In CHEAP We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue

Overview

What does it mean to be cheap? When is it mature to stow money away and when is it miserly, even Scrooge-like? And how might Americans navigate the economic downturn in an era when everything seems disposable and when credit has felt dangerously unlimited?

In answering these questions, IN CHEAP WE TRUST combines a consideration of cheapness as it relates to personality, lifestyle, and philosophy with a colorful ride through the history of thrift in America, from Ben Franklin and...

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In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue

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Overview

What does it mean to be cheap? When is it mature to stow money away and when is it miserly, even Scrooge-like? And how might Americans navigate the economic downturn in an era when everything seems disposable and when credit has felt dangerously unlimited?

In answering these questions, IN CHEAP WE TRUST combines a consideration of cheapness as it relates to personality, lifestyle, and philosophy with a colorful ride through the history of thrift in America, from Ben Franklin and his famous maxims to Hetty Green, the 19th-century millionaire named by Guinness as "the world's most miserly person," to the branding of Jews, Chinese, and other ethnic groups as cheap in order to neutralize the economic competition they represented. Weber also explores contemporary expressions and dilemmas of thrift, from Dumpster-diving to Keynes's "Paradox of Thrift" to today's recession-driven enthusiasm for frugal living.

This is a book in the tradition of Mary Roach and Andrew Solomon—a compulsively readable, popular biography of thrift itself.

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Editorial Reviews

The Oprah Magazine O
"An entertaining, wide-ranging - and very timely - exploration of thrift."
<b>Sylvia Nasar</b> - author of A Beautiful Mind
"What's the fine line between thrift and stinginess, self-control and compulsion, purpose and obsession? Lauren Weber's fresh take on the quirky side of saving and spending couldn't be timelier."
From the Publisher
"An entertaining, wide-ranging - and very timely - exploration of thrift."—O, The Oprah Magazine

"Lessons steam up from this terrific book about the history of thrift (and spending) in our great country." —Washington Post

"A defense of thrift, but a sincere, inquisitive one."—Slate.com

"A fascinating account of our nation's binge-and-purge cycle of spending and sacrifice."—Fast Company

"What's the fine line between thrift and stinginess, self-control and compulsion, purpose and obsession? Lauren Weber's fresh take on the quirky side of saving and spending couldn't be timelier."
Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind

Washington Post
"Lessons steam up from this terrific book about the history of thrift (and spending) in our great country."
Slate.com
"A defense of thrift, but a sincere, inquisitive one."
Fast Company
"A fascinating account of our nation's binge-and-purge cycle of spending and sacrifice."
Washington Post
"Lessons steam up from this terrific book about the history of thrift (and spending) in our great country."
Slate.com
"A defense of thrift, but a sincere, inquisitive one."
Fast Company
"A fascinating account of our nation's binge-and-purge cycle of spending and sacrifice."
Sylvia Nasar
"What's the fine line between thrift and stinginess, self-control and compulsion, purpose and obsession? Lauren Weber's fresh take on the quirky side of saving and spending couldn't be timelier."

author of A Beautiful Mind

Publishers Weekly

Guilt-free consumption has always been a cherished American value, but this book explores its flip side: a historical engagement with thriftiness, starting in the pre-revolutionary days with Benjamin Franklin, championed by reformers Booker T. Washington and Lydia Marie Child, taken to absurd lengths by the 19th-century miserly millionaire Hetty Green, espoused by economist John Maynard Keynes and married to environmental concerns by contemporary conservationists. Journalist Weber's treatise begins with recollecting her father's conservative habits and ramifies into a far-ranging examination of social programs, alternative movements and mainstream institutions including savings banks, home economics, industrial efficiency experts, "freegans," economists and war departments, all of which promote some form of frugality. While failing to provide a satisfying distinction between cheapness and thrift, the author provides a rich canvas from which to consider American ambivalence about saving; she examines how thriftiness became a racist pejorative hurled at Jewish and Asian immigrants. While the rise of consumer culture and advertising undercut individual and social efforts to save, the author also finds structural reasons for our profligacy in growing financial illiteracy, wage stagnation and deregulated financial markets. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
This splendid, timely history and apologia corrects any misplaced nostalgia for a simpler, thriftier age. Business journalist Weber demonstrates that, from the Puritan settlers to today's economic stimulus measures, America has endured continual cycles of thrift and consumption, an endless battle for behavioral dominance between saving and spending. Among expected topics (wars, the Great Depression, industrial advances, and the explosion of consumer credit), she makes interesting forays into the origins of savings banks, the field of home economics, and the checkered history of National Thrift Week. The final third of the book includes a macroeconomic argument for increased savings and a collection of chapters on the voluntary simplicity and freegan movements, the psychology of frugality, and suggestions for learning the art of thrift. While this may seem a bit of a mishmash, the book is thematically consistent and convincing. VERDICT Weber manages, with panache, to combine a socioeconomic historical exploration that is readable and fun for the lay reader and a thoughtful defense of frugality that doesn't succumb to preachiness. For a sobering, supply-side view of the consumerist conundrum, pair this with Ellen Ruppel Shell's differently themed Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Worthington Libs., OH
Kirkus Reviews
Entertaining history of scrimping and saving in America. In her debut, former Newsday reporter Weber makes clear that frugality is not a long-lost virtue of consumer culture. Rather, scaling down has been a cyclical manifestation of hard times: Americans have tightened their belts in periods of war, financial panics and recessions, only to go on spending sprees shortly thereafter. A cheapskate's daughter-her economist father uses teabags a dozen times-Weber advocates a moderate approach of "mindful consumption: considering each purchase, embracing a stricter set of guidelines for winnowing down what I buy . . . thinking about the values that are most important to me, and spending or saving accordingly." Beginning with a consideration of Colonial-era thrift advocates from the Puritans, who legislated against vulgar forms of consumption, to Benjamin Franklin, who encouraged prudent living in The Way to Wealth, the author shows how patriotic self-denial during the War for Independence soon gave way to the frenzy of consumption that has become the American way. Sometimes-preachy advocates for frugality have ranged from Booker T. Washington, who urged the "saving habit," to 19th-century self-help writers like Lydia Maria Child (The American Frugal Housewife, 1832), to the U.S. government, whose slogans touted the virtue of austerity and war-bond buying in both World War I and WWII ("Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, or Do without"). By the 1950s, Americans had abandoned Ben Franklin and other thrifty heroes to embrace credit cards and postwar prosperity. In the current recession, writes Weber, Americans recognize once again that savings matter but are discovering that they have racked uprecord amounts of personal debt. The author also covers the many ways in which some Americans live on the cheap-as a way to reverse ecological damage or to opt out of the consumer culture completely-whether by fixing appliances, foregoing new clothes or even dumpster-diving for food. Her stories about tightwads like a friend's uncle who walked miles to work each day, ate peanuts for lunch and gave away $1 million each year, will force many to reconsider the motives of cheapskates. Welcome reading for a newly frugal world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316030298
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 10/11/2010
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Lauren Weber was formerly a staff reporter at Reuters and Newsday. She has also written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, American Banker, and other publications. A former resident at Yaddo, Lauren graduated from Wesleyan University and was a Knight-Bagehot fellow, a fellowship that invites 10 business journalists each year to study finance and economics at Columbia's Graduate School of Business.

Weber grew up with a father whose creative and eccentric ways of saving money included rationing household toilet paper and developing a gas-saving method of driving in which light pedal taps substituted for full braking.

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2012

    Interesting

    I enjoyed the book and learned a few things.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2011

    Good message.....BUT....

    Very dry and boring reading.

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