The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Announcements Edition

born to buyAnnouncement #1 I’ve decided to give the “book club” another whirl with a book that I think could provoke a ton of discussion: Born to Buy. If you’re unfamiliar with it, read my review of it from a while back. The book is basically a deep look at the effects of marketing and consumerism on the developing consumer instincts of children – how they spend money and why.

I want to do this detailed reading of Born to Buy because I’m currently witnessing some early consumer behavior in my two and a half year old son. For example, he’s obsessed with the movie Cars and thus is highly partial to any product with a Cars tie-in. Is that a healthy thing? Should we let him pick these items (so he can enjoy his ‘Mater-themed training pants), or should we steer him away? Will either direction encourage him to be a rampant consumer later on in life? I really want to dig into this stuff, and that’s what Born to Buy is about.

Having learned lessons from both the very successful book club of Your Money or Your Life and the utterly disastrous attempt at a book club for What Color is Your Parachute?, I’ve figured out several things. First, the book needs to have a lot of meat for discussion. If it’s introspective, like What Color is Your Parachute?, it doesn’t go anywhere. Second, an entry every day is too much – and an entry once a week is too little. So the best amount is somewhere in the middle. Third, my entries should be a mix of a summary of the section and my thoughts on it – particularly the provocative ones.

So here’s the plan. I’m going to do three entries a week on Born to Buy, each entry covering about ten pages of the book. Each entry will have a summary of that part, some of my thoughts on it and the questions it made me think about, and notes on what will be covered next. These entries will appear on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday for about six weeks. The first entry, covering the ten page “Introduction” chapter, will show up on Tuesday, April 1.

If you’re interested in reading along, pick up Born to Buy at your local library or from Amazon. If you don’t have it right when we start, don’t worry – you can catch up on old entries. If you don’t want to read along, that’s fine, too – each entry will have something of a summary of the section.

Note about the “regular” book reviews: They’re going on hiatus for the length of the book club – if I retained those, too, it would reach a point of “book overload” pretty quickly. I’m doing this switch to try something different and insightful – to get more intimate with a single book than to just briefly summarize several of them. The normal reviews will still appear this weekend, but will go on hiatus for several weeks during the book club. After that, they will return.

Announcement #2 For the next several weeks, I’m going to do a series of post exchanges with a small handful of very carefully selected great blogs on similar topics to The Simple Dollar – they’ll do an entry here and I’ll do an entry on their site. This allows me to seek out new readers while also exposing you to some great writers from other sites.

This won’t overflow the site with entries from random people. I’m going to have one guest entry a week for several weeks, and these will appear on Friday afternoon. Once these are done, I’ll go back to the normal schedule, replacing that guest writer slot with my own stuff. I’ll also include any entries of mine that appear on other sites in my weekly roundup.

The first entry, appearing this Friday, comes from Erin at Unclutterer.

Announcement #3 My long-asked-about cooking blog is set to launch on May 1. I’ll tell you all about it shortly after that (when there are some articles up for you to read). Expect to hear about it near Cinco de Mayo.

Whew! Let’s read some articles!

How not to get super-rich: the passive income scam Some harsh words for the idea of passive income. I think part of the challenge is how to define passive income. One of the commenters offered a pretty good insight, too: “I think passive income, like most financial information on the internet, is aimed at keeping middle class people more comfortably middle class.” I could write a whole post on that idea alone… in fact… be patient! (@ jonathan fields / awake at the wheel)

An Interesting Piece on Target Target versus Wal-Mart is perception versus reality. For example, in one of the cities near where I live, the Wal-Mart is FAR nicer than the Target – both stores are pretty new, but the Wal-Mart there is one of the nicest large department stores I’ve ever set foot in, with a ton of aisle space, a very open layout, and amazing cleanliness. (@ all financial matters)

Funds to Form a Family: Adoption process begins. And so does the check writing. The adoption process bothers me on a deep level. It basically discourages families from trying to adopt because the costs are prohibitive. My wife and I considered adopting a child in the past from a disadvantaged nation, but the costs were outrageous (and that doesn’t even include the bribing). Why is this? So that only rich families can adopt? Why doesn’t an international agency set up an adoption clearinghouse so that families can easily adopt and that outlay of money can go to building a great life for the child instead of lining some bureaucrat’s wallet? (@ queercents)

Should I Buy Flood Insurance? My hometown was washed away in the Mississippi River flooding in 1993. Some people had flood insurance – others did not. Amazingly, you can still tell which group was which based on the situation they’re in now. If you’re in a flood plain, get flood insurance, period. (@ my money blog)

When the Going Gets Tough, Get Back to the Basics Repeat it with me: spend less than you earn. Spend less than you earn. Do that over and over again and you’ll be okay. (@ get rich slowly)

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  1. Penny Squeaker says:

    Trent,

    I love the bookclub spin, way-way better than Oprah’s bookclub reviews.

