If I Can’t Give Advice (!) How Do I Evangelize Frugality and Anticonsumerism?

Last week's post on advice-giving left me with grave doubts.

I feel strongly about my personal obligation to help reduce status competition. In fact, I consider it my ethical responsibility to give the people around me less to compete against. This is an important value to me, and I believe our society's health, and for that matter our planet's health, depends largely on our collective ability to reject consumerism and status competition in all forms.

But a problem came up last week. If it's true that any advice I might give produces the exact opposite effect, then the efforts I make to reduce status competition actually increase it. My attempts to do the right thing end up doing the wrong thing, and I end up hurting the planet and the people around me.

Heavy, right?

Here's another way to think about it. By being overtly and in-your-face frugal, how am I doing anything other than mere virtue-signalling? It's as if I had a little sign over my head saying "Ooh! Ooh! Look at me and how little I spend! Look at how much I love the planet! Aren't I awesome!"

So if all this is true, it takes us right back to square one: How do we really go about sharing and spreading these fundamental values of spending less, saving more, anti-consumerism and anti-status competition? How do we effectively share these values?

Well, let's start with first principles: We want to produce in others a positive, helpful response--for them. This means we have to keep in mind that most people have fragile egos and respond with reactance. This, therefore, carries significant implications for how we influence others.

A side note: It might bother us that many people have fragile egos or respond with reactance. Or, phrased a little differently, we might react with our own reactance to the reality of reactance in others. But reality doesn't care that we're bothered. And it doesn't matter what type of responses we think people should have. That's just solipsism. What matters is the responses people actually have, and whether we help them or not.

Thus our evangelism of these values probably should be counterintutive, non-overt, subtle, nuanced. Anything other than overt and direct.

And, once again with feeling: no unsolicited advice! No "you should do this"-type advice.

Further, solicited advice is possibly allowed only in very rare and unusual circumstances. For example, when you receive no excuse-making or verbal pushback from the person asking, and they seem sincerely and strongly interested in following and embracing your advice.

In the vast majority of cases, however, you should default to reverse psychology-type approaches: Once again:

Most of this stuff will be too hard for you.
This is just too difficult for the average person.
Naahhhh don't bother, it's probably not worth it to you.

These approaches, as we saw last week, produce positive effects via the mechanism of reactance.

Finally, I think we have to depend on the quiet strength of setting an example through how we live. Do things like drive an older, non-flashy car. Don't buy a mansion (or if you already did, for goodness' sake don't brag or status-signal about it). Don't go on and on about the prices of things. The point is to never status-signal in any way, thus bragging about the $300 you just spent on your new tennis racquet or how much your last luxury vacation cost is obviously off-limits.

Instead, consider employing reverse psychology and anti-brag and anti-status-signal about how little your last vacation cost!

Readers, how do you spread your values of anti-consumerism and frugality? Do you try to spread them at all? Why or why not?

READ NEXT: Constructed Preferences: How Having More Money Wastes Still MORE of Your Money

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Unknown said...

I know I would not react well, nor would it be in my nature to use reverse psychology type approaches.

Most importantly, I don't feel that it is my personal/ethical responsibility at all to help reduce status competition.

My said...

Hi Daniel,

I try to set an example myself and explain my train of thought to the ones I try to convince of living more frugally. Admittedly, I'd only share my own experience to the somewhat open-minded people.

Recently I've tried to be more aware of the impact of fast fashion for example. For many people in my surroundings, getting a good deal from the high street gives them a thrill and they like to follow the latest fashion trends more or less. So I'd tell them what consequences fast fashion can have in a nutshell and how I try to avoid an easy buy. For example, I followed a sewing course, so I can sew some (very) basic items myself once in a while. I also try to overthink each purchase: do I really need it? Will it still make me happy a few days from now, or do I just need a pick-me-up today? If I really want to spend money, I'll have a look at fairtrade webshops that promote a durable lifestyle or I google the background of a particular brand. Do they invest in making things more ecofriendly, do they pay their workers a fair wage? And last but not least, instead of buying new things, buying second-hand is also a fun pastime. I can really get a kick of finding little second-hand treasures.

The important lesson to preach is that it's not an all-or-nothing-idea, which sets people off. For example, every now and then I eat a burger at a fast food joint, but I allow myself to do that (mainly because our son enjoys the whole experience) and I don't feel too guilty about it. The same goes for fast fashion: I still buy items at big chains, but I try to be conscious of making the best decision.

Nevertheless I still don't know how to convince my dear husband of not buying every single book he's interested in. Maybe reverse psychology would do the trick?
Greetings from Belgium :-)

chacha1 said...

The only person I really try to influence, when it comes to money, is my husband. And boy is he Mr. Reactor. I hesitate to employ reverse psychology, though, because it is (when it comes right down to it) manipulative, and that's something we avoid in our relationship. What seems to work is third-party validation. That is, if I make some point about spending, saving, investing, whatever, it will often seem to bounce right off him. But if he then hears the same point from someone else, he will absorb it.