Why Do We Spend Money on All Those Things We Don’t Need?

As someone who worked in retailing for decades, I can tell you that business is responsible for creating an awful lot of need. Or is it that we just think we need them? There are some things in life that we actually do need, like food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and so on. But even within those basic necessities, needs are always being created for things that do us no good at all or even cause us harm to our finances and there’s the problem. So when you really think about it, you have to ask the question, “Why do we spend so willingly on things we don’t need?”

Young woman with shopping bags after buying things we don't need

The “Brand Name” Thing

No one needs Adidas or Nike sneakers. No one needs a Big Mac. No one needs a Lexus or a Range Rover (especially here in NJ where the ranges are few and far between!). And the list of branded items that we don’t really need goes on and on.

These are all wants, created by the advertising industry to convince you that you will be unhappy if you don’t have them. As Roger J. Corless once wrote, “Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over my body” (in Vision of Buddhism: the Space Under the Tree). If you don’t get that one, then perhaps you just don’t understand the Buddhist perspective. But in case you don’t, I’ll try to explain.

We are constantly bombarded by ads for things we don’t need. They are everywhere. You can’t escape them on TV as they are constant and the brand names become household words. Just ask the people who gave you Kleenex or Scotch Tape about that.

Even if you are on your computer or smartphone, you get those messages. And don’t try to escape to your music because radio is as much advertising as it is news, music, or sports in today’s world. I’m still trying to wrap my head around things like “this pitch is brought to by Budweiser” during the ballgames!

So in an effort to bring a little balance to the shopping world, and to give you a heads-up as to where the traps lie that you probably fall into, I present a list of 24 things that advertisers, manufacturers, and retailers insist you need, but actually you don’t. Can you say “no” to any of these without suffering major shock?

Things We Don’t Need in the Beauty Industry

Where would the beauty industry be if not for its skill at manufacturing desire?

1. Aftershaves

I shave once or twice a week (hey, I’m retired!). And when I do, I rarely splash on aftershave. The reason you are told you need it is to close your pores, but they’ll do that on their own with a splash of cold water. Aftershave has one purpose, and that’s to make you smell nice. If that’s what you want, buy it for that. But you don’t actually need it.

2. Body Scrubs

Those fancy scrubs filled with crushed peach pits or other granules are not required at all. It’s not what you need to do to be clean. A simple washcloth will do the job just as well.

3. Leave-In Conditioners

They all swear to give you silky-soft hair, but in actuality they can coat the hair in fragrances and other ingredients that can build up over time, making your hair look and feel worse. And then, guess what? You’ll buy more leave-in conditioner to combat it!

4. Anti-Cellulite Creams

This is bunk to the 1,000,000th power. It’s snake oil. It’s silly. It’s nonsense. Nothing you can buy in a bottle or tub will get rid of cellulite for you, so don’t ever buy it, seriously.

5. Toner

In the old days, soaps used to leave a nasty film on your face. They don’t any more. So toners are a waste of time and money. Save both.

6. ChapStick

This brand or any lip balm really. Did you know that lip balms contain alcohol? Guess what alcohol does to skin? It dries it. You’ll be reapplying your lip balm all day to combat the effects of your lip balm. Lips, 99% of the time, are self-moisturizing. Do I really need to explain this to you? Leave your lips alone.

7. Shower Gels or Body Wash

Crammed with petroleum by-products and chemicals, shower gels may smell nice, but they aren’t necessary. Keep it simple. Use a bar of decent soap and a washcloth. And if you’re out of soap, even just water and a good scrub with your washcloth will do the job.

Thing We Don’t Need in the Sports and Fitness Category

Yes, we really do need to stay as fit as we can and it certainly saves money in the long run on healthcare. But we don’t need to spend a lot of our money on athletic apparel and fitness supplies the way it seems we are made to feel we do. Things like:

8. Gym Memberships

You don’t need a gym membership to get in shape. Most people don’t get anywhere near the use out of them that they should. If you’re hell bent on getting fit, save yourself a lot of money and jog, take the stairs, do push-ups and sit-ups, and find other ways to stay in shape without the need for an expensive monthly fee. Get some fresh air and exercise outside when you can. It’s free!

9. “Diet” Meals

Those low-calorie meals are quick and easy, but they are nutritionally lacking what you really need. The process involved in making them like freezing and defrosting them kills flavor and nutrients. Eat a healthy balanced diet and eat smaller portions. Your calorie count will drop and you will be actually eating healthier.

