Updated on 05.13.08

Born to Buy: Final Thoughts

Trent Hamm

This is the final discussion in a “book club” series on Born to Buy by Juliet Schor, which focuses on consumerism issues and young children.

born to buyDuring this series, a lot of people wrote to me and asked why I was covering this book in such detail. One reader’s comment: “i get the point don’t expose kids to ads.” Saying that, though, is a really disturbing oversimplification of what’s being said here.

The point of this book is not to merely avoid exposing kids to ads. The point of this book is to show how pervasive marketing is in the lives of children. It’s not just television – it’s movies, video games, magazines, and so on. It’s about marketing to students in schools. It’s about even using children as marketers by having kids do the marketing work themselves, convincing their friends to try it and also to demand the product from their parents. Just shutting off the television isn’t enough.

I grew up with a sense that money was to be spent, not saved. If you had a windfall, the healthy response was to go buy something fun. In my house, we watched a lot of television – it was pretty much always on – and thus looking back I can see how the television repeatedly altered my views on things. Since it was perceived as the normal thing to spend money when you got it, and there were lots of messages floating around about the things a kid should want, I bought in big time.

The end result? I grew up and became a shopaholic and it nearly wrecked us. My story is one that a lot of people share, from the childhood of learning to want the things that were marketed to you to the early adulthood of spending like crazy to the crisis situation with tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt.

The key is that first step. I have at least some control over the lessons that my children take in, right now. They learn from my choices and from the things I choose to teach them. If I put a high value on consumer culture, they will, too. If I leave the television on and am influenced by it, they will be, too. If I don’t teach them that much of what they hear about products is pure advertising, they’ll believe the advertising and come home wanting products.

This book woke me up to one of the biggest responsibilities I have as a parent – or even as a citizen. I’m raising children who are going to be productive members of society one day, and they’ll be making choices for themselves based in part on the things I’ve taught them and showed them over the years. What am I teaching them? What am I encouraging society to teach them? What will they learn? These questions go way beyond avoiding ads and into something much more fundamental about building them into self-reliant people who will make good financial decisions throughout their life.

I certainly hope I’m teaching them the right stuff.

Here’s a checklist of all of the entries about this book:
The Changing World of Children’s Consumption
Playing Less and Shopping More
From Tony the Tiger to Slime Time Live
Nickelodeon and the Anti-Adult Bias
Pester Power
The Virus Unleashed
The Commercialization of Public Schools
Dissecting the Child Consumer
Inside the Child Brain
Habit Formation
Who’s Responsible: Parents or Advertisers?
How Consumer Culture Undermines Children’s Well Being
Patterns of Media Use
Consumer Involvement as an Undermining Force
Empowered or Seduced?
Decommercializing Childhood
The Invention of Modern Childhood

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  1. Sandy Naidu says:

    Parents can teach a lot by example…The saving habits, importance of investing will get installed in the child’s subconscious if they are surrounded by parents with good money habit…Sounds like a good book. Will grab a copy.

  2. oios says:

    My parents taught me early how to enter a store and look at the things I liked, but not throw a tantrum when I didn’t leave with something. It took me until this year to realize that I still do this. I like to go into a store and admire the computer games I wish I had time to play, or stare at the plasma screens, or wonder at the size of some of the CPU coolers. I always leave without purchasing something (unless it was preplanned). I go home, do more reviews, mull it over–part of the fun of shopping is finding out I don’t really want something before I buy it.

    This makes me incredibly weird to people. I never shop with people who don’t understand this is how I work. I’ve actually been yelled at by someone who wanted to help me find a nice chair. He said we should go find one. After we visited 3 stores and I still wasn’t happy with my choices (or prices), he was really frustrated I hadn’t made a purchase. To him (maybe more than on average), and for a lot of people, NOT coming home with something means the WHOLE day was a waste of time.

    I don’t see it that way.

    Anyway, the point I’m barely trying to make is–everything has a consequence, so even if you raise smart consumers, they may still not have friends because people think they’re weird ;)

  3. Becky@FamilyandFinances says:

    I, for one, really enjoyed reading the review series of this book. I started reading the book, but it was a little too detailed to keep my interest. I liked the “Cliff Notes” version I got through you, Trent. Thanks!

  4. sweetcheese says:

    I understand that a lot of people didn’t like your in depth review of this book, but I really appreciated it! Even if you don’t have kids (or want them) the idea of learning how to think about ads, or help youngsters become aware of advertising is useful for everyone.

  5. typome says:

    Thanks for sharing this book with us. I only heard about it through this site, and your recommendation prompted me borrow it from the library. I’m glad I did! These are things I was planning on doing with my kids anyway, but the wealth of knowledge and research and even further methods of de-commercializing kids was very helpful!

