152 comments

Grim Comedy from Mr. Money Mustache’s Junkmail

Ahh, consumerism. The growing Mustachian Army fights and slashes away great swaths of it, night and day. We wake ourselves from the nightmare of our irrational desires for 400-horsepower SUVs and 4000 square foot houses.We advance further to slice the enormous lovehandles of fat from our daily routines.

We disband our armies of domestic housekeeping servants and stop requiring slaves to tend to our whims for food, coffee and fingernail therapy when we’re out on the town. And then as our own lives become as light and free as a speeding bicycle on a mountain road, we start freeing our friends and family from their own bonds. It feels great, and the legion of liberated souls will soon number in the millions.

But yet the ridiculous attempts of the consumer world to ensnare victims go on in the filthy back alleys we have yet to address. Like a pack of giant freak-of-evolution-Wormsnakes slithering in a vast river of urine and feces, there are still companies out there trying their darndest to sell people stuff they don’t need, regardless of how much it will destroy their lives or the planet which provides all of our shared wealth.

I sometimes try to deny it, circulating in my privileged life of bicycles, library books and You the Mustachians. I pretend that the shopping malls have closed and the former customers are all out there chipping up the asphalt to plant great community gardens. The Escalades are all gliding slowly along their Final Conveyor Belt, about to hit the carbide blades of the grinder which will shred them for reprocessing into wind turbines and solar panels.

But yesterday, someone had the nerve to stuff the mailbox at the Mustache residence full of colorful flyers advertising a huge array of Absolute Crap. And these flyers reminded me that that our work here is far from done. And they enraged me sufficiently that I was forced to grab a pair of scissors and some school glue in order to make the following Infographic for you. Study it, and try to keep a handle on your pulse rate, for it is horrifying indeed:

Grim comedy from my mailbox – click for larger

Is that advertising insane, or is it Maddeningly Insane?

Are people out there still buying scaryass white-bread fast food and jugs of “soft drinks”, a substance only barely less toxic than drain cleaner? The food is sold with big closeups of deep-fried batter, when instead the image should be of the decaying 720-pound corpse of a man who died in his mid 40s of diabetes and obesity complications.

If you need food when you’re not at home, you look in your backpack and pull out your bag of almonds or the tupperware full of spicy Indian food you made last week. Of if you’re rich, you find a place where some humans will cook food for you from recognizable ingredients.

Check out that radio in the middle. Aaron’s is selling its financially illiterate customers a $289 radio for $720, by printing the “monthly cost” in big letters so they think of 60 bucks. When instead the offer should have them thinking of a homeless shelter or a grinning bankruptcy lawyer.

If you need a radio, you open up Craigslist and click “For Sale -> Electronics”. You’ll find something just as sweet well under $100.

And the televisions. You can choose from 73″, 82″ and 92″.. so you can make the football players REALLY BIG in your tiny living room with a floor littered with unpaid credit card statements.  You don’t have TIME to read a book on how to manage your money or comb the listings for an apartment within biking distance of work. There’s too much good stuff on TV, and your favorite team just made the playoffs! Plus, since you paid over $4800 for the TV set even before counting the $1400/year Digital Premium Package, you really need to get your money’s worth.

I find all of this stuff really funny, even as I find it supremely unjust. Logically speaking, none of the shit in my infographic should even exist. Why would anyone enter debt slavery just buy a product that offers only superficial pleasure while simultaneously destroying their lives?

How could any company owner feel good about offering such products for sale, and applying marketing finesse to further grease the funnel which sucks in vulnerable customers?

Although it’s all within the rules of the free market which I love so much, it’s really no different from a Mental Mafia that preys on financially unsophisticated people.

“Hey! Let’s gather a bunch of smart people – marketers, lawyers, and MBAs, then back them with a bunch of money to fool people into signing contracts where they legally have to pay us most of their income for life! We’ll offer the token of worthless trinkets or short-term loans as our ‘product’, but the real product will be chains and handcuffs! We’ll make a killing!”