10. Exercise Gadgets

Ab toners, butt lifters, and all those other fitness inventions prey on your wish to get fit quickly and easily. There’s no such easy solution. They are all gimmicks, they never do what you think they will, and you will sell them for a quarter of the price at your next yard sale. If not, they sit in a closet or basement for the next 20 years.

11. Fancy Branded Athletic Clothing

You’ll see people spending a fortune on silver-infused fabrics, breathable name brand clothing, and all sorts of other designer gear. All you need is a pair of sneakers that give good support, a cotton T-shirt, and a pair of socks and shorts. That’s it. Why do you want to run around and sweat in that other stuff anyway?

12. Diet Pills

Don’t be fooled by fat burners and “silver bullet” pills you see advertised on TV and elsewhere. With a balanced diet and exercise, and a lot of hard work, you’ll get the results you need. Those pills just shrink your bank balance (and may even do you physical harm).

Things We Don’t Need for Babies

It’s easy to fall prey to marketers’ come-ons when children are involved. After all, you only want the best for your kids so this stuff usually hits the nerves right on the head!

13. Crib Bumpers and Bed Sets

They’re pretty, cost a lot of money, and will never get used. They’re also unsafe and shouldn’t be in the crib in the first place. You’re not doing a photo shoot for House Beautiful, are you? Your child will probably not appreciate them and you will spend a fortune on them. Don’t bother.

14. Wipe Warmers

You can warm wipes in the palm of your hand for a few seconds if you want, but be honest, do you think a baby really needs them?

15. High Chairs

These things are bulky and end up in the basement or garage. Buy a strap-in booster seat to use with your regular chairs. And when you don’t need it, you can store it in the corner and still have full use of your dining set.

16. Baby Monitors

Unless you live in a Bill Gates-style mansion or have a hearing issue, there’s really no need to buy a baby monitor. As a parent, I can tell you that whenever a child cries, you hear it. Sure, I bought a monitor like “good parents” do. But it wasn’t necessary. The interference was more annoying than anything else, and we never, ever slept through our infant’s crying.

17. Walkers

Think about this: we have been walking for centuries, and we didn’t need walkers to assist us. Babies will pull up on furniture, your leg, anything they can find, and will figure out walking on their own. You can help, using your hands to guide them. Walkers are fun, but not necessary.

18. Changing Pads

They’re not that expensive, but you don’t need one. A lot of parents create them using folded towels or blankets. Why not save your money?

Things We Don’t Need in the Household Item Category

Look around your house. There are lots of opportunities to reuse and repurpose things instead of buying chore-specific products. Here’s a few to think about!

19. Silver Jewelry Polish

Want to brighten those expensive valuables? Mix a little toothpaste with baking soda, scrub with a toothbrush, then rinse with warm water and buff with a dry cloth. That’s the way to be a saver and still make everything shine!

20. Cord Organizers

As our lives get more cluttered with gadgets, they also become filled with cords and wires. Don’t buy fancy cord organizers. Get Velcro straps that you can use to wrap up the cords. It’s so simple and easy to do.

21. Paint Remover for your Hands and Skin

You’ll see a lot of products offering great solutions to the painted hands problem. But it’s not such a problem at all. A dab of olive oil will remove the stains just as well. I learned this long ago so please just try it and you’ll be a believer.

22. Hard Water Stain Remover

You can do it with products you already have at home. Combine a teaspoon of vinegar with two tablespoons of salt, and mix into a paste. Then, scrub it in, and watch those hard water stains disappear. Why spend a fortune on some name brand?

23. Drain De-Cloggers

When you buy these, you really do pour good money (and lots of chemicals) down the drain. For fat, oil, and grease clogs, simply add a few tablespoons of liquid dish detergent to a full pot of nearly boiling water and pour down the drain.

24. Dryer Sheets

A little dab of fabric softener on a hand towel will actually do the same job. The towel is reusable, and fabric softener is way cheaper than dryer sheets. At 8 cents or more per sheet, you’ll save a bundle and still get the results you want and need.

Final Thoughts

This list is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to spending and wasting your money on things we don’t need due to the brainwashing of brand names and advertising. In fact, just writing his today, I now see that this really is just part one of what could be a many-parted series. Look for another chapter soon!

Are you a spender and waster? Have you to tried to resist or are you just caught up in all of it? We all can do something to stop it if we just take a deep breath and consider the fact that being frugal isn’t against the law.

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