There are times when you feel like you need or deserve a lifestyle upgrade.
Take a new phone, for example. You buy it. But then you think it needs a protective case — okay, that’s fair. But then you feel like it still needs a stand or a phone ring. And then a bluetooth headset. And fisheye lens. And whatever else that could be an “upgrade”, which is always going to be an additional cost.
This is upgraditis.
The spiral of consumption
It’s unfortunately common for people to buy things they don’t really need. But why?
The Diderot effect has an answer for you.
To give a little background, French philosopher Denis Diderot lived in poverty for most of his life, until he made a great sale. He used his money to buy a new robe. But because it didn’t work with anything else he owned, he decided to buy more things.
In his essay entitled “Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown, or A warning to those who have more taste than fortune”1, he said:
“My old robe was one with the other rags that surrounded me… Between these prints three or four suspended plasters formed, along with my old robe, the most harmonious indigence.
All is now discordant. No more coordination, no more unity, no more beauty.”
He kept buying more things-- new rug, mirror, table, chair, and sculptures just so things wouldn’t be out of place. This is the Diderot effect, which states that when we buy something new, it creates a “spiral of consumption” and we end up making unnecessary purchases to feel fulfilled.
It doesn’t help that we often compare our lifestyles and possessions to those “whose incomes are three, four, or five times his or her own.”2 This only causes us to spend on more expensive things to upgrade what we own and our social status as well.
Upgraditis is the Diderot effect, and we know it can lead to excessive spending. But how are we supposed to combat it?
The importance of financial literacy
Acknowledging our spending behavior and being conscious of what we buy is a step towards curing upgraditis. We get a better look at what we’re doing when we shop and we get a better sense of why we shop. This awareness can be brought about by education, such as financial literacy articles and assessments.
While being aware of your own behavior is helpful, it might not always work in reducing how much and how often you spend because we all have our own biases. It’s also important to have others to help you.
Friends, family, and especially a financial adviser can see the way you spend from an objective point of view. They can help you identify unnecessary expenses and set financial goals.
It’s not going to be easy, considering how we don’t always notice that we’re already sick with upgraditis. We’re so caught up in raising the value of our lives through our purchases. But with proper financial guidance, you can finally scratch that itch and get cured from the upgraditis virus.
1. Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown by Denis Diderot 1769. (n.d.). www.marxists.org. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/diderot/1769/regrets.htm
2. Schor, Juliet B."The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need" Harper Perennial; 1st HarperPerennial Ed Pub. 1999 edition. ISBN 0-06-097758-2 ISBN 978-0060977580