Book Review - In CHEAP We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue by Lauren Weber

In CHEAP We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue is a book that explores the morality and practicality of being frugal from the beginnings of America to 2009. The author Lauren Weber identifies herself as a cheapskate who learned her behaviors from her extremely cheap economist father. Here are some highlights from the book.

Most of the book is about how thrift evolved in American history. It begins with the moralizing of the Puritans, and ends with the bank failures of 2009. There were several cycles of frugality and consumerism and then thrift finally went out of style some time after World War II. The United States was afraid of another post war recession and encouraged more and more consumption. The trend of keeping up the Joneses did not let up even in times of economic trouble.

The book did not talk too much about the 80s and 90s, but had several chapters about the current state of being cheap in America. It had a chapter about the freegan movement and talked about the current dismal savings rate. I felt that these sections were a bit cursory and could have been expanded.

I liked the parts of the book that explored the cheapskate's psychology. One thing I have not heard of before is the assessment of Freud that anal retentive people tend to be cheap. The author related early potty training and cheapness in a couple instances and I thought that was sort of funny. I was definitely potty trained pretty early since in most of China children are potty trained when they are infants. Is that really why I like to save money? Speaking of China, the book actually has a whole chapter about the cheap stereotypes of the Chinese and the Jews. I thought that was a fairly brilliant and entertaining chapter.

The book concluded on the hopeful note that maybe cheapness is here to stay. I am not too sure about that, but today the news reported that consumers have cut their consumer debts by $21.6 billion in July. That is definitely progress. Finally,  I was pleased to see that Wise Bread blogger Jeff Yeager's book The Ultimate Cheapskate's Guide to True Riches was listed as a reference in the book's final chapter titled "Cheap Parting Shots: A Primer on Cheap Living." If you are interested in American history and frugality I would say that this is the perfect book for you. The book's source notes is also a good collection of related books and data. Of course, a true cheapskate would borrow the book from the library.

Disclosure:  this post includes Amazon affiliate links.

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Guest's picture

There's one thing I know for CERTAIN, and that is you can never count out the US consumer to tone down our spending ways. We need US consumers to return to binge spending for corporate earnings to rebound aggressively and justify current stock market valuations.

Temptations are too great not to spend, hence why we wrote "Controlling The Urge To Splurge", a novel way to satiate the irresistible, and not go broke in the process!

Call me an optimist or a cynic, but we're all in this together. Thanks for the review Xin!

Financial Samurai

Guest's picture

I read in some book or it was a dialogue in some movie - debt is the real power, that is how banks control people. I think the book gives enough reasons for people to live within their means.

Guest's picture
Kayla K

This makes perfect sense! Thrifty families potty train their children early so they can end the expense of diapers. Who thought it could be linked back to Freud?