The Accidental Shopper

I've just been out to a large discount and party supply store in Sydney's West. I went there with my adventure buddy/wife to purchase some decorations and themed bits for my 30th birthday party, which will resemble that of an 8-year-old's celebration (if they were also obsessed with Dinosaurs). Because Dinosaurs, and why not. The point of this prelude is to declare that I intentionally went out to accidentally waste $93 on single-use, really fun and Dinosaury toys. For a person who blogs about conscious consumption, I think I'm being very transparent in offering the above glance into my personal buying behaviour.

Here's why...

In a recent writing collaboration for KALEIDO magazine, The Ponderance were asked to share our top tips for a 'balanced life' at work and at home. One of the tips we offered related to consuming - spending our money - in a strict, intentional and considered way. The fascinating and underrated concept of Intentional Shopping. This idea first came to mind whilst driving back from a meeting with my fellow Ponderer, Alexis. We were pondering the lifestyle, specifically the financial and consumption habits of a friend of ours, who always complains about being low on cash. If you are single, reasonably responsible, not in any huge amount formal debt how can you be always scrounging when you earn (what we assume is well over) $65,000ish per year? We have a truly rewarding lifestyle and our combined income was less than that last year. Unless they have a secret designer shoe fetish, or another v(ice), it made no sense to us that our friend would always be jesting at their financial deficit. Moreover, she represented many cases - of varying degrees in our friendship circles - of this "I can't really afford it" mindset.

OK... So we and our allegedly cash-strapped mates mostly live in Sydney, one of the most expensive cities in the world (14th to be precise). In the priciest spots in town it is understandable that balancing your finances can be difficult. This is amplified if you want to keep up with appearances and enjoy a nice meal out and a holiday every now and then. The desire to enjoy the fruits of cushy labour usually leads many young Aussies to excuse the occasional budget blow-out as ‘living in the now’. Something that happens suddenly, forced by boredom or the feeling of restraint experienced when we try to slooowwly save up for something greater, something sensible and long-term. Like a crippling mortgage on a shoebox apartment a little further from the city than you originally intended to ever go, let alone live. So we know there is the occasional 'oops' (baby) and that some of our mates are saving up pretty hard for the ever-elusive myth of first-home-ownership, but for the most part our cash-strapped friends aren't saving for a place, nor travelling a lot, nor partying like its 1999.

A scene where our 'Hannah' would hang out.

A scene where our 'Hannah' would hang out.

Who are were we thinking about that day in the car? 

Our example person, let's call her Hannah (see random google image of bar full of friend-type persons), earns $65,000 at her slightly above entry level grad job. She works full time, buys lunch most days and lives in a shared house in Newtown. She is paying of a HECS (student loan) debt and clears $924 a week (according to pay calculator). Her rent ($240/w), bills ($65/w), yoga studio membership ($30/w), private health insurance ($20/w) and eating out ($150/w) leave her with $429 by Friday afternoon, $80 of which she usually drinks over the weekend with her mates. She then has $350 which she could, if she dares, classify as disposable income, every week. Yet still claims she has no financial flexibility. This first world poverty is a big topic often vocalised and echoed around most of her social circle. So where does it go? You spend your entire week in an office, you don't even have time to spend your money. Unless you are skipping work, Or, having shopping accidents on the way home?

Or perhaps it was that f**king Avocado on toast again?

We love to laugh it off. Attaching a stoicism to our hip pocket brutalisations... "Remember that time we got smashed and spent $600 on an Uber to Wollongong!? Maaaan that was a loose night". Attempting to bluetac some sort of comedic, socially enhancing value to being a complete and utter f**kwit. Most of the time we do get a pat on the back from the friends, hearing the story, whilst they wonder through a falsely reassuring smile - "I've been stupid with money, but not that stupid... have I?". 

