single keystroke. Personally, I think it’s a BIG potential threat to privacy. Bottom line, you will be in for a lifetime subscription when/if the cloud becomes the norm.

  3. Hey Jack, I love your show. but as an engineer, I do understand your design to fail, but I don’t think this is a problem. Now that we can produce parts with a known failure rate they can be produced more cheaply and you tend not to have parts failing and complete and total lemons all because some idiot choose the wrong bolt. granted, I am wrestling with changing the ballance oil pump and alternator on my ’05 Passat Wagon at the moment. A really good book that changed my view on the subject was “To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design” by Henry Petroski. Really a riviting read.

    But the main take away. I could design a product that lasts forever. It will weigh a ton (since I need to design for every eventuality), perform poorly (since all the parts will need to be tried and true), and be expensive (high quality and high reliability parts are not cheap, if you dought that try to look up the price of a flange bolt on a naval vessel that is designed to last 30 years.) So, if you want to spend that kind of money there are makers for that but most people are willing to take the trade off to have greater functionality, decreased weight and a life expectancy of a product that is inversely perportional to the rate of increase of the technology(I’ll buy my house for 30 years, my car for 15, my computer for 3, and my cellphone for 2 because the rate of increase for the cost is inversely perportional for the examples). I am not taking away from what you are saying about being frugal but apart from cosmetic crap (see APPLE for this one) that really dominates planed obsolence, there is a lifetime you can build into a part and it is finite. \
    Thanks for the great shows!

    //end rant
    Nav Arch

    • @Nav Arch

      I need to chime in on this one. What I am taking from Jack’s comments today is not that he thinks that planned failure in and of itself is ‘bad’, but that when marketing execs or board members with no effin clue make the decisions on planned obsolescence, it is done strictly to drive sales. I worked briefly in the engineering side of television some years ago, and our station was researching all the equipment needed to broadcast in HD. When my boss (the Chief Engineer of the station) was talking to company reps for transmitters, we kept getting marketing and sales guys who kept trying to convince (blow sunshine up our asses) us that their product was ‘loaded with features’, etc. When he tried to nail them down on particulars, like time between failures, part replacement cost, etc, they kept trying to downplay that aspect and play up all the ‘features’. It was ridiculous. He finally had to bypass the sales departments of both transmitter companies and backdoor contact the actuall engineers to get good, solid information to make his decision. THEN, we find out that the ‘first generation’ of this transmitter was going to have a maintenance schedule three times as frequent as the old one, and the cost of repair was going to triple. Needless to say, we went with a totally different company.

      The point of my rambling is, engineers rarely get to have the final say on how the product is ultimately going to be built. These decisions are made by the marketing clowns and the bean counters. They are not making rational, thought out decisions on how well to engineer a part based on the precepts that you set forth. They are strictly trying to sell maximum product and create a perpetual market. And THAT is the point that I think Jack was making. At least, thats what I took from the show today.

      TexasWolf

  4. I have been working retail in the outdoor industry for several years and have noticed with brands that have been on top in sales have little to no innovation in their products and just look to expand their market by adding a new look, not function. It’s all a fad for awhile, so in the end the people who actually use their product fall to the wayside (with no innovation), while the mass consumers get marketed too with pure junk!

  5. Jack, you can get a replacement screen from eBay for like eight dollars and install it yourself. It took me about an hour and there are some great videos on YouTube to give instruction. Great show very thought provoking. Keep up the good work.

  6. http://www.amazon.com/Replacement-iPhone-Screen-Digitizer-Adhesive/dp/B002A9PVAI

    Jack, an Iphone screen replacement from amazon for $8.

    I am in the engineering field and have that mind set. Function is beauty. Drives my wife crazy. “How does this look?” “I don’t know, does it work?”

  7. Pingback: » The survival podcast on consumerism Early Retirement Extreme: — when more time > more money

  8. @Jack,

    I was working on some multi-tools with small Torx screws, and twisted the heck out of the tip on one of the craftsmen screwdrivers–in a set of 5. I took the one back that failed (along with the others), and got a whole new pack of 5, not just the one, because they didn’t sell them individually.

