Purchasing: A trade or an individualistic act?
Over the past years, I noticed people have become more open regarding talking about money. I appreciate the transparency that comes with talking openly with friends how much we earn. It has become normal to compare prices of things we buy. Whether it is a backpack, a theatre ticket, a massage or a holiday. It is not unusual anymore, that people ask how much you paid, when you present them with something new or tell them about your recent holidays. Since transparency is one of my greatest values, I like this new trend, but I am also curious why we talk about money so much more nowadays, and what impact it has on us.
At first glance, it may look like we were cheap – that we only care about how much things cost, instead of appreciating their quality. However, at second thought, I realized that in our super complex world, where the same product can be packaged and priced in many different ways, we want to make sure that we are not screwed over. Why pay more for the exact same thing? How much money would it be worth to spend for a bit better quality? Decisions like those become increasingly difficult for me, because it is difficult to determine whether the financial value of something corresponds with its quality and the value it has for us. Fancy branding doesn’t need to relate to better quality. Is organic food really better for us and our environment? When I buy my clothes at an expensive shop, can I really make sure that they weren’t made by children in Asia?
When I do not know the answer of whether a product was really manufactured in a “fair” way, if it is more organic or whether it brings more good for more people and the environment, I usually go for the cheaper option. One may call this economic thinking, but at some point I asked myself whether I had become too individualistic, only caring about myself and not those who I support with my purchases. But then again, who are they? In most cases we don’t know if we just feed the bosses of the big companies or if we really support the little farmers and the good cause.
Last summer, I then had an experience, which stopped my worries about being individualistic. I was having drinks with some friends in the newly opened restaurant by a friend of those friends. It was fascinating watching him serving us and other guests. One could truly feel how much he enjoys what he is doing. At the end of the evening, we helped him cleaning. He was so grateful and I could feel how much this support means to him. I couldn’t stop asking if there is more that I could do to help. He didn’t let us pay for drinks and even ordered an Uber for me to get home, as it was already late. The next two days I came back with friends as I felt I wanted to support his restaurant as much as I can. When I came for dinner, I even considered taking the more expensive option, even though I didn’t need so much food, because I knew my money is going to somebody that is passionate about what he is doing, passing on that enthusiasm to his customers.
I was so happy to realise that comparing prices and thinking about how much something is worth to me doesn’t mean that I am enslaved to individualism. During this summer incidence, I had that strong feeling of being connected with others. Making a purchase is nothing else than a trade, an exchange of money against a product or a service. We all need things others can provide and we all have some talents that benefit others. Economy comes down to this principle – give and take. By paying for something, we value in a way what other humans are producing. The problem is that our world has become so complex, that we don’t know anymore who that money really goes to. In that context, I am especially worried about ever more machines replacing humans. This will hide the human aspect of trade even more. Once there is hardly any connection with humans when we make a purchase, will we manage to not be consumed by individualism?
Written by Julia Heuritsch | Last edited: 2nd June 2022