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Marketers do not want you to be content.

Long Intro:

On Monday, I wrote a Five Frugal Things post that mentioned CoolSculpting. And I wrote a few words about body image, and about how much money we could save if we did not believe the industry’s message which says, “Your body is wrong, and we can help you fix it.”

Apparently I should maybe have just written about post about that, because most of the lively discussion in the comments was about the body image thing and not about the other four frugal things I shared.

(Butternut squash rolls, I’m sorry that you got overlooked!)


The discussion made me think about marketing and contentment, and here we are.

pink and yellow flower

Today’s actual post:

I’ve written a lot of posts about contentment on this blog over the years.

A lot.

Contentment is something I don’t see addressed all that often in the personal finance blogosphere, and I really scratch my head when I think about this.

To me, contentment is a foundational part of living a frugal lifestyle.

pink and yellow flower

The reason I think it’s foundational?

The job of a marketer is to help you see where your life is lacking so that they can then sell you something to fix that lack.

And if something is not lacking, a good marketer will make up a lack and create a need for a product where before there was none.

If you feel like your life isn’t lacking, it’s gonna be very hard to sell you something.

(Why pay money if your life is fine already?)

But if you think:

  • your looks aren’t good enough
  • your body isn’t good enough
  • your house isn’t good enough
  • your clothes aren’t good enough
  • your car isn’t good enough
  • your food isn’t good enough
  • your vacations aren’t good enough

then you are SO easy to sell to.

And this is particularly true if they can make you believe that lots of other people DO have good enough x, y, or z, and that all it takes is a product or service to help you reach the same level as these other people.

Contentment might seem like a rather intangible, unimportant side item, but if that were true, then why would marketers spend so much money trying to make you feel inferior, less than, and inadequate?

As long as they can make you feel discontent, then you are ripe for the picking.

pink and yellow flower

How can you become more content?

Feel free to browse the contentment archives for more on this, but here are three things that help me.

1. Focus on what you do have.

Marketing makes us look at what others have or what a company can sell us; the antidote is developing eyesight to see what you already have.

Gratefulness lists are the main tool that helps me with this, so if you haven’t tried this habit, give it a go!

It might be a little hard at first, but new research says that gratefulness actually changes your brain. Thinking thankful thoughts makes it easier for your brain to keep thinking thankful thoughts!

pink and yellow flower

2. Make a point of not looking at what you don’t have.

  • Unsubscribe from emails.
  • Unfollow people on Instagram/Facebook.

(Lots of what you see on there is fake anyway. And even if something is real, it’s not worth            following if it makes you just feel less-than. Don’t be a hero and try to fight it; just unfollow!)

  • Install a web blocker to keep you off of sites that tempt you to be discontent.
  • Be careful about how much “inspo” you let into your life.

Fit inspo (people with perfect bodies, which are often edited), home decor inspo, homeschooling inspo, hair inspo, makeup inspo…a lot of these things are not bad in and of themselves.

But if all this inspo is making you feel like a failure or is making you discontent, then it’s not helping you.

Weed it out.

(And if this means you need to unfollow me, go for it. I don’t want you to follow anyone that’s not helping you!)

pink and yellow flower

3. Make sure you have real-ness in your life.

Media and marketing produce a smooth, polished picture of what your life should be like.

And they’d like you to believe that the rest of the world has a life that is smooth and polished because of the products/services they’ve bought.

You have help counteract this by trying to make sure you have some realness in your life.

If you are good friends with someone in real life (vs on the internet), you will probably see that their life isn’t perfect (and they’ll see yours isn’t either! You can give each other a reality check.)

And online, you can choose to expose yourself to people who are vulnerable and real rather than fake.

What’s one thing that helps you fight discontentment?

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Tuesday 28th of January 2020

I started reading your blog when I was a poor grad student 10 years ago, and now, I'm lucky to have a great job that makes me a part of the 1% (I can't believe it somedays, how lucky I have been). I grew up solidly middle-class in a poor country, and those values remain. I rarely spend on frivolous things, and am very content with what I have. So I tend to live a spartan life myself, and don't make comparisons with what the neighbours have/don't have.

The kids however don't understand this at all. They have hundreds of dollars worth of toys, but their friends have 10x more toys, bigger toys, "cooler" brands, ... At the same time, denying them all their crazy requests leads them to believe that they don't *deserve* the good things that their friends have. (My 4 year old was upset this year because Santa got him less cool presents than his friends, and he wanted to know if he has not been a good enough boy)

Any advice on teaching kids how to be content?

Michelle H

Sunday 26th of January 2020

Once we cut cable and Netflix and Prime became our main source of TV entertainment, with no more commercials it was amazing how the kids stopped asking for things. And without access to HGTV my house looked better to me, lol.

During the years we lived on a lot less than we made to save toward early retirement sometimes it was hard for me to be content with our small house, used cars and simple vacations. Once we both took early retirement none of that bothers me anymore. Even now that we could loosen the purse strings we still choose to live simply and always look for the best deal/most economical option in everything we do. I joke that Frugality is my hobby!

We travel most of the summer with our 3 kids, roadtripping the U.S. in a 15 year old SUV, pulling a 10 year old travel trailer. We stay in national and state parks, cook our own meals, hike, visit historic sites, etc, and spend less now on an 8 week vacation than we spent taking the family on a single 7 day cruise to celebrate my mother's 60th birthday a few years ago. And we have more fun!


Saturday 25th of January 2020

Kristen, you nailed it on this. The comments are humbling and inspiring.


Friday 24th of January 2020

The irony of reading a blog post entitled, "Marketers Do Not Want You to be Content", while being bombarded by adds in the margins, down below, and in between paragraphs is pretty funny. I got about 10% of the way into the post and my eyes were darting back and forth between the blog post and "suggested for you" at Having sponsors is probably a nice passive income stream for you. However the prodigious number of adds juxtaposed with an appeal towards contentment causes the entire post to come off as absurd. (Think Monty Python sketch absurd.)


Friday 24th of January 2020

I understand, and as I explained to another reader further down in the comments, it's something I'm not sure how to get around.

What would you suggest to cover blog costs instead? I enumerated some of the options in my response to another reader.


Friday 24th of January 2020

There are many websites of before-and-afters of Photoshopped celebrities, people you'd think were thin enough, shaped "properly", or attractive enough. And yet they can't pass muster either. Here's one website that shows several examples and an eye-opening video. Then ends with a pitch for a weight-loss plan!

Here's a blog post about how camera angles matter. There's no Photoshopping in these pix:

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