Friday, March 2, 2012
Frugal Gentlemen and Cheap Custards
Child was also the author of a classic, much-reprinted Victorian self-help guide and cookbook, The American Frugal Housewife (1841). It is mostly aimed at women, but Child spares a few words for the men, too. She cautions gentlemen to save their money, and not require their wives and daughters to dress themselves in extravagantly expensive bonnets and shawls just so he will look like an extra-fancy husband and father. Also, he is not to "rush into enterprise and speculation [and] keep up their credit by splendour" - all good ideas today, too. Child tells the story of a gentleman and his wife who wished to go on a vacation that they could ill afford, and how all sorts of catastrophes happened, but that:
This honest couple are now busