Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


Money: A Memoir by Liz Perle








Click on title or picture to buy from amazon.com






There’s a wealth of insight for readers in Liz Perle’s new book, Money: A Memoir. For female readers, Perle articulates attitudes that some women may have about money, but may have trouble describing. For male readers, Perle provides some understanding that may elude men about why some women have such strong feelings about money matters. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 2, “The Emotional Middle Class,” pp. 43-49:



The first time I consciously acknowledged that my relationship with money had more than a few emotional kinks in it was on a September morning in 1994. 1 was loi­tering in bed enjoying one of the few side benefits of having been laid off from my job. I could hear the water running in the next room; my then husband was shaving. As soon as I figured the coast was clear, I slipped out of bed and tiptoed over to the bureau, where his wallet was sitting on top. I stealthily slid a $20 bill out of his billfold and walked to my closet, where I quickly stuffed it into the toe of my sneaker. Instantly horrified, I recognized the cringing, shameful feel­ing as the same one I used to get in junior high when I would pinch a few bucks from my dad. But that didn’t stop me from repeating my petty theft—until I amassed close to $400. My money fears were so powerful that they plowed right past all my moral stop signs.

I had been out of work for long enough that I’d begun to panic about what the future held. My marriage wasn’t in the greatest shape, and with each swipe of the credit card, I felt more deeply dug into emotional debt to my husband, who had complex feelings of his own about suddenly being cast in the role of sole provider. The week before, he’d made a crack about the size and scope of the Visa bill, causing me to go on an immediate and determined money-starvation diet.

It lasted four days.

Up to that point, I had always prided myself on the fact that I was a woman who didn’t care about money or material possessions. I had congratulated myself on my superior resistance to the call of the designer bag and the shoe-of-the-moment club. The only problem was, that superiority turned out to be a total fiction. I did care about money. Very deeply, I discovered. But I’d disguised that truth by spending in ways that looked selfless: making a beautiful home, buying presents for family and friends, and entertaining. I had passed many hours discussing with my friends the problem of balancing work and family, where I usually staked out the high moral ground of advocating for having fewer possessions, working fewer hours, and spend­ing more time with family.

That philosophy was fine except that it quickly went out the window the moment I lacked the cash to do what I wanted. In this case, it was to buy my husband a fancy birth­day present, a painting of my husband, my son, and me hap­pily picking apples in an orchard on a fall day. I wanted to give him the image of the marriage I wanted to have— make it concrete, put it on the wall for everyone—well, mostly him—to see.

For this, I stole his twenties.



As soon as I went back to work and had an income again, I pushed the specifics of this humiliating episode into the shady corner of my mind I reserve for the memories that make me really uncomfortable. I happily focused on the demands of my new job, serene in the knowledge that I could go to the cash machine and withdraw money for gro­ceries and expenses and not feel guilty about freeloading off my husband.

I don’t know what happened to the painting. When my husband and I separated, it got crated up and sent away with half our possessions. But I do know that I ultimately held on to something of tremendous value, even if it took a few years for the importance of it to sink in. That incident showed me that when it came to money, I’d been kidding myself. It mattered much more to me than I was willing to admit. As long as I earned a decent salary, I hadn’t needed to look at what it meant to me. I hadn’t had to stop and think deeply about it. Either there was enough, or there wasn’t.

But the real nature of my relationship with money had—if only momentarily—become unpleasantly clear. Sure, I needed it, but this larcenous episode wasn’t caused by a budget deficit. My hungry theft came from a much deeper and more conflicted place—a tangled dependency of safety and love and cash—that I wasn’t remotely interested in fac­ing. I had become accustomed to and defined by a lifestyle that I was clearly willing to do just about anything to main­tain—even at the expense of my principles.

When had this happened? When had I come to depend on things to define and support me? Growing up, as I did, in a small town at the outer edges of commuter land, I didn’t think that money or things were all that important. In fact, I didn’t really focus on money at all. It was simply there. We weren’t rich. We weren’t poor. In this 1950S neighborhood, we were all the “Joneses,” and everyone more or less kept pace with one another. The Bates kids, the Reynolds, Nobles, and Calendars—we rode sherbet-colored bikes with tassels trailing from the handgrips. We begged for Bar­bie dream houses for our birthdays and sang in the Christ­mas pageant with the real, live sheep every year whether or not we were Christian. We progressed in lockstep; when the Campbells got a color TV, others soon started popping up in adjacent houses, spreading like some strain of consumer goods virus. But I never dreamed of having a pony or some­thing so big that no one else in my town had one. Instead, I looked to my left and my right, gauging my expectations to what I saw others had determined as reasonable and possible.