I simply cannot imagine how this feels like a good idea to the people in that boardroom. To compare, I sometimes imagine that I could write so persuasively that I could offer an e-book of my own stuff on this blog, and sell thousands of copies at $99.99 each. It would target the most desperate of readers, promising them the tools to get out of debt and a lifetime of financial independence. With proper desperation, I could extract an outlandish price from everyone.

Would I do it?    FUCK, NO!!

Wake up, rich people of the boardrooms. Congratulations, you’re smart and you’ve mastered the system. You can influence people and apply yourself to make as much money as you could ever need, in almost any field in existence.

SO WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU SELLING POISONOUS WHITEBREAD BURGERS AND RIPOFF $720 BOOMBOX INSTALLMENT PLANS!?!?! WAKE UP AND DO SOMETHING MEANINGFUL WITH YOUR LIFE, IDIOTS!!

Sigh.

I suppose my ranting like this is a little like getting mad at a mosquito for wanting to steal my blood. In a capitalist free market, resources flow to incentives with almost biological efficiency. If one boardroom stops offering the predatory installment plans, it creates an even more profitable hole for someone else to fill. Prices rise until enough supply materializes to meet demand.

But You and I will still keep trying, hacking and slashing. With enough cultural change, the market for Things that Wreck your Life can be marginalized and stigmatized almost into oblivion. Just as the business of Professional Assassin is generally frowned upon and represents only a tiny fraction of our economy, so we can crush things like high fructose corn syrup beverages, Escalades and Hummers being deployed to carry only a single real estate agent, and 300%-annual-interest contracts on disposable consumer trinkets.

Are you in?

  • Derek P. November 10, 2012, 1:36 pm

    This post totally suits my situation I had this morning while shopping for groceries with the GF on how strong marketing is these days. We walked into the store to buy either bread or pancake materials and milk. As I am grabbing the goods, she’s complaining that she spends a lot more money on food while I’m around, then picks up a bag of sweet potato chips that’s in the middle of store and wants to buy them. They are about 5 dollars for about a 1/2 lbs (250 g) worth of ‘healthily food’. In my hand is about 3 lbs of food (mostly just the milk), worth a total of 5 dollars too. Fuck that noise, you know what we walked out of the store with.

    You have to be so freaking careful not to get screwed over by companies for overpriced crap food. They’ll try to rape you any chance they’ll get for your money and to ruin your health.

    I swear these processed food companies are own by drug companies…. When they’ve pumped your body full of sugar crap food they’ve got the products to cure you of your high blood pressure and diabetes too.

    Reply
  • Jennifer November 10, 2012, 2:21 pm

    Saw a funny “news” story this morning and thought of this post. A truck, possibly driven by a drunk driver, veered off the road, crashed into a McDonald’s parking lot, and was eventually stopped by a tree. A man who was in the drive-thru at the time of the crash was interviewed. As he described what happened he exclaimed, “If it hadn’t been for that tree, that truck would’ve hit us and killed our whole family”- while he waited in line to feed his family crap that will eventually kill them too.

    Reply
    • lurker November 11, 2012, 6:56 am

      kill them and their budget too…is that unhealthy crap even cheap anymore???

      Reply
  • plam November 11, 2012, 4:46 pm

    This post made me think of a write-up of the inventor of Pinterest. I “like” the last line:

    ‘There’s a lot of value in, as ­Silbermann puts it, “helping people to discover things that they didn’t know they wanted.”’

    Complete profile at: http://www2.technologyreview.com/tr35/profile.aspx?TRID=1292

    Reply
  • AussieJulie November 11, 2012, 6:44 pm

    I love getting junk mail. I collect it all for the month then send it back to the business owners with a note. It goes like this

    Dear Businessman

    Please do not send me any more junk mail. I am not interested in recieving it. it wastes my time, just like I am doing now with yours.

    Regards
    No junk mail sign on my mail box.

