Generation Y and conscientious consumerism

Generation Y and conscientious consumerism

Summary: The Generation Y are often dealing with the "want" to buy something, rather than the "need" to buy something; technologically speaking. Is modern sociology behind the iGeneration consumerism? Guest post


Zack Whittaker is out saving the world again. For the time being, old friend of the blog, Elliot Harrison, who also writes for, is filling in and sharing his personal experiences with spending on technology.

Being a student, it can sometimes be hard to manage, or at least get your hands on money. This statement doesn’t completely negate anyone else from the content of this article however, I am writing it based on my subjective experience.

Summer would have been a difficult time for the average student; there are many festivals to pay for and mass quantities of alcohol to purchase. With that, summer based activities away from the classroom all involve the spending of money. The unnecessary pieces of equipment purchased throughout the year suddenly become useful not for their purpose, but how much they can be sold for.

I had a few expenses to allow for when moving house a few weeks ago, so it was time to trade in my iPhone Touch. I remember feeling a deep sense of fright as I packed all of the necessary pieces back into the box, put it into my bag and sell it in town.

On the way I popped in to see Zack where he told me I would only get about £80 ($144) for the full package. He was right. For a £240 ($400) piece of equipment, purchased only a month or so prior to its selling, the technology had depreciated by £160 ($266). Despite never being taken out of its protective pouch which I bought with it, it fetched only a small amount.

I can understand why this is. But despite my moaning, the price it sold for is not actually my issue due to the fact that the money I got from selling the iPhone was sufficient for my needs. What surprised me a great deal more was the fact that I was literally petrified by the thought of being without the item. The potential ramifications from being without my iPhone for the time felt quite unsettling.

The fact that I even felt unsettled was something which unsettled me more, and actually when I walked out of the shop I sold it in - I felt a slight relief with it not being in my possession any longer. I then considered why I purchased the iPhone in the first place; a nice pair of earphones twinned my BlackBerry would have done exactly the same job. A complete waste of £160 I am sure you will agree.

Indeed, perhaps all of this trepidation is due to my own skewed mindset with regards to the way I consider technology. As a result I have become over-dependent upon it in some manner. In short, I would describe my ‘condition’ as a false sense of ‘want’ rather than a correct sense of ‘need’.

Let me put this into perspective. There has been a dizzying number of occasions where I have walked into a local computer store to buy something singular, to serve the purpose I intended it for, and ended up with a smoking credit card and half a forest in eco-carrier bags.

For arguments sake, say the item is a camera. Sales people are only doing their job, but when I bought my Sony A200 DSLR for my last birthday, I only wanted the camera and the memory card. The case I would have gotten elsewhere. Being in the shop, the phrase the sales person quoted often was, “you will need...”. In the end I left the shop with my camera, a memory card, a bag, a tripod and a lens cleaning kit. All this for a mere £500 or so just to get the gentleman to leave me alone.

Somehow it felt more convenient to get the whole package right there and then, rather than shop around and source the pieces myself.

I have never used the cleaning kit, and the tripod has only been fitted once. The bag was also more expensive than I had ever imagined and wasn’t even the one I wanted.

I believe this issue is true to many of the Generation Y. This fact begs the question:

Is it indeed simply a materialism which makes us buy exactly what we ‘want’ rather than what we ‘need’, or is there something socially wider occurring which has some influence in our decision making processes?

I believe I have the answer, but it is not as simple as pinning it down to one singular culprit.

Not only are we, the iGeneration, to blame for our own weakness and need for convenience (there’s nothing like succumbing to something we want) but the way products are marketed; along with simple social codes are also to blame.

The trick is learning to be a conscientious consumer. I’m not talking about suddenly becoming stern faced and wearing lots of knitwear, while sourcing expert information from a public think-tank.

Instead, the best advice I can give is to seek advice. If you want to buy a new laptop for university think to yourself firstly what you will be doing with it. If the sole aim is word processing, nostalgically storing pictures and surfing the web, you won’t need a massively powerful machine. And yes, anything more than £1,500 for this purpose is massively expensive.