This consumer funnel shows the seller or marketers perspective - Image source

This consumer funnel shows the seller or marketers perspective - Image source

So let's take a look at the psychology of consumption:
There are many formulas that seek to define the retail purchasing process. Often referred to as a 'consumer consideration funnel' or a 'buyer behaviour model', most are based on the A.I.D.A. models of E. St. Elmo Lewis published in 1898. The acronym AIDA referring to Awareness, Interpretation, Desire and Action. It goes as follows:

  • Attention/Awareness - We (the consumer) become aware of a category, product or brand - usually through advertising
  • Interest - We become interested in learning about brand benefits & how the brand fits with a lifestyle
  • Desire - We develop a favourable disposition towards the brand
  • Action - We form a purchase intention, shop around, engage in trial or make a purchase


How does this psychologist babble explain how our mate Hannah blows her spare $350 each and every week amassing to a question mark around $18,200?

She and many of her mates are accidental shoppers. They habitually make purchase decisions based on emotional triggers rather than intentionally calculating the before and after benefits of their consumption. They are chasing an adrenaline rush based on wants, not needs. They quickly assume the benefits of a purchase BEFORE they test the product against their expectations. Pretty soon $350 becomes a new set of portable bluetooth speakers and tickets to a festival in 4 months at which they will know 3/14 acts on the bill, and care about seeing maybe 1 of them.

An Intentional shopper probably wouldn't walk into a shop, or load up a website without being aware of their need for a specific item and the best place to get it. This means they can also weigh up and save up for the cost. This generally means the conversation with friends at the pub that Friday isn't about how financially frazzled they are. It will probably be about the new pair of boots they bought because the old ones had genuinely had it and the new ones are proven to last for at least 5 years. 

Although we are sometimes happy to spend our cash on spontaneous purchases, we at The Ponderance studio agreed that our path to purchase usually requires some prior research and most importantly peer review of the products we are considering. We are 100% against the idea of gaining comfort or satisfaction through ‘retail therapy’. Then of course there is the occasional blowout - birthdays, road trips, surfboards (because you're already at the beach and 'it's an investment') and definitely Gigi's pizza.

Being an intentional shopper is all about consideration of your purchase BEFORE you make it. Furthermore it is the practiced ability to stop yourself buying anything that isn't going to result in owning, consuming or doing something that serves you, long term. Keeping in mind I just blew $93 on Dino-themed disposable decorations from a $2 shop... We mentioned birthday party blowouts earlier. I, the author, am not immune.

$1000 kayak - $400 roof racks for car to transport it - GoPro to film adventures in it $450 - Amount of times you realistically get to enjoy your $1850 investment per year, maybe 4.

$1000 kayak - $400 roof racks for car to transport it - GoPro to film adventures in it $450 - Amount of times you realistically get to enjoy your $1850 investment per year, maybe 4.

What can Hannah (you) do to make her shopping choices more intentional?

  1. Emotion - Not an easy task if you are looking at a holiday photo or puppy on Instagram. Stepping back and understanding the practical and financial impact of a purchase is key. Try and factor in all of the on-costs, social, cultural, professional gains/losses and see them for what they are.
  2. Want VS need - This step is simple. It involves working out if the purchase is wanted (desired) or needed (required). If your reasoning is leaning towards a 'want' state you're officially a chump and you've succumbed to peer pressure and advertising. 
  3. Real cost - Now you can weigh up the ongoing costs of your potential purchase. For example, a Kayak might costs you $1000, but you will also need to spend 2 hours driving to a good spot to use it, fit your car with $400 roof-racks, and convince a friend to come and do it with you. You may want to reconsider step 2. Do you really need it? Or are you just dreaming up a Corona moment from a magazine? 
  4. Hours - I swear by this method. Do you really want to spend a whole week of hard graft on a few scattered hours a year of paddling? Work out the actual hours of work you'll need to perform to offset the purchase, and reconsider its value. Still need a Kayak?
  5. Peer pressure - OK, so assuming that you have emotionally detached from the #Kayak (step 1), you've added up all of its associated costs (step 2) and are happy with the hours of hard yakka you'll endure to bring in the funds... (Is it a coincidence that yakka is an anagram for kayak?) Ask yourself this question: Would I be as happy with this purchase if none of my friends ever find out about it? If the answer is 'yes', go ahead and whip out your wallet.

Intentional shopping will free up your time, cash and best of all Ego. You're going to be less likely to spend on persona boosting crap you don't need to wear/have/consume and you will start having something other than "I'm so poor this week" to add to conversations.

It might even leave you with a little extra to spend on hauling your ass up a mountain to see the Gorillas of Uganda... Stay tuned.