The color of envy, money and Christmas
The freedom to live
Shira begins her book by courageously sharing her own not-so-nice
feelings of envy that she held against her new neighbors in a small
apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Shira and
her husband had gotten word that the newcomers paid cash for their
place -- and this was after the apartments had appreciated quite
a bit in value. Every time Shira ran into "Tina," she
was wearing a new designer outfit. Shira observed that Tina quit
her job on a lark, and then subsequently decided to study interior
decorating. By all appearances, this couple had it all, most importantly
the freedom to choose what they wanted to do with their lives. Money
was no obstacle, or so it seemed.
"They are the Joneses, and we are not keeping
up," Shira Boss writes. "However much we understand that
we are not -- not, under any circumstance -- to covet our neighbor's
anything or to attempt to keep up with the Joneses, we can't seem
to help it. We are gripped by this involuntary urge, a drive to
compare and compete that is ingrained, at least in Americans, if
not all people. ...
"Since the days of Cain and Abel we have been
bickering and jostling over who has the better lot. Wealth and well-being
are largely a mindset, and how we're doing in relation to the company
we keep is key to our contentment."
I argue that the competitive urge began before Cain
and Abel's quarrel. It happened in the Garden of Eden when their
parents partook of the forbidden fruit at the serpent's deceptive
suggestion. Their desire to one-up the Creator caused them to sin,
and consequently they sought clothing which, over the centuries,
evolved into a strong desire for Tommy Bahama shirts and Donna Karan
OK, that's an oversimplification perhaps. But Boss'
book warns that we can self-destruct if we fall into the trap of
There are several nefarious forces at work. There's the ease of getting credit, the seductive lure of dozens of credit card offers each week. Television advertising bombards us with messages telling us that we need stuff that we really don't. And then there are subliminal messages in the background of sporting newscasts, such as the maxim, "Life takes Visa." What does that mean, anyway? Life takes Visa? How about if we invert it to say, "Visa takes life"?
Visa zaps the lifeblood right out of your finances, it depletes your future earnings. That is, if you let it.
Shira's neighbor Tina, it turns out, has a compulsive
shopping disorder and her financial situation is not what it appears
to be. The book also delves in the personal financial lives of "Dan
and Tammy," a typical American couple who moved into a perfectly
manicured, gated community in Orlando, Fla., and then slowly slipped
off the edge of the debt precipice they created. It documents the
difficulties that our congressional leaders have, trying to keep
up two households on their income and the lengths to which some
of them go to avoid financial ruin. There's a chapter dedicated
to baby boomers, by the way, plus an inside look at the perspective
of the spectacularly wealthy. Hint: Those who inherit money have
a hard time getting motivated to work, and many envy us workers
for our industriousness!
I won't give it all away, but "Green with Envy" is an excellent read for those who are resigned to going whole-hog this Christmas by spending money that they don't have on gifts.
Let's not get swept up in the euphoria of spending this holiday season. It's a temporary high that's followed by a gut-wrenching hangover when the credit card statements arrive.
Instead, let's approach this special time with a sensible plan and a strong spirit of gratitude. Envy and gratitude are mutually exclusive emotions, after all.