Moreover don’t be lazy. If you can source all of your purchases cheaper from separate places then do it. You’re saving money - if only cents at a time, then surely it’s worth it.

Money in the pocket for that unforgettable night out with friends is much more worth while than wasted money on an iPhone. Don’t make the same mistakes I have, because let’s face it, when you look back on you life you certainly won’t remember the iPhone. But there is a chance you might remember that one night out and smile.

What do you think?

Topics: iPhone, Hardware, Mobility, Smartphones

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  • Not having money and careful shopping

    This is not so much a GEN Y thing as a modern consumer thing. We all had items we coveted in our younger days that we thought would make our lives complete. As a GEN X'er, and having run straight through a BA, MA, PhD full time, I can tell you that not having money seems to make us (me) want things more. I learned from my Dad that careful shopping is better than impulsive buying and my wife stuck a little saying in my head that really works - "don't buy something unless you know you really do want it - without question". Both give me pause all the time, since they each taught me that there is nothing worse than speding money on something you don't want and to know you could have spent that money better - be it for a better camera case or a night out with friends.

    Purchases that were money well spent include my HP Laserjet 1100AXI I bought in the late 90's as a poor grad student and still it works like a dream today - I'm glad I waited, shopped and spent my money well. Turning over an iPhone in a few months time is not a great idea and was loads of money lost on impulse. And the Sony?! You bought it retail? From a salesperson...really?! Sigh...Gen Y (raised on the Internet) has a lot to learn.
  • Everyone pays for frivolous spending...

    eventually. They buyer pays now. Then suppliers get used to the frivolous spending. They hire more people and buy more goods. And the the original buyer runs out of money and the whole chain caves in.

    That is what is happening today with the massive layoffs. We are paying for the original buyers first mistake.
    • Not entirely accurate.

      You forget the rapid, when not rabid, rise in CEO pay over the last 30 years...

      Offshoring to countries whose labor costs are cheaper hasn't helped either.

      Maybe China and the EU are correct in saying we need a one-world currency. It's ironic China would be on the side of ethics, I must say, with their track record of poorly made and/or toxic products...
  • Spending

    I don't think I ever felt so attached to an item I bought in college that I felt sad letting it go. In those days I bought as little as possible because at the end of every year I had to move out of my dorm room and put whatever I wasn't taking with me in storage. My main goal was to stay nimble.

    That said I did own a 13" TV, a VCR, a PC, and a shelf stereo. Back then (mid 90s) I had no cell phone, PDAs were the new thing, but I never even considered getting one b/c they were too expensive.

    I sold the VCR and stereo after grad school. The PC eventually died at the turn of the century, and the TV was still alive when I finally gave it to GoodWill a month ago.

    [i]The trick is learning to be a conscientious consumer. I?m not talking about suddenly becoming stern faced and wearing lots of knitwear, while sourcing expert information from a public think-tank.[/i]

    Although I understand we are under certain pressure to buy stuff we don't really need it's ultimately up to us to either cave under it, or be smart about what we buy. When I go to a store these days looking for electronics I usually go with the purpose of trying the item at the store then going home and buying it for less online.

    I actually do put on a stern face. I don't care for sales people. They don't really care to "help" me, they just want to sell me as much as possible. And sometimes the sales people are so clueless and incompetent (Best Buy), or downright rude and aloof (Fry's Electronics), that it's just a waste of my time.

    The mindset over the last couple of decades has been that acquiring stuff makes us happy, but people don't realize that it just doesn't. Furthermore, frivolous spending has brought us to a point where it hurts the rest of the world. Companies have gotten used to people's crazy, and unsustainable, spending habits. It's time to reel it back in.
  • RE: Generation Y and conscientious consumerism

    People have been buying what they want, in addition to what they need, since the invention of disposable income. What's new, if anything, is the degree to which young people have a lot of disposable income. Colleges today are filled with the children of well-off families (who else can afford the tuition?), and walking around with $100 in their pockets seems to be about the norm. In my day, if we managed to scrape up that much money, we'd spend it on a stereo system. Today, the MacBook and the iPod are the essential accessories on campus.

