Today was a slow day at work, so I devoured this book. At first I went to the library this weekend to get some novels, but then I thought I needed to get another book on personal finance, even though I had already read Get Money by Kristen Wong and absorbed The Financial Diet like osmosis.
And to be honest, Confessions of a Shopaholic really is one of the most important personal finance books out there, even if it’s a novel that came out eighteen years ago. I don’t care if people think it’s mere “chick lit” or a silly story about a woman who can’t control her shopping habit. But after listening to so many financial literacy podcasts, reading articles in the Money section of MSN and preaching to the Holy Temple of Suze Orman (I’m pretty sure I’ve perfected the way she says “Roth IRA” at this point), reading this book made me really think about our consumer culture, clutter, and our society’s lingering reluctance to talk about money, especially how society has conditioned women to talk about money.
I saw the movie a while ago, and can’t really remember it other than the gorgeous Isla Fisher starring as Rebecca, the main character. However, I do remember that unlike the book, the film takes place in New York City. The novel takes place in London. Rebecca (“Becky”) Bloomwood thinks she is living the high life, with her upscale apartment in an affluent area, but she has a whole host of other issues to deal with, namely her credit card debt. She writes as a financial journalist and yet doesn’t get paid much or even practice Successful Savings habits even when she works in finance. She feels extremely out of place among the super-powerful financial gurus in the city, and her friend Suze tells her that her problem is not necessarily that she spends too much money, but that she doesn’t make enough money. So Becky applies for a job at a clothing store, but gets fired on her very first day for trying to steal a precious item of clothing from a customer that she (Becky) really wants. Becky tries to practice frugality, and yet after a few days she goes back to spending on things she doesn’t need, like eating out and buying books. She takes on a side hustle which involves her putting together frames for pictures and selling them for a profit, but doesn’t get far with it. Becky also has to deal with Luke Brandon, an arrogant financial advisor who looks down on Becky and doesn’t really take her seriously. However, Becky is determined to make her life work for her by actually confronting her financial issues instead of running away from them.
This book reminded me that while it’s okay to have nice things, having too much can run you ragged and actually make you feel unfulfilled in the long run. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending $11 at the movies just as much as the next person. However, movies are so much cheaper when you get them on the Red Box or even at the library, so I never really feel anymore like I just have to go to the movies every week because it does add up. When I do go to the movies or eat out on those rare occasions, I can appreciate it more than if I did it every day. Becky’s struggle also made me think of how Suze Orman would react to this book; I honestly don’t know if Suze would have made it through because Becky’s spending habits are out of this world. However, in a way, it does imply that women are traditionally stereotyped to be bad with money and don’t have enough saved up for their own needs. I mean, there are men who are bad spenders, too, and there are also several women who manage their finances just fine. There are also women like Becky who always spend and never save for themselves. The book also made me understand why it’s important to have an emergency fund, because Becky is underpaid at her job and doesn’t like it much, but instead of saving up money so she can leave for a better opportunity (or work on her own projects), she spends money so that she can push the stress she feels at work under the table. However, she continues to get multiple letters from her bank about her overdraft fees and that she needs to meet with them to discuss her financial situation.
This novel also really taught me that we need to talk about money. Even though more people talk about it, it still brings up uncomfortable feelings, and that’s okay because our financial situations are unique to each of us. It made me think of the money personalities Kristen Wong talks about. Becky avoids talking about money because socially speaking, she has been conditioned to believe talking about her own financial situation was bad. But when she finally confronts the issue of money heads on, she feels less ashamed to talk about it or encourage anyone in her same boat. It reminded me of Paulette Perhach’s essay “A Story of a F*ck Off Fund“, in which she talks about how she inflated her lifestyle to fit in with everyone else, but that she was dealing with a toxic boss at work and really wanted to leave her job, so she saved up an emergency fund and took on extra work and just lived below her means so that she could leave any kind of messy situation knowing she had the means to do so.
Overall, I really loved this book, and I cannot wait to read its sequel! 🙂
Confessions of a Shopaholic. 312 pp. 2001. By Sophie Kinsella