    So, yeah, that Craftsman warranty is still good.

    • Ryan Lewellin

      My dad went to Sears not too long ago to buy a new garden hose. He made a comment to the sales guy about how he had his Craftsman hose for 25 years and it finally went out on him so he wanted to buy a new one. They told him to just bring in the old one and they’d give him a new one, even after 25 years. Pretty cool. I went out and bought a Craftsman hose right after that – you definitely get what you pay for in the world of garden hoses.

  9. Jack, as far as the whole strategy of just-duplicate-what’s-already-out-there-then-add-one-frivolous-tweak-and-grab-a-portion-of-existing-market-share …..

    Hollywood has likewise latched on to that exact philosophy. Hollywood is scared right now —they have been for a decade. Ticket sales continue to drop each year and the steady siphoning of the public’s attentions off toward the amusements found on the internet shows no sign of letting up. There is a “need” for stories and films (just as there is a “need” for songs and music), but no one in Hollywood is certain how to restructure the current business model of the film industry so that they can continue to make movies yet still make a profit.

    So driven by fear, no one in Hollywood wants to take risks anymore. THAT is why so many films today are sequels or else “based on a true story” or else based on a best-selling book/graphic novel/comic book or even spun-off from a TV show or inspired by a video game. ORIGINAL material in Hollywood is looked at with much suspicion. The only truly original films getting made now (such as Avatar and Inception) which are wholey unique and based on absolutely no preexisting material, are mostly the personal passion projects of already big name producers who are either putting up their own money to finance the project, or who carry enough weight for the bolder and more imaginative executives to want to take a risk.

    And ….. As an additional support of the whole field of marketing and consumer concepts you presented in today’s podcast ….

    When a script gets considered for production, there are still numerous hurdles that must be leaped over before even one frame of film gets shot. One of the worst aspects of this whole process is an interminably long process of meetings and study and round table discussions that has been dubbed “Development Hell.” One of the meetings that gets done during “Development Hell” is the meeting where they review a very important check-sheet celled a “development checklist” which is important only from a business perspective but has nothing to do with the creative process of writing a story or designing costumes or casting actors. The development checklist asks a bunch of yes/no questions with yes/no check-boxes. One of those questions is “Would this movie offer any sequel potential?” Such as Airplane and Jaws and even Friday the 13th where you can just keep on cranking out sequel after sequel ad infinitum. And another question is “Would this movie offer merchandizing potential?” where the studio can contract a bunch of different factories in China to crank out millions of action figures and lunch boxes and bed sheets. And yet another is “Are there any product placement opportunities anywhere in the storyline?” such as we saw with ET’s favorite candy.

    And many times a script will get rejected due to these checklists with such explanations told to the scriptwriter as: “low merchandizing potential” and “poor sequel potential.” The story was fine. The script was superb. But the business end of it didn’t impress the guys in the suits. (And no one in Hollywood wears a suit unless they are a lawyer or an accountant.)

    So scriptwriters who imagine that Hollywood merely wants awesome stories are in for a rude awakening. The whole marketing/consumerism thing has so permeated the development process.

  10. I have often thought marketing is all about blurring the difference of pleasure with happiness. That is why I’m so amazed with this this guy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYJKd0rkKss&feature=youtube_gdata_player

  11. Michael wilkinson

    I ran my iPhone 3G thru the washer and the dryer. It took a month to dry out but everything works. It has a water mark on the screen that is slightly noticeable. I got a used 3GS off craigslist for $100 to replace it but it is still used by my kids every day as a iPod. These are the best built phones and I have no need for the newest modle.

  12. Jack, thanks for the excellent show! I’ve had to start asking myself the same questions you mentioned. Too many false starts, with the purchase of associated tools/supplies, have caused me to learn to wait awhile before jumping into something new. Most of the time, I just go back to someething else I have started, but haven’t completed.

