Your Broke(n) Perspective From Advertising


One of the best things I ever did for my finances was give up fashion magazines.

In my late teens and early 20’s, I regularly subscribed to or picked up issues of Cosmopolitan, Glamor, Elle, and many others. I loved reading them. The glossy pages that contained a wealth of information of everything from what moisturizer was best for my skin to which nail polish was the “it” color this season. I thought it was harmless indulgence. After all, it was basically window shopping from my couch. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these magazines made me want.

I wanted shoes and dresses and make-up. I wanted bootcamp fitness classes and to try this summer’s coolest cocktail. I wanted to dine at the trendiest restaurants, see the newest movies in theatres, read the newest books on the shelves. I wanted things I didn’t even know existed, or things I didn’t even like, because these magazines introduced me to them and told me to want them.

Magazines were a monthly supply of all-new wishlists, and I wanted everything.

And why wouldn’t I? Magazines told me a story that I wanted to buy.

When I woke up to the hole I was digging myself into, I cut magazines out of my budget very early on. I was a 20-something college student with still a year or two to go before graduation, and I realized I had racked up thousands of dollars of debt by spending money on… junk. I thought I had a shopping problem. I didn’t. I had a magazine problem. Once the magazines were gone, so were my consumptive habits. I stopped wanting, so I stopped buying, and I am richer because of it. But the battle isn’t won.

You see, I am easily wooed by marketing. I’ve been saying so since 2010. I’m not even ashamed about it. On the contrary, I find the marketing ploys I fall for profoundly interesting, which is why I read books like Branded and write long winded posts about the story we’re trying to tell with our purchases. I like the insidious plays of marketing gurus on our psychology, because it is as fascinating as it is effective. I will always enjoy buying things, and I will likely always be told what to buy by various marketing campaigns. I am a marketer’s ideal client, because I am so deliciously predictable.

Would you also like to try X? Have you thought about Y? Z will absolutely transform your life, and if you buy now I’ll throw in this sample for free!

Yes, yes, yes. Yes. I will take two. Actually, 3. I want to give one to my sister. This truly is the perfect gift… what is it again?

I am the poster child market target for advertising campaigns. I imagine there is a corporate boardroom somewhere where all the marketing staff for an agency are meeting, and they have a powerpoint slide and up comes my picture. “We can make her buy anything“, the presenter whispers with relish, and the rest of the room nods enthusiastically, scribbling their notes. Cars, shoes, purses, coffee, hair care regimes, workout routines. It doesn’t matter that product, if it’s positioned well, I buy in — and I do so happily. Even my awareness of being duped doesn’t make me any less vulnerable or any more concerned. Perhaps the best twist of all is that I rarely experience buyer’s remorse. They sell the story so well I really am happier after I buy whatever is put in front of me. So I can do one of two things:

I can try to make myself more resilient to advertising.

Or I can remove as much advertising as possible from my life.

I’ve found one of the secrets to cutting spending is to ant to reduce your exposure to advertising. Give up magazines, don’t watch TV with commercials, install ad-blockers on your web browsers, delete promotional emails. Don’t go window shopping on your lunch break, don’t watch reality TV, don’t even give marketing a chance. Make it hard for businesses to sell to you, and you will buy less.

Because advertising is inherently selling you more than an object, they’re selling you a lifestyle. Their tapping into the part of your brain that wants more than what you currently have, the piece of your soul that you didn’t even realize is missing but you know know is probably located inside a Marc Jacobs bag.

Second to increasing your income, reducing your exposure to advertising might be the most effective action you take to build long-term of wealth.

Because the less money you give away to business, the more of it you keep for yourself. But it’s not easy. Many people wonder at the end of the month where their money has gone, or why they can’t stick to the budget they absolutely need to. But the truth is your money is being pulled out of your hands everywhere you turn, and you don’t even feel the tug until it’s long gone. The stone cold realization might not come until you try to hawk your designer goods on eBay to pay your rent and you realize that all the cash you spent on those cocktails has been pissed away (literally).

