Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Money: A Memoir

I got to catch up on some reading while we were away last weekend, and one of the books I picked up from the library on a whim turned out to be one of the most important books I have read in a long time.

Money: A Memoir discusses how women relate to money in a really compassionate and insightful way. The main thrust (as I read it) is that women have advanced their careers and their opportunities considerably over the last 50 years, but their attitudes toward money (spending, saving, investing) have not kept pace with their career achievements.

As a result, women are more likely to fail to save enough for retirement, become indebted and even impoverished. A lot of this has to do with turning financial responsibility over to men, even in cases where the female is the "main breadwinner."

While women's earning (and thus spending) power has risen exponentially over the decades, consumption (on the part of these earning women and their families) has outpaced the rise in income, which leads to people getting priced out of or overextended on good housing, huge credit card debts (average $8,000 per American currently), and unhealthy behaviors such as "stealth shopping." It's not to say these issues are solely women's fault, but it's Liz Perle's contention that women's increased spending power made it possible as our culture morphed into rampant consumerism.

Perle's theory, than, is that the taboo against discussing money causes social anxiety and general cluelessness about money management that leaves women at a terrible disadvantage when it comes to handling their finances, starting from when they are small children. In reading the book I came to realize that it is as important for men as for women to have an understanding of this process, if only for the reason that women influence more than half of the buying decisions in America. These are not small decisions either, but where you live, what you drive, what you wear, and where your kids go to school and college. The sooner we wake up to our present reality of overspending, not saving, going into debt for unimportant things, and hiding what we're buying, the faster we can brake the terrible human toll not talking about money is taking. Read the book, it's that important.

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