To Shop or Not to Shop: That is The Question

    There is a bit of a buzz going on about a new book by Judith Levine. A friend, who read an interview in Newsweek magazine, brought the book to my attention. The title alone should intrigue nearly every "of age" consumer in our culture: Not buying It: My Year without Shopping (Free Press). Full disclosure: I haven’t read the book – I’m waiting to check it out from the local library – and don’t want you to think this week’s column is a book review. It’s not. Rather, I want to share a few of the comments Ms. Levine offered in the Newsweek article.

    According to the interview, the idea for the book began after a holiday purchasing frenzy that culminated in a maxed-out credit card. "I was schlepping a big shopping bag across New York City and dropped it in an icy puddle," says Levine, 53. "I thought, “There must be more to life.”

    One thing the interview makes perfectly clear is that the book is not some kind of anti-consumer rant. Rather, "it’s Levine’s witty depiction of a year living relatively free from the constraints of a credit card." Levine said she and her partner, Paul Cillo, still purchased stuff, but it was only the necessities – stuff like toilet paper, basic cleaning products and "necessary, but not elaborate food items."

    You get the idea. They eliminated virtually every "want" purchase. No eating out, movies, gourmet coffee, clothes, etc. What were their big takeaways? "Both [Paul and I] have almost entirely ceased to be impulsive buyers now…. I’ve shopped so little since the end of 2004 that when I had to buy some clothes for this book tour, Visa called to say they’d seen some unusual activity on my credit card."

    For me, the most insightful part of the interview was Levine’s response to the following question from Newsweek: "Did you see yourself changing throughout the course of the project?"

    "A big transformation for me was from consumer to citizen," Levine responded. "Once you take out the consumer role in your life, you start to have a lot more time and passion and money to contribute as a citizen. I came to feel much more responsible for the public amenities that are out there, on which I became much more dependent, and for which I became much more grateful – like the public library." Bingo!

    One idea
    Consumer vs. Citizen: I’m guessing we might all benefit from a bit of introspection on this topic. As such, here are a few things to try this week:

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    sed author, award-winning speaker and national expert on family finances and the effects of mass marketing on young people. A top-performing financial advisor and vice president of marketing for a Fortune 500 financial services company, he founded Share-Save-Spend LLC, an organization that helps people of all ages develop and maintain healthy financial habits. His book, Prodigal Sons & Material Girls: How Not to Be Your Child's ATM, was released in 2003 by publisher John Wiley & Sons. Nathan is vice-chair of both the National Institute on Media and the Family and Minneapolis-based YouthCARE boards. Visit, e-mail Copyright © 2005 Nathan Dungan. All rights reserved.



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