I have a lot of old housewifery books. One unexpected benefit of the major cleanup and move around we’re doing is that I’ve found one or two of them. This includes Economies of the Household – Andrews, Macmillan, 1929 which is full of interesting data.
Food at one point was 32-62% of a family’s budget? Even 50% appears to be average in this book, and this is only 84 years ago!
The same questions of economy we face today are discussed: How much money is spent on food, shelter, clothing, etc.? What’s the best way to reduce the expenditures and/or use money most effectively?
Unlike modern frugal living books, this book and others like it discuss the time savings vs money spent on “new-fangled” modernizations: electricity, vacuum cleaners, commercially produced foodstuffs, clothing, and domestic help. There are a lot of things that are now not in question in most parts of this country, but the fundamentals still apply to things like convection ovens, sub-zero refrigerators, and even washcloths.
The book talks about the monetary value of home making, and like all books of its type in this era also talks about the woman’s role as the provider of comfort, being the moral leader of the family, as well as the manager of the home. Having grown up during the feminist era and the modern economic need for women to work, and then choosing to not be in the work force, I have opinions about these ideas.
- The idea of a woman as the only or main moral compass in a family is WRONG and was used to get her to keep being the overworked, underpaid, and under appreciated soul she was. I have no problem with a woman being a part of the moral compass but I don’t buy the attitude that “men are beastial” that accompanies this. I think ALL people are potentially beastial or moral and decide how to act. Except insanity or illness, which I hold as being out of your control, I think in most cases you choose and are responsible for your choices.
- Equally, I don’t think it is only the woman’s job to run the house, do the errands, make the foodstuffs and the man’s to provide the money. There’s no difference between then and now, despite feminism, woman in the workforce are usually paid less than their male counterparts. If there truly was equal pay for equal work, then I think you’d see more house husbands, although I do know a few!
Finally, I find the budgetary percentages in the book fascinating. There’s the food budget mentioned above, but another complete “ideal” budget (from 1900): food 25%, rent/housing 20%, clothing 15%, household operation 15%, and higher life (life insurance, church tithe, donations to charity, etc) 25%.
But that was the ideal and as far as I can tell from reading the book with food being so high, I wonder if it was possible?
There’s the “American minimum budget”:
43.1% food, 17.7% shelter, 13.2% clothing, fuel/light 5.6%, sundries 20.4%
I was surprised that food was so high as I said, but equally surprised that housing was so low. My overall response to this is that the people who sell you necessities will find a way to get as much of your money as they can, as will anyone I suppose? If one category is lessened, it seems someone else will find a way to get that piece of your available income.
There’s a discussion about “trickle down” economics, why it does or doesn’t work. I had no idea the concept was so old. Also, it talks about the rich being patterns of style emulated by others in the culture.
I don’t know if that’s true in my home? I keep wanting to drop out. We don’t have a television, amongst other things many think are “necesities.” I have no problem having “old tech,” although some of the new stuff is pretty nice. I really prefer to buy durable goods used rather than new and see that as one way to keep my dollars at home. Another way is to buy in bulk or wholesale, when appropriate.
We need washcloths, for example. Macy’s is having a sale, my towels were bought years ago at Macy’s, well the first batch was. The second batch came from a thrift shop, with the labels cut off. Anyway, we need washcloths. Macy’s are $7.99 each. Well, that’s too much for me, whether it will match my towels or not. So I looked for DIY washcloths and terry by the yard at Joann’s. Terry by the yard is $9.99 a yard. So how big are washcloths? What could I get for approx $10 in fabric as opposed to $8 each??? The Macy’s washcloths are 12 x 13. Okay, so you use 1′ square instead of the screwy measure and add 1/4″ all around, you’d get at least 4 washcloths from the fabric, but you have to make them.
Is there a wholesaler with a better deal? Aha, there is! The cloths are only available in white, but who cares? I can buy 12 cloths for $2.95 ea (plus postage) or 50 for $29.95 (plus postage). The cheapest ones are seconds, but the others are not. I can get 6 cloths for about $17, roughly the cost of 2 at Macy’s. This doesn’t include postage, but the Macy’s price doesn’t include driving to Macy’s either!
So, the cheapest to most expensive way to get these (and the downsides of each) are:
50 wholesale cloths, factory seconds, ($29.95+ postage+ waste from unusable cloths)
1′ fabric from Joann’s ($10, have to make the washcloths) yields 4 (or more) + waste+gas to get to store
$2.95 each plus postage (white only, not factory seconds) amount not set
$7.99 each plus gas to get to Macy’s
Seems like an obvious choice to me! A deal breaker might be if the shipping fee is insane.
Cheapest yet might be to get some used towels at a thrift shop or rummage sale and cut them down, but again there’s gas and you have to do the work.
That’s true even if I decide to cut up towels I already own, no gas, no expense, except my time. I have old towels, but we use them, regularly, to wash the car and for the cat’s bedding. I have enough for a week, and that’s it.
It’s nice now and then to do this type of figuring, but it just makes me see that the same basic economic problem still exists: not enough money, too much to do, storage & quality need to be considered as well.