    BUT – I don’t put a postage stamps on it. To get the mail the business has to pay for postage and a penalty for no stamp. Costs them about $3.00 in the end and I feel very satisfied.

    Reply
    • Eldred April 1, 2015, 8:39 am

      I assume you use their own envelopes for this? Otherwise, I’d expect the post office would just return it to you…

      Reply
  • Darrow @ CanIRetireYet? November 12, 2012, 5:56 am

    I’m in. And I agree, in a free market, resources tend to flow for short-term gains. We all must consume to live, and we all have our extravagances. The problem is when reckless consumption becomes a lifestyle. I want to live in a free system, so I think voluntary education and change ala MMM is the best way. Making it culturally uncool to consume conspicuously or stupidly is an achievable goal. A blog with great writing is the perfect platform to achieve this. And let’s not get attached to the outcome and become bitter or cynical, like some of those in the boardroom. Let’s laugh at the comedy, and ourselves, as much as possible!

    Reply
  • Joe November 12, 2012, 12:14 pm

    I got halfway through the comments before I realized this article was posted on 11/09/12. Where’s my Monday Morning Mustache post?

    Reply
  • JaneMD November 12, 2012, 5:23 pm

    Those is a total marketing fail. They didn’t do any research. If they were high-tech and sh*t, they would have targeted MMM with Lowe’s coupons, energy saving devices, and cycling related equipment. This is the 21st century. Dropping fliers like that is killing a tree for nothing.

    Reply
  • 101 Centavos November 13, 2012, 4:06 am

    We must, check that, we *are* years behind trends … we recently upgraded to a 32″ flatscreen.

    Reply
  • swimming_naked November 13, 2012, 7:22 am

    I wonder if the reason people buy books that “promise to get you out of debt and give you a lifetime of financial independence” is that they have bought into the idea that “you get what you pay for”.

    If I pay a guy $100 to clean the leaves out of my gutters, have I gotten what I paid for? I’m not all that talented, but I think I can clean leaves out of gutters like one bad mofo.

    The axiom should be “you get what you WORK for” and not “you get what you PAY for”.

    Reply
  • Freeyourchains November 13, 2012, 9:33 am

    I also get mad at consumerism after my big change in lifestyle after learning the truth about finances, markets, capitalism, financial slavery worker-consumer-taxes system.

    Luckily for me, my eyes began to open at age 22, while surfing blogs on finance during work with machines that are so efficient and high quality, true work is done in less then an hour a day; yet, overlords/bosses/CEOs require and pay yourfor your presence/slavery to do orders at will for $.

    Reply
    • noob515 November 13, 2012, 2:06 pm

      To Slackerjo, there was an article several months back about how very few people trying to join the military are actually qualified. Basically, once you weed out all the people who don’t have a GED and have a clean enough criminal record (the military looks past quite a bit, surprisingly), a vast majority of candidates are TOO FAT to join. Sadly, I have a friend in this category. He also smokes a lot and guzzles Mountain Dew.

      In addition to the Aaron’s of the world, my town has a lot of the “your job is your credit” car dealerships and “paycheck loans” type of places. Because of course you should take out a high interest LOAN on your hard earned money and go out and buy some shiny status-symbol vehicle. -barf-

      Reply
  • Edward November 13, 2012, 1:27 pm

    Why is it the first posters to a blog always try to find a way to call an article hypocritical? Are they out there waiting, with “Devil’s Advocate” written on their briefcases, ready to pounce as soon as something shows in their newsfeeds?

    Anyway, great article! I always mistakenly think the world has evolved past processed, chemically enhanced foods and gross unchecked materialism. I get lulled into a false sense of security by reading things here and in other online communities and with my sensible friends. …Then I go to the mall and BAM!–it’s worse than ever before in history! Shopping carts overflowing with junk, people lined up for McBurger, zombies piling into the Wal-Mart.

    The population in my city has gone down 6% since I was a kid in the 70s. But shopping sure has increased!! It’s crazy out there–the stores and junk food shops are packed all the time. :(

    After a visit to the third level of hell, it takes me days to go back to denial.

