Taking Back My Buying Power

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Growing up in the South and being raised by a strong Southern woman, I’m very familiar with the common beauty routines that are “expected” of women. And as I’ve grown into myself (I’ve just turned 30 and finally feel adult), I’ve realized with time that those care routines aren’t necessarily required — they’re cultural.

As part of this self-awareness, I also realized just how much money I’d spent on these routines, like coloring my hair, procuring makeup, and the occasional pedicure. And not all of which actually made me happy.

Before I started FamFi, I worked in the nonprofit sector. And while my work was incredibly rewarding, it also carried with it the hefty emotional work of humanitarian aid. And this emotional stress felt justified by a costly self care routine. Nonprofit workers will tell ourselves that the people we serve need us to be the best version of ourselves — fully rested, exercised, meditated, and fed. And so I justified the occasional splurge purchase, the yoga membership, and the self care routine.

But as I started analyzing how I spent my money, and especially how my money behaviors differed from my partner, I began to see wider patterns within the money culture of myself, my friends, and ultimately our society. I realized that as a cisgendered woman, I had lower buying power than a man — and not just because I make less.

Buying power = a person’s ability to buy goods and services.

There are many factors that contribute to buying power, but two major ones are income and cost of goods. A lower income lowers buying power, but a higher cost of goods has the same effect.

Women are hit with the double whammy, and women of color and LGBTQ folks feel it even more. With our lower incomes, we’re expected to also pay the higher cost of goods and services targeted at the female gender.

Our buying power is affected by our gender, and there are multiple insidious ways in which this happens. This article is by no means comprehensive, but I’m going to spend some time examining cultural conditioning, trend spending, and marketing influence.

Cultural Conditioning: Retail Therapy

Whether you’re Southern or not, it’s likely that you’ve been exposed to the theory of retail therapy. I mean, like, seriously, Clueless anyone? Shopping can fix everything? Riiiiight. Tell that to my credit card statement.

Though Cher might not agree with me, part of her shopping habit is culturally created and ingrained. From movies, to TV shows, to cultural expectations, women are taught from a young age that shopping can fix anything. Bored? Shop. Going through a break-up? Shop. Got something to celebrate? Shop.

The treat yo’self culture is perpetuating the idea of retail therapy being a fix-all to any problem. Even as I’ve become more aware of the desire to spend money and shop when I’m feeling a strong emotion, I have a difficult time eliminating it from my banter with other women. We see a stranger on the street and immediately compliment their clothes or shoes. A perpetuation of retail therapy. And, tell me how often you talk to other women about the fact that you can find anything at Target. All. The. Time.

This focus on spending and buying leaves women with less money at the end of the day. Our “need” to spend money as a cushion to strong emotions is something we’re taught and it leaves us with a lower buying power than men.

Reflect on your habits: Instead of giving in to the need for retail therapy, turn your focus towards value-based spending. Find those things that you spend money on that bring you joy and satisfaction- not just when you purchase it, but months later.

Maybe that’s saving for travel, or for a new piece of furniture. Maybe that’s having a significant budget to go out for happy hour and nice dinners with friends. Whatever it is, simply make sure you know where your money is going and that you’re the one making the decision, not cultural pressures.

Trend Spending: The Cost of Self Care

Let me start with a disclaimer: I have nothing against self care. We ALL need to spend money on ourselves and the things that make us feel good. But, the push for and popularity of self care is a reaction to a wider trend of Millennials becoming the burn out generation. And, believe it or not, even something as good for you as self care can have a dark side.

Before I go further, I want to define how I think of self care. Self care is doing something that brings you joy or restoration in some capacity. It is therefore highly personal and unique depending on who you are. Self care can be anything. Sitting at home reading a book (my favorite form of introverting), exercise, or even spending time with friends. All of those things can be done without great expense.

Like so many other trends, marketers and those looking to make money saw an opportunity: selling their products as self care items to increase sales. Anxiety consumerism, anyone? Many people have joined the self care trend in an earnest attempt to find something to improve their lives. Those people don’t always realize that they don’t have to spend excessive money on self care, that it can actually be free.

There’s nothing wrong with spending money on yourself; it’s just important to be aware of the marketing that you’re subjected to. Make sure it’s how you want to spend your money and that there isn’t a more affordable (and possibly more rewarding) self care alternative.

When I think back to my stress-coping strategies, my yoga membership definitely had a strong emotional return as opposed to the pedicures I’d shame myself into getting. If you’re wanting to spend money on yourself for self care, take a moment to consider your purchase and its effect on your life before buying. Will the dress really bring you joy, or are you simply wanting the satisfaction of shopping? Is there a way to use your money that will bring you more satisfaction than the dress? Spending too much on self care, or the wrong self care, can limit your buying power.

Meditate on this: As with everything else in life, it’s important to set boundaries even on self care. Find the things that bring you the most restoration and build that cost into your fixed costs. If you can, add a little extra money for those things that you find and want to splurge on. I also like to look for female-owned businesses when I’m shopping for self care items.

Marketing Influence: Pink Tax

A third influence that affects women’s buying power is the Pink Tax. Haven’t heard of the Pink Tax? It’s the mark-up on all female-focused products — from personal care items such as shampoo, conditioner, razors, shaving cream, to many other products including children’s toys.

One of the most comprehensive studies of the Pink Tax is the “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer,” which was conducted by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. On average, the study found that products marketed to women cost 7 percent more than the same products marketed to men. Personal care items had the highest gap at 13 percent higher for women. The study found that items for women were more expensive 42 percent of the time, while products for men cost more only 18 percent of the time.

One of the more astounding examples found during the study is that of children’s toys. A Radio Flyer scooter in red cost $24.99. The same scooter in pink cost $49. Literally, wtf.

And, don’t even get me started on the fact that tampons and pads are taxed as luxury items while condoms aren’t. Or, the fact that women pay more for transportation (if they are financially able) than men because of their safety concerns. 🙄

Consider what you value: If a pretty razor is important to you, go for it. If you don’t give a shit what color your razor is, and you really just want it to rid you of armpit hair, save yourself the money and buy a “men’s” razor.

When it comes the cultural influences on spending habits, there are a lot of pressures and costs that women face. From the pressure to shop-as-a-solution, to the importance of spending money on self care, to the extra cost of goods marketed to women. There are companies who are standing up and pushing back on these trends, including Boxed, and Billie.

Your money is your voice, so spend it how you want. When you’re assessing your finances, always remember it’s your choice where your money goes. Take back your buying power. 💪

Originally published at famfi.co.

CEO and Co-Founder at FamFi — money nerd by day, artist & gardener by night.

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