Sunday, 26 July 2009

Domestic Expenditure

Domestic Expenditure.

The mistress of a family should always remember, that the welfare and good management of the house depend on the eye of the superior; and consequently that nothing is too trifling for her notice, whereby waste may be avoided. If a lady has never been accustomed while single to think of family management, let her not on that account fear that she cannot attain it. She may consult others who are experienced, and acquaint herself with the necessary quantities of the several articles of family expenditure, in proportion to the number it consists of, together with the value of the articles it may be necessary to procure. A minute account of the annual income, and the times of payment, should be taken in writing; likewise an estimate of the supposed amount of each item of expense. Those who are early accustomed to calculations of this kind, will acquire so accurate a knowledge of what their establishment demands, as will suggest the happy medium between prodigality and parsimony, without in the least subjecting themselves to the charge of meanness.

Few branches of female education are so useful as great readiness at figures, though nothing is more commonly neglected. Accounts should be regularly kept, and not the smallest item be omitted to be entered. If balanced every week, or month at longest, the income and outgoings will easily be ascertained, and their proportions to each other be duly observed. Some people fix on stated sums to be appropriated to each different article, and keep the money separate for that purpose; as house, clothes, pocket, education of children, &c. Whichever way accounts be entered, a certain mode should be adopted, and strictly adhered to. Many women are unfortunately ignorant of the state of their husband's income; and others are only made acquainted with it when some speculative project, or profitable transaction, leads them to make a false estimate of what can be afforded. It too often happens also that both parties, far from consulting each other, squander money in ways that they would even wish to forget: whereas marriage should be a state of mutual and perfect confidence, with a similarity of pursuits, which would secure that happiness it was intended to bestow.

There are so many valuable women who excel as wives, that it is fair to infer there would be few extravagant ones, if they were consulted by their husbands on subjects that concern the mutual interest of both parties. Many families have been reduced to poverty by the want of openness in the man, on the subject of his affairs; and though on these occasions the women are generally blamed, it has afterwards appeared that they never were allowed to make particular enquiries, nor suffered to reason upon what sometimes appeared to them imprudent. Many families have fully as much been indebted to the propriety of female management, for the degree of prosperity they have enjoyed, as to the knowledge and activity of the husband and the father.

Ready money should be paid for all such things as come not into weekly bills, and even for them some sort of check is necessary. The best places for purchasing goods should also be attended to. On some articles a discount of five per cent is allowed in London and other large cities, and those who thus pay are usually best served. Under an idea of buying cheap, many go to new shops; but it is safest to deal with people of established credit, who do not dispose of goods by underselling. To make tradesmen wait for their money is very injurious, besides that a higher price must be paid: and in long bills, articles never bought are often charged. If goods are purchased at ready-money price, and regularly entered, the exact state of the expenditure will be known with ease; for it is delay of payment that occasions so much confusion. A common-place book should always be at hand, in which to enter such hints of useful knowledge, and other observations, as are given by sensible experienced people. Want of attention to what is advised, or supposing things to be too minute to be worth regarding, are the causes why so much ignorance prevails on necessary subjects, among those who are not backward in frivolous ones.

It is very necessary for the mistress of a family to be informed of the price and quality of all articles in common use, and of the best times and places for purchasing them. She should also be acquainted with the comparative prices of provisions, in order that she may be able to substitute those that are most reasonable, when they will answer as well, for others of the same kind, but which are more costly. A false notion of economy leads many to purchase as bargains, what is not wanted, and sometimes never is used. Were this error avoided, more money would remain of course for other purposes. It is not unusual among lower dealers to put off a larger quantity of goods, by assurances that they are advancing in price; and many who supply fancy articles are so successful in persuasion, that purchasers not unfrequently go beyond their original intention, and suffer inconvenience by it. Some things are certainly better for keeping, and should be laid in accordingly; but this applies only to articles in constant consumption. Unvarying rules cannot be given, for people ought to form their conduct on their circumstances. Some ladies charge their account with giving out to a superintending servant such quantities of household articles, as by observation and calculation they know to be sufficient, reserving for their own key the large stock of things usually laid in for extensive families in the country. Should there be more visitors than usual, they can easily account for an increased consumption, and vice versa. Such a degree of judgment will be respectable even in the eye of domestics, if not interested in the ignorance of their employers; and if they are, their services will not compensate the want of honesty.

A bill of parcels and receipt should be required, even if the money be paid at the time of purchase; and to avoid mistakes, let the goods be compared with these when brought home. Though it is very disagreeable to suspect any one's honesty, and perhaps mistakes are often unintentional; yet it is proper to weigh meat and grocery articles when brought in, and compare them with the charge. The butcher should be ordered to send the weight with the meat, and the checks regularly filed and examined. A ticket should be exchanged for every loaf of bread, which when returned will shew the number to be paid for, as tallies may be altered, unless one is kept by each party. Those who are served with brewer's beer, or any other articles not paid for weekly or on delivery, should keep a book for entering the dates: which will not only serve to prevent overcharges, but will show the whole year's consumption at one view. `Poole's complete Housekeeper's Account book,' is very well adapted to this purpose.

From The Cook and Housekeepers Complete and Universal Dictionary; Including a System of Modern Cookery, In All Its Various Branches, Adapted to the Use of Private Families, Also a Variety of Original and Valuable Information. By Mary Eaton, and published in 1823. Actually, the title was longer than that, but I got tired of writing it out. I do love a good old-fashioned book title. No messing around in those days. I also love Project Gutenberg, which gives access to so many wonderful old books.

Personal finances are a topic that have been much in the news and in people's minds these last few years, and it's extremely interesting to see what changes have occurred and what things remain constant.

Our ideas about sex and money - what belongs to who between men and women, and how it is apportioned and managed - have changed drastically since the time this book was written. (And yet, Mary Eaton's expectations about it would not have been completely out-of-date as few as 30 years ago.) What has changed even more drastically is the way in which we relate to servants. What servants? Precisely.

On the other hand, I read her ideas about keeping track of household expenditures with recognition and approval. Of course I use Quickbooks, and not Poole's Complete Housekeepers Account Book, but presumably the intent and results are very similar. As for keeping track of all receipts properly - well, duh. One of the reasons I actually like to use debit and credit cards is that at the end of the month I can compare the receipts and the printed bills, and make sure they match. I'm always astonished to see the number of people at ATMs or check-out counters who leave their receipts behind. How on earth do they keep track of their expenditures? I have to assume they don't, really.

Seeing the "whole year's consumption at one view" is also highly instructive. People are often surprised when we (can!) tell them that we spent $5,573.26 last year on our car, not including depreciation (i.e, the car itself,) even though our car is old and long since paid for. That's because an awful lot of people think of their car expenses as the monthly payment, and fail to add up their gas, oil changes, maintenance and repairs, car washes, parking and insurance. If more people kept track of their real car expenses, we might be much less of a car-owning culture. I don't think it's unusual for people to spend one third or more of their working lives supporting their cars. How many of them even know it?

To pull this back to the subject of food, it really is instructive to see how much money we spend on food, and what proportion of that is spent on groceries, and what proportion is spent on restaurants. I feel like we eat out at restaurants a great deal less than many people, and yet when we compare the figures we are inevitably shocked and vow to eat out even less. And we are not at all prone to buying much in the way of drinks and snacks at coffee shops - how much money can evaporate there without people even realizing it?


The Addict said...

I worked on that book when it was going through Distributed Proofreading, and I've been wondering if it ever got finished and posted to Project Gutenberg.

Thanks for the reminder!

sdrv said...

I too love Project Gutenberg- an excellent resource for old books.

They even have an excellent library of audio versions of books which are great for loading onto your mp3 player!

Excellent post, an interesting and fun read!


Ferdzy said...

Addict, that's funny. Small world! Thanks, Stephen.