Sometimes I wonder if I’m a shopaholic. It’s usually after I walk out of Target or H&M with new additions to my wardrobe. I know I’m far from being a shopaholic, seeing as I hole myself up in my apartment if I’m not at work. Spending is a nerve-wracking thing, especially if there’s a large student loan debt looming over you. But sometimes, when the debt is so great, what’s another $10 or $20 or $200 spent, right?
Sophie Kinsella’s “Confessions of a Shopaholic” follows Becky Bloomwood, a debt-ridden financial journalist living in London’s trendiest neighborhood. Though she is up to her eyeballs in debt and overdraft fees, she continues to spend, spend, spend. She ignores the letters sent from the bank and credit card companies, and gives excuses such as breaking her leg or that her aunt died. She attempts to reign in her spending, but that effort barely lasts a week. Resolved to Make More Money instead of Cutting Back, Becky comes across a story that sets in motion events that will change her life — and possibly her spending habits — for the better.
I really enjoyed “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, having only seen the movie a few years ago and not remembering much about it other than Hugh Dancy and Isla Fisher. As a 23-year-old working in journalism who is up to her eyeballs in debt, I related to Becky more than I thought I would. Granted, I don’t go on shopping trips and spend hundreds on items I don’t necessarily need. But journalism doesn’t have a reputation of having one of the highest salaries, and living in London (or any big city) isn’t cheap. To cope, Becky turns to shopping while I turn to binge-watching Netflix shows and never leaving the house.
There were moments where I had to shut the book and distract my mind for a couple minutes. It was usually when Becky would open (more like hide or throw out) the letters informing her of her overdraft fees or that her account would be frozen if she did not pay the minimum fee. I was as nervous for her situation as I am for my own. Some days, I avoid going through my email account and my heart will race if I see a notification from my bank (even though it’s almost always a gimmick email trying to get me to apply for a loan to get a car). When Becky is going through various steps to figure out how to Make More Money — i.e., getting a retail job (that she wasn’t able to hold onto for more than a day) — I recalled the many times I’ve stayed up past midnight trying to figure out ways to Make More Money.
I could also relate to her doubts. In the first chapter, she tells the reader that being a finance journalist is not the career she always wanted and that people got a job writing about personal finance because they couldn’t get a job writing about anything more interesting. After three years in the finance, she says she still knows nothing about finance: “People at the bus stop know more about finance than me. Schoolchildren know more than me. I’ve been doing this job for three years now, and I’m still expecting someone to catch me out” (10). This continues throughout the book, where you see her doubt about her knowledge about finance, which is ironic considering the debt situation she is in. But I know where she is coming from. There are many days when I, too, am expecting someone “to catch me out,” to see that I really know nothing about editing and that I’m a fraud. I think this is common for most women; Sheryl Sandberg wrote extensibly about it in “Lean In.” Toward the end of the book, Becky begins to overcome those doubts.
Throughout the book, I wondered if anyone would confront Becky about her debts in an effort to help her. The only person, really, was Derek Smeath, the manager of Endwich Bank who kept tracking her down to talk to her about her overdrafted account. It was Becky who realized that she needed to stop running from Derek Smeath and her various spending debts. I got the feeling that Suze, her roommate, knew of her money troubles but perhaps not the extent. Becky’s parents certainly didn’t know — she even told them that Derek Smeath was a stalker. Making the decision to confront her debts and find a solution to pay them off was in Becky’s hands.
I’m really interested to see what happens in the subsequent Shopaholic books, as Becky’s debts and shopping habits weren’t completely resolved at the end of this book. The ending was certainly optimistic, but poor spending and budgeting habits aren’t fixed that easily. Once this book challenge is over (four more to go!), I’ll definitely be looking up the next book in the series at the library.