    Reply
  • Matt G November 13, 2012, 6:00 pm

    I ran across this today and had to pass along with this article. Ripping apart the Williams & Sonoma Catalog…

    http://deadspin.com/5959212/the-haters-guide-to-the-williams+sonoma-catalog

    Reply
  • Artis November 14, 2012, 9:02 am

    When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.

    This is precisely why I believe in regulating the market. Yes, free market is an awesome force that has brought a lot of good. But I also believe that the government has to step in when it’s time to slay the dragons. Free market fundamentalists are against regulation in all cases, and in all circumstances. That’s no surprise, since it’s a blind faith.

    For them, the market is a God that rewards the worthy and punishes the unworthy. The rich will inherit the kingdom of God. Hence, they deserve all the money they can cheat out of these poor bastards. They are, by nature, smarter and stronger than the debtors.

    The market fundamentalists are also wrong on human nature. Our species lack true sapience. We do not posses, on average, the capability to build wisdom and thus exercise sound judgments. We are driven by the biological mandate to garner resources to ourselves and generate new biomass (procreate). That is our deepest drive.

    So is it the market that knows best? No, it should be obvious that it does not. Anti-trust, healthy and safety regulations, banning child labor, stopping the “too big to fail”, requiring businesses to follow privacy laws etc. — the government can do a lot to make this “free” market palatable. We’re all the better for it.

    Reply
  • Warren November 14, 2012, 2:31 pm

    As outlandish as this statement is going to sound: I can see times when a rental television actually *IS* a Good Idea(tm).

    Like that one gathering a year at your house when everybody wants to watch football after Thanksgiving Dinner.

    Rent it for that week, and then take it back.

    It’s akin to renting a car when you travel – yeah, a couple hundred bucks for a car for a week is bad compared to owning one and using it forever. But when you’ll only be there a few days, it’s a highly worthwhile trade.

    Reply
  • Fu Manchu November 15, 2012, 1:15 pm

    Just a quick word of advice: anyone looking for an easy way to opt out of junk mail, try the free “Paper Karma” app for your phone. As someone on the other end of Direct Mail (somewhere that sends it), I can tell you that it works and is effective. All you do is snap a photo of the junk mail and it can figure out who they are & where the opt out should be emailed to. Assuming the company is compliant, they will remove you from their list.

    Disclaimer: I didn’t create this app or anything like that. I just think it’s neat.

    Reply
  • Jen November 15, 2012, 7:51 pm

    So looking forward to FI. Must feel great to have time to do junk mail scrap-booking.

    Reply
  • Shiznik November 16, 2012, 12:50 pm

    I’m in!

    Reply
  • Trudy November 27, 2012, 3:56 pm

    Over 100 comments (I think, they all blurred after awhile and I lost count) and not one person said how proud Joe Dominguez would have been over that collage – and MMM. Joe was sidelined from writing for the newsletter (I think) when he titled one big article “QUIT YER BITCHIN”. I miss him so much – MMM is a perfect replacement.

    Reply
  • Miki December 11, 2012, 11:38 pm

    This post was FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC!! MMM you are a very funny writer and I’ve been reading as many posts as I can get through in one sitting. I often thought all these things when those flyers came in the mail and wondered who bought this stuff, it truly is insane. I laughed the entire way through. Thanks for this!

    Reply
  • Helen Wallace December 29, 2012, 9:33 am

    Well you probably won’t see my comment there are so many — but go Mr MM this is my favourite post yet!!

    Were you channeling my other favourites and Max Keiser and George Carlin??

    Love it !!

    Reply
  • Victor April 13, 2013, 8:16 pm

    JUST ADD PUKE! Classic.

