* Prices may differ from that shown
At the start of this book, Alexis Hall owed £31,637.84 in unsecured debt, in credit cards and bank loans. In the Red is an autobiographical account, presented in diary form, of a compulsive spender's attempts to cut back and reduce her debt from this terrifying figure. She decided to cut back on non-essential spending for a year in order to cut her debt.
I am very interested in the subject of personal finance and how people manage it or completely fail to do so, so I was pleased to receive a copy of this book to review. I was a bit disappointed though. Some of the content would have made a good magazine or newspaper article. However, over a whole book of nearly 300 pages, the almost daily diary entries here become a bit dull and repetitive.
I found some of Hall's attitudes to her spending hard to understand. Her main addiction is to designer clothes and expensive skincare, neither of which I have ever really been into. I do recognise the messy cupboards full of unworn clothes, though mine tend to be from much cheaper shops. She is used to driving everywhere and is frightened of buses, while I have never had a car or learned to drive (and she lives in a big city, so it isn't about that). She invests in a scooter and the problems of where to keep it are a recurring theme in the book.
There are several things I found really annoying about Alex. The first is her definition of essential spending, some of which turns out to be ridiculous. She continues to buy insanely extravagant presents for her partner, Kevin, and their dog, and her family and friends. At one point she gets baby bath for the dog costing over £30 (who spends that on baby bath for a baby, even?) On another occasion she spends £35 on a friend's child's first birthday. This was hard to identify with and rather frustrating. Alexis and Kevin earn good incomes, and have no dependents (apart from the dog), but they are living way beyond their means.
As a bookworm, I also find it hard to identify with someone who writes a book but never reads a book herself, preferring to read fashion magazines. At one point she buys her stepdad books to read in hospital but is astonished that he wants to continue reading when he gets out.
On the positive side, this book is very easy and quick to read, and the money voyeur in me enjoyed the gory details of Alex's finances. She seems like a nice person and I really do hope she can continue to curb her spending and cut her debt - considerably less than it was, but it takes a long time to pay off that amount of money.
Since I read the book, I've discovered that she has a blog on which she writes about her continued efforts not to spend too much money, and the blog seems more interesting - it is a better form for the content.
I'm not sure I can recommend the book, but I will probably continue to read the blog occasionally.
I received a free copy of this book, published by Icon Books at £7.99 for www.newbooksmag.com, and a much, much shorter version of this review previously appeared on that website under my name.
When I saw this book online, I thought it sounded worth a read. I think it was the tagline of 'Diary of a recovering shopaholic' that pulled me in. I wouldn't say I'm a shopaholic, but I do love shopping and I enjoy a lot of the shopping based books that are around.
To be honest, when I bought this I actually thought it was a novel. The description on the back makes it sound like it's fiction in my opinion, but when I realised a few pages in that the main 'character' had the same name as the author, it dawned on me that unless she was extremely egotistical, this was actually a real life story. I do think that the publishers perhaps could have been a bit clearer about that if I'm honest.
The book is written in an easy to read diary format, and charts Alexis Hall's quest to reduce her massive debts of over £31,000, a figure which doesn't even include her half of the mortgage. I must admit I couldn't really sympathise with her about having such a huge sum of debt hanging over her head, mainly because in the first few pages she admits that this is not the first time she has run up big debts, and she only cleared them first time round after her generous (stupid?) husband paid off all her credit cards.
Had she lost her job or been struggling on a low wage to feed her children I could have had more sympathy. It seems though, that this debt was built up merely by living beyond her means. Designer clothes, skincare and socialising seemed to be the main culprits. This book is basically a one year diary of her efforts to cut down her debt. She comes up with three rules which she attempts to live by for a year - 1. No new clothes 2. Necessity purchases only 3. Pay as much as possible off her debt.
If you are looking to read a book that gives a fair representation of what life's like for someone in Britain with a huge personal debt, then don't even pick this up. Alexis and her husband Kevin are both earning, and Kevin (who is not in debt) pays for the majority of day to day expenses it seems. Things like utility bills and food shopping don't even get a mention, and there is never any mention of demanding phone calls from credit card companies or threat of bailiffs knocking on the door. We never get any figure when it comes to how much the couple earn either individually or together, but they seem to carry on pretty much as normal, living a more than comfortable existence - champagne, organic chocolate, lunch at Malmasion as opposed to tap water, shops own and Maccy D's. In fact, the only thing that seems to change for Alexis is the fact she doesn't buy new clothes in her lunch hour anymore. My heart bleeds.
I actually found this book mildly insulting. There are people who are in real poverty in this country, and struggling to put food on the table, yet this woman has written a patronising, self indulgent, self-pitying tale that seems to me very out of touch. Her idea of cutting back is probably not everyone else's - this is a woman who still buys Chanel skincare even on her 'budget', and deems it acceptable to spend £33 on a birthday present for her dog and £96 on Egyptian cotton sheets to grace the £1000 new bed that her husband has bought.
In the case of her shopping 'compulsion', I thought it would have been better if she had explored why she wanted to shop, it may at least have made things a bit more interesting. Really I don't even think she had an addiction, I thought she just came across as a silly woman who wanted it all without having to pay for it. It was the lifestyle she was after, not the thrill of going shopping.
As for actual story, I feel a bit bad saying this because it's a real person rather than a character, but my god, does this woman have a dull life. Most of her entries seemed to revolve around going to lunch with someone or other or walking her dog. Her put upon husband didn't seem to have much of a personality either and if I was him I'd have walked out a long time ago.
Another niggle, albeit a small one, was that there were lots of typing errors towards the beginning of the book, which was quite irritating to be honest.
Overall, I thought this was a really disappointing read, and not one I would recommend.