Television Makes You Spend More? (Consciously Frugal)

A couple of weeks ago, I ran a post on alternative Christmas gifts, in which one of the “prizes” for the best comment was a full-length commentary on one of your recent posts.

All of the suggestions you came up with were fantastic, but one comment that stood out for me was Aldra’s (Consciously Frugal). She wrote in:

“I blogged about this gift idea already, but since I love it so much, I’m going to blabber about it here as well–making a micro loan. I’m doing this with a friend this year instead of buying a traditional gift. We’re going to get together at Christmas, plop ourselves in front of the computer and make a micro loan via Vittana (maybe even as well). We can recycle the same loan each year. One initial investment can become an annual tradition without costing us another dime. However, we’ll probably keep adding to the loan, because giving is the best expression of love in any season!”

What an amazing idea, and a great way to start a financial tradition with your family! Aldra, you’ve got my attention. 🙂

As promised, I headed over to Consciously Frugal in search for a meaty post to digest, and found “Tuesday’s Tip: Turn of the Idiot Box,” a commentary on a tidbit from the June 2009 issue of Money Magazine.

When I usually think of television and spending money, the first thing that comes to mind is advertising as a direct and major (perhaps only, until I read Aldra’s post) cause of over-spending.

It makes perfect sense–advertisers show you 30-second clips designed to make you eager to buy their product or spread their brand message in some way (think Bud-Wise-Errr, or Expedia “dot-cooommmm”).

“According to Juliet Schor, a sociologist with Boston College, ‘Television viewing results in an upscaling of desire. And that in turn leads people to buy.’ Schor conducted a study that showed an increase in spending by approximately $200 per year for every additional hour of TV viewed each week.”

Okay, so we’re still on the right track. I found the statistic absolutely staggering, by the way–because you don’t appreciate its full effect until you start to multiply the numbers in your head.

So how much spending are we talking about, exactly? A quick Google search revealed most sources in agreement that Americans watch about 4.5 hours of TV every day. That equates to 31.5 hours every week…still with me? $6,300 spent every year solely due to watching television, if this article is accurate. $6,300! Now that’s enough to turn your head.

Here’s the kicker for me:

“…we should at least try to watch things that don’t represent unrealistic norms (like factory workers living in million dollar homes in Los Angeles or harried mothers who look like models, for instance). COPS and PBS news shows were mentioned.”

Whoa! This I did not expect. I thought TIVO would save me from an eternity of over-spending, but it turns out it’s not just the commercials I’m fast-forwarding through that make me spend–it’s what I’m actually watching!

If you really think about it, 99% of fictional and reality shows represent unrealistic norms. Even Top Chef, one of my personal favorites, makes me want to go out and buy more chef knives, even though I’ll never be able to cook like those guys (and gals). Aldra’s suggestions for a TV antidote?

“…PBS has some great programming. I recall a series of “reality” shows, where participants lived as if they were in the 1600s, 1800s, etc. I found myself not wanting to spend a dime after watching folks do so much with so little.”

For those who still have cable, I think other suggestions are also prudent (although feel free to prove me wrong): Discovery Channel, History Channel, and maybe even CNBC (during a solid market crash).

Maureen also put in her two cents in the comments section:

“I find myself just getting mad at people on most HGTV shows….how can anyone spend $40,000 on a flippin BATHROOM!!!”

I love HGTV, and it’s an unfortunate consequence of my architecture background. But I hear what she’s saying. And coincidentally, I deal with trying to make things look “expensive” for not that much money every single day. So while I love to see and work with the good stuff, at least I realize it’s not realistic in this area of spending.

As for the other areas…perhaps I’ll have to take some of this advice and reduce my own TV consumption. What do you think and how will this knowledge affect your TV habits? How do you avoid being sucked in to unrealistic expectations?

Thanks, Aldra, for some great reading off your blog, and for stopping by to comment so often!

If you liked this post, you may also be interested in how I recently reduced my cable bill while improving my cable service.

Photo by dailyinvention

7 thoughts on “Television Makes You Spend More? (Consciously Frugal)

  1. Other ‘safe’ channels might include – National Geographic, AMC, HBO and Showtime. Although I highly recommend choosing a couple shows, download online and ditch the cable/dish all together.

    1. Can’t believe I forgot National Geographic! 🙂 AMC is a good one too, but I don’t have a very good appreciation for older movies–something to work on, I guess.

  2. Hey! Look! My name is on a glowing rectangle! 🙂 Thanks so much for the shout out, Wojo. I feel special!

    I don’t have cable, so I miss out on some of the really good programming out there. I suppose I should check hulu for some of the gems y’all mentioned.

    What I’ve noticed most about my TV viewing and consumption is that I often feel inadequate after watching mainstream programs. Primary characters are all flawless (but the background and criminal folks are allowed to be fat, acne scarred, or other forms of normal), the homes look like something straight out of a magazine, etc.

    I can totally see why folks would spend more and experience an “upscaling of desire.” I’ve even read that people view television as more of a barometer of what’s normal than the reality of their lives or people they know. So, a “normal” home becomes some glory on HGTV instead of our own messy living rooms or friends with mismatched furniture. C-r-a-z-y.

    But there is hope! There are a few ‘net based shows I’m loving, simply for their realism. has some great crafting and DIY shows (all less than 10 minutes). Working Class Foodies on is awesome–real people (no makeup artists or airbrushing), real kitchens (messy, with old tools!) and meals made for less than $8 per person. I’m trying to spend my TV viewing time watching those ‘net-based shows and PBS. Maybe one of these days I’ll learn to play outside more and get away from the idiot box?
    .-= ConsciouslyFrugal´s last post: Tuesday’s Tip: Take the Pantry Product Replacement Challenge =-.

    1. You bring up a good point–a lot of the impulse to buy is not product-based but psychology-based. I’ll definitely have to check out some of the shows you mentioned.

  3. Very nice post. It suggests that dropping cable not only saves you the monthly cable bill but also saves you from impulse buys or the like.

    Much of CNBC’s content, however, is not good for the average retirement saver’s psyche.

    1. I would agree and was being mostly sarcastic. I wouldn’t touch CNBC with a 10-foot pole because I just don’t care what the market is doing today, tomorrow, or next week for that matter.

      We would drop cable but I do enjoy a show here or there and haven’t been able to make that leap yet.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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