Rob Stock: Slippery slope of the friction-free consumer age

Without enough friction, it's easy to slip up.
ASTRID GAST/123RF

Without enough friction, it's easy to slip up.

I'm undergoing a terrible ordeal in my battle with frittering.

My workplace has moved into a super-modern office on top of a supermarket.

It is now dangerously easy to put a thought like: "I fancy a sausage roll" into action.

Adding friction can be sensible. In Europe, winters call for the 'salting' of the streets to make sure there's ...
ROBERT HOETINK/123RF

Adding friction can be sensible. In Europe, winters call for the 'salting' of the streets to make sure there's sufficient friction for walkers to keep their feet.

Thoughts like: "Mmh, I fancy a double chocolate stout tonight" are coming with greater frequency now I spend my days over a nice beer selection.

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I have experienced a massive decrease in what a retailer would call "friction", which is shopping industry jargon for the difficulty of buying something.

The greater the friction, the less money people spend, so the harder retailers work to get rid of it.

When I was a nipper, it was hard to spend money. No-one had credit cards. Shops shut early, and didn't open on Sundays.

Once the closed sign was up, you couldn't buy anything. The internet had been invented, but you couldn't shop on it.

These days shops your lounge is a shopping mall whenever there's a screen open. If you are awake, you can shop.

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Even the action of buying has lost friction.

Writing out cheques and counting out cash have largely gone. These days PINs often don't even need entering. If you're too lazy to get a card out, just wave your wallet at the terminal.

As friction diminishes, people need more willpower and anti-consumer defence strategies.

Here are some of mine.

Willful ignorance: I virtually stopped watching TV years' ago, so I don't see much advertising. I'm squeamish about violence, and bored by reality shows. I know less than I used to about things I could buy. As a result, I don't yearn for them. Cutting screen time reduces consumer pressure.

Place avoidance: I dislike shopping. I detest malls. Replacing recreational shopping with more healthy pursuits (walks in the bush, trips to the beach, etc) increases willful ignorance, and physically separates you from temptation. Double win.

Big picture thinking: Do you want another shirt, or do you want a mortgage until you are 72? Fair question. Is that coffee a coffee, or is it the partial sacrifice of your early retirement? Focusing on the big uses for money makes it easier to avoid frittering.

Happiness focus: Focus on using money to bring deep happiness. Ask yourself: "Will knocking four months off the mortgage make me happier than bringing forward the purchase of a new car by a year?" Train yourself to ask the question.

Increasing personal friction: Many people do it. They leave their credit cards at home, or don't carry change, if there's a vending machine at work. They're sabotaging their ability to spend.

Joyless sneering: I know it doesn't sound very pleasant, and I don't do it out loud, but I am suspicious about the personal finances of the best-dressed, best-housed people I know. When I find myself inclined to envy, I defend myself with speculation about the state of the envied party's debts.

GOLDEN RULES
- Beware frictionless spending 
- Focus on spending for deep happiness
- Work on your willpower

 - Stuff

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