Money is a stand-in for many things: love, power, security, self-esteem. It's little wonder, therefore, that money itself and our feelings about money, taken together, have a profound impact on intimate relationships. Who can't remember being at odds with a parent, a child or a spouse over some question of spending or saving?
Unfortunately, Sylvia Porter's new book, "Love and Money" (written "with the Contributors to Sylvia Porter's Personal Finance Magazine"), fails to address any of the important questions implicit in the title. With very minor exceptions, a few pages here and there, this book is like Sylvia Porter's other books in its focus on the practical elements of personal finance. It tells how to establish credit, describes the forms of joint ownership of property, insists that a will is important. It does not address the emotional ripples these subjects often generate: What happens when one spouse wants to pay cash, the other runs up charge accounts? What are the implications of joint ownership in two-income couples with a single breadwinner? What kinds of estate-planning complexities are faced by people in today's extended families, with stepchildren and stepgrandchildren, in-laws and out-laws of all description?
There is a disappointing lack of depth in this book, most of all in its failure to address the title subject, but also in the superficial tone of much of its practical advice. It assumes no sophistication, financial or otherwise, on the part of the reader (an example of the advice given, on the cost of wedding photography: "Well-meaning amateurs generally are no substitute for professionals, who know how to pose portraits and compose sprightly candids"). The style, moreover, is inconsistent. It's as if a series of practical how-to magazine articles by different authors were knit together with introductory lines about the emotional aspects of money. One suspects that this is exactly what happened, because the articles themselves have no connection, and the emotional aspects are left unexplored.
Some of the text is downright astounding. Chapter 2, titled "Mingling Singles," starts with the perfectly accurate statement "If you're single -- at whatever age, for whatever reason -- you have special financial considerations that are not the same as those for people who are living together or married." Reading that sentence, one would think (at least, I thought) of the never-married of any age, of the again-single by choice or by chance. One would think of the emotional and financial complications these singles face with families and friends and partners. Instead the chapter starts out with less than a page on dating, in which the message is that there are "ladylike ways" for a woman to share in the costs. And then there are almost nine pages, the remainder of the chapter, devoted to "Maintaining a Mistress or a Male Lover." What we have here is the cost of doing so -- "it can be very expensive" -- and how to cut the cost through tax gimmicks. "Getting your mistress a job in your company, where she may or may not be expected to work" seems to have distinct after-tax benefits, but is this really a concern of most readers? I hope not.
More than one quarter of the book (64 pages out of 239) is devoted to "Budget Makeovers," in a format developed and made popular by Money magazine, lifted directly from the pages of Sylvia Porter's Personal Finance Magazine. While these are interesting glimpses into people's financial lives, the glimpses are limited to their financial lives. There is not even a passing comment about the emotional fallout that frequently accompanies financial planning. These couples appear to be unusually fortunate; they never disagree. It would have been interesting, as well as more realistic, to have at least some "budget makeovers" for couples who have trouble reconciling their differences as well as their checkbooks. There are a few bright spots in this generally disappointing book. There is a solid discussion of prenuptial agreements, although here, too, there could be further exploration of the process of reaching agreement and of the emotional aspects to having such agreements at all. The chapter on divorce may enlighten some readers on the symbolic value that money assumes during divorce proceedings, although any reader who's been through the painful process will know that the chapter stops too soon. Where is the vital information on the aftermath of divorce? On starting a new life, alone or with a new partner? On rearing children as a single parent or as part of a blended family?
There is nothing at all in this book on the changing roles of men and women and the impact of those changing roles on the handling of money within the family. There is nothing on decision-making among couples, on the special financial-emotional problems inherent in late-life remarriage, on midlife pressures and problems. There is nothing on parent-child interaction over money, whether the children are small or grown, the parents in their middle years or aged. The title of this book, in short, is misleading. Love and money is an important subject, one that deserves attention; "Love and Money" fails to deliver.