Jacki's Reviews > In CHEAP We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue

In CHEAP We Trust by Lauren Weber
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's review
Nov 10, 2009

really liked it
Read in November, 2009

The Story: The first half of this book was basically a brief history of America’s spending and saving habits. It started from the Puritans who first settled here and went through May of 2008. She talked a lot about the role that women have played in household finances and what scrimping and saving looked like 100 years ago versus now. She also talked about how thriftiness was viewed by the masses and the different government pushes to either spend or save.

Something she pointed out that I’d never connected in my mind was that during World War I, the government really encouraged saving, saving, saving. They had ads out about how to reuse and conserve and ration. After the war was over, people continued to do this, leading to the Great Depression. So, when World War II came around, they had to have everyone ration again, but this time all the ads were more to the tune of “Ration for NOW! After the war, feel free to buy everything you can touch,” and it worked, that’s exactly what everyone did. And that led to one of the largest economic booms in our history. They did this again after 9/11, when Bush and Giuiliani’s immediate response to everything was “go shopping, go on vacation,” because they knew the effects a scared nation could have on the economy. Interesting.

After getting into the history pretty throughly, the author went into what all of that led to, what it looks like today. The second half went into the different movements that are happening right now, including people going green, and the Freegan movement. She talked about how we consume and what that is doing to us psychologically and doing to our world as a whole. I know that Americans are big consumers, but the figures she threw out there were gasp-worthy. She said that our population makes up about five percent of the world but that we use something like 60 percent of the world’s paper. She went into how this is making landfills huge, and they in turn are producing gases that are destroying the environment. She went into ways to save money and at the end of the book provided further reading and websites to check out that have to do with living cheaply.

What I Thought: I am cheap. Seriously, I am. Everything I’m wearing right now came from a thrift store. There are very few days that’s not the case. I would never have bought this book full price. I read it because I won it in a drawing. I shop primarily at a discount grocer. I’m just cheap. I have been this way for as long as I can remember and I can’t make myself not be. Just this past weekend, I altered a pumpkin pie recipe because I refused to spend 8 dollars on a little jar of spices.

Because of that, I thought that this book was fascinating. For me, one of the things that made the book was the chapter on the psychology of cheapness and the total anxiety that comes with making purchases for a cheap person. Literally, the thought of spending those 8 dollars on a spice made my heart speed up. I could not do it. My husband thinks I’m crazy, but according to this book, I’m not. It’s pretty normal, actually.

I started getting a little depressed when I realized just how much of this was a history book, but I was surprised about how quickly it went by. I really enjoyed reading it and felt like I learned a lot and connected a lot of dots. I am not a financial wizard by any means and she really spelled things out and put things in this kind of “cause and effect” view, which was helpful. It was also interesting just to see normal events that we’re used to hearing about, but under the scope of “what did this mean for spending”. It just put a new spin on things.

I liked that the author, while admittedly cheap herself, showed both sides of the coin. She talked about how during certain times, some people embraced thriftiness, while others thought that it was stupid and spoke against or just ignored it. She really did well at providing a balanced view. She showed extreme misers and how they live, as well as normal people living cheap just because they want to.

Conclusion: I think that this is a great book for people who are currently cheap or what to become cheaper. It provides a lot of practical tips and resources. It is also a good book for a history buff. There is a lot here for different people to enjoy. And it really is enjoyable. The author has a funny tone and often mocks herself and her family for their cheap ways. I know that some of you will shudder at the idea of spending money on a book, but I’m sure your library carries it!

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