Affluenza

>> Thursday, November 27, 2014

How nice it is to finish a book within a week! It's like I can actually remember what I read!

I'm pretty sure I added this book to my reading list after I finished The Hundred-Year Lie, which is kind of an unremarkable collection of health information, about a year and a half ago.  I say "I'm pretty sure" because I know I had heard of this book--and definitely the word 'affluenza'--long before that. Once I started reading, I was surprised to learn that this was a documentary miniseries once upon a time on PBS back in 1999. The publication date on the copy I picked up at a library sale is 2002. (I basically got this book for less than a dollar.)

When reading a book on current events that is almost fifteen years old, it's always interesting to see what still rings true in 2014 and what doesn't. Like having one of your chapters start with a quote by Ted Haggard. Yes, THAT Ted Haggard. I almost couldn't believe my eyes when I came upon it.
There is a tension between materialism and family values. -Ted Haggard, Pastor, New Life Church, Colorado Springs
It's quite unfortunate to be quoting a man who years later is ousted from his church as a fraud and public relations nightmare. I have no doubt it was something that was corrected in the updated edition of this book, Affluenza: Reality Bites Back.

Overall, I think this book still is at least 95% on the mark. I didn't think there were many glaring out-of-date assumptions mentioned until I reached the third section of the book on "treating" affluenza. Much of that is what I would almost describe as overly simplistic optimism that inroads were being made against consumer capitalism and materialism. Sure, the examples they have of some small communities are great, but aside from the one they describe in Portland, Oregon, I had never heard or read about such a community until I read it in this book. (And considering it's in the Portland area, well, it just seems like a Pacific Northwest thing.)

I think my main takeaway from reading this was how much I was in agreement with it. I didn't have any eureka! moments while reading it, but I often thought about two things: one of my friends and Mr. Money Mustache. I thought about one of my friends who just recently completed a trip around the continental U.S. I only thought about her in relation to this book because she had a six-figure income and lived in San Francisco and accrued a bunch of debt because she likes to spend a lot of her money going out to eat and drinking high-quality beer. I've never had a six-figure income like that, and it somewhat enrages me to watch someone piss it all away because she want to enjoy the high life yet can't seem to connect that she wouldn't have accrued so much debt if she would learn to stay home and cook a little more. (Or perhaps have only one expensive beer rather than three when she goes out.) Needless to say, I'm planning on sending her a used copy of Your Money or Your Life for her birthday. (She says she has a library card, but I doubt she ever uses it.) That's a book which receives it's own chapter in Affluenza. It's one chapter in the "treatment" section that is still rock solid.

Which brings me to Mr. Money Mustache. My sister introduced me to him last Christmas, and my life has been better for it. Some of what he does are things I've been working on financially, so his lifestyle doesn't come as a huge shock to me as it does to other people. But he is undoubtedly anti-affluenza and can illustrate the benefits of why easily. He has written about many of the problems noted in this book in a different way. I thought it was particularly timely that he just had a post titled "If You Think This is About Extreme Frugality, You’re Missing The Point." He doesn't use the word "affluenza," but if you know the concept, you can spot it in the post. In fact, if someone didn't want to read Affluenza, I think you could get a lot of the same concepts from just this post and by listening to The Disciplined Investor podcast he links to and refers to in that post. I did just this week, and it made reading this book a little bit better.

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