  6. Leah says:

    I very much enjoyed this in-depth style of book review. My beef with book reviews is that they don’t go in-depth enough. I thought it was just right. Too bad your other readers didn’t enjoy it as much. It’s one I’m going to check out at the library soon.

  7. Nicole says:

    Thanks for taking such an in-depth look at this book. It’s not only important to parents but anyone who interacts with kids. I don’t know if I’ll read it but I’m glad I’ve read all your posts on it.

  8. Josh says:

    I agree with the comment about these being useful as “Cliff Notes” of the books. I hope you find some way to continue doing this sort of in depth coverage.

    Maybe this would appease those who think it’s too much:
    -Move the bulk to a seperate address/rss feed (i.e. thesimpledollar.com/bookreviews)
    -Have a post on the main site/feed to signal starting a new book and one when you finish it with a link to all the entries like this one.
    -You could even do your for cost pdf downloads for people to have a reading companion of sorts.

    Only negative I could see is people complaining they would be taking your time away from creating other content, but I have no clue about the time spent for these versus others.

    Hope I’m not stepping on toes with suggestions. I just wouldn’t want to see a good thing go away.

    Keep up the good work.

  9. Ryan says:

    As a marketer by profession, I often feel a sense of guilt for being part of an industry that is known for attempting to make people purchase things they don’t need when marketing is really about uniting buyers and sellers with mutually beneficial needs. I think the industry needs to look very hard in the mirror and determine where its ethics really are. Perhaps we need some sort of Hippocratic Oath.

  10. jfl says:

    So board with this book review. Please stop. Otherwise I love your site.

  11. I just wanted to say I enjoyed this format. I haven’t been reading long, but in general I’d rather read more posts that are shorter than one long book review.

  12. Sandy says:

    I really enjoyed your reviews. I tried to read along when I could and got a lot more out of it by reading your synopsis and other comments. It’s a shame they didn’t go over as well with some other readers.

  13. Faculties says:

    I’m fine with reviewing the book, but the chapters were pretty repetitive and so the reviews were also. I don’t think the book is so deep and complex that it warranted umpteen posts describing every single repetitive bit of the thing. It got so I’d think, with a sinking heart, “Oh no, not yet another description of this book.” You even broke up the chapters into sections! Argh! I love this site, but please review a book in a single post, not interminable repetitive posts. Other than that, thanks for a great site.

  14. kim says:

    I’m happy to see this book finished! Can’t wait to get back to the regular content. How’s your book coming?

  15. typome says:

    Yeah maybe you can do book reviews by chapter. That was one “flaw” that I felt as I was trying to read along. I assumed each post was about one chapter and got lost with the sub-sections you reviewed. I think a one-chapter review would satisfy both groups, especially since your sub-section reviews were fairly short anyway.

  16. Robert says:

    I think your perception of a 30%/70% split on liking/disliking the reviews is a bit off, Trent. Perhaps the people that disliked them were just more likely to voice their opinion than those of us (like myself) that enjoyed them. Obviously this approach isn’t warranted, or necessary, for many books, but I hope that you will occasionally do a series like this in the future.

    The advantage here is that not only has the extended review given many of us a chance to know more about the book, but it has also sparked some very lively debate over the content as the series progressed. I feel that was perhaps the best feature of this process, since it’s allowed us to discuss the material and consider our own interpretations with the additional perspectives of several of your readers. This is something that we would miss if we simply chose to pick up the book and read it for ourselves, rather than read the “Trent’s Notes” version.

    I happen to think that one of the biggest strengths of a site such as this is that not only do we get a chance to read your perspective on various topics, but the readers can easily add and discuss their own perspectives. By doing that, all of us have a better opportunity to re-examine our thoughts and hopefully improve our understanding.

  17. Valerie says:


    I too really enjoyed the reviews, cliff-note style. I took away quite a few things to think about.

  18. Tony Katz says:

    I’m glad this is the last one! It undoubtedly takes longer to read all these reviews than to read the book itself. You’ve really gone overboard this time.

  19. Mary says:

    Thanks for putting the effort into this series, Trent. I’m amazed at the ones who are complaining. I’ve learned that you can’t please everybody 100% of the time. No offense, Trent, but even though I read thru your posts (just about) every day and, there are days where I look at the title or start reading a post (video games, wii, for instance) that simply doesn’t interest me. So I move on, check back the next day. Even though I don’t have kids I really enjoyed the psychology aspect, the marketing tatctics, etc. Although I try to avoid too much media exposure (mostly TV) I’m/we’re still not completely immune if we are consumers at any level. This review has gotten me interested in the book and I will put it on my list of books to (eventually) read, probably when I’m not in college anymore but it might be a good resource since we’ve examined ads in several classes so far…anyway, The fact that you’ve put so much effort into the an in-depth review is great. Even if it were something that didn’t grab my attention I could see it for what it is.

