Browsing in Foyles the other day, I came across this charming little book in the ‘thrift’ section. It preempts HTBUTWCW by some 70 years.
First published in 1937, Orchids on Your Budget (subtitle: ‘Live smartly on what you have’) told Depression era New Yorkers how to economise on money, without economising on style.
It was displayed alongside some other reissued facsimiles (this seems to be a trend – presumably a cheap way for publishers to capitalise on works that are now out of copyright – but a nice trend) on frugal living. Some of you may be interested in Keeping Poultry and Rabbits on Scraps by Claude Goodchild and Alan Thompson (first published in 1941 and retailing at 1/6) which features step by step photos of how to kill and skin a rabbit, or Richard Mabey’s beautifully illustrated 1972 foragers’ bible Food for Free.
Back to Manhattan ladies… Written by Marjorie Hillis, who had already made her name with the best-selling Live Alone and Like It, ‘Orchids…’ is packed with sage advice on matters such as: how to assemble a smart wardrobe (the key is some cheap house-frocks, a smart black dress, and shoe-trees); downshifting your lifestyle; getting a job; the importance of face cream; and whether or not you can afford a husband.
‘An astonishing number of the people you know, probably including yourself, insist that they have to do a lot of economising… This isn’t because of the size of their incomes, or the lack of size; it’s because they haven’t as much money as they wish they had, which would be true no matte what their income… What most people don’t concede is that, with a little planning and a dash of ingenuity, they might have what they want.’
‘A slight financial pressure sharpens the wits, though it needn’t sharpen the disposition. But it takes an interesting person to have an attractive ménage on a shoestring and to run it with gaiety and charm.’
‘It’s not difficult to have fun out of economising, both because of the sense of accomplishment it gives you, and because everybody else is doing it too. Today, in the smartest houses, you are apt to find ten-cent-store glass mixed with Crown Derby China and the hostess boasting about it. Ladies of unlimited means have themselves a time in bargain basements and second-hand shops and tell about it to anyone who will listen. They tell, because that kind of shopping takes wit instead of money, and wit is a far less common commodity.’
‘There are economies that nobody can afford unless they are so poor in purse and spirit that they don’t care much anyway, and there are forms of thrift that are so expensive that not even a millionaire can pay for them. First and foremost among these little errors is the extravagance of Letting Yourself Go.’
‘It is a regrettable, but undeniable, fact that the most delightful people are seldom big money makers.’
‘The point nowadays is not merely to know the cost of a thing and whether or not you have the money to pay for it, but whether it’s worth the price to you.’
‘Any wardrobe that doesn’t have a dress that makes you feel as pretty an elegant as you can possibly feel is a wash-out.’
I could go on, but the book is quite short and I’d end up typing out most of it. The crux is that, as Marjorie counsels, there is no social stigma in not having money, and ‘budgeting’ doesn’t have to mean giving up hope, or nice cheese, or orchids (ok, perhaps during periods when things are really tight), it is about thinking about what really matters to you, and employing a little intelligence, ingenuity and effort to balancing your life as well as your budget.
The smarter lady, in both senses of the word, will, she says, relish the challenge.