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The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need Paperback – April 7, 1999
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If getting and spending define our lives, then Juliet Schor now has us covered. Six years ago, her book The Overworked American scrutinized the getting part. It focused public attention on the disappearance of leisure and the harmful effects thereof on families and society. It sparked a debate over whether Americans really work as much as we proudly claim. (If so, how to explain the audience for Monday Night Football?) Nevertheless, Schor can take credit for helping push Congress into passing the Family Leave Act in 1993.
Now she is back with a critique of our spending. Schor notes that, despite rising wealth and incomes, Americans do not feel any better off. In fact, we tell pollsters we do not have enough money to buy everything we need. And we are almost as likely to say so if we make $85,000 a year as we are if we make $35,000. Schor believes that "keeping up with the Joneses" is no longer enough for today's media-savvy office workers. We set our sights on the lifestyles of those higher up the organizational chart. We seek to emulate characters on TV. For teenagers, "enough" is the idle splendor that hardly exists outside of what MTV un-ironically calls The Real World. Schor offers an original and provocative analysis of why many Americans feel driven and unhappy despite our success. As an alternative, she profiles several "downshifters" who've taken up voluntary simplicity in search of a more satisfying way of life. No policy solutions suggest themselves this time, only a change of heart. --Barry Mitzman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Whereas Schor's 1992 bestseller, The Overworked American, touched a nerve among all classes of American society, her latest study is geared to middle- and upper-middle-class consumers who, in her diagnosis, are participating in a national orgy of overspending and living beyond their means. She traces this competitive, status-conscious consumption to the diverging income distribution and growing inequality beginning in the 1980s, as increasingly overworked, insecure, dissatisfied consumers, pressured by advertising and television imagery, sought to emulate the upscale lifestyle of the most affluent. An economist and director of women's studies at Harvard, Schor presents her arguable conclusion that the more TV a person watches, the more he or she is likely to spend. In counterbalance, she also reports on her nationwide survey of "downshifters," people who deliberately reduce their hours on the job in exchange for more leisure, time with family or other pursuits. In self-help fashion, she outlines nine steps individuals can take to break free of the cycle of compulsive spending. Although Schor's jeremiad lacks the impact of her earlier book, it offers trenchant commentary on Americans' overspending lifestyle and lack of savings.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Schor's goal is to define the variables that predict overspeading among Americans, and thereby to illuminate why the trend to live beyond our means has increased so rapidly in recent years. Her examinations also suggest a variety of steps we can take to make ourselves happier (since, make no mistake, people who make more money and buy more things are no happier than people of more modest desires). She illustrates the patterns revealed by her studies with a number of anecdotal discussions with Americans of different backgrounds.
Though some of her conclusions may seem like common sense, they represent a great deal of scholarly labor. Schor catalogs research by her colleagues and her students, as well as studies she has completed herself.
Almost any reader would benefit from the time spent with this book.
And then I read "the Overspent American." Now everything is starting to come together. I'm no different than most people in my situation. Apparently, the more you make, the more you spend (because those with money are generally more status-oriented, and "status" requires money...lots and lots of money). Couple this with one's general dissatisfaction in the workplace, and spending goes even higher because people with means buy more things to distract themselves from the general unhappiness that is their life.
'Lest you think this is a "bleeding heart" book that doesn't put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the irresponsible consumer, let me assure you that this book makes no excuses for our society's poor consumer choices. Like any well-documented social science project, this book merely explains the new consumerism, based on Schor's studies and interviews with downshifters and overspent consumers. It passes no judgment, but it does not give irresponsible consumers an easy scapegoat for their problems either.
On the contrary, I felt like this book was a wake-up call. First, it made me feel better simply to know I wasn't the lone idiot who couldn't get my finances together. But second, and more importantly, this book gave me hope. It talks about downshifters and other individuals who have successfully managed to get their consumerism under control. I am now more determined than ever to crawl out of the credit card existence I've been living somewhat uncomfortably in for the past 8 years. Like my one-line summary of the book suggests, I'm now seriously planning (rather than just hopelessly wishing) to be credit card debt-free in 2003!
For anyone who finds themselves living paycheck to paycheck, or struggling just to get by (despite a decent income), this book will shed light on some of the reasons why, and inspire you to make the necessary changes to ensure your long-term financial prosperity and conquer your short-term consumerist impulses. A quick, but powerful, read. Highly, highly recommended.