    In grad school, I somehow got by on an annual stipend of $4500. Did being poor "teach me the value of a dollar"? I think not. It was tough, and we did what we could to live frugally, but at the end of the day I got a decent job and moved on. I think most people simply make the most of whatever they have, and today's younger generation is no different. Take away the money, and they'd adjust without trauma.
    • Young peoples' income is disposable SOLELY because they live with mom'n'dad

      Put them into the real world and that income VANISHES.

      Indeed, adjusted for inflation, the purchasing power of the dollar has severely shrunk over the last few decades. Even 20 years ago, it did more. In the comparatively egalitarian 1950s*, purchasing power was phenomenally good and unemployment was phenomenally low. (and that was before unemployment was re-calculated to include only those receiving UI checks...)

      [b]And if no other, read THIS page:[/b]

      Then grab a calculator.

      And the wealthy whine taxes are high now? Go back and time and wake these guys up in history class; their tax rate is nothing compared to 1953...

      While the ipod, zune, and other media players are not necessary (don't these kids know their laptops can play the same music?), laptops are a necessity. For some fields. Especially if the school is unable or unwilling to update their equipment. (Hmmm, given the cost of education, somebody might just be shaving a little off the top, wouldn't you agree?)
      • Y Generation

        You could substitute I for Y, as a matter of fact you could say
        I,I,I,I,me,me,me,me, generation.
  • Connect the dots.

    Frivolous purchases....frivolous marketing. Tech isn't marketed to youth as tools to get a job done, it's marketed as identity objects that confer some sort of hipness. It's not too hard to think of examples. Disappointment is the inevitable result.
    Lester Young
  • RE: Generation Y and conscientious consumerism

    Every young person spends money
    irresponsibly...regardless of generation. They don't
    understand the implications of making a particular
    type of purchase. How could they?

    Nearly as important, they haven't been forced to
    understand deferred gratification, which has been
    proven to be a clear indicator of future success.
    Sacrifice isn't part of their world.

    The previous generation, Gen X, rejected the Boomers'
    aspirations to material greatness. But the Millennials
    are totally into ambition. This equates to great
    optimism about the future and spending based on future

  • RE: Generation Y and conscientious consumerism

    Us baby boomers never had the money to buy what we wanted so we had to focus on what we absolutely needed. When we grew up our parents were recovering from WW2 so no-one had much anyway. Today with so much consumerism and advertising bombing our thought process its hard to avoid.Depression and low self esteem also uses purchasing as a way to feel better but like drugs its just a short quick fix and does not last. Of course the economy and business rely upon this to survive so any hope of change is a bit wishful.
  • RE: Generation Y and conscientious consumerism

    everybody spends unwisely when they're young (for some
    it never ends), it's not just the young today. I used to feel
    intimidated by advertising and salespeople into purchasing
    more than I needed, but things are different now.....I don't
    take crap from ANY salesperson trying to force-feed me
    things I don't want or need. they are simply treated with
    the disdain they deserve.

    as you move through life you make mistakes and
    (hopefully) learn from them, thereby preparing you to
    avoid the same pitfalls again.

    I think they call that growing up, and it doesn't happen
    until way after school.
  • RE: Generation Y and conscientious consumerism

    I Believe we have the desire to have the the besy and at the same time are satisfied with with what we have due ti our money flow
  • RE: Generation Y and conscientious consumerism

    we all qant more expensive toys, but know money is the key factor, so we just dream on.
  • RE: Generation Y and conscientious consumerism

    Not sure if my last reply just never made it or some moderator took offence so I'll try again.

    This post is DRIVEL.

    Contrary to what is stated in the bio on the page

    "Zack Whittaker, the youngest in the ZDNet network, is a British student at the University of Kent, Canterbury, where he studies BA (Hons) Criminology and Social Policy. His insight into the next-generation is unique and first-hand, sharing his knowledge of the here and now but more importantly, what's next and how to get there."

    There is no insight offered here at all. He is simply providing more evidence (as if we need any) that the old addage holds true: A fool and his money are soon parted.

    Please up the standard. The signal to noise ratio is declining to the point where the posts are on average not worth reading.