Like my friends, I went to a decent public school, where I was encouraged to do well, attend college, and go as far as my talents and brains and hard work could take me. In this, I was no different from many Americans. Didn’t the American dream make us affluent with expectations, opportunities, and promises, if not always with cash? We felt we were given a cultural promise: that if we worked hard, we could have the lives of our dreams. With this expectation came a strange sense of entitlement: It was our right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness and—while we were at it—a promised land of comfort and surety. And what better way to purchase those things than with money?

“We have definitely monetized the American dream,” says Juliet Schor. “Certainly, you have an equation in society that money equals happiness, that it equals security, that it equals success—and that’s connected to happiness. Free­dom. Independence. Pretty much all of the key positive val­ues of American culture. All of them have a very strong link to money. Money is seen by many people as the mechanism for getting those things.”

The American dream found its muse in the latter half of the twentieth century’s economic middle class. In the 196os and 197os, we elevated it—with the help of a voracious mass media—to an almost iconic level. In the flush of the postwar economy, suddenly more people could afford more things than ever before. Our fantasies, our possibilities (and our measure of outward success) were displayed in front of us in glossy ads and on television. We made 2.7 children, a car in the garage, and a mortgage more than a goal; we uplifted it to a moral ideal. We exported the middle-class poster chil­dren, the Leave It to Beaver Cleaver family and Mary Tyler Moore’s Laura Petrie, to countries around the world as the calling card of the land of opportunity. We wanted everyone to see the picture of stability and material comfort that rep­resented the achievements of a generation who fought a world war and had given their children something to show for it.

But by the time their children, the much ballyhooed baby boomers, arrived to claim their piece of this paradise as adults, the middle class had changed. Not the dream but the reality. Working with that same drive that provided our parents their passports to stability and comfort, we pushed for more. In the revolution of rising expectations, what our parents provided no longer seemed like “enough.” Middle class stopped being a synonym for security. Instead it signi­fied a perilous portal, on one side of which lurked financial difficulty and on the other an Oz of glimmering wealth. Being middle class now meant living simultaneously with the fear of falling out of it and the dissatisfaction of not being wealthier.

“There is no middle class in this country anymore,” Barbara, a trim woman in her early sixties, tells me as we walk through New York’s Central Park on a sunny spring day. “Not the one I grew up with anyway. My father was a teacher and my mother worked for the government in personnel, and she never made more than $175 a week for twenty-five years. Yet they were able to take good care of us. We had a car, we took vacations, we had a good education in a good public school, and we had a decent apartment, all on a salary that couldn’t keep an immigrant family afloat today.

“This safety has just gone. It’s just disappeared. On every block in my neighborhood, you can buy $300 or $400 ‘dry-clean-only’ handmade baby snowsuits. This is the way people live. My son and his wife were looking for baby strollers last weekend, and there’s an $800 stroller out there.” Barbara shakes her head. She knows they can afford these things since they both work and are making good salaries, but this no longer sounds like middle class to her. It’s something else. It’s almost the opposite of safety since it’s mostly about consuming. We spend to feel safe, but in the spending, we chip away at the ground beneath our feet. We want to make “enough” to live the life we want, but each time we approach “enough,” it moves a few acquisitions far­ther out.


The increased use of the memoir genre has led to a wide range of topics covered. I approached this book with low expectations, but found more interest than I imagined. Money can become fodder for conflict in many relationships. The insights in this book for men on how woman can feel differently about money issues will be helpful. For women, Money: A Memoir will likely resonate with some feelings that may or may not have been expressed. In either case, there’s increased understanding to be found on these pages.


Steve Hopkins, April 24, 2006



Buy Money: A Memoir @ amazon.com

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage



Go to 2006 Book Shelf

Go to Executive Times Archives


Go to The Big Book Shelf: All Reviews





*    2006 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the May 2006 issue of Executive Times


URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Money A Memoir.htm


For Reprint Permission, Contact:

Hopkins & Company, LLC • 723 North Kenilworth AvenueOak Park, IL 60302
Phone: 708-466-4650 • Fax: 708-386-8687

E-mail: books@hopkinsandcompany.com