By Jennifer Thompson


July 23, 2021

Why do we buy things? The avoidance of pain or the promise of pleasure is what motivates all behavior. From work to eating to sex right down to what we chose to buy. We are all either looking for ways to avoid pain or achieve greater pleasure in our lives. This is also the basis of consumer behavior.

Cloaked in a myriad of different reasons. The new dress you did not need or the new car. Purchased to achieve approval from friends? The trip to Kenya. for the sake of experiencing something novel. Everything we do is either to avoid pain or to achieve pleasure.

Retailers Know This

Jennifer Thompson Compelling 365

Retailers are aware of this. And the entire experience of shopping is in response to these two driving forces.

Look back at your last five purchases. They don’t have to be significant purchases.

That Starbucks coffee on the way to work. The extra pair of shoes you picked up in the mall on the way back from lunch. Even the carton of milk you pick up before heading home.

Your last few financial decisions could have been major. Changing the mix in your investment portfolio. Or buying your first home.

Whatever it is, big or small, you were likely motivated by pleasure or the avoidance of pain.






How do retailers get you to spend?


The Fear of Missing Out

Advertisers in the US spent $242.54 billion in 2020. Observe current advertising. The message is consistent: you will be missing out in some way if you do not buy what is being offered.

Whether you’d be missing out on belonging with your friends if you don’t drink beer with them. Missing out on experiences if you don’t travel as your friends do on social media. Not keeping up with the latest gossip at the water cooler if you don’t read the tabloids. And missing out on receiving the love you want if you don’t look a certain way. Getting approval from society for the new BMW.

This is tapping into the human need for approval and belonging. And the pain of not belonging is what drives so many of us. This fear of missing out is further enhanced with the offer of a discount. Who wants to miss out on a discount? This has people buying things they don’t need because of the discount.

Avoiding Pain

Six thousand adults surveyed in the United States, Denmark, Canada, and the Netherlands found that spending money on ways to save time led to greater life satisfaction.

The same researchers gave sixty adults to spend $40 on a time-saving purchase on one weekend. Such as hiring someone to clean their home. The next weekend these same adults received $40 to make a material purchase. People reported feeling happier when they spent money on a time-saving purchase than on a material purchase.

Yes, most of us would do anything to avoid the “pain” of household chores. Trading money for more free time leads to a greater sense of well-being. People are willing to pay for ease or to avoid pain.


Jennifer Thompson Compelling 365


The Promise of Pleasure

A relentless pursuit of pleasure may explain some addictions. The promise of pleasure once you have had that drink or taken that drug. It could start in part with the need to belong, especially with teenagers. Some studies claim that addictions are an attempt to suppress pain.

It may have started with the need to achieve pleasure but turned into something more. Pornography addiction may start with the pursuit of pleasure. 


Jennifer Thompson Compelling 365


Needs vs. Wants

A large part of our spending is for basic survival: food, shelter, and clothing. But what about the $1000 jacket? Or the $4000 Prada bag? It goes beyond just a need to keep yourself warm or a place to keep your things.

Becoming aware of why you spend creates greater awareness. If you are running into financial problems or consistently resorting to credit to pay for your purchases, you may want to ask yourself what need you are trying to meet through your spending habits.

Can you meet that need in a way that has less of a financial impact on your bottom line?

What can you do?

With the holiday season soon upon us, what can you do? The need to belong and to enjoy life is fundamental to our humanity.  We need to recognize that and respect it within the context of creating a balanced life. Achieving a sense of belonging and adventure should not cost you your financial future. As would be the case if you got into a large amount of debt to achieve these needs.

Set a Budget 

Jennifer Thompson Budgetting

Set a spending budget for birthdays and the holiday season. What are you willing to give up to achieve a likely increase in expenses? Stick to your budget. You do not want to spend the first six months of the new year paying for excessive spending over Christmas.

Get Aligned

We all have a wish list. Saying ‘yes’ to one thing may mean saying ‘no” to something else. Our priorities with how we use our money should align with what matters most for you. You may value a comfortable retirement but what you need most now is to own a home for a sense of security.  Set aside savings towards this goal. 

In Summary

How can we approach money free of guilt or worry? Other than the idea of whether we can afford it or not, most of us don’t give a second thought to why we spend. Observe your spending habits. What needs are you trying to meet? Are you are getting into debt to meet some of these needs? Can you find healthier ways to meet those needs than using your credit card?

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure here.

Through coaching, webinars, courses, and public speaking Jennifer helps people and businesses discover how to create success on their terms. She has written numerous books on money: Women and Money: 7 Principles Every Woman Needs to Know to Be Financially Prepared in Any Economy and Growing Up With Money: Raising Financially Resilient Kids in an Age of Uncertainty. You can reach her at jenniferthompson@compelling365.com

To Master, Your Wealth, Sign Up for Her Money Mastery Course.

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