September 10, 2015

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Man, sorry that I disappeared on you guys for a few weeks. I write this blog in my off hours, when my brain is itching and I’m antsy and want to expend my energy. But for the last couple weeks my spare time has all been spent staring at this little goober who just joined my little family:


I know right? Who could resist?

But this week I’m out of town on a work conference and my current lack of tiny purring furry creatures to play with has done remarkable things for my productivity.

The conference I’m at is all about marketing, writing and storytelling (I work in marketing IRL) and in many of the classes and panels I’ve attended I’ve heard professionals say – sometimes in despair – that millennials are hard as hell to market to. Millennials don’t respond to traditional methods! They’re always moving to new social media platforms and news sites and by the time we get there it’s already passé!


My favorite was when one said that millennials have “a built-in bullshit detector.” Our generation has been soaked in information and communication every day of our lives. When we hear someone spout opinion as fact, we can google it and prove them wrong in 5 seconds or less. We check multiple sources, read individual accounts of events, and ignore what companies say about themselves, instead trusting consumer reviews on sites like Yelp, Foursquare and TripAdvisor.

In essence, previous generations were more willing to be marketed to. If a brand advertised their product as exclusive and luxurious, or as healthy and nutritious, or as family friendly and traditional, people would generally take the time to hear what they had to say. They wouldn’t necessarily believe it! I don’t mean to imply that millennials are the first generation to be cynical or to question the media. But the number of professionals and industry-veteran marketers I’ve heard this week say that young digital natives are making their jobs harder makes me think that there really is a shift here.

To bring this around to personal finance, I love the way my generation questions things and finds alternatives. We shop carefully for cars, clothing, hotel rooms, etc. But weirdly, we fail to properly question marketing in one area: consumable items. Specifically, despite the fact that we question everything and come to our own conclusions, we still let brands control us in the grocery store. Here are my questions for you, millennials (and other people who consider themselves not-easily-fooled): When you’re shopping for packaged food, cosmetics, medicine or home supplies, do you have favorite brands that you automatically reach for? Why is that? Do you know for a fact that that product is better that the ones around it in some way? Or are you being influenced by the efforts of marketers (like me) to get you to connect to a brand and consider it “yours”?

Maybe your answer is along the lines of: “But... choosy moms choose Jif!” And if that’s the case, you’re not alone. Some brands just make you feel good. Coca Cola has the polar bears, Morton salt has the girl with the umbrella, Charmin has those animated bears who’re always wiping their butts in the woods. Not to mention Mr Clean, the Brawny towels man, and the talking plain and peanut M&Ms. If any ads with these brands have ever made you smile, or if you remember growing up seeing King Arthur flour and Dominoes sugar in the pantry and it reminds you of home, or you just plain old like the look and feel Seventh Generation soap bottles, you’re more likely to buy those products.


But millennials also have something else in common as a generation: we’re broke as fuck. We need to save money anywhere we can. And one of the easiest ways to begin saving money on your everyday expenses is to become conscious of the way brands affect us, and then BREAK THE CHAINS.


Generic versions are your friend! They're cheaper, and 99% of the time they taste or work exactly the same as the classic brand. If you’re not buying generic for 99% of your consumable goods, you’re throwing away money. And you’re doing it because marketers and advertisers have indoctrinated you into loving their brands. Doesn’t that make you mad? You could be losing money every day because someone tricked you into it. This is the same anger you should keep in your heart for things like discounts and “sales” that are actually just psychological tricks designed to separate you from your hard-earned dollars.

I know that generic brands can have a stigma. There was recently a popular hashtag on Twitter where people shared their experience of #growinguppoor. TONS of people talked about how their friends had Count Chocula cereal and Dr Pepper while they had to eat the generic versions with names like Duke Choco-Fangs and Mr PepPop. They felt embarrassed and angry at their parents for not buying (or not having the money to buy) the brands their friends get to have. The ones in the commercials with the fun slogans and the cute characters!


On the one hand, I totally get this. As a kid, standing out from the crowd in any way is a nightmare, especially if you feel like you’re going to be singled out for being poor. But as an adult we need to let go of this stigma. Standing out from the crowd as an adult is a good thing. The average person spends extra on their groceries because they haven’t learned to break the bonds of brands. But you aren’t the average person. The fact that you’re reading about personal finance at all shows that!

My fellow millennials, the next time you go down the aisles at the grocery store or the pharmacy, turn on your “built-in bullshit detector.” Make the conscious choice to step away from the brands and reach for that plain generic, and then pat yourself on the back. You’re breaking the social shackles and taking a step that will help you save you money every day, thereby speeding you up on the path to financial security.

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