More Than Money
Issue #8
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To Spend Or Not To Spend

Table of Contents

“A Thoroughly Modern Malady”

America wasn't always the land of blue-light specials and Barbie dolls. In fact, we started the century with a rather austere ethic, partly Puritan and partly capitalist, which stressed moral qualities: hard work, honesty, sacrifice, character. Rewards came from contributing or producing.

But in the '20s and '30s, a new way of thinking began to emerge, nourished by a surge of breakthrough discoveries and inventions such as electricity, telephones, automobiles, household appliances, radio, television, movies, and air travel. These dazzling developments understandably caused a lot of excitement--after all, people had been relying on horse-drawn transportation and oil lamps for thousands of years...

Today we're bombarded from infancy with images of all the wonderful things we can buy to transform our lives into bliss and perfection. (By one estimate, American kids have seen an average of 360,000 ads by the time they graduate from high school.) Once we decide to get something, ownership can be ours with a quick trip to a nearby store, or we can order even more easily by phone from a catalog or TV shopping show.

We've created a culture which not only fosters overspending, but which makes it almost impossible to kick the habit. Like eating, spending is often the solace we learn to turn to when we're feeling lonely, sad, frightened, helpless, unfulfilled, or unlovable. Maybe it's not really love or happiness, we may admit to ourselves, but it's better than nothing. .

Excerpted with permission from Overcoming Overspending by Olivia Mellan. New York : Walker & Co. , Fall 1995.

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