Monday, January 21, 2013

Running The Domestic Machinery

From Vocational Guidance for Girls, Chapter 4: "Running the Domestic Machinery".

"In the days of famine and fear, the individual was fortunate who had food, shelter, and a skin to wrap about his shivering shoulders. In these days it is not enough to have merely these things. Certain standards of civilized life must be met, and we shall find that it requires judgment and skill to apportion our funds properly.
The common needs of civilized mankind are usually roughly classified as follows: food; shelter; clothing; operating expenses, including service, heat, light, water, repairs, refurnishing, and the general upkeep of the plant; advancement, including education, recreation, travel, charity, church, doctor, dentist, savings."

This chapter, which talks about finances, includes a lot of numbers which I have barely skimmed over, because obviously, prices have changes somewhat in the last century and anyhow I live in a very different part of the world. But the essence remains the same.

Now we come to an interesting quote: 

"The ideal homemaker of the future will be a woman who has had a personal income, and preferably one that she has earned herself and learned how to spend before she enters upon matrimony and motherhood."

Now, as it happens, the average homemaker of today is a woman who not only has earned a personal income before marriage, but who most often continues to earn money after she is married. And quite often, thsi average woman is very far from the ideal homemaker. Why is that? 

Education and income can be obtained in ways wholesome for young girls and women hoping to start families, but very often that is not the case. Career success and money are considered the highest goals, while home-management is put almost entirely aside as a menial job. Furthermore, a working wife/mother still often sees her earnings as a personal income, while it is not so after she marries. It is part of the family income, just like the husband's salary.

In the Charedi communities, girls are often married too young to have reasonably had time to earn any income of their own before marriage (apart from some babysitting, perhaps). Does this mean they are bad money managers, at least at the beginning? On the contrary, I believe most of them have very solid notions of budget and spending, because they grew up in families that budgeted and spent wisely. A girl of 18 might be a very good budgetary, and a career woman of 30 a very bad one, if the former comes from a sensible, hard-working family, while the latter has spent money frivolously for over a decade of earning her own. I'm not saying that is necessarily the case, but it might be. 

I am generalizing here, I know, as we are all different and our circumstances as well, but on a large scale both my husband and I believe it is better to marry young, when character is more pliable. Another aspect of this is the financial. A single person has no needs to consider other than his/her own, and so falls into habit of catering to his/her needs alone. In the partnership of marriage, these habits are replaced by healthier ones.   

And, you can imagine how much I loved this one:

"No housewife is properly fitted for her task unless she has some knowledge of dietetics."

"It is not too much to expect that the girl of the future will be able to set before her family meals scientifically planned or food wisely and economically purchased, well cooked, and attractively served."

Alas, too many families today subside on haphazardly thrown together meals of expensive, nutritionally deficient convenience foods. I believe the book author in all honesty imagined that the more officially educated women will be, the more of their knowledge will be directed into managing her home. Unfortunately, today, the more educated and accomplished a woman is, the more she is expected to excel in anything but managing her own home. 

"There need be no crusade against adulterated foods other than real education and the refusal of homemakers to buy from merchants who carry them in stock."

Do you recall the scandal revolving around trans fats in McDonald's meals? Well, I must say I can't relate to it at all. You can't dine in a fast food joint and expect healthy meals. You can't expect manufacturers of commercially prepared foods to have your health, rather than their profit, as their primary consideration. The only foolproof way to obtain truly healthy food is to buy good-quality basic ingredients and cook from scratch. 

There are many more wonderful quotes in this chapter, far too many to share them all here; I do encourage you to pour yourself a cup of tea and read Vocational Guidance for Girls: Chapter 4 from beginning to end. 


Lady Anne said...

When I was in high school, my allowance was far below what most other kids were receiving, so I considered everything to be expensive. When I started working, I had no idea how to handle money. When my girls were little, we would "play store" with an old checkbook and some Monopoly money. I'd give the oldest her "salary", which she would deposit in her younger sister's "bank" (a kitchen chair turned backwards) and then proceed to purchase canned goods or a sweater from my store. She'd write a check and I would go cash it, and it didn't take long to run out of money.
When my first husband left me bankrupt, I cashed my "real" paycheck and we counted out half the rent, money for gasoline, etc. and put each into an envelope, which I locked in the freezer. What was left was for food and "fun". The grew up to be excellent money managers!

