Archive for March, 2012

Chain Purchasing: The Diderot Effect

March 19, 2012

By Deborah J. Taylor, Extension Agent, Orange County 

The vast majority of Americans are trapped in a “work and spend” cycle. As a society, we have at our disposal an abundance of material goods, which we have to work at an incredible pace to pay for. Many Americans spend more than they earn. Typically when Americans purchase one item, an upgrade of another item is required. This is referred to as the Diderot effect.

The Diderot effect is a social phenomenon related to consumer goods, which results in spiraling consumption (chain purchasing) resulting from dissatisfaction created by a new possession. The term was coined by anthropologist and scholar of consumption patterns, Grant McCracken, in 1988, and is named after the French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784) who first described the effect in an essay. The term has subsequently come to be used, especially in discussion of sustainable consumption or green consumerism, to refer to the process whereby a purchase or gift creates dissatisfaction with existing possessions and environment, provoking a potentially spiraling pattern of consumption with negative environmental, psychological and social impacts.

For example, Jane buys a new couch for $400 for her living room to replace the old, donated one she’d had for the past 10 years. Now that it’s in her home, her living room chair looks shabby and outdated. Jane decides she must also replace this chair to complete her living room’s new look. However, once the new chair, which cost $250, is in place, Jane can’t help but notice how dirty and dingy the carpet looks beside the clean, new furniture upholstery. Jane decides to replace the living room carpet, but finds she’ll get a “better price” if she replaces all the carpet in her home. The total cost for replacing the carpet is $2,300. Jane’s original $400 purchase has now escalated into nearly $3,000.

For the unsuspecting consumer, the Diderot effect can be invisible in the marketplace. With the proliferation of commercials and other marketing strategies being thrust upon consumers around the clock, the insidious side effects can be far-reaching and damaging to individuals and families. Advertisers often look for people who are trendsetters to promote their products and get the ball rolling in influencing the masses to buy certain goods in order to follow suit. In every area of our lives, we are coerced into buying more items to supplement the new items we have purchased. If you buy a new dress, you will need new shoes or a new handbag. If you buy a new couch, you’ll need a new chair. Although some of this need to constantly “add-on” or upgrade” is driven by aesthetics, manufacturers also drive some of it. For example, in the area of electronics, old equipment may not be compatible with new equipment. An example: having to buy a new printer to go with a newly purchased computer because the connections on the old printer are not compatible with the ones on the new computer.

How can consumers avoid falling prey to the Diderot effect or chain purchasing?

  • Control your desire to purchase. Stay away from malls and other places where you may be tempted to spend. When you buy a product, think about how much “more” you’ll need to fulfill that purchase (more games for the game console, more accessories for the redone kitchen, etc.).
  • Create a new consumer symbolism, making it less attractive to be exclusive. Whenever you see a symbol of excessive spending, look at it for what it is: successful marketing. If you desire a certain item, ask yourself if you really need it.
  • Control yourself by placing voluntary restraints on competitive consumption. Not only encourage yourself, but also encourage your friends and associates to put caps on spending. Get involved in making group decisions and suggest spending caps. You’ll often find that others are relieved too
  • Learn to share. Consider sharing expensive purchases (like a lawnmower) with your neighbors. Consider rentals or secondhand items when shopping for sporting equipment and narrow-use items. Use your local libraries for books, DVDs and CDs.
  • Become an educated consumer and deconstruct the commercial system. Deconstruct every ad you see. When you see a product you want, research it and understand it before making the purchase.
  • Avoid “retail therapy”. Spending can be addictive. If a particular mood or event triggers a desire to shop, find other ways to spend time or relieve stress
  • Make time. Look for ways to reduce the time you spend working so you can increase the time doing things that are more valuable to you, and things that potentially can save you money. Choose activities to do with that extra time that don’t involve spending and consumerism.
  • Work toward coordinated intervention. Look for larger societal solutions to this issue. Get involved in organizations that focus on consumer issues and reducing spending. 

References

Brewer, P. February 27, 2012. Lifestyle Upgrades: Beware of the Diderot Effect. http://www.wisebread.com/lifestyle-upgrades-beware-the-diderot-effect.

Manning, L and Mahar, Carla  (2007). Teaching Your Children About Money. G1787, University of Nebrask – Lincoln Extension.

Schor, Juliet B. (1998). The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need. New York: Basic Books.

Take Control for Your Future: Telling the Kids: We Need to Spend Less. North Carolina Cooperative Extension – March, 2009.

Core competencies discussed in this post: Spending, saving
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Updates from the Spring Institutes

March 19, 2012

By Molly C. Herndon 

The Central District Spring Institutes training conference was held earlier this week in Winston Salem. Last week, the Western District met in Asheville. At the end of this month, we will travel to Greenville for the Eastern District meeting. What a great opportunity to hear what programs you’re using and to receive feedback from Agents.

Many of you have shared success stories about the programs and resources you’re using, and I’ve attempted to collect these so Agents across the state can “hear” your thoughts on these programs. If you’ve used these programs, or if you would like more information about any resource listed below, please leave a comment below this post.

Did I leave yours out? Please share it in the comments section and I’ll add to this list.