Monday, 26 September 2011

12 December, 1885 - 'Money Obligations' by Ardern Holt

In which Mr Holt mansplains personal finance. Autres temps, autres moeurs etc, but over a hundred years later you can still all but smell the condescension wafting up off the pages. On the one hand it's great that it's 1885 and we have an article addressing personal finance as something young women have the autonomy to consider at all; on the other it's all very well to finger-shake about spending but holy shit the amount of stuff that women had to afford for themselves if there wasn't a father or husband to provide the means.  

There is a good deal more mischief done in this world by want of thought than from malice propense and this remark more particularly applies to matters relating to money, especially when they concern women. As a rule, women are not only careless, but extremely ignorant about money matters, such ignorance being more culpable than ever now that the recent Married Women's Property Act recognises that the fair sex are capable of managing their own affairs and, moreover, gives them the power to do so.

For the first time they are made legally responsible for their own acts. It they over spend, their husbands are no longer liable, and their creditors can come upon their own separate estate for payment. They may invest their own  money at will, provided it is not vested in trustees; they may trade on their own responsibility, and they may go to law on their own account without the intervention of their husbands. If, then, as married women, such grave liabilities will in the future rest on women's soulders, they cannot begin too early to learn the value of money, and the duties which its possession entails.

Every girl, to my thinking, ought to have an allowance for dress and her own small personal expenses proportional to her position in life, for it is the only way by which they will realise what money will do, how far it will go, and how much art there is in the manner of spending it.

Taking for granted, then, that my girl readers have an allowance I should advise them, simultaneously with obtaining it to invest in an account book then to sit down quietly and dot down on a piece of paper what the items of their expenditure are likely to be in the year and quarter, and how to apportion the sum to their wants. Twenty pounds, ten pounds - even five pounds - seems a large sum of money when you have it for the first time, and do not quite realise how far it has to go and how quickly it will slip away when the sovereigns are changed to shillings and sixpences. But forethought and pre-arrangement do wonders, and enable you to buy twice as much as you otherwise would, or else you are very likely to invest in a new dress or a new mantle, or perhaps only two or three pairs of shoes, which seemed cheap and desirable, and so take up a much larger share of your income than you can afford. There is an old saying "Take care of the pence, and the shillings will take care of themselves" and on this theory I always begin with the little things that must be had, and see first which of them are absolutely necessary.

For example, I should begin on a long slip of paper by apportioning a certain sum to gloves, shoes, ribbons, collars, cuffs, laces, handkerchiefs, umbrellas, parasols, flowers and other such knick-knacks of dress; then pass on to underclothing, hats, bonnets and veils, dresses - morning and evening - and mantles. These are the principal requirements of dress. Having decided how I am to spend the sum I have for these, I should then see what was left for stationery, needlework, presents and last but most important of all, charity. Everybody, however little money they have, should take a certain sum, before they spend any of the rest, for charity. This is a money obligation which brings with it a rare harvest of blessings.

As years go on, you will find that the happiness of your lives depends far less upon the outward surroundings - wealth, prosperity and the like - than on yourself, your own capacity for happiness, which, after all, is one of the greatest blessings that comes to us here; and one of the chief things which gives real happiness is helping others. Money troubles are not to be lightly esteemed. Spending annually a little over your income brings endless annoyance - a little under, much comfort and much self-respect. It is not given to all women to do great things - to be successful novelists or leaders in the political and social world, or even the mothers and wives of successful men who make a noise in the world. Every year more and more women have to give up any hope of becoming wives and mothers at all, but have to content themselves with quiet paths. Possibly they are freer from the grave anxieties and the deepst sufferings of life, while they lose a few of the sweetest and holiest joys; but little duties are always within women's sphere and it is with these little duties that bring such great results that money has to much to do.

Money is the root of all evil - granted; but it is the root of all good, and such a powerful lever, exercising such an amazing influence for good or ill, that we are very wrong and foolish to esteem it but little.

A few pounds - sometimes a few pence - make all the difference between happiness and misery; and you have to understand a good deal of the life of the very poor before you really know what money's worth is. Think what it must be to work from morning till night, as many poor workwomen do - yes and into the very small hours of the night - and but earn one shilling a day. Many of the dressmakers you girls are likely to employ may very possibly be living from hand to mouth; and if you, in your heedlessness, omit to pay the small account you owe them the chances are they will have but a meagre dinner on Sunday and very possibly be stitching from moning to night, with nothing to support them but tea and bread. The chances are they are beginning entirely on their own resources and have no parents to fall back upon. Very poor people get so accustomed to the sea of suffering that they live through that they do not complain, fearing to do so, lest it stop their small earnings. It might do many of you girls a deal of good, and teach you a lesson of patience and sympathy, if you could only see into the heart of the poor woman who is trying on your dress with far more troubles before her than the disappointment that she has not fitted you to perfection.

It is a duty in life, and a great one too, to be very prompt and particular about money payments and the well-to-do have duties as well as the needy. With a well filled purse it may be a great saving of trouble to pay just what is asked without going into items, but overpaying is as wrong as underpaying - you are thereby making is harder for those who are not so well off and raising unduly the market value of time or produce. "To be true and just in all our dealings" is not so very easy after all, and entails self-denial as most of life's duties do. We cannot live for ourselves; our interests are bound up in others; nor did we come into this world to seek and ensure our own happiness. We are sent here to fulfil the great purposes of God and even the weakest of us are capable of doing His will and living for His glory. In doing so, we promote our own happiness, which a selfish struggle to attain our own ends will never do.

When you can, my girl readers, obtain and study deeply Smiles' book on 'Thrift', a work which, to my thinking, embodies the whole science of money obligations. Thrift is not meanness nor unworthy economy; it is making the best of everything, turning all to the best advantage - money, time and opportunities for our own good and for others. Life is no summer holiday. There are heavy trials and disappointments before all of us, but with the suffering there is always compensation and the lessons of adversity are sweet, though the teaching may be bitter. Doing our best will help us through all, and in this I include taking large and noble views of life. We may be poor and generous; meanness and poverty do not necessarily go together. People who know the world well will corroborate what I tell you - that it is far better to have money transactions with poor people than rich; they know better the value of money, so are more particular in the discharge of small debts, and, alas! are more generous.

If you begin when you are young to recognise the importance of money obligations and the misery of debt, you are laying by a small fortune for yourselves. Learning how to spend money means many pounds a year in your pocket.

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