How you answer that question depends on which you perceive to be more important. So, have you decided?

In the last post, we considered the case of my son’s being bullied in school and how understanding manipulation techniques of the bullies gives us a starting point to deal with the likes of Edward Bernays, the father of modern consumerism, and his public relations manipulation techniques.

Every household has a set of priorities that demand attention before anything else – shelter, food, clothing, health care, transportation and utilities. Ever since you were a child, you have had some goals in mind for your life – career, education, climb Mount Everest and other accomplishments that give your life meaning and significance. And if you are human, there are a list of things you would like to have which are neither priorities nor goals – beach house, sports car, latest iPad, etc.

It took reorienting my son’s definition of himself to overcome the bullying, and that is our starting point here as well. The definition we have of ourselves controls how we handle manipulative marketing. Two key things help us define ourselves – the way we respond to what happens in life and what we accomplish in life.

First, we need a set of principles and behaviors that will guide how we respond. When _________ happens, I will do ___________. It was not enough for my son to have a definition of himself. He needed a way to respond. When I am bullied, I will turn around and walk away. The definition you hold about yourself will inform your response to situations, and you can respond to situations when you have a firm definition of yourself.

Second, we have an inner need to accomplish something or to feel significant, and we complete achievements by intentional behavior. That’s a fancy way of saying we need goals to help us get things done in life. Not just any goals, our goals must be interesting, achievable and measurable. Goals are what help us get out of bed in the morning and get through difficult times.

So, when society asks the question, “Are you going to be fashionable or are you poor,” you can confidently say, “I am pursuing a worthwhile goal that defines who I am, the thing you want me to buy does not fit into my goals, and achieving my goals will ultimately bring me more satisfaction.”

In other words, we don’t need to fit into society’s definition of a fashionable family to have satisfaction and meaning in life.

However, following these principles involves a system of trade-offs, otherwise known as opportunity cost. When standing in the check-out line, you consider how the candy bar might taste, but then you realize that buying a candy bar every time you visit the grocery store is going to slow down progress on your goal. You have to decide which is more important, and here are some tips that will help.

1. Reduce your exposure to media. Media includes television, smart phones, tablets, news, social media, radio, and internet. Marketing depends specifically on these channels to disseminate their campaigns. The less we are exposed to media, the less we can be manipulated into buying something we don’t need to solve a problem we don’t have. Facebook, as an example, openly admits your news feed is manipulated for the purpose of making a profit and influencing your thinking on current issues. Folks, they wouldn’t do this if it didn’t work, but the trouble is we don’t really detect what is happening in the moment.

Media is addicting and very time consuming. Stepping away from media requires an intentional decision to either limit time on media or carve out specific times each day when media is turned off. From time to time, I will go on a Facebook fast, and, while the task can be hard, the results are amazingly beneficial. I also use Facebook feed apps that greatly reduce the amount of time I need to spend online to keep up with my friends and causes that matter to me.

We have little respect for the amount of media and advertising our minds receive each day and the effect they have on us. Researchers at California State University report that by the time the average child finishes elementary school, he or she is exposed to 8,000 murders on television. By age 18, that number jumps to 200,000. Each year the average child is exposed to 20,000 television commercials. By the time a person is age 65, the total number of commercials they will have seen is 2 million. Nearly all survey participants acknowledge that television commercials make their children materialistic.

This is just television. Imagine how these numbers grow exponentially when you add in newspapers, e-mail, internet, smart phones, tablets, etc. We cannot simply take in all this information and expect it to have no effect or that we can easily counteract it.

Intentionally limiting your intake of media will have positive, healthy effects on your mind, body, relationships and personal finances.

2. Reduce your exposure to shopping, coupon and deal sites. If you are tempted to shop, browsing deals is not going to help. Couponing can be a big help for the family with a tight budget, but it can also create big problems by tempting you to buy. Remember, you save more by not spending than by spending with a coupon.

3. Live by a financial plan. The financial plans I create begin with the client’s needs, goals and desires. The person you want to become and the things you want to experience should be the number one driver of how you spend your time and money. Where we spend our money and time dictates who we will become. A well developed financial plan gives purpose to how we allocate our money and informs how we allocate our time. Time is an important factor here because we use time to spend and earn money.

4. Implement budget controls. Yes, you should have a budget. Whether a budget is important is not the question most people ask. The more pressing question is how to live by a budget. The only answer is to use budget controls. Some examples include an emergency fund, cash envelope system and a healthy reward system for good money behavior and reaching goals.

Public relations, Edward Bernays, marketing campaigns and all media content actively use psychology to manipulate your behavior to spend money or sway your opinion on cultural issues. It takes just as much psychology to respond – the psychology of money, self-control, and achieving goals.



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    Climbing the Money Tree


    R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(TM) and founder of Zacchaeus Financial Counseling, Inc., a non-profit organization providing financial planning services to low-income households and households experiencing financial strain.

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