Buying Things to Feel Included: What Is the Impact?

When I was in the 4th grade, I can remember wanting a Vera Bradley bookbag so badly – more than words can describe actually. The design I specifically wanted was called “Raspberry Fizz.” My friend had shown me it. It was fuschia, pink, and orange. But more than the loudly colored, $82 bookbag, I think I wanted to be a part more than anything. I would see my girl classmates bring them to school. Many times, they had more than one, and at 9 years old, I knew that these bags were an indication of status, of being included, of belonging. My mother told me that she would perhaps get me one on a Thursday, and my heart beamed with sheer elation. For it was that day I would finally become one of them. I would be accepted. And finally, the time came. I told my friend that I was set to get one that Thursday, and she was so excited that I would be entering the fold. 

On that day sunny day in 2007, I walked into the store with my mother after being picked up early from my after-school program. I greeted the cashier, and she said hello, her face looking a little skeptical. I moved my eyes around the store frantically in search of my treasure, that raspberry fizz bookbag “with my name on it.”

I saw it.

I scurried to the back of the store before someone else could grab it, and I said, “Mom, this is it! This is it!” almost jumping with jubilation. 

“How much is it?” My mother asked flatly. 

I turned the price tag over feeling nervous, even afraid and panic-stricken. The fate of my social belonging was wrapped up in one price tag. I flipped it over.


“No.” My mother said. 


“No.” She turned away briskly and began heading for the door. 

My eyes welled with tears. They stung. I stood there feeling like I couldn’t move, wanting to stay with my bag. My feet were planted. My mother exited, and the cashier stares at me quizzically. I set my Vera Bradley back down wanting to shut my eyes. I glance back at the cashier who is still staring at me. I look at her like, “help.” Naturally, she does nothing, and suddenly, I feel silly. I follow my mother out of the store. I was heartbroken. I can’t describe any other way how I felt. The next day I came into class embarrassed and chagrined. My friend looks at me expectantly. “Did you get it?” 

“No,” I said curtly.

I could never let her find out that my family could not afford it, or alas, I wasn’t good enough to have one. I had failed. I always think back to this moment when I see people wearing luxury, and I wonder what I would have done on that day if I had access to a credit card. And now that I’m older,  I know my experience was very common and normal. 

I was reading an article on BBC that describes how“the fear of missing out on a purchase can switch us into a “competitive mode” which makes it difficult to control the impulse to buy something that could be bought by someone else first. In the past, this physiological arousal was designed to protect us,” 

Moreover, Nicole Cunningham, PhD describes how “the need to save face is a form of protecting ourselves, and yes, consumers desire to protect their reputations. Group conformity also impacts shopping, and it focuses on the need to conform to the behavior expected by the social group.” More simply, objects do not only facilitate “fitting in,” they communicat our ability to fit in. From a social standpoint, objects tell groups whether you are qualified enough to be with them. And I think that’s why I was so heartbroken. It’s very hurtful to feel like you don’t qualify when it’s what you want more than anything. 

And the most striking thing is not feeling as though you don’t belong. It’s feeling like you don’t even have the tools to belong. I was never taught or made to feel like I didn’t need these things. So, what if we took the time to look within ourselves and find a place there? Obviously, humans are social beings who normally want at least one friend, but objects don’t attract quality relationships. On any given day, you deserve someone who loves you regardless of what you do or don’t have. You deserve someone that sees you for you at all times. You are beautiful, and nothing needs to be bought to prove that. There’s no love that needs to be bought, and with time and great effort, you can find this treasure within yourself.

It has your name on it.

Photocred: SF Travel