  13. Fantastic show today. Will listen to this one again. I really needed this podcast today. I have been feeling down and this has brought me back up. Really love the show Jack. Thank you so much for what you do.

  14. I’m only about halfway through the podcast thus far, but this is a subject on which I find myself in 100% agreement with Jack. I heard Paul Wheaton interview Jacob for over 2 hours on his podcast recently, and it was a fantastic interview. Although I haven’t purchased Jacob’s book yet, I read his blog pretty much every day — I highly recommend it.

    Jack (and anyone else reading this), I wonder how much you’re familiar with “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin? You brought up the concept of “How long did you have to work to pay for that?” which mirrors YMOYL’s concept of money = life energy, with one important difference. While the question you ask is an important one, it is still open to being misleading over how much you REALLY have to work to pay for something. YMOYL takes you through an exercise where you get a definite quantity of how much money one hour of your life energy is REALLY worth, and then links your accounting of expenditures to 3 purpose-driven questions that give real clarity to your handling of money. I’ve found this approach to be revolutionary in my own life, and my expenditures easily dropped 15-20% without any real effort, but rather just being more aware of my spending and that I was really spending the finite hours of my life on products/services instead of a financial token.

    The investment advice in the book is rather dated, but the way that it transforms the way you view money in your life is downright revolutionary. I highly recommend it to anyone out there who has not yet read it.

    http://www.amazon.com/Your-Money-Life-Transforming-Relationship/dp/0143115766

    A word of caution, though — The authors do have their own political slant and it does show through in the way they talk about the book’s concepts. However, that political perspective in no way really impacts the solid nature of the advice they provide.

    • I’m glad I wasn’t the only one flashing back to YMOYL while listening to the podcast. I read it 15 years ago and it has had a profound influence on my spending habits, career, and values. Like you, I didn’t see the logic in everything in the book, but the “money = life energy” concept really struck a chord with me.

      I believe one of the things that drew me to TSP was hearing echos of YMOYL in Jack’s podcasts.

  15. Interesting this show came out the same day as Amazon’s big new Kindle lineup.
    By all accounts the new Kindle Fire was rushed to market this year, and next years model will have better features and connectivity. It sure looks like an appealing alternative tablet to the iPad, however. I may even buy one, with saved cash, but I will do so eyes open with the perspectives highlighted in today’s show.

  16. Paul Wheaton has a (two hour!) interview with the author of Retirement Extreme, Jacob Lund Fisker:

    http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/388-podcast-059-early-retirement-extreme/

  17. Hey Jack,
    I agree with the previous poster, with my old iPhone I replaced the screen more that this 10 times! The screen kits can be found on ebay for 4-8the dollars and ut includes all the required tools to safely and properly do the job.

    Also just a note I have, for the past 4-5 years I have been repairing all on my unrepairable products. I can find sources online to repair nearly anything!! Refrigerator, Dishwasher, coffee makers, computers, etc….At first my wife looked at me ad if I was crazy taking apart appliances. But very quickly came in board when I was saving us thousands!

    Thanks for all you do!

  18. Sharp people have been observing the folly of a consumer driven systems for a long time. In 1948 the 12th edition of Abbe Warre’s book Beekeeping For All, has a passage that states, “A historian wrote: ‘The French have a mania for praising what comes from outside at the expense of what they have at home.”
    I have bought a lot of NICE stuff (tools, hunting equipment, and guns) from people at pennies on the dollar because they think they HAVE to have the latest and greatest NOW, and need money to get it. Sadly there have been times when 6 months later I am getting a killer deal on whatever the latest and greatest was the last time. I would hate to be caught in that cycle.
    Years a go I would try to talk friends out of such things, but to no avail. The more difficult a financial situation, the more eager the grasshopper seems to be to jump right in!

    Jack, thanks for the show.

    P.S. – I have had the same cell phone since 2004. It is no i-phone, but it still rings (far too often).