    Reply
  • Michele May 16, 2013, 9:50 am

    I like the idea of making fast food restaurants post pictures of extremely obese individuals on all of their marketing with a big sign saying “Our food causes obesity!” It would be similar to the types of advertising restrictions that tobacco and alcohol companies are required to use in their marketing. “The Surgeon General…”

    Reply
  • Betsy February 22, 2015, 11:35 pm

    If you’re not using this rubbish to line your birdcage, or to keep paint off surfaces where it ought not to be (or in MMM’s case, to fuel a fiery rant against junk mail), do consider getting off the mailing lists altogether. It’s a little tougher than turning off the TV, but with a bit of persistence, it’s possible to get off of even the globs of sales circulars.

    If you’re a Mustachian, it’s pure waste. You weren’t going to read it and rush out and buy things. If you do need something, you’re probably going to hunt around online or at thrift stores for a better value than this, anyway.

    I think of it as pre-decluttering. The stuff never arrives, so I don’t spend valuable time or energy sorting through it.

    Reply
    • Eldred April 1, 2015, 8:45 am

      How do you block the sales circulars that come with the regular mail? There’s no ‘addressing’ or parent company to complain to…

      Reply
  • Emma October 7, 2015, 8:42 pm

    MMM,
    I have newly discovered your blog, am devouring year old posts, and would already call myself a big fan. However, I have to call BS on this post. If rich people weren’t sitting in board rooms applying themselves to rip people off and sell them toxic products, the index funds that you tout would not be such good investments and you wouldn’t be able to live off of interest and dividends. You think of the dollars that you invest as your hard working employees, but real people work for the companies that your dollars own shares of and a lot of them live in poverty and work long hours in hot factories somewhere in Asia. Morality is a slippery slope. Advising people not to buy gas guzzling SUVs and 92″ flat screens= frugal advice, judging the people who sell these products= cheap shot.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 7, 2015, 10:29 pm

      Emma, I couldn’t disagree more. I feel there is a HUGE spectrum of business activity that goes on, from stuff designed to save lives in poor countries at one end, to things designed to prey off of unsophisticated people at the opposite. Businesses like Aarons create a net social loss, while things like a wind farm engineering firm are probably producing great gains.

      Only by giving up the “profit is always good” mantra and using our minds to think ethically (and regulations if absolutely necessary) can we improve the average social good produced by business. We can still make a shit-ton of money, but we don’t have to be dicks about it.

      Reply
  • EarningAndLearning May 24, 2017, 5:05 pm

    Loved the opening paragraphs of this post – brilliantly written & I am with you on every word.

    Your mention of 4,000 square foot houses as the pinnacle of consumerism got me thinking about this couple I know in LA who live in a 4,000 square foot house with a pool & rose gardens. No kids but 2 dogs & a cat. I house/pet sat for them for two weeks last June & it cured me of EVER aspiring to live in a 4,000 square foot house. Even though they employed a weekly housecleaning crew of 4 women, a gardener & a pool guy, there was SO MUCH DAILY WORK TO DO in a house that size! I imagined myself sitting by their pool in the sun, having a languid, luxurious holiday, HA HA no chance! I couldn’t relax for long stretches due to all the required To Do’s: walking the dogs several times a day, feeding them & the cat twice a day, scooping poop from kitty litter daily (cured me of ever wanting a cat!), watering the roses daily with a hose since it was so hot (if roses need daily watering in extreme heat maybe LA residents shouldn’t have rose gardens!), scooping leaves out of the pool so they didn’t clog the drain, sweeping the cement area around the pool so the leaves didn’t blow into the pool, washing their three cars when bird poop got on them so the bird poop didn’t harden in the sun, and generally keeping that MASSIVE house & kitchen tidy. MAN I was happy to get home to my small, efficient apartment!

    Thanks for your great posts MMM! Working through since the first one & learning so much!

    Reply
  • Glen August 24, 2017, 8:51 pm

    Five years later (catching up on old posts), we see this headline: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/24/most-americans-live-paycheck-to-paycheck.html
    and this quote from it: Seventy-eight percent of full-time workers said they live paycheck to paycheck, up from 75 percent last year, according to a recent report from CareerBuilder. MMM, you have much work to do!

    Reply

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