Consumer Tribalism: A Battle For Financial Peace

Advertising: Times Square, New York City

Advertising: Times Square, New York City

The business world is at war.

It has fortified its forces, from experts in branding, social media, and marketing, to psychologists and designers, to win a war for your dollars.

They compete for every aspect of our lives — from cars to insurance, clothes to cell phones, — every industry wants market share and to be placed first in your mind’s eye.

They have invested heavily for you to click on their ad, buy their product, or subscribe to their service. Unless you have figured out a way to escape the grid (which is unlikely), you are an unwary participant in the war.

Abraham H. Maslow wrote a research paper entitled, “A Theory of Human Motivation” in which he presented the idea that we, as humans, direct our action towards the achievement of goals. Those goals begin with certain baseline needs, such as safety, security, employment (like food and shelter).

The next step on the ladder beyond basic needs is the idea of belongingness; like love, friendship, intimacy, and family.

Further up on the scale, before reaching the ultimate of self-actualization (I’ll leave this one for another time) is the idea of esteem. Esteem includes the idea of confidence, self-esteem, and respect.

It is in the Belongingness and Esteem categories where the battle takes place.

Think about any product and those who represent the product to the consumer. If that person is someone you admire and is telling you to join their tribe by acting on their pitch (from a drill bit to perfume), your brain says, “hell yeah, I want to be in your tribe!”.

We are being influenced about which car to drive, which clothes are cool, on which airline to travel, and who to trust when investing money. It all touches that part of us that seeks validation, acceptance, esteem, and a sense of belonging.

Hey, everyone wants to be cool and perceived to be successful, right? It’s clear that these savvy tacticians have done a very thorough job of mapping out strategies aimed at separating you from your hard-earned dollar.

The emotional part of us is strong and convincing. It pulls on our sensibilities and, without checks and balances, can lead us into terrible troubles.

It convinces us that somehow, suddenly and without notice, a want is now a need. It’s a big mountain to climb to fight back the urge that now craves something.

But it can be done. Here are a few tips.

1. Know your values: you cannot move forward without truly knowing what you care most about. Some examples might be not outliving your resources or sending your children to college.

2. Understand your financial realities: Unless you know your numbers, it’s hard to navigate and make good choices. If you need help, hire a fee-only planner with no conflicts of interest to help you synthesize your situation into a clear picture.

3. Make choices that bring you closer to your values. Add a checks and balances system into your financial life. For example, some couples have agreed not to make any financial decisions without discussion that are greater than a certain amount of money.

4. Communicate openly with your partner. If you are coupled, then your plan involves more people than just you (regardless of the number of earners in the equation). It must be a joint effort, because both will be affected by the outcomes.

5. Be prepared for mistakes or unexpected situations. Life isn’t perfect. We are human and the war for our dollars continues. If a mistake happens, as they teach the kids in nursery school, “forgive, forget, and move on”. Oh, and recessions happen and markets get crazy and people lose jobs and people become disabled or pass away. Be as prepared as possible.

6. Celebrate your victories. Every step forward is a cause for celebration, even if it’s a small step. Take a moment and acknowledge the progress. Your favorite cup of coffee or a walk in the park both count as celebrations.

The war will continue and the forces to capture your money will become smarter. They will employ ever more sophisticated techniques in their quest to pull you in. The only way to win the war is by understanding that it exists and that your beliefs can triumph.

Your desire to be your own person, living in harmony with your values, goals, and dreams will help arm you to make better decisions.