spending

Confession: I liked 'Shopaholic'

This chick flick may not be entirely practical, but it's surprisingly fun. Plus, read the true confessions of a young adult adjusting to life on a budget in the real world.

One of my colleagues here at Kiplinger suggested that I take in the movie "Confessions of a Shopaholic" and write about my impressions. I guess she figured I was eminently qualified to weigh in on a number of points (aside from whether I liked the film).

As a financial expert -- and, presumably, the sober voice of responsibility -- I could point out that credit cards are not "magic," as the movie's heroine, Rebecca Bloomwood, believes (she carries 12 cards, all of them maxed to the limit).

As the author of a book called Money Smart Women, I could point out that it's not money-smart to justify buying $200 worth of Marc Jacobs underwear because "underwear is a basic human right," as Rebecca does. And you don't "need" cashmere gloves simply because, in her words, "you have hands."

As the editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, I could render my opinion of Rebecca's hit column, "The Girl in the Green Scarf." Her editor at Successful Saving magazine praises her for making "really boring" financial topics accessible to "people who never thought they could understand."

Ultimate chick flick

Yes, I could do all those things. But first I'm going to surprise my colleague (and even myself) by saying I actually liked this romantic comedy more than I thought I would.

Actress Isla Fisher has a flare for the outrageous in both acting and fashion. "Shopaholic" may be the ultimate chick flick, but there were plenty of men in the audience, and they were enjoying the movie as much as the chicks who dragged them along. The friend I coaxed into accompanying me would never have come on her own, but she pronounced the movie entertaining and preferred it to "Sex and the City."

And at least the oh-so-predictable love interest didn't end with a rich Prince Charming digging Rebecca out of her $16,000 credit-card hole. She did that on her own in satisfying fashion, so to speak.

I'm also going to dispense with the lecture on the evils of credit. This over-the-top film hits you over (and over and over) the head with that point -- as if today's credit-crunched consumers need to be reminded.

I'd love to comment on Rebecca's column, if only I knew what was in it. I'm all for writers having a voice and making financial topics accessible. That's what we're all about here at Kiplinger. But it's not clear what Rebecca's voice is trying to say. In typical Hollywood style, we get just a few sound bites: She compares risky investments to wearing a pair of platform boots, recommends that readers invest in what they love and spouts some psycho-twaddle about rejecting credit cards in favor of "having a relationship with someone who loves me back and never declines me." Clever, maybe, but also patronizing and not very practical.

I'd be happier if she told young women that passing up just one pair of Christian Louboutin pumps is a great way to seed your vacation fund or retirement account.

Lessons from real life

As for the lecture on the perils of shopping, I'm going to leave that to my daughter, Claire, who's 24. Recently I was invited to speak to the young women at Claire's old high school about how to be financially responsible. I thought the students would like to hear the experiences of a recent grad, so I asked Claire what she had learned about managing money after being on her own for four years of college and then moving 3,000 miles from home. In part, this is what she replied:

"One thing that you should stress is the importance of a budget, and realizing that eventually you may have to make choices about what you want and curb some of your habits.

"Example: I love to shop. I would shop every day if I could. I have always been very mindful about things I've wanted to buy, but now that I am on a budget I can't just go out and buy a new pair of shoes whenever I want. Now I have to say things like, 'Is this pair of purple snakeskin booties just a trend, or will I be able to wear them for years to come'? Answering that question usually means the difference between buying or not buying. (Unless it's my birthday, in which case I allow myself to buy a pair of boots that probably went out of style right after I bought them.)

"Of course it's not just limited to clothes. I always let myself buy my morning coffee, but I have switched to plain coffee because lattes are too expensive. And I bring my own mug so it just costs $1. Also, I only let myself buy a pastry on Wednesdays. That's scone Wednesday. It's cheaper and healthier, and it gives me something to look forward to.

"You also have to take into account the fact that joining a gym costs money, Daddy won't always pay for your cell phone and if you want to take expensive yoga classes, you may have to give up going out to dinner once a week. It's just about choices."

Now, there's a voice -- of experience.

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