How Young Married Folk Should Finance

Marion Harland in the Home Magazine April 1 1908

How Young Married Folk Should Finance

Marion Harland in the Home Magazine April 1 1908

How Young Married Folk Should Finance

Marion Harland in the Home Magazine

BEFORE marriage some young men stand in respectful and loving awe of the woman they want to marry, as if she were ever daintily gowned, perched on a pedestal and could not be communicated with in a confiding way about material things until after the nuptial knot had been tied. And some young women are so very, very happy in their love and the getting ready for the triumphal procession into and out of church that it seems a perfect shame to discuss problems of living until they are to be met. Consequently, the problems do come after marriage, and they are financial problems, many of them, that the woman should understand and the male member of the household should explain, fully and frankly.

Having studied this matter long and seriously, I offer you, as the result of my observation in various walks of life and careful calculation of labor and expense, the bold assertion that every wife who performs her part, even tolerably well, in whatsoever rank of society, more than earns her living, and that this should be an acknowledged fact with both parties to the marriage contract. The idea of her dependence upon her husband is essentially false and mischevious, and should be done away with, at once and for ever. It has crushed self-respect out of thousands • of women ; it has scourged thousands from the marriage altar to the tomb with a whip of scorpions, driving many to desperation and crime.

Tf you—our generic “John”— shrink from coming down to “cold business” before the echoes of the wedding bells have died in the ear and in the heart, call the discussion a “matter of marriage etiquette” and approach it confidently. And do you, Mrs. John, meet his overtures in a straightforward, sensible way, with no foolish shrinking from the idea of even apparent independence of him to whom you have intrusted your person and your happiness.

It is, of course, your part to harken quietly to whatever proposition your more businesslike spouse may make as to the just partition, not of his means, which are likewise yours, but of the sums you are respectively to handle and to spend. Do not accept what he apportions for your use as a benefaction. He has endowed you with all his worldly goods, and the law confirms the endowment to a certain extent. You are a co-proprietor —not a pensioner. If while the glamor of love’s young dreams envelops and dazes you, you are chilled by what seems sordid and commonplace, take the word of an old campaigner for it that the time will come when your “allowance” will be a factor in happiness and comfort.


So, John, set aside from your income what you adjudge to be a reasonable and liberal sum for the maintenance of your household in the style suitable for people of your means and position. Determine what purchases you will yourself make, and what shall be intrusted to your wife, and put the money needed for her proportion into her care as frankly as you take charge of your share. Try the experiment of talking to her as if she were a business partner. Let her understand what you can afford to do, and what you can not. If in this explanation you can say “we” and “ours” you will gain a decided moral advantage and pride of power. Impress upon her mind that a certain sum, made over to her apart from the rest, is hers absolutely, not a present from you, but her honest earnings, and that you would not be honest were you to withhold it. And do not ask her “if that will do,” any more than you would address the question to any other woman. With what cordial detestation wives regard that brief query, which drops like a sentence of the creed from husbandly lips, I leave your spouse to tell you. Also, if she ever heard of a woman who answered anything but “yes.”

Carrying out the idea of co-partnership, should your wife exceed her allowance, running herself, and consequently you, into debt, meet the exigency as you would a similar indiscretion on the part of a young and inexperienced member of your firm. Treat the extravagance as a mistake, not a fault. Not one girl-wife in one hundred who has not been a wageearner has had any experience in the management of finances. The father gives the daughter money when she (or the mother) tells him that she needs it, or would like to have it. When it is gone he is applied to for more. She has been a beneficiary all her life, usually an irresponsible, thoughtless recipient of what is lavished or doled out to hei, according to the parental whim and means.

Teach her business methods tactfully, yet decidedly. This can be accomplished in various ways, and quite often without her becoming conscious that you are making an effort to show her that even love in a cottage is not without its mathematics, and the addition and subtraction, multiplication and division of any other business. It is well to inquire now and then how the household books are balancing, and the wife should not hesitate to let the husband know just how the books are kept and what the items are that count for or against her allowance.

One young wife I know of began keeping the expense book presented to her by her husband with these entries :

“January fourth—Received $75.

“January sixth — Spent $70.25 shopping, etc.

“Balance—$4-75» set down to profit and loss.”

After fifteen years of married life her husband died, bequeathing the whole of a large estate to her, and making her sole guardian of three children—a confidence fully justified by her conduct of the affairs thus committed to her.

“My husband trained me, patiently and thoroughly,” she said to one who complimented her financial sagacity. “I was an ignoramus when we were married.” Then laughingly she related the “profit and loss” incident.

My attention was called to another case in which a young man-with a small salary married a charming young lady—she was only a girl, in fact—to whom money had been freely given by her parents whenever she had asked. When she married the young man she knew absolutely nothing about the value of money. He taught her by turning over to her his entire salary and having her pay to him what they considered a reasonable allowance. With the remainder she “managed” the house. There were periods of self-denial and heart-aches, but she became a practical little woman, and, with her assistance, he became a very successful man.