  2. Awesome Mom says:

    It is nice to know that I am not the only one with little boys that are obsessed with Cars stuff and has not been massively exposed to the movie. It is rather eerie how insidious it is.

  3. Becky@FamilyandFinances says:

    I reserved my copy of Born to Buy from the library!

  4. Tony says:

    Great. More book reviews. Note sarcasm. Don’t take it as an insult, more of a compliment. I prefer reading your opinions and insight, not your opinions and insights on other people’s opinions and insights. It’s enough already with the book reviews.

  5. Kim says:

    My only concern with the book club– will they be replacing posts or in addition to the current posting schedule? I don’t mind book reviews, but with this ‘book club’ plus Friday and Sunday book reviews… well, lets just say in my mind it’s too much. Don’t get me wrong- I find the book reviews useful, and I think the book club can lead to some insightful discussion. However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially when approximately 40% of your posts on a given week will be book reviews and discussions. It seems you are more concerned that guest posts will alienate readers, but not the constant book-related posts.

    I can’t wait for the cooking blog!

  6. chris says:

    I once went to a walmart to buy one item. cake frosting. It took me awhile to find it and there was limited variety. The price seemed decent, so i bought it, despite it not being exactly the type i wanted.

    Afterwards I went to target for something else. I decided, meh let’s check the frosting. The variety was larger (they had the one I wanted) and the price was lower! I think the only time i’ve been to a walmart since that day was to grab some dvds at black friday.

    Like that article said, I had the perception that since target was cleaner/friendlier and attracted a nicer crowd it was more expensive. My perception was wrong.

  7. Mr. Stupid says:

    This post makes me want to go out and buy the book. I didn’t know until today that I needed this book. I almost feel victimized.

  8. Allison says:

    I’m not a big fan of the book reviews, but I have no problem simply skipping over those particular posts. Not sure why everyone is complaining so much about the prospect of more reviews on here. Just don’t read those posts!

    I’m also very excited for the cooking blog!

  9. Trent Trent says:

    The weekly reviews are going on hiatus for a while after this weekend – they’re basically being replaced by Born to Buy for several weeks. Don’t worry – they will return.

    Basically, I’m trying something different for a while. You can’t improve things if you never change them. After this “club” is over, I’ll go back to the weekly reviews for a while and see which one is liked better.

  10. Lauri says:

    I’m excited about the book club. I’ve been wanting to read Born To Buy for a while…sadly neither my podunk library nor Paperbackswap had it available, so I ordered it used on Amazon.

  11. Born to buy is specialized. “Why smart people make big money mistakes” is a comprehensive look at consumer behavior. The premise is: marketers know you better than you know yourself. Its up to the individual to not fall trap to marketing.

    There’s other aspects to the book, but thats their take on consumer behavior.

  12. NP says:

    If I am not drawn into the book’s premise, I just skim those reviews to the end to see if Trent thinks the book is worth buying. If he does, I might go back and read the article more closely, but I don’t have time to read all those books in the first place. I AM interested in the Born to Buy premise as I am a parent of 8 and 10 year olds who are definitely affected by marketing found on Nickelodeon and really everywhere. One Christmas, I told my kids that if they see it on TV, Santa won’t bring it to them. It helped a little but Santa brought one thing each from TV anyway. I have found that the hype promised on TV is never matched after ownership begins and hopefully the kids are discovering that too.

  13. Jen says:

    Why is your 2yr old obsessed with the movie Cars? Why is your kid watching more than 30min of TV a day?

    The easiest way to keep your kids from becoming obsessed with a character or being exposed to ads is not to let them watch TV.

    This is something the APA recommends – no TV before 2, very limited TV after that.