Harper said...

I think it is more useful for a homemaker to come from a background that includes a solid education in managing money and a budget combined with the deeply instilled principle that the household money belongs to the household. It is not "hers" or her husband's. It is fuel that allows her to keep the home running. In this sense, it is no different than managing the money held by a company--it belongs to the company, not the manager.

In my experience and observation, people who spend too long as unmarried adults tend to view income as personal, rather than household, property, making budgeting all the more difficult when married life begins.

Anonymous said...

Shalom Anna,

As you know, I agree with a lot of what you say re: nutrition! Remember when I wrote to you about how a homecooked meal also has to be healthy? Anyways, I agree with you 100% that is is ludicrous to go to McDonald's and then complain that the food is unhealthy. I would like to point out that in the USA, there used to be a class called Home Economics in high schools that taught meal preparation and sewing and other tasks but now it is removed from the curriculum. Alas! People really do need to learn how to prepare simple healthy meals at home.--Liora in USA

Kate said...

This book sounds so interesting! And I love your excerpts and commentary!!

I will say though that some of the analysis along the lines of "A single person has no needs to consider other than his/her own, and so falls into habit of catering to his/her needs alone." Well I might ask.... what other needs should be considered?? If a woman must seek an independent living after adulthood (maybe due to troubles in her home and/or inability to stay under her father's care) and is working a job while pursuing her domestic interests as best she can... then how else should she do things? Set aside some money for a future husband or children as practice?

I think it's best just to be realistic in these assumptions and generalizations and think about it from the other point of view too. Yes it may be an adjustment.... but so what?? We *should* be prepared as best we can be for marriage but when somethings are just out of our control.... we do the best we can.

I know what you are getting at here and the point IS really a fair one, I think it just needs a bit of fine-tuning. I'll give an example to elaborate more... my Step-Mom. She married at a young age and it didn't work out (not sure why). She was single for about 20 years before she met my Dad and they got married a little over 5 years ago. YES it took a **huge** adjustment for the both of them, they went from being single and only have to deal with themselves, to dealing with this whole other person, so YES it was an adjustment, but should we look back at their single time and judge them for being selfish and "catering" to the needs of only themselves? I don't think so!!!! That's just how it had to be, nothing wrong with it, nothing especially right with it either. The thing to really look at is how flexible and easy you are *adjusting* to married life, not the fact that you used to manage things a certain way as a single person. So for them, it took awhile, some bumps in the road, but they work very well together and I won't be the first to "fault" them for any issues they experiences over the FACT that they were single for so long.

I also like the dietetics comment! :)

Mrs. Anna T said...

Kate, I see your point, and of course adjustment to marriage can be made at any age, after any time of singleness, BUT... the *average* period of adult singleness is far longer now than what it used to be, and it can and does cause adjustment problems later down the road. All said on a general level of course.

Anonymous said...

May I just ask you a question?
I was wondering, where do you take from the assumption that "a working wife/mother still often sees her earnings as a personal income"?

All statistics say the opposite: girls and women spend 90% of their earned income on their families, while men only spend 30-40% (

This is why investing in giving social benefits to women is suggested by experts to help the development of underdeveloped countries. Women invest in their children and in the household while apparently men are more likely to invest in their business.

Take care!

Miriam said...

Thanks for the link, Anna! It seems to be very interesting book!

I thought you might like to browse one of my favorites, The American Frugal Housewife from 1830-40 or something. It has a chapter called Education of Daughters and I must say some things said are almost spooky... I mean it is so old book and the problems are very familiar in the current era...

Kate said...

I totally agree with the way you've phrased it in your comment! I think the problem with pointing out this discrepancy in how things are now is pointing the finger at the single person and interpreting their circumstances as some type of statement about their character. That is what doesn't settle well with me. But from your new comment I can see you are understanding both sides of it. :)

Mrs. Anna T said...


I confess this statement was based on purely anecdotal evidence. Still, I'm finding it hard to believe men only spend 30%-40% on their families - unless part of their income is invested in business, as you said, that *supports the family*, or into savings which are also for the family.