Lesson learned from “Madame Bovary”

“Madame Bovary” written by Gustave Flaubert is a wonderful example of what happens to us when we get consumeritis.

To get money she began selling her old gloves, her old hats, the old odds and ends, and she bargained rapaciously, her peasant blood standing her in good stead.


She bought ostrich feathers, Chinese porcelain, and trunks; she borrowed from Felicite [her maid], from Madame Lefrancois, from the landlady at the Croix-Rouge, from everybody, no matter where.

With the money she at last received from Barneville she paid two bills; the other fifteen hundred francs fell due.

She renewed the bills, and thus it was continually.

Sometimes, it is true, she tried to make a calculation, but she discovered things so exorbitant that she could not believe them possible.

Then she recommenced, soon got confused, gave it all up, and thought no more about it.

The house was very dreary now.

Tradesmen were seen leaving it with angry faces. Handkerchiefs were lying about on the stoves, and little Berthe, to the great scandal of Madame Homais, wore stockings with holes in them.

If Charles [Madame Emma Bovary’s husband] timidly ventured a remark, she answered roughly that it wasn’t her fault.


These were her gala days. She wanted them to be sumptuous, and when he alone could not pay the expenses, she made up the deficit liberally, which happened pretty well every time.

It’s like a classic literature version of those Shopaholic books by Sophie Kinsella.

As you can see, consumer-itis and spending much, much more than you earn on credit are not new concepts in our society; as the book was written in France, it also proves that it isn’t an attitude that only affects one culture or country.

The crux of the whole novel for me, is when she reaches a level of desperation so deep and so dark, that instead of realizing how awful the situation is, she decides to stay in denial and she spends wildly instead to make up for the sickening void closing in around her.

I don’t think I ever reached that point, having pulled myself back from the abyss in time (thank goodness), but I am sure many other shopaholics out there have done the same thing as Madame Bovary.

Ask yourself: “When is it ever enough?”

Such a large debt. Such a lot of money owed.

Yet like Madame Bovary, you seem to want more because it just isn’t enough for you.

She kept spending on very useless items, even in today’s times — ostrich feathers, Chinese porcelain.

She borrowed from everyone possible — her maid, her landlady, her shopkeeper and her friends.

It all seems so hopeless, and she tried to understand her money, but gave up because she couldn’t believe that she had spent that much.

It isn’t your stuff if you haven’t paid for it

But you see, if you buy everything on credit, but didn’t exactly pay for any of it, it isn’t actually your stuff.

Technically, it’s owned by whoever paid for it, whom you now owe.

So I can see how someone might feel as though they could not have possibly spent that much, as they have never felt the pain of the money leaving their bank account.

Not only that, you end up selling what you bought on credit, for a fraction of the price (perhaps 10%), but you still owe 90% of what you originally paid!!!

It’s like paying a very stupid tax.

I paid those stupid taxes when I sold half my wardrobe. Everything that I sold, went at a fraction of what I originally paid for it.

I didn’t tot up the numbers, but I must have paid thousands in stupid taxes.

Living in denial is actually more painful

Every time there’s a knock on the door, you wonder if it’s people coming to take your stuff or your house.

Every time the phone rings, you’re afraid it’s a creditor.

Every time you hear the mail come in through the slot, you aren’t exactly thrilled to go and open the bills.

You live your whole life in fear, because you just don’t know what the bloody hell is up with your finances!

..and finally, spending to make yourself feel better is just a neverending cycle

You feel bad about spending all that money and owing all that debt, so you go out and spend MORE money.

Even reading that sentence, makes any logical person scratch their head.

It just doesn’t make sense, right?

So if you know it, you are already on your way to getting out of debt.

The next step is to cut yourself off from temptation and make a true effort to really fix what is wrong before the train of your life goes off the tracks for good, and you have to file for bankruptcy or you end up in your 70s, working at minimum wage jobs just to keep some cat food on the table.

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.