Book Review: In The Red - The Diary of a Recovering Shopaholic by Alexis Hall

I recently borrowed this book from the library as I identified so strongly with the author, or so I thought. As someone who's battled with a serious spending addiction in the past, as I wrote about here, I was intrigued and relieved to see someone tackling the same subject in print. Compulsive spending isn't glamorous in the slightest, and it doesn't generally involve designer clothes and expensive shoes, it's an addiction to the physical act of acquiring new property by spending money, and could relate to anything from a Stella McCartney coat to a pen. 

The very opening section of the book summed this up brilliantly, and I saw so much of my own experience, right back to childhood, in Alexis' explanation of her own spending, which had seen her amount credit card debt to the tune of £30,000. You get drawn in to Alexis' easy, often humorous writing very quickly, at first, she is extremely likeable. 

The problems only raise their heads as you get stuck in to Alexis' tale of her 12 month "spending ban", during which, she pledges not to spend any money on anything that isn't absolutely essential, for 12 months. This, she hopes, will allow her the opportunity to pay off some of her crippling debt, and luckily she has the support of her boyfriend, Kevin, and her parents and friends.

However, I hate to say it, Alexis Hall becomes very annoying, very quickly. I don't know whether it's the fact that I associate so much with her that I just can't get over how bizarre her decisions become, but you really do, at times, want to climb in to the book and yell in her face. 

Let me give you an example: Alexis recognises that the car that she runs, which actually belongs to Kevin, is a considerable expense, and Kevin has decided to sell it anyway. Luckily - Alexis owns a bicycle, and on a previous spending expedition, has also purchased all of the swanky cycling gear that she could possibly need. The problem she faces however, is that she owns so many clothes, she can not find her cycling shorts. Now, there are a number of options here: 1) you can ride a bike without owning cycling shorts anyway so who cares? 2) sort through your clothes, you live in a flat, I understand that you own a lot of clothing, but it simply can't be impossible to sort it all out, even if it takes days or 3) if you must wear cycling shorts and you simply can not sort through your clothes and find the ones you already own then fine, break your already imposed spending ban and buy some more. Does Alexis do any of these things? Oh no no, instead, she spends almost £2000 on a motorised scooter. Because she couldn't find a pair of shorts. If you're wondering why she doesn't take the bus it's because the windows often get steamed up and she can't see where she is so worries she'll miss her stop. Obviously.

Throughout the book Alexis lists the insane number of items that she has in her possession, clothes that she has never ever worn, shoes still in their boxes, nine Mulberry handbags; we're not talking Primark spend ups here, we're talking a serious mass of designer clobber, so extensive that she can't locate a pair of cycling shorts amongst it. Does she sell it? Of course not. She just moans that this ridiculous plethora of clothing, most of it brand new, is all she'll have to wear for a year. Now don't get me wrong, I know how difficult it is to go cold turkey on the spending front, and I've done it because I've had to, because I suddenly have no money, Alexis could technically still have spent money, and so she's battling a temptation I don't face, but seriously? Get a grip woman, there are people in the world who don't have a handbag, let alone 9 Mulberry's; the whole thing makes her sound like a whining, actually pretty disgusting, human being. Had she sold off 50% of what she had in her wardrobe, she'd have paid off a nice chunk of her debt, and would still have had more than enough clothes to see her through the year. Easily. She owns, for example, three black, almost identical, brand new evening gowns. At one point she thinks she'll get the opportunity to wear one of them - but it turns out that doesn't happen, so she doesn't wear any of them for the entire 12 month period, but keeps them all anyway.

Then there's the gift buying. Whenever someone's birthday pops up (often a friend she sees twice a year) she relaxes her spending ban because it's fine if you're spending on other people (fine, your year, your rules) but apparently that person has to have a gift purchased from Clarins. Like... right OK. You do find yourself asking what planet the woman lives on. She spends obscene amounts of money, for example, on birthday gifts for her dog and takes him out for a restaurant lunch after his booster vaccinations - but that's OK, because it's spending on someone else. 

In one regard I think it's none of my business, she wanted to pay off her debt (and she does pay off about £9k over the 12 months which is great, well done her) and I can't judge on what she chooses to spend her money on, but at the same time, I can, because she wrote a book about it. 

I wanted to finish this book feeling inspired, feeling like someone had faced up to what I've faced up to, and made radical changes to their life, as I'm doing, and came out the other side. I wanted to get ideas from the book, to be further motivated, to think "ahh I hadn't thought of that, that will save me a fortune". Instead, I felt like slapping her. I did read to the end, but only because I became increasingly infuriated with her "ooooh I just need another cashmere jumper, I am having to live with just seven cashmere jumpers, and all of the my colleagues at work have already seen all seven of them so I probably can't wear them again anyway."

The woman, for example, continues to shop in Marks & Spencer for food. Go to Lidl you imbecile. Maybe the book is not about saving money, it's about not spending it, but the amount that she spends is still ridiculous. My other bug bear is that she moans throughout that her skin is in really bad shape and the only thing that improves it is this particular range of Chanel skincare, but how will she get through the year unable to buy her favourite products? Does she change her diet in order to improve her skin? Or, you know, drink more water? Does she heck. This woman who is on a spending ban and apparently refusing to spend unnecessary money - buys a Boots meal deal every day. Never a mention of a packed lunch. Never. 

Lastly, Alexis contradicts herself at several points during the book and I'm fussy about that sort of thing. They're only little things, but the sort of thing that annoy me none the less. She mentions at one point when she has a bolt-from-the-blue epiphany about how wasteful her lifestyle is, that she is an incredibly diligent recycler, and sorts out every tin can and plastic bottle. Later in the book she writes about Kevin falling ill, and with him laid up in bed, she has to deal with the recycling for once in her life because it's usually his job. She also goes on at length about how her Mother isn't an impulsive spender, and is very careful with her money - then takes delight in wanging on about how the same Mother has seventeen different shampoos in her bathroom. Grrr.

I don't know how to finish this review. I found the reading of the book compulsive, mainly because I was so annoyed with the narrative! If you're looking for an honest account of someone facing up to debt, compulsive spending, and making huge changes to their life, this isn't it. Alexis will tell you until she's blue in the face that her life changed beyond recognition because she only spent £50 on dog toys, and that's fine, but most of you will just want to kick her in to the real world. There are great personal memoirs out there about people who've attacked spending head on and found genuine methods to have fun on next to nothing. Alexis Hall did not write any of them. 

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