Green with Envy: Why Keeping Up with the Joneses Is Keeping Us in Debt - Shira Boss

While we say that we know that money doesn't bring happiness, not so deep down we still believe it does.

This is perhaps the best book about finances that I've read in a while. It's not really a how-to book; it doesn't purport to tell you how to make money or how to manage your money or that you should invest more or save more or pay yourself first. Mostly, it's about peeling away the masks that most of us use to hide our financial worries. It's about breaking the "Last Taboo" and actually talking about money.

The book starts with Boss' envy of her new neighbors in Manhattan, who (it's rumored) paid cash for their new apartment. Immediately they start speculating, and they continue to wonder where the money comes from when the neighbors go on vacations, get packages from Bloomingdales, and inquire about finding a good cleaning lady. Well, eventually, Boss finally decides to ask. Gradually she gets the whole story, and it turns out to be not as rosy as everyone thought.

The book is divided up into several chapters, each relating the story of a particular situation (usually focusing on one person or couple). The first tells the story of the neighbors from Boss' point of view, and then the second reveals the actual story. Chapter Three is about a couple who became financially successful but then lost it all while trying to keep up with their wealthier neighbors. Chapter Four is all about the lives of politicians, which are not as cushy as we imagine. Chapter Five is about Baby Boomers, and Chapter Six gets into the lives of the fabulously wealthy. The common thread is that no matter who we are, or how much money we make, we're never satisfied. "We are gripped by this involuntary urge, a drive to compare and compete that is ingrained, at least in Americans, if not all people."

Boss makes a few points that I wanted to note just for my own record about some of the causes of envy and financial strife. One is that we have a tendency to compare ourselves to people who are doing slightly better than ourselves. Sure, we look at celebrities and people like Bill Gates, but most of us don't really believe we could have that much money, so instead we look to the folks around us who drive newer cars and live in bigger houses, and we envy them. We're afraid to talk about money and so we create situations where nobody can afford the lifestyle but nobody wants to give it up; we want to keep up appearances.

Boss writes from a Christian perspective and occasionally uses examples from the Bible or refers to sermons, but the book is not what I'd call a Christian financial book. It deserves a wider audience because I think it could be a truly helpful book, if only to get people talking honestly about their finances. If there's just one thing to take from this book, that would be it: much of our envy would simply evaporate if we really knew what was going on behind the facades.

In her concluding chapter, she does offer a few suggestions and resources for various situations. She advises things from using sports psychology to being more thankful; reminding yourself it doesn't matter and giving to others. Realize when you're being manipulated. It reminds me of another Bible verse myself, when Paul says, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (Philippians 4:12)

It's a short book that's quick to read and the real-life stories (mostly with names changed) keep it engaging. I'd recommend this to anyone who ever has financial worries of their own or finds themselves envying their neighbors.

Fed to jonathan's brain | June 10, 2007 | Comments (1)


I'm going to have to get this from the library. Robyn and I were chatting about this very issue today.

Posted by: ann surely [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2007 04:27 PM

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