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The Money Trap

According to one author, to gain financial freedom, we must stop chasing each other into debt

Money is one of those sensitive topics that can make us cringe at even the slightest mention of the word. We constantly worry that we don’t have enough and obsess over how to get more. These are intensely private obsessions, baggage we don’t want anyone — not even our spouses — to inspect. In fact, in a time in which almost nothing seems off-limits, money remains the ultimate taboo. Add the nagging suspicion that your peers are somehow financially better off than you are, and you have the premise for Shira Boss’ revelatory book, Green With Envy: Why Keeping Up With the Joneses is Keeping Us in Debt ($24.95, Warner Business Books).

We are loathe to let anyone in on the intimate details of our financial conditions, yet we secretly obsess about how much money others are making, how they can afford their lifestyles, and why they don’t seem to be struggling as much as we are. The truth, according to Boss, is that they probably are. The same facade that we show others about our “riches” is the same front they use to fool us. This has led most of us to engage in a mutual game of one-upmanship that is driving many of us deeper into debt, as we try to match the lifestyle of “the Joneses,” says Boss. Advertising urges us to covet the possessions of our neighbor’s and to live beyond our means, because we believe we deserve a better life — or at least a life as good as our neighbors. The results are dangerous: American households are reporting record levels of both bankruptcy filings and credit card debt.

Boss provides a much-needed reality check on how people are really making ends meet — or how they’re not. The chapter debunking the myth of independently wealthy members of Congress is worth the price of the book. Green with Envy is a must-read for those trying to achieve true wealth. Boss’ message is simple: Stop chasing one another into debt. Thou shalt not covet, indeed.

Do you want to be financially free?
Here are some exercises that Boss recommends:

  • Indulge yourself. Some of us act like sacrificial lambs when it comes to spending money, Boss says. Try this: Pay your bills, save some money for a rainy day, and treat yourself. Just make sure you do so within your budget.
  • Be thankful. It’s okay not to have everything — the house, the car, the vacations — all at the same time. If you have clothes, a roof over your head, and food to eat, be grateful for what you have.
  • Follow the money. Find a support team to deal with money issues. Debtors Anonymous (www.debtorsanonymous.org) has meetings all over the country that encourage people to discuss their financial lives.
  • Put everything into perspective. Sure, you may not have as much as others, but there are plenty of people who don’t have as much as you.

Give these exercises a try and it might change the way you think about money.

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