But you can’t go about your life never encountering advertising, but I’ve found other loopholes. If you can cultivate a life without certain items, you receive an all new immunity to their marketing charms.

I don’t buy polyester. I am only wearing the same outfit every day now. I do not dye my hair (and often cut it myself). I sparingly wear nail polish, lotion, perfume. I like my house to be free of objects that don’t serve any function. And so on. These are my mantras, and I repeat them inside my head if need be, those vulnerable times when I am confronted with a patterned sundress or the maze of mini-sized products by the Sephora check-out. My refusal to participate is my last effective defense, but it is a strong one. I’ve found other efforts like trying to avoid things made in China doesn’t sway me (I merely buy things made here, but I buy things nonetheless). Nonetheless, having a list of “Never-Buys” keeps a fair amount of money in my pocket, and leaves me immune to their advertising campaigns.

If I could move to Brazil where their ban on outdoor advertising would mean I need not always be on guard. For now, I have to resort to my own tactics to keep my dollars in my pockets.

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12 Comments. Leave new

  • Cutting out fashion magazines was the first step I took to reduce my spending, and it was extremely effective. It wasn’t just the 6$ I was saving by not buying a magazine, it was the reducing of desire and wants. If you want fashion advice, or make-up tutorials, everything is available online, for free! I haven’t bought a magazine in almost five years, and I don’t regret it.

  • I love the idea of having a list of “never-buys.” I have learned to never buy something my mom doesn’t like (we usually shop together and she is always right – don’t know how she does it!). Saying no to synthetic fabrics would be another good one.

    • It makes all the difference. It’s hard because you end up saying no to basically everything — but then you’re happy about it because you know no matter how good it looks, it won’t feel good to wear or last long.

  • I just installed AdBlock on my web browser. I don’t know why it took me so long, but that was a great tip!

  • Great tips. My wife reads Cosmo but honestly is one of the most frugal people I know. I think it depends on your personality and how prone you are to responding to advertising. I think I’m exposed to quite a bit of advertising and would benefit from intentionally blocking it out more often.

  • Would you ever consider giving up Facebook? It puts so much social pressure on people. It makes you think your friend’s life is always cool. To keep up, you’ll overspend.

    • Facebook isn’t a big thing for me. I don’t check it often, and I don’t find myself all that interested or aspirational in anyone else’s lives. Maybe I don’t have overly showy friends, but there’s nothing on there that encourages me to spend!

  • I was never big on fashion magazines, but I’ve definitely unsubscribed to all the store email lists I somehow ended up on. Odds are, I won’t go to the Gap website on my own. But, if Gap emails me a 40% coupon, I’m much more likely to go check it out and spend money I never would have spent in the first place if it wasn’t for that email.

    I definitely have a list of never-buys as well. I won’t pay to have my hair dyed for years now, and I won’t buy nail polish or cheap, poorly made clothes. I try to have an at least two-day rule before buying anything that’s unplanned, so that I can curb any possible emotional spending, too.

    • Those rules are ideal. I try to abide by similar ones — particularily poorly made clothes!

      The 2 day rule before buying is the best idea… though I find I’m rarely disciplined enough to execute it lol

  • I find that Instagram, Pinterest and style blogs make me feel the same way as magazines, only they are “free” so it’s much easier to indulge the desire to see what other people have or what they are doing. I love the mantra idea, but I’d also love to use those sites in a way that doesn’t send me running to the mall or online shopping. Thanks for a great post!

  • I happen to live in São Paulo, Brazil and I just love the outdoor ad ban (though I have to say the major change I’ve noticed is the end of huge logos in front of every commercial building – which helps too).

    I can definitely relate to your article, but I always hated fashion magazines – the danger for me is in travel magazines. I subscribed to one of them for a year and found myself obsessing about the trips I simply had to take and feeling anxious about not having enough time/money. I had to stop reading them, it was truly depressing. (I also think the relation to Facebook is clear to me. I definitely feel Facebook anxiety, especially when it comes to trips my friends are posting about!)


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