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Money Management - Heart Matters


4. Social Influences

Often the “gut check” we use to discriminate between wants and needs fails us.  The reason we confuse wants and needs is that often we are told by the media that we "need" certain things to be happy, popular human beings.  These "needs" are really not essential for health, happiness, or belongingness.  We learn much from modeling what is presented in the media—from doing what we see others do. This is especially true when we perceive our model as having high status. This fact influences our spending. We compare ourselves to others and spend in the hope of appearing like them. This process is called social comparison.

In the distant past, people tended to compare themselves to people in their neighborhood or close geography and imitate their behavior. So, people were comparing themselves to others who maintained a similar standard of living as their own.

When we jump ahead to modern times, we see that mass media and technology, particularly television, have changed things and ushered in a new form of social comparison. Now, people of all income levels compare themselves to the unrealistic images presented in the media. Sometimes we feel inadequate because we don’t have what people on television and in magazines have.  If we feel inadequate, we must NEED something else, right? Wrong!

The financial ill effects of our new consumerism is clear—a record high number of bankruptcies, record high amount of credit card debt, alarmingly high teenage credit card debt, and low savings rates that have only recently come up slightly – a change that experts attribute to our country’s recent financial crisis.

How can you take control of your financial life and toss off the burden of new consumerism? How can we live in community with each other by not being competitive but cooperative?  Perhaps the answer lies in examining other models than the media’s unreal ones.
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