Should your wife play with her allowance, as a child with a new toy, let censure fall upon those who have -kept her in leading strings, but teach her gradually to comprehend her responsibilities. The sense of them will steady her, unless she be exceptionally feather-brained. Be she wasteful or frugal, the allowance you have made to her is as honestly hers to have, to hold or to spend as the third of your estate which the law will give her in the event of your death.

It is a fact that may have much significance—or none—that the bride makes no mention of endowing her husband with all or any portion of her worldly goods. It is likewise significant that laws (of man’s devising) take it for granted that her property goes with her, so that in most of our

States it is his without other act of gift than the marriage ceremony. The man who marries for money has no scruples as to the acceptance and the use of it. Sometimes it is squandered ; sometimes, but not often, it is hoarded ; most frequently “it goes into the husband’s business” and is invested by him for the benefit of himself and his family. No investment should be made of his wife’s money without her knowledge and full consent. In all that he does where her funds are involved, he should be her actuary, and what profits result from “operations” with her funds should be settled on herself and children. By this course alone can he retain his selfrespect, his reputation as an honorable man, and certainly disabuse his wife’s mind of any possible suspicion that his affection was not wholly for her.

The arrangement between husband and wife concerning money matters should be no more definite and businesslike than that subsisting between, father and children. To be taught early the real value of money is a distinct assistance to financial integrity in later life. To have in one’s possession, even as a child, a sum wholly one’s own conduces to a feeling of self-respect and independence. As soon as a child is old enough to know what money is, and that for money things are bought and sold, he should have an allowance, be it only a penny a week. Suggestions, but not commands, as to its expenditure should accompany the gift. Gradually the weekly or monthly amount should be increased, and instructions should be given as to its possible use.

A child may be advised properly to divide his small funds between pleasure and charity, or between the things bought solely for his own benefit and those for the benefit of others, the value of the expenditure in each case being dependent on the freedom of his choice. As he grows older he should be taught to expend money for necessities. Tie should be trained to buy his own personal belongings. This sort of training, often disastrously neglected, is of far more practical value than many things taught in the schools. The feeling of responsibility engendered in children or young people by trusting them with a definite amount of money for certain general purposes can scarcely fail of a happy result. It binds them to a performance of duty, while it confers at the same time a delicious sense of freedom. An allowance for necessities gives its recipient liberty of choice in expenditure, but the choice must be judicious or the recipient suffers. This it does not take him long to find out.

Many a man who refuses his sons and daughters allowances permits them to run up large bills at the various shops where they trade. Exactly what the amount of these bills will be he never knows, except that it is sure to be larger than he wishes. The children of such a man never have any ready money. They do not know what to count on, and, in consequence, not being trusted, they exercise all their ingenuity to outwit the head of the family and to trick from him as much money as possible. A young woman with somewhat extravagant tendencies, who belonged to the class of the unallowed, begged her father for a new gown. She pleaded and pleaded in vain. Finally lie said if she had anything that could be made over he would stand for the bill. This word to the wise was sufficient. She took the waistband of an old gown to her modiste, who built upon it a beautiful frock, for which she likewise sent in a beautiful bill. Fortunately, this daughter had a father who was a connoisseur in wit, and who could appreciate a joke even at his own expense. But the example will serve, as well as another, to illustrate the lengths to which a woman may resort when not treated as a reasonable and reasoning creature about money matters.


“I would rather have one-half the amount of money of which I might otherwise have the use, and have it in the form of an allowance,” said^ a young woman who was discussing with other young women the subject of expenditures. “If I know what I am to have, I can spend it to much better advantage. I can exercise some method in my purchases. If I don’t know, I am likely to spend a large sum on some two or three ar' tides, with the hope fhat more is coming. Suddenly and unexpectedly father sets his foot down on further bills, and there I am with a dream of a hat but no shoes, or with a ball gown and not a coat to my back.” Money plays some part in the life of every human being belonging to a civilized nation. The question of successful and skilful expenditure is a vital question for the majority of people. It is not a question that can be solved without training. Yet we educate our children in various unimportant matters, and for the most part leave this of money untouched. In no way can a child or a young person be taught so readily and so quickly the proper use of money as by limiting his expenses to a certain sum, which sum he nevertheless controls.

The failure to properly educate children in the economics of home management is, of course, the principal cause of so many problems which arise after marriage. It is not expected that each girl, regardless of her station in life, must know housekeeping and its economic management down to its smallest detail, but they should be aware of the fundamentals in any instance. They should be taught by the fathers and mothers of those who have learned until they understand not only what is expected of them, but what they can expect. Given such a basis, they will understand that marriage is, after all, a copartnership, which is a happy, blessed state when rightly appreciated.

When a business girl is a failure, the reason often is that she regards the work she has taken up as only a temporary thing—something to fill up the years that lie between leaving school and the husband and home that she hopes sooner or later will fall to her lot. This is an utterly wrong principle. Even if the chances are that the girl will marry, she must work hard and gain all the knowledge she can of her calling, so that should marriage not come her way, she may, instead of developing into a complaining old maid, become an interesting and charming woman, leading a busy life—too busy even ever to think much of self, but never too busy to do a kind action or help on younger women beginning life.—Notions.