Introducing the six dimensions of Consumer Wisdom

At this point you may have already completed the Consumer Wisdom survey (if not, you can take it here) or maybe you just want to learn more about each of the six dimensions of Consumer Wisdom (then this is this right place!). Even if you have completed the survey and know how your scores compare to US national averages, you are likely wondering what does it really means to score “low” or “high” along a specific dimension? More fundamentally, you may be wondering what does each dimension actually reflect?

For each of the six dimensions, I’ll briefly describe the dimension and then I’ll share the specific questions from the survey that align with each dimension. Remember, though, that the questions in the survey are representative of a larger set of related behaviors. These are the most common behaviors, but only roughly represent each dimension. They will, however, give you a good sense of the dimensions that the survey is representing.

Responsibility: Managing spending relative to your resources so that you can pursue a rewarding yet realistically envisioned lifestyle.

Responsibility refers to consistent habits based on a thoughtful sense of your chosen lifestyle, rather than giving in to the pressures of advertisers and society’s expectations. The responsible consumer defines a lifestyle that promotes their well-being but is realistic about the constraints of their resources. They spend within their limits and make sure that they use their money and time to fulfill their own lifestyle vision. This includes successfully avoiding spending on things they don’t really need to avoid regret, guilt, and financial stress. Resources and priorities change over time, however, so the responsible consumer intentionally adapts their behaviors as their personal context changes.

The questions from the survey that reflect Responsibility are:

  • I have a realistic sense of the lifestyle that I can afford
  • I spend my money responsibly
  • I find it easy to focus on buying only what I really need without getting tempted by things that others have
  • I am able to resist temptation in order to achieve my budget and lifestyle goals

Reasoning: Seeking and applying sufficient information to guide specific consumption decisions.

Reasoning refers to thoughtfully making specific decisions about what to spend your money on, how much to spend, and when to spend it (and when not to). This depends on getting sufficient information about options, making sense of it, and basing decisions on well-developed self-insight about your needs, preferences, and values. While reasoning often depends on making the best trade-offs on features, price, brand, availability, and other factors, the wise consumer doesn’t over-invest in a quest for the perfect choice with every purchase. So, reasoning also includes the ability to focus on what matters most and to limit information search to manage the investment of time and energy in the consumption decision–making process.

The questions from the survey that reflect Reasoning are:

  • I understand which product features are the most important
  • I know when I’ve done enough research to make a good purchase decision
  • I know where and how to buy things so that I get the best value
  • Before buying something, I know how to get the information that I need to make great choices

Perspective: Using past experiences and imagined potential future consequences to inform current consumption decisions.

Perspective refers to making consumption decisions that reflect different perspectives and a clear awareness of the likely outcomes of these decisions. The wise consumer is realistic about when spending makes sense and how it will actually affect their well-being over time. Two related ways of doing this are retrospection and prospection. Retrospection involves reflecting on and learning from similar choices in the past; this can come from personal reflection, or learning about other people’s experiences. Prospection involves imagining and, when possible, simulating choices so that likely outcomes can be explored before a decision is made. Retrospection and prospection can both be used to make better choices, which sometimes means not spending or deferring spending until the choice is clearer.

The questions from the survey that reflect Perspective are:

  • Before I buy something, I consider my previous experiences with similar purchases
  • Before spending money on something, I visualize what the experience of owning and using it is likely to be
  • Before I buy something, I consider the possible costs and benefits over time
  • Before I buy something, I make an effort to consider my options from multiple perspectives

Purpose: Prioritizing discretionary spending to promote personal growth, health, and relationships.

Purpose refers to intentionally spending in ways that actively promote your well-being, in the short-term and over time. This depends on managing your “fixed spending” (on housing, transportation, groceries, essential utilities, debt payment, savings, etc.) so that there is enough left for “discretionary spending” (like restaurants and travel, which are optional and therefore flexible). Wise consumers are not especially frugal consumers; they seek balance. They don’t spend unnecessarily, but they do recognize that targeted and selective spending on products, services, and experiences can promote their personal growth, promote joy, and support positive relationships with people that they care about.

The questions from the survey that reflect Purpose are:

  • I manage my budget so that I can spend some money on experiences that give me a lot of pleasure and joy
  • I prioritize spending some money on unique experiences that help me develop my full potential
  • I manage my budget so that I can spend some money on experiences that help me learn new things
  • I prioritize spending money on products and experiences that help me build and strengthen relationships with others

Sustainability: Integrating pro-environmental and pro-social factors into your consumption choices.

Sustainability refers to consuming in ways that reflect genuine empathy and concern for other people, communities, and the natural environment. This includes how much to consume in general, as well as specifically what to buy and how to use the things you own responsibly. However, wise consumers don’t only buy “green products” because of the image they portray or because it makes them feel good. Instead, they seriously consider their values and ensure that they do what they can to balance their own well-being with the well-being of others and the environment.

The questions from the survey that reflect Sustainability are:

  • I buy products from companies that promote environmental responsibility, even when they cost more
  • My consumption behaviors consistently reflect my concern for the natural environment
  • I buy products from companies that demonstrate that they share my ethical values
  • I spend time thinking about how we, as a global community, affect each other through our individual consumption choices

Flexibility: Using alternative forms of consumption, such as renting, sharing, and buying used goods.

Flexibility refers to an openness to alternative, non-mainstream forms of consumption, including borrowing/sharing, buying used or refurbished products, and actively extending the value of products already owned (keeping up with maintenance, repairing, etc.). The wise consumer only buys new things when really needed and actively considers alternatives for many types of products. Rather than seeing alternative consumption as a sacrifice, they recognize that it can give them more value, help them make better long-term decisions about things they do eventually buy new, and contribute to a global effort to lessen our collective global production and consumption footprint.

The questions from the survey that reflect Flexibility are:

  • I borrow or rent products to try them out before deciding if I want to buy them
  • Before I buy something that I might not use very often, I try to rent it or borrow it from someone instead
  • My purchases include used products or clothing even though I could just purchase new things if I wanted to
  • I like to share, swap, or trade for things with my friends and neighbors

So there you have it; the six dimensions (or habits) of wise consumers. Next, we’ll consider some of the most common profiles, or types, of consumers based on the Consumer Wisdom survey. For example, maybe you are a “smart consumer,” or possibly a “non-conformist?”  Read on to find out…

Next: The five most common types of consumers

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