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Tops! Deals With the Heart of Overspending & Materialism,
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This review is from: The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need (Paperback)
Harvard professor Juliet Schor has written a timely and convincing work. Schor's argument is that people are actually happier when they are not obsessed with craving material luxuries.
Schor's perspective is balanced, realistic, and moderate. Unlike books that offer advice on money management, Schor cuts to the quick and goes to the heart of the problem: we buy not because we need but because we attempt to find identity, status, or security through our purchases.
The volume is divided into seven chapters. The first is titled, "Introduction," but is not really merely an introduction. It is a chapter in the fullest sense and might better be titled, "overview." Let me share one of numerous quotables from this section: "American consumers are often not conscious of being motivated by social status and are far more likely to attribute such motives to others than to themselves. We live with high levels of psychological denial about the connection between our buying habits and the social statements they make."
The second chapter, "Communicating With Commodities" discusses how people crave the standard of living portrayed by television sitcoms. The American majority is frustrated (and sometimes desperate to attain such a standard) because they compare themselves to these fictious upper middle classed lifestyles. Shcor illustrates where this can lead by referring to the "sneaker murders" where people were actually killed for their shoes (of the "proper" brand, of course).
The third chapter, "The Visible Lifestyle" emphasizes the sub-conscious quest for status. In her typically well-balanced perspective, she distinguishes between, "the desire [for] social status [and]...trying to avoid social humiliation." This is a GREAT chapter.
The fourth chapter, "When Spending Becomes You" is also superb. She quotes one statistic that 61 per cent of the population ALWAYS has something in mind they look forward to buying. She also discusses how religion used to curtail obsessive materialism and spending, but no longer does. As a professional clergymen, I'll second that. She is right.
The last two chapters, "The Downshifter Next Door" and "Learning Diderot's Lesson" offer practical ways to attack this problem. We must change our attitudes and view frugality as a virtue, not a vice. She offers several case studies of "downshifters," those who have decided that, once past a modest financial threshold, family, time, and the deeper things of life are worthy of financial sacrifice.
This volume exposes how shallow, foolish, and silly our society has become in our uncontrollable culture of reckless spending. It is a gem of a book, worth your time for sure!