Saturday 28 November 2015

Consumer for a day

All this Black Friday talk has given me flashbacks to my last consumer experience a few weeks ago.  Now before I go on I do need to warn you that this might be a little biased in its viewpoint given I actually opted out of consumerism many years ago and so far this year have had an average monthly spend on clothing of £2.64, miscellaneous (which covers gifts, gadgets, a suitcase, non-work/entertainment related public transport and homewares) of £15.80 and entertainment of a hefty £56.15.

While I opted out many of those around me haven’t and so I was asked if I’d like to partake in a little ‘retail therapy’ with a close friend.  I hadn't caught up in a while and am conscious I've lost a number of ‘friends’ because of my lack of interest in consumption so I agreed to spend a few hours in a very large East London shopping centre.  It really did reinforce to me that this was no longer my thing.  It particularly hit home when I was looking at a scene not unlike this:


Firstly, not a single thing was as nature intended.  It was all concrete, steel, glass, lights and colours designed to heighten your senses and draw you in like a moth to a flame.  Importantly though watching the shoppers themselves moving through the walkways and aisles really did remind me of a hoard of zombies lumbering along in pursuit of the unknown.  It was all just so passive with everyone moving along to the next bargain waiting for stuff to just wash over them.

While this was all happening I could not see single one of these people bettering themselves or society.  Not a single piece of art was being created, not a single piece of music, a book wasn't read to learn something new, nothing was repaired to live another day, a problem wasn't solved and certainly nobody achieved self-actualisation.

I left with a headache (unsure if it was the bright lights, dehydration or whether gassing from things like the flame retardants in the tat caught me out now that I am no longer used to that environment – there was definitely smells that I am no longer used to) and £32.95 lighter.  The shocking thing was that £32.95 was for a quick sit down lunch!

My preference would have been some quality time doing something like this:


Fresh air, maybe the odd bird singing, a picnic of non heavily processed food, an environment conducive to really getting to know each other better and I would have still had close to £30 in my pocket after the event.

Maybe I'm just getting old but I do know it’ll be a while until I return to consume again...  


  1. I hope that £33 covered your mate's lunch too! Totally understand your sentiments here. I really hate how they've brought black friday over to the UK. It literally has NOTHING to do with us, so please America, take it back?!

  2. You may be a recovering consumaholic; I never was one. And I couldn't bring myself to pay £32.95 for a quick sit down lunch unless it involved lots of truffle. I mean, good grief, what did you eat?

  3. It is not because you are getting old. I have hated shopping all my life; mostly due to the things you mention. The utter waste of it all is horrible considering our dwindling resources per head. This 'black Friday' nonsense is just the latest way the mass media can heard those zombies with its narcissistic fingers.

    However, I do consume, unlike yourself, I just try to do it for my own reasons, and am conscious of what I am doing. Just as a little example, I try to pay by cash in the smaller business local shops while I pay by credit card in all the chains and extorting outlets if I cannot avoid them because of the company I keep.

    You really would do well in the countryside.

  4. @M and dearieme
    Yes, it was lunch for 2 and the scary thing was it was nothing special - a shared starter, a couple of rice dishes and a couple of fresh juices. I guess it's rip of London prices in rip off Britain.

    @Jim F
    Nice idea re when to use cash and when to use credit. Levels the playing field a little with the corporates able to drive their suppliers hard and avoid tax. I'm currently paying with my Amex cash back card whenever I can but then where I live I really don't get much of an opportunity to support smaller local businesses. They're pretty much long gone.

    I agree with you re the countryside. I am done with London. It's done the right thing by me when I was younger and also helped me to ramp my earnings but once FIRE comes I really am out. Whether it's a bit of space in the UK or somewhere on the continent is the next question...

  5. I'm with you on the pleasures of countryside vs shopping centres. The main benefit is the latter keep the masses entertained, so the former is much quieter for me to enjoy. Thank goodness beauty spot car parks aren't as crowded as mall ones.

    My set of English Heritage/National Trust/Historic Houses Association memberships give me lots of pleasure in the countryside, with no marginal cost, bar travel, to dissuade me from going, as I'm a packed lunch on bench, spurn the shop, kind of guy.

    (Oh, and an Art Pass, for my museum and exhibition fix)

  6. Although I appreciate the sentiment, I'd point out that just because the environment is not as nature intended does not make it automatically inferior to any other environment. Your home is also not as nature intended. You live in London, it's all like this. £30-odd food for two is so common in London the faux-shock comments here are tiring.

    1. Just because it's all like this and there are plenty of people prepared to pay it doesn't make it right nor does it make it a requirement that I participate. Of course I understand that things like crazy rents drive this kind of pricing in places like this but it's still a little depressing (maybe the word shocking in the post wasn't the best word as nothing about consumerism in this country really shocks me any more) that people are prepared to pay this time and time again without batting an eyelid. All IMHO of course.

      Let's look at that £32.95 from my perspective (and one of the reasons I wrote this post) in a little more detail:
      - To build enough wealth to support that purchase once a year I'd need £1,318 of wealth in FIRE at a 2.5% withdrawal rate. Do it every week and all of a sudden I now need £68,536. That is a lot of money to me, would take a long time to build and is certainly money I can use more wisely for higher levels of gratification. Not difficult when the spend gave me no gratification or value (again just my opinion and my values, clearly not others). I valued the company I was keeping but that could have been achieved without spending that level of money as I mentioned.
      - For example, that amount of money goes a long way to feeding my family well for a week. I'll take that over a single lunch for 2.
      - Another example is that single purchase represents 5% of what I am currently spending per month after rent and work costs. Once I've left London in FIRE it will represent a lot more particularly if that journey is continental in nature.

  7. I agree with you. I have always been immensely resistant to advertising, to sale pressures, to the artificial must-buy scenarios like the ones we are currently undergoing with 'Black Friday' and 'Cyber Monday' and all the hyped up social occasions like Christmas and Easter and Valentines and Halloween - Gah! And in 'shopping centres' I think of the huge profit margins, the glass and chrome you are paying for, the fact that they still make a profit when they sell you stuff at "fifty percent off".

    It's not that I am a meanie. I like good products and consistent good value. I buy things at my initiative, not the initiative of the salespeople, when I decide I need them. I buy good quality things if they will have frequent use over their lifetime. I care not for "brands."

    If you are or were the sort of person who buys "stuff" then a salutary experience is trying to sell it second-hand, when you want to de-clutter. Remember what it cost you in real terms? Did you get much real use from it? And now you find out that it is worth......almost nothing.

  8. Pretty horrible places once you're away from the mindset. Did you feel a little bit like a spy, someone in an environment that you no longer belong in, or at least can see through? That's how I feel.

    I may venture in tomorrow morning...I'm expecting similar.

  9. I don't know, shopping can be diverting. I quite enjoy wandering around the John Lewis gadget department or Richer Sounds. I don't buy much, but I'm happy enough to see others indulge - that's what makes the (our) world go round, for the moment. At least now in most malls you can get a decent seat, a coffee, free wi fi....but coming to think of it, pubs are in short supply in these places. Maybe the retailers don't want that kind of competition?

  10. Here we all are trying to invest and save for a better tomorrow and make our spend decisions based on need, value and enjoyment. If money was not a criteria would we still make the same decisions? I am sure it become part of of way of life so we may never feel free to spend as we want without feeling guilty.

    At least it make me feel better to have spent less and achieved more in terms of value and though charity spenfding get back more in return than I spend.

    Open a Charity Aid Foundation bank account and see what a difference spending makes.