Over and over in my life, I prove to myself (and to my wife) that my natural tendency is to act on a whim before thinking.
This surfaces in different ways, but particularly often as something I call “squirrel syndrome.” For example, one minute I am sitting at the kitchen table, plugging away on some important project and then… Squirrel! Squirrel! Netflix is on and I’m binge watching that new show. The next day I am perusing the aisle at Target for one specific thing and then… Squirrel! We are in the sporting goods section and things are spiraling, and spiraling… why is it always Target!?
It’s in Our Genetics.
I think impulsivity is ingrained in us. We are inherently engineered to crave instant gratification, to be impulsive. In the time it took you to read the previous paragraph, our prehistoric ancestors could have been eaten. They were fierce, lean machines that had to jump at opportunities for survival and sustenance because, back then, it was survival of the FITTEST. So, they ran the FARTHEST, they sprinted the FASTEST, and they survived.
Ha, you think life is short now, they knew short. Impulsivity literally saved them.
Only relatively recently, let’s say in the last few hundred years, have we as a species become less reliant on our actual fitness and impulsiveness and more reliant on things like self-control, moderation, and poise. Unfortunately, that has not been enough time for those genetic tendencies to work out of the gene pool. Nope, it’s in us. And marketers LOVE IT!
What is an advertisement? It’s a squirrel! A strategically placed, genetically modified, perfectly manicured… squirrel that will chirp and balk at you until it gets your attention from whatever it is you could be focusing on or until it takes your hard-earned nuts. The more beautiful, wild, bright, and witty that squirrel is, the better.
I can’t begin to understand the world of marketing, and I won’t try, but am I the only one that feels like, as a consumer, I am at war with the marketers? Or, perhaps more accurately, I am at war with my Genes!
Yes, I want that fattening, donut you are showing me on this commercial because fatty meals were few and far between in the good old days, so your mouth literally waters at the sight of such goodness!
Of course, I want girls to flock to me because of that deodorant scent because it was all about passing on those studly genes to your harem back then and the better you were at outsmarting the competition the bigger the harem was.
Yes, I will take that new (deadly) fat burning medicine so I can look like a bag of meat with extremities because since Cain did a number on Abel, we have been comparing ourselves to one another. Our very lives used to depend on it when we made judgments to fight or fly.
It is dangerous to drive down an interstate with your eyes closed, so… BILLBOARDS! Hmmm, these website domains aren’t gonna sell themselves. I know, throw a bunch of scantily clad women doing provocative things into a commercial, and boom, we have traffic!
We are getting the crap kicked out of us by marketers. And really we have no chance because they are playing to the most archaic tendencies we have and there is nothing we can do about it. Wrong! We can fight back… Be fierce! I want to give you 5 ways to kick the tar out of the next marketing ploy you see so that it runs back home crying to its Momma.
1. Determine what you are fighting for
Whether you are William Wallace fighting for your country’s freedom, Mulan fighting for your family’s honor, or Chris Gardner fighting along your Pursuit of Happiness, you must have a motive for putting your life on the line.
Why are you doing this? What is at stake? What would financial independence mean to you?
When answering these questions, I am always brought back to the fundamental motivations that drove me to this pursuit of financial independence. I want to reach the FI point so that I never HAVE to “work” again. I want to be in control of my precious time. I think of this vision whenever I’m about to frivolously spend.
2. Know what is on your grocery list, and stick to it
What would your spending report look like if you only bought the things that were on your grocery list for one month? Would you cut your spending? I know I would.
I have to give my wife credit for finding one of our newest life hacks, Walmart pickup. Since I was a kid, I have hated walking through grocery stores, and now as a parent, I can’t think of a worse outing than dragging my children through a grocery store.
With Walmart pickup, my wife orders exactly what we need from an app on her phone and schedules a pickup time. The next part still blows me away. During the scheduled pick up time, she marks on the app that she is ready to pick up the food, drives, and parks in the designated area at Walmart, and an employee brings out the food in a wagon and loads it into our car for us, WITHOUT GETTING A SINGLE KID OUT OF THEIR SEAT AND AT NO EXTRA COST.
And the big kicker here, you search for and select exactly what you want, on an app, without walking down an aisle to look for it. No more impulse buys, no more getting sucked in by careful “planograms”. Our grocery bill has dropped by about 15%.
And, if you have a running “non-grocery list” of other necessities, it will make it easier to say yes or no to other advertised products you come across. “Hi, you are selling Kirby Vacuums? Oh, I’m sorry, I am not currently looking for a vacuum, so the answer is no. But thank you, good luck, and if we are looking for a vacuum in the future we will have a place to start!” (Do Kirby vacuums even exist anymore?)
3. Be confident in who you are
One of the most conniving strategies of a salesman or marketer is making a possible buyer waffle on their own self-worth, integrity, or societal stature. “Buy my product”, they say, “or you are a bad person, not good enough, or obsolete.” DON’T BUY THAT CRAP!!! You are enough just how you are!
If you are genuinely happy and secure with who you are, regardless of what you do or do not have, then you will not fall for this tactic.
4. Practice saying no, not maybe
To get morbid for a second, I was trained in the emergency department that when I am telling someone that their loved one has died that I actually use the word “dead” or a form of it. While it is always important to be empathetic, beating around the bush by using another phrase or word in order to sugar coat the delivery only causes confusion and fosters denial.
I suggest we use the same technique with salesmen and marketers. The answer is NO. Do it empathically, do it kindly, but if you do not want the product, the answer is N-O.
5. Know where your money goes
Marketers do a great job playing off of your natural tendency to want more now. They want to lock you in today with a manageable payment that you can easily afford. The issue is everyone thinks in terms of payments they can afford today, but not the long-term impact of buying decisions.
When’s the last time you went through your spending habits? My guess is, there’s any number of subscriptions you just don’t use any more, whether that be, the gym, Netflix, Cable, Hulu, subscription boxes, credit monitoring, phone insurance. And then there’s the question of how much money you’re blowing on coffee runs and fast food. Don’t let the marketers win by directing your focus to the small out-of-pocket today, look at your spending to ensure that your money aligns with your goals.
While the world has changed drastically from those primeval times, it is still survival of the FITTEST, but FIT looks a little different. Champion your self-control and remember these 5 tips and you won’t be distracted by cute squirrels!