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Review: ‘All the Money in the World’ by Laura Vanderkam

Review: ‘All the Money in the World’ by Laura Vanderkam post image

Title: All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know about Getting and Spending
Author: Laura Vanderkam
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 2012
Acquired: Library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review: Folk wisdom tells us that money can’t buy happiness. But what does science say? As one might expect, the research on happiness suggests a more nuanced look at the role money can have on our day-to-day emotional state and overall satisfaction.

In All the Money in the World, author Laura Vanderkam takes on many of the assumptions we have about money and happiness and suggests a new way to consider our finances. Instead of thinking about money as a resource (that most of us don’t have enough of), Vanderkam suggests looking at money as a tool that, when used creatively, can help build a better life. By taking a careful look at what makes us happy — rather than the things experts and society suggest will make us feel fulfilled — Vanderkam suggests each of us can improve our happiness by learning to spend and earn more strategically.

I know that sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, but I actually found All the Money in the World refreshingly honest and pragmatic. Vanderkam isn’t afraid to challenge certain assumptions about how we spend money, taking a contrarian stance on common choices like expensive weddings, big houses and green living. For Vanderkam,

… what people do with their money is a choice, and these choices reflect our priorities. If we sport diamond rings but claim we don’t have money for date night, we are essentially saying that jewelry is worth more to us than spending quality time with our spouses. This hard truth continues through all the architecture of our lives. … We can blow our cash on a showy car or save it to finance a transition into a dream career. Money spend on one thing is money not spend on something else, and these choices have consequences for our happiness and the happiness of those we vow to love.

Reading this book felt a lot like sitting down and getting some no-nonsense advice from a trusted friend or mentor. I loved the fact that, for Vanderkam, nothing is really out-of-bounds when it comes to thinking about how we spend money and what those choices mean. And I loved that she didn’t fall into the trap that most other books on frugal living do, suggesting that giving up a morning latte or magazine subscription or other small daily expenses is the way to be more financially secure. Instead, she writes,

There are many reasons families spend what they do, but I still think, as we look at the intersection of money and happiness, it’s worth reeaxmining our relationships with our houses and our cars. The simplest reason is that these are our biggest expenses. Many frugality tomes and television segments center on food, entertainment, and clothing, because these are perceived as costs that can quickly be changed. This is true, but the problem, as we saw in earlier chapters, is that these items make up small percentages of people’s budgets and are often not worth the forgone happiness to change. Spending less on housing and transportation, on the other hand, can make big life changes possible.

At the same time, Vanderkam also advocates for spending money in certain situations, if that spending is in service of a larger goal or brings personal satisfaction. She is clearly in favor of supporting local businesses, which may not be the cheapest decision but can bring about personal satisfaction through helping others and building community.

Vanderkam managed to perfectly balance the book between science, anecdotes, and self-help-like advice. Her use of happiness research is clearly outlined and explained, her stories about how “regular” people think about money were entertaining and enlightening, and her suggestions for personal change felt practical and inspiring.

Rather than blather on anymore about how much I enjoyed this book, I’ll just leave you with a final quote that I think sums up the philosophy and tone of Vanderkam’s writing:

… Frugality is not a virtue in its own right, divorced from any larger goal. Money is powerful not because of anything inherent in these numbers, but because of what it can do. Sometimes we have to take risks, and sometimes we should invest in things that matter.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • SarahRTW June 14, 2012, 5:48 pm

    Excellent review, I think I’ll look this book up sometime. I probably wouldn’t if it wasn’t for your comments. So thanks!

    I find this review especially interesting because its complements a book I reviewed on happiness. The book I reviewed didn’t focus exclusively on money, but did look at it as one factor in determining hapiness.

    • Kim June 17, 2012, 5:08 pm

      As I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking about another book about happiness that I really liked, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. They are different takes on the subject, but some of the research they cite is similar.

  • Vasilly June 14, 2012, 9:20 pm

    Great review! I’ve just placed this book on hold because of you. 🙂

  • Care June 15, 2012, 1:47 pm

    I have had advice to never ever say “I can’t afford ___” but rather say, “I choose not to.” It’s all a mindset and setting priorities. 🙂

    Today I chose to spend a lil bit of cash on a Segway Experience and it was GREAT FUN! I can now cross it off my bucket list. Next up is inline skating…

    • Kim June 17, 2012, 5:09 pm

      I’ve heard that same advice about time and not having enough of it, that each choice we make is a priority, whether we want to admit it or not.

      Segway sounds fun! Are you going to blog about it at all?

  • Amy June 21, 2012, 8:23 am

    Ooohhh this sounds like one I’d really like. I’m a fan of the quotes you provided and can never quite figure out the point of expensive weddings to start a life together in debt, or the showy car, or etc. I think I’d like this one!

    • Kim June 26, 2012, 7:23 pm

      I think you would too. The author is very pointed in her opinions, which made it a fun read.