Lessons Learned About Why We Buy


I tried to find a good YouTube video on the basics of marketing and ads, but I am just not finding one. Many years of research and psychological study have been spent in seeing what it takes to make us buy stuff.

Below is my short (VERY CANDID) summary:

1. Demonstrate the VALUE that your service or product will provide the customer. Sometimes this has been done via real facts and other times via images of happy slim people in relationships having the time of their life.

2. Offer MORE INCENTIVES into the deal...such as getting two of the item, or an extra “gift” they are adding to your order. Samples of cosmetics, buy 2, get the travel bag…etc. When someone gives us something, we are more likely to feel indebted to them.

3. Have the item be on SALE! Mark the price down, even if you have to inflate it first to do this. Saving money is very motivating…sometimes making people buy things they don’t even need.

4. Provide SCARCITY by having only a certain number of items available or a timeframe with a countdown clock. This encourages us to ACT NOW for fear of missing out! They know if we wait, that need might just become a want that we resist.


The more we expose ourselves to television ads, magazines, newspapers, email, catalogues, flyers, in-store ads and product placement etc. The more we are exposed to these types of pressure. I’ve cancelled network TV and gone to Hulu (without ads) and Netflix and I’ve stopped all but two of my favorite magazine subscriptions. I’ve also unsubscribed from almost all email subscriptions and stopped most mailers and catalogs. I want to access information when a need arises, not when someone puts it in my space. 

Buying something triggers us to secrete dopamine…a neurotransmitter which creates a little surge of pleasure in the brain. So shopping can truly become an addiction where we seek to shift our feelings away from pain, boredom or depression to a little lift. It is similar to food addiction, alcohol dependence, etc. in using something outside ourselves to make us feel better in the short-term, but worse (often due to debt) in the long run.

I don’t make any of this wrong or evil…I think it’s just good to bring it out into the light. To make it something we see for what it is…using psychology and math formulas to get us to buy.

Black Friday is the ideal combination of numbers 3 and 4 and just before a holiday that went from being about Jesus birth to us buying stuff for people we may not even know very well (just because society says it’s a time to shop and exchange gifts).

1. Reduce your exposure to ads via less magazines, TV, email subscription lists and shopping.
2. Be mindful of what is a need vs a want. It often takes going on a shopping fast to even begin to see the forces at play and how we merge the two.
3. Have awareness of the forces in selling listed above. When you notice them, pause and consider the list of questions we’ve shared to use before you buy:


Remember that STOPPING INCOMING is a big step towards reducing future clutter. In fact, if we don’t stop incoming, we may be decluttering for the rest of our lives. This includes items we buy or accept for free that we bring into our homes.

It’s as basic as this fun little Saturday Night Live skit tells us…Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford. I just would add, don’t buy stuff you don’t need or won’t use. Buy items you love, that you have the budget for and that will give you long-term use and joy!

1 Comment

  1. Hmmm yes, it’s all down to psychology. Like putting the racks of sweets at the tills, kids will be tired by then, scream for the stuff, Mum/Dad caves in and buys to shut the kids up. Same as items on the shelves, the colourful stuff likely to attract kids is on the lower shelves. The personal development industry is the same, they use manipulative psychology to persuade you that you’re unhappy with your lot (even if you are not – by the time they’re half way through, you’re doubtful of your life), then they go in for the kill… and within no time at all you’re maxing out your credit cards to buy their products /programme. It’s vile. I got suckered in to the tune of £50k over 9 months. 12 years later I’m still paying.


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