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*****= An all-time favorite
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***Money, a Memoir

Women, Emotions, and Cash

by Liz Perle

Reviewed April 24, 2006.
Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2006.  269 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (MCN 332.024 PER).

Liz Perle begins her book with a horrible situation.  “My son and I were leaving Singapore, where we’d moved five weeks earlier from New York City to join my husband.  He’d been working there for six months.  But by the time we’d arrived, he’d changed his mind about wanting to be married….  I had just lost my marriage and my home, and I had fifteen hundred bucks….  There’s nothing like losing just about everything to lay bare what’s important.”

What follows is a book of musings about money—what it means to us and how we feel about it, and how we sometimes confuse money with love or with power.  It’s a memoir, because she uses examples from her own life and discusses her own journey of coming to terms with money.  But it’s a meditative book because so much applies to any woman.  With my own husband wanting a divorce (and having to move at the same time), I certainly relate to many of her worries and fears.

Here are some pearls of wisdom I picked up:

“During all that time that I trolled in earnest for a husband, I’m not sure I had the maturity to recognize that two kinds of rich exist:  bank account abundance and wealth of the spirit.  While they don’t have to be mutually exclusive, the first time around I’d wildly undervalued the kind of wealth that can’t pay for a honeymoon in Paris.”

“Money had begun to look like money, not love, not security, not a dream.  It was something that I needed to live—as my friend Robin had said, nothing less, nothing more.”

“In the past decade, scientists and psychologists have been investigating whether this money-equals-happiness holds true.  They’ve found that there’s a limit on just how much happiness cash can create.  While the research clearly documents that people are happier if they live in wealthier, rather than poorer countries, once the basics are covered, it turns out that money doesn’t improve the chances of being happy.  This is true not only in the world’s wealthiest nation, the United States, but also throughout Europe, Australia, and Japan.”

“The American Psychological Association categorically states that psychological research shows that ‘people who buy into the messages of consumer culture report lower personal well-being.’  According to research by the psychologist Tim Kasser, ‘individuals who say that goals for money, image, and popularity are relatively important to them also report less satisfaction in life, fewer experiences of pleasant emotions, and more depression and anxiety.’  These results hold true for people of various ages and in nations around the world.”

“Two things were clear:  I needed money.  Absolutely.  But what I definitely could no longer afford was an indirect, somewhat coy, and extremely emotional relationship with money.  It was time to separate what a dollar could buy emotionally from what it purchased at the grocery store.  There were emotional needs and material ones, and I wasn’t going to be able to distinguish between them if I didn’t face that fact that I could no longer afford to play the ‘Oh, I don’t talk about money’ game or pretend that money wasn’t important to me.  I was going to have to own up to my material desires and make some peace with them.”

“Everyone’s divorce is different.  But each requires us to put a price on our lives.  That means that someone has to assign a value to something that the other spouse has just said they don’t want anymore.  It’s a kind of paradox, one that requires a strong sense of inner worth to lay claim to an outer one.”

“The severing of love and money is extremely important for women and not just because it opens us up to more fully rounded attachments.  The magical thinking that often accompanies fantasies of financial dependency can and does ultimately impoverish women….  When we separate love and money, it forces us to focus on both, but as separate entities.  Why is this important?  Because nine out of ten women will be financially on their own at some point in their lives.”

“We may have buried our heads in wishful thinking and procrastinated about financial health, but eventually something happens to each one of us that forces us to take responsibility.  When we do, two fears repeatedly crop up:  the fear of making a mistake and failing, and the fear of the unknown.”

“But sitting at the kitchen table one evening some four years into our marriage” [a new marriage], “in the middle of the usual discussions about homework and boyfriends and the logistics of the weekend’s sporting events, I realized that the biggest promise money ever made to me had come true.  And it turned out that it had nothing to do with love or dependency or social status or even need.  It was simply this:  If I carved out a place in my life to take care of my finances in the same way and with the same lack of emotional charge that I paid my electric bill, bought my groceries, and got my car tuned up, then money would help support the people I loved.  Nothing more and nothing less.”

“As long as I had believed that financial security purchased emotional security, I’d lived a dependent, conditional life.  Conditional on the individuals, families, institutions—even fantasies—that I’d invested with the power to take care of me.  When I made that quiet contract with cash so long ago, I’d trusted that money would compensate for my emotional needs.  As a result, each time one of those sources of security disappointed me or disappeared, I was left in a state of fear.”

“I still have those memories of money.  But now I realize that rather than mortgage myself for a Viking range dream life on a layaway plan, I prefer the rather nice General Electric kind of life I’ve stumbled into—one that can reliably cook a very satisfying dinner.”

In her Epilogue, she says, “I realize that I’m very satisfied with my current circumstances.  Maybe I have fewer choices than I did ten years ago, but something about these limited options makes me appreciate all the more what I do have.  Life feels manageable.  For the moment, I’ve tasted ‘enough.’

“Some of the changes that have brought me to this point have been intentional; others took place simply as fallout from events beyond my control.  All I know, as I clasp my coffee, is that I’ve stumbled into a new place, one where, amazingly, I have more inner security than outer security—and that’s just fine with me.”

I hope I can come to the same place.  A huge change in life circumstances is frightening.  But Liz Perle helps us examine our own relationship with money.  And she convinces us that it’s important.

Copyright © 2006 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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