    My advice to you Trent is not to try to pander too much. Maybe a single review will attract more readers but on the other hand, there are probably others like me who looked forward to the next chapter. I say do a book club series every now and then. Ignore the nay sayers. They’re just being rotten. It makes things interesting and lends a certain amount of variety that is good to have.

    That being said, this book reminded me that a lot of these marketers are more or less predators. Like the saying “the way to a man’s heart is thru his stomach”…well the way to a parent’s wallet/purse is thru their kids. Plus, youngsters are being groomed to be good little consumers, to be materialistic, to think that having the latest and greatest (iPod, cell phone, brand name clothes, soda, and on and on…) is their identity and the way to popularity. They carry this into adulthood but it will only get them so far. Like the study that made the correlation between the amount of TV kids watched and feelings of well-being, self worth, they see nice houses, upper middle class kids/families living a life that some will never see and they think they have to measure up to that image. It’s really sad but often times there are few realistic solutions. I think the best one yet is (1)education/leading by example and (2)limiting tv exposure. Some might say this doesn’t apply to infants/toddlers (who actually have their own premium cable channel and a variety of infant/baby videos). However, there is a growing body of evidence that TV can interfere with the rapidly developing brain and cause ADHD-like symptoms, if not be a culprit of the disorder. A lot of child development experts are saying NO screen time for the first 3 years of life if not longer. That includes computer monitors, TVs. A lot of people don’t believe this, they think it’s harmless but, we are raising a generation that is becoming dependent on the stimulation that TV offers. This results in impulsivity, attention problems, hyperactivity, etc. and these symptoms can often be eased by setting the child in front of the TV just like a dose of Ritalin. It’s disturbing….

  20. Paul says:

    Hooray, the review is done. Let’s take that poor baby out of the shopping bag and raise our kids to be responsible.

  21. MES says:

    Since I seem to be among the minority who enjoyed this review series, I feel like I should weigh in. For me it was all about relevance. As the parent of a toddler with another little human on the way, the information seemed important to me. And in fact it gave me a lot to think about. I’ve never felt that relevance with any of the other book reviews, so I tend to skip right over them.

  22. Thanks for doing this Trent – I too enjoyed this “Cliff Notes” version of the book, and I hope to read it over the summer. Thanks again!

  23. clint says:

    This whole thing makes me mad. There is nothing worse than my kid getting marketed to. Then they come and say “dad I have to have____”

    Thanks for getting me hot under the collar about this. you have a way of doing this to me.

    your loyal fan.


  24. Missy in Texas says:

    I really enjoyed these reviews, I was sort of shocked others did not but we all come from different backgrounds. Mine is very similar to what you described, my family growing up watched lots & lots of television, had a television in every room,etc. I was taught pretty much spend your money before it is gone. I desperately want to teach my children a different view of money, I want them to feel empowered not weak, and I have so enjoyed the insight these selections have provided. Thanks!!

  25. Gus says:

    I really enjoyed the lengthy review of the book, probably because I have kids. Maybe a lot of your readership did not enjoy the review because they don’t have kids of their own.

    A suggestion for further lengthy reviews (if still you care to make them): call on a vote of books you have read and would be willing to write about. Maybe books which appeal to a larger audience, such as “Your Money or Your Life”, “The Millionaire Next Door” or “Total Money Makeover”.

  26. Nate says:

    What about Santa Claus? Is that marketing to get kids to buy things a certain time of year? So do you reveal to your kids there is no Santa Claus and tell them you get them the gifts cause you love them or keep on with the rouse until they are old enough?

    I also loved the reviews(even though I don’t have kids) I shared it my friend who is expecting and we had a good discussion on it. Thanks a lot Trent, keep up the good work!

  27. Lenore says:

    Twenty entries about one book may have been overkill, but the topic is crucial and not explored enough by mainstream media. (Gee, I wonder why!) I’ve had the TV on way too much throughout my life and ended up morbidly obese, overly materialistic and socially awkward. Bipolar Disorder adds to my problems, but I wonder if I’d have spent enough to go bankrupt or filled my house with clutter if TV weren’t making me feel inadequate and exhorting me to BUY. Thanks to informative and inspirational resources like this, I’m learning to spend wiser, eat better, become more active and put people before possessions or mindless entertainment. If kids can be spared the lessons I’ve had to learn by parents pulling the plug on TV, video games, the internet or whatever techno marvel comes along next, I think we’ll have a healthier society within a generation or two.

  28. Ashley says:

    I enjoyed the book review. I read about %95 of the books that Trent recommends and was especially impressed by this author. I have been reading her other books, too. I personally was glad to see the in depth disscussion, because the observations that Trent and other readers made validated my own observations.

    Honestly, Trent obviously has the blogging thing down! I think that you can decide your own format!!! (that’s right, I’m giving you permission, lol)

    Keep the Simple Dollar coming. Whatever that may be.

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