All the Money in the World

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am
 

All the Money in the World
by Laura Vanderkam
Portfolio

The standard advice that the average financial adviser offers could be summed up in three words: 'stop buying lattes'.

Heretically, in All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending, economist Laura Vanderkam argues against petty scrimping. Even in the long term, cutting little luxuries only brings modest yield, she claims. So, if you want to be happy, she suggests, slash big-ticket items, not least engagement rings.

'When you think about it, it is strange to hand over such a large chunk of one's savings for a rock. A dazzling rock, to be sure, and one that you hope the eventual owner will wear for the rest of her life,' Vanderkam writes. 'But given that most of us have a hard time saving that long for anything, it's odd that we don't think more about why we spend so much on small amounts of pressurised carbon.'

The amount that some suburbanites spend on lawns is also strange in Vanderkam's view. Lawns are a costly trend that families lived without for much of history. Instead of manicuring them, we should enlist lots of lovely, messy chickens, Vanderkam writes, and introduces Arizonan mental health technocrat Susan Bredimus.

After her mother and husband died, Bredimus brought home some chicks for therapy. Then she fell in love with them.

'Now she keeps six chickens in her backyard, where they bask in the desert sun or lounge under her orange trees. Bredimus sometimes plays the chicks flute music, and on Thanksgiving shuts the curtains to spare them seeing her stuff a turkey.' Her pampered hens each spawn an egg a day year-round - good turnover, although having to change dirty, frozen hay at dawn lessens the fun.

One quibble with Vanderkam: she seems to live in an elite middle-American bubble. Educated at Princeton University, she is a member of USA Today's Board of Contributors and also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch, and has featured in The Wall Street Journal and Fortune.com.

Based outside Philadelphia with her husband, two sons and baby daughter, she advises against minimising how many children you have because of 'externalities' including cuteness. Forget the environment.

'The environmental argument has been around for centuries, and yet the world has not succumbed to the famine and pestilence people have predicted would come to pass by now.

'If anything, conditions are improving as human beings come up with innovative ways to grow more food and deploy modern technology,' she writes.

Apparently she is blind to mass species extinctions and the global warming-induced creeping submergence of places such as the Maldives.

Elsewhere in the book, she worthily champions philanthropy, but her environmental complacency grates.

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