    My son is about 4 mo older than yours. He’s obsessed with cars too – the toys, the big vehicles people drive around in, but not the movie. He’s also obsessed with trucks, fire engines, helicopters, and animals. The only TV he ever watches is “Planet Earth” in high def in 20min increments when he’s sick (We have the whole series on HD Tivo, and there are 22min between the comercial breaks. So he watches up to the comercial break, then we turn it off, the next day, we pick up right after the commercial break).

    I understand this may be more difficult now that you stay at home. Luckily, we’ve been a daycare family, and our daycare doesn’t let the kids watch any sort of TV. Then there’s only a few hours between getting home and bedtime, and that’s all family time.

  14. Frugal Dad says:

    My son is equally obsessed with Cars. He even recently wanted to look at a website with Cars memorabilia and we discovered two new ones are due out this month – Gasprin and Toecap. This is really testing my frugal spirit!

    As a long-time fan of your writing I am looking forward to the cooking blog, and the book club.

    I look forward to Erin’s guest post. I believe guests posts are a great way to expose your readers to different perspectives. I like the way Darren does it on ProBlogger.net by posting a guest post that ties in with a subject he recently wrote about himself. It helps him expound on an idea without coming across as repetitive.

  15. !wanda says:

    @Jen: I don’t watch TV either. However, I cannot escape seeing ads on billboards, telephone poles, storefronts, bus shelters, and buses. When I walk the three blocks from home to work, past a daycare center incidentally, I must see at least 10 ads. Also, Trent takes his kid shopping. There are plenty of ads and products in shiny packaging there! If your child never sees an ad for anything, you must not take them out very much.

  16. Trent Trent says:

    “The easiest way to keep your kids from becoming obsessed with a character or being exposed to ads is not to let them watch TV.”

    My son is obsessed with Cars because he has a Lightning McQueen blanket and several of the Matchbox-style toys from the movie. They are his favorite toys, and he’s now partial to anything that depicts Lightning McQueen on it.

    So, what you’re suggesting is that I throw his toys and blanket into the trash? Get real. Every kid on Earth has particular items that he’s partial to – my concern is that it ramps up into consumerism.

  17. Jen says:

    Sure, I take my kid to the grocery store, and the like (I’ve even let him ply in the mall playland), but there is a huge difference between a print add that you walk by and a brightly colored talking cartoon animal telling your kid he needs a sugared cereal. For example. Yes, he has demanded I buy Fruit Loops, but not because he’s seen ads for it, but because they use it in craft projects at daycare and he knows they taste good. And no, I don’t give in to his demands. I may buy a box of fruit loops if they are on sale, but I don’t feel compelled to just because he wants them.

    At this age, most print ads are just interesting pictures that he may or may not make a connection to the advertised product. And billboards, I doubt he even notices them at all.

    I say keep the advertising away from the kids until they’re old enough to think rationally, which for a 2.5yr old, is a LONG time off. They’re too young to understand comparative shopping at this age, their brains aren’t developed that way yet. The easiest and most effective way to do that – limit the TV.

    There are other reasons to limit the TV, not related to advertising. The content is not appropriate for this age, not because they can’t learn the letters and numbers on everyone’s favorite PBS show, but because they are still learning to manipulate a 3-D world. TV is a 2-D medium. There was actually a study last fall that showed those Baby Einstein videos actually delayed language skills. And it’s time that they are not active and exploring. Also the images change too frequently to develop concentration skills. If your kid likes to stare at TV for hours, it’s because they’re changing topics 6 times a minute, not because he can focus on anything for any length of time. When you see a little kid staring at the TV, that’s not good. It’s something you should be very concerned about.

  18. Jen says:

    No Trent, I am not suggesting you throw out your son’s favorite toys. I am suggesting you don’t buy the DVD and let him sit there for 1.5hrs watching it.

    And further, I am suggesting that you buy the Pull-Ups with the Cars characters if they work well for your kid (as different kids fit different products better) and you can afford them and you need them.

    And I am also suggesting that when he points out the Cars fruit snacks, you say, “Yeah, look at that” and move on.

  19. Lauri says:

    I haven’t read anywhere that Trent lets his son sit and watch the movie for 1.5 hours. I’ll let him speak for himself …but kids pick up on the marketing whether they’ve seen the tv shows or movies or not.

  20. Dan says:

    Worry a little about the constant marketing messages bombarding your toddler through movies. Worry a lot that your toddler enjoys Larry the Cable Guy.

  21. David says:

    Nice to see the book will spark some debate!

  22. Trent Trent says:

    Yeah, no kidding. If merely mentioning reviewing the book causes this kind of candor, I can’t wait for some of the later discussions!

  23. Trent Trent says:

    “I haven’t read anywhere that Trent lets his son sit and watch the movie for 1.5 hours.”

    Don’t worry about it. Jen is pretty obviously a newer reader who hasn’t dug into the archives much.

  24. Sarah says:

    My kids are being raised without a TV (only a few DVDs on the computer). We just inherited a ton of old books from my husband’s childhood.. including a large book of Disney stories. Since we are ravenous readers, now they will know all the old characters without having watched any Disney movies in their lives so far (we will read the book for cultural literacy :). And yes, we also know about Cars from the Pull-Ups.

  25. Amanda B. says:

    I am a little concerned about the villianization of movies at the moment, of course I also think CCFC is evil scapegoating. Movies are one of the few artistic mediums that still get any attention and financing. I am not saying that the majority of the films coming out of Hollywood are life changing, but I can easily say that I am a better person for some of the movies I have seen. Just as I am a better person for the play I have watched, books I have read and poems I have memorized.

    Furthermore, the idea that my generation (especially of girls) is worse for wear because we grew up wanting to be Ariel (and not judging people by where they came from) or Bell (and seeing through the outward appearance) is ridiculous. My earliest Disney related memories involved, yes watching the movies, but then playing outside with friends based on common ground (or at least a story line we already could agree on). I remember playing with a dozen girl whose love for singing and dancing was encouraged by these “evil” flicks. And I don’t think anyone can say that their idea of compassion for animals is not at least loosely tied to Bambi’s mom.

    I agree we should not give in to our child’s every movie or TV based whim. And we should not let our TV be the babysitter. But to steal our kids opportunity to be completely immersed in a magical, fictitious world (even for 1.5 hours at a time!) is just cruel. Let them think that animals can talk, and that toys come to life and “live” to be played with. I promise they will be ok.

  26. Dana says:

    Speaking from my own experience, the TV winds up being a babysitter because even a single child should not have to be watched/cared for for most of the day by only one adult. Housework needs to be done, and sometimes without the little one “helping” and making twice as much work; other tasks need to be done as well, and ditto. It isn’t right, and I would rather have any other option than turning on the boob tube, but people in much of the world don’t live in tribes anymore, and there are few options that don’t involve paying someone who doesn’t even know your child in the first place.

  27. tightwadfan says:

    I have no problem with kids watching DVDs. However I am concerned about the way kids today are allowed to watch the same movie repeatedly, as a way to keep them quiet. I am told they will beg you to start the movie again as soon as it ends.

    When I was a preschooler it was before VCRs were widespread and back then this was not possible. It just seems creepy to me.

    Do any of the parents here have experience with this? Am I overreacting?

  28. Jenni Logan says:

    I enjoy reading your website, your blog, so to speak. I am not real computer literate, so I am slowly learning. I had heard about blogs, but I didn’t know where to look for them, but over the years different places I have read would mention one, which is how I came across yours. And actually subscribed, and have learned a lot from your comments, and the comments made from others who read here. And I have been checking out the other blogs you and others have mentioned, and bookmarked some to check out later. And there are stuff I didn’t think need to be taught, like with ironing, since not being a guy, and learning it from my mother, that was nice to hear about. Looking forward to reading more on your blog.

  29. J.E. says:

    I’m a bit off subject with regard to the line of comments, but I just couldn’t let it slide.

    Adoption is very, very expensive, but the costs are not prohibitive if it’s a route you really want to take. My husband works in theatre, and I’m an entry-level editor, and we’ve got a pile of student loans. Needless to say, we’re not rolling in buckets of cash, but we adopted twins from Ethiopia in 2006, and came out of the process debt-free and with retirement accounts still intact. Feel free to e-mail if you want more info. (P.S. – Can I gently suggest that you watch how you throw around lingo of bribery and lined pockets? Most reputable agencies have managed to curb the corruption, and focusing on the money and propigating the misconceptions surrounding the money can be very sensitive, even offensive, to families touched by adoption.)

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