Tuesday, 1 April 2008

A Matter of Household Economy

I think there are times in anyone's life when they need to be more frugal than usual. I tend to have an attack of parsimony when I've either overspent and need to tighten my belt (I have a terrible book buying habit...and I do mean terrible!) or when I want to save up for something big (we saved up for the car, now we really MUST decorate the hall, stairs and landing). I'm afraid, this time ladies, my sudden transformation into Stingy MacTightwad is due to a combination of the two. I have been less than frugal on Amazon (oh, shame on me), I have also given the good people of Perspehone Books and Laughing Hens a great deal of the family income AND I am beginning to be ashamed to open the front door because the hallway is such a terrible mess! Soo, the time has come to be a little creative with the housekeeping money, pray for more self-control (one of the Fruits of the Spirit, I do believe) and look for some nice wallpaper...see there is a silver lining to every cloud!

Anyway, y'all (I'm transforming into Scarlet O'Hara, "I'll never be poor and hungry again") know that I have a minor/all-consuming obsession with old housekeeping books. I love 'em for so many reasons, not least because they are a mine of information which is still very useful, but largely lost, today. The writers of the these books, from Mrs Beeton to Elizabeth Craig, are absolutely adamant that keeping to a proper budget, and maintaining a household account book, is vital to the smooth financial running of the home. I sometimes listen to these ladies, I really do. I have kept a note of everything I've bought, I have set up an excel spreadsheet, I have kept an old-fashioned account book, but mostly I have used the old rule of thumb, pray we're not in penury at the end of the month method. This last method suits my laid back personality, this last method ensures that my hall will always look a little like Miss Havisham's dining room.

However, a 1922 edition of Good Housekeeping magazine has informed me that even women from the "Golden Age of Housekeeping" had problems with looking after household accounts.

Were it possible to ask a large number of women, each in turn, to say with absolute honestly whether the family income was being spent wisely and scientifically, the majority of the replies would be vaguely elusive, or indicative of woeful ignorance of home finance.

I'd love to be the kind of woman who manages the family income "wisely and scientifically". I'd love to be the kind of housewife, described by William Cobbett, who can save the household over £100 a year simply through judicious application of her knowledge of baking! So, I'm going to give it a go...vintage style. I shall use the Good Housekeeping article as a basis for my own household budget, and ladies, would you care to join me on this journey into sensible and meretricious household management? Here's what I've come up with so far.

The article warns of adopting an "overcomplicated system" of budgeting, saying that over-complication is self-defeating. Instead, the writer suggests "apportioning the family income under different headings" as "we are all apt to be extravagant in certain branches of housekeeping and too economical in others. The budget, with its definite statements of expenditure, makes a common sense apportioning of income possible." This describes me to a tee! I tend to be over-frugal in some areas and mind-blowingly generous in others. All in all, the allotment of our household money is not properly balanced at all, and I leave some areas of household expenditure woefully underfunded (I have no budget for household repairs, for example). However, as some of our expenditure is fixed (mortgage, council tax, insurances) and I am not a young wife starting from scratch with my budget I am going to have to claw back some of the over-expenditure to balance off the things I have neglected. So, I shall be working on the more flexible areas of the household budget. In the 1922 article the areas of expenditure were detailed thusly (? gr):

Shelter, food, heating and lighting, laundry, servants wages, dress, miscellaneous (flowers, charity, entertaining), house cleaning (window cleaning, chimney cleaning, carpet cleaning), newspapers and magazines, savings.

Now, for us shelter and heating and lighting are pretty much fixed expenditure. Our mortgage is reasonably hefty, but it can't be brought any lower and we are as frugal as we can be with energy. However, I can be more flexible with the other categories, particularly "servant's wages"...the maid just has to go...I think she's been at the gin and steeling my fancy soap!!! No, in all honesty I can really claw back a little money to put in miscellaneous and savings from the food and dress categories. For example, a quick trawl through my wardrobe will tell anyone that I have no real need of new summer clothes. I have plenty, even if I am hankering after the Boden tea dress. I have decided that I shall buy no new/second-hand clothing for myself until winter time. This should save us a little money. People, I have also decided that I shall very bravely use the library instead of buying books until I have paid for the decoration of the hall *and* developed a little fund for household repairs and emergencies...weep for me. I have also noticed that even though I am hardly extravagant with the food budget, a little more creativity with my menu planning and shopping would do no harm whatsoever, and this will be the subject of my next post. Just to tantalise the Britishers amongst you, I have devised a shopping list and menu plan for a family of four that comes in at £39.93 (semi-ethical) or £58.27 (nearly-ethical). I shall post the (ahem) "miracle menu" tomorrow God willing. Until then adieu frugal homemakers, adieu!

PS. If anyone has any tips for getting me on the fiscal "straight and narrow", please do not hesitate to weigh in on the comments section!!!


Zillah said...

Oh dear, a recent trip of mine to Amazon resulted in the arrival of William Cobbett's Cottage Economy, so I think we may be suffering from a similar malaise! Great fun to read, but I cannot agree with his aversion to tea, as far as I am concerned tea is one of the Lord's own beverages! Totally with him on the baking, though, and I'm not averse to brewing beer, although it would have to supplement tea rather than replace it.

Look forward to your tips!


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, tips for the straight and narrow. Eeee I remember when I were a lass and we et nowt but cabbage, and sometimes squirrel on a Sunday!

Signed Yours truly, Skint McPenniless ;)

Hehehe. I keep a spread sheet. I list all my direct debits, my tithe and gift, all my approximate spends (like petrol, etc), any expected expensive things coming up, and then work out how much I have left for groceries and saving. I then have an envelope system I draw out the money, and divide it into 6 envelopes: week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, window cleaner, and dancing lessons...I have a secret hiding place for said envelopes.

If I use cash I tend to spend less than when I use plastic.

Lol, perhaps you could do what those 'Jesus Christians' do ( in '' because they aren't 'normal' Christians), they rummage about in Tesco's bins for damaged and almost out of date stock so they eat for free :) *shiver* Although it was shocking to see what waste goes on when there are people really struggling for good food and Tesco is chucking out good fruit, veg, tinned stuff, etc.

I think that the other good tip is to look upon your home as a blessing. Even the bits that are tatty and out of date. I remember my Mum and Dad when they got married had nothing but a cooker, an old orange box and a mattress (can you hear the Hovis ad. music in the background?). Over the years our home was decorated and furnished with second hand everything...well except wallpaper ;) but as a child I loved my home and never ever noticed that we didn't have new things.

I try to remember this and it helps me not worry too much about the tatty wallpaper and outdated bathroom and aged carpet in our bedroom that we can't afford to do anything about right now.

...but then I go and watch Escape to the Country and get all discontented again....ooooh thatched cottage....ooooh Elizabethan cottage with many mysterious nooks and crannies....ooooh big 4000000 acre farm with outbuildings and chickens....grrrr why am I not a millionnaire!!!!!!????? *ahem*

Lol this comment has now reached excessive epic proportions and I shall just say I'm really looking forward to your budget ideas for feeding a family of four.


Dulce Domum said...

Hi Zillah
Oh yes, dear old Mr Cobbett! Have you got to the bit about potatoes yet??? Wow! Now that's what I call a rant! I blushed when I read it and decided not to let my Irish BIL borrow the book! Oh, in the late 18th century tea for the poor was adulterated with black lead...poor b*ggers needed their bit of comfort (and I know how they feel)and didn't know it was poisoning them to death.

Perhaps we should form a book-buyers support group?

Hi Linnet
You know if the DH went skip diving at the back of Tescos I don't think I would stop him. However, my DH was voted least likely person ever to go skip diving so I can't see that happening any time soon. It's a bloody criminal waste of food though...why don't they donate the stuff?

Oh, yes, I've done the envelopes thing too. It worked very well until I gave up...oh dear...NEED MORE SELF CONTROL!

Watching "Escape to the Country" is absolutely lethal! Sometimes I think I would commit crimes to get a cottage with land (and a blinkin' AGA/Rayburn)! So you're not the only one who struggles with the difference between dreams and reality. I constantly remind myself that it's all about making the best of what I have, what God has so graciously given me. He's given me a lot too; two nice kids, lovely dh, a decent size house in a nice town, good friends, nice church...the list is endless. You know, I don't really visit a lot of those lovely, spiffy English blogs where they talk about their Eglu, Aga, Farrow and Ball coloured living room, Cath Kidston china/curtains/wellies, Fired Earth kitchen tiles...because I get a hankering to have those lovely things and get all discontented!

Ooh, is it true confessions time? lol!