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“Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy” by James A. Roberts

“Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy” by James A. Roberts

c.2011, HarperOne
$25.99 / $28.99 Canada
353 pages, includes index



Your financial goals for the next year are set.

On the list are things like “pay off credit cards” and “save for retirement.” You’ll be putting some money away for your business or for emergencies. There will be little splurges, sure, but cautiously.

Nothing on the list indicates that you would like to default on your mortgage. There is no “run up credit cards” entry, and you don’t intend to buy something big that you can’t really afford.

But can you stick with your goals? What kind of a spender are you, anyhow?  Find out that and more in the new book “Shiny Objects” by James A. Roberts.

Money does some strange things.

Research shows that an overabundance of it makes people less altruistic. It can cause depression and alter relationships. It obviously puts us in debt – not to buy happiness but to buy stuff, and lots of it.

Roberts says we really do live in a material world and we’re “a nation in love with shiny objects.”  That doesn’t make us content: wealthy Americans are, on a happiness scale, virtually equal with Maasai villagers in Africa. Furthermore, we never have enough. When we reach the financial goal we thought would bring us The Good Life, we find that the goalpost has moved.

How did we get this way?

Roberts believes that this issue goes back 170 years. Before then, people were more willing to work hard for what they had, but the Gold Rush allowed folks to dream about getting rich, quick. That eventually led to the so-called American Dream of home ownership and, well, we know how that’s turned out.

What we’re forgetting, though, is that recent economic disasters are nothing new. We’re seeing a repeat of situations that have happened before: in the 1920s, in the late 1970s, when the dot-com bubble burst, and so on…

So how can you achieve “financial tranquility”?

Cut up those credit cards and use cash. Build a budget, pay yourself first, and enlist friends to hold you to your goals. Unplug the TV but say no to the mall. Rent or borrow what you don’t need often and know your bank and debt balances. Pay attention to the course you’ve charted.

So you overspent this year. Have the holiday bills started to arrive yet?  Whether they have or haven’t, it’s a great time to read “Shiny Objects.”

Using easily understandable terminology and some gently folksy humor, author and Baylor University professor James A. Roberts explains how your checkbook ended up so empty and why, and he shows you how you can change it. He covers all bases, too, including money and religion, and how insidious marketing can worm its way into your brain without your knowing it.

I liked this book for its pointers and quizzes, for its liveliness in a notoriously dry subject, and for its relevance to what’s going on in the world.  If you’re interested in money or if you need an excuse to shop, “Shiny Objects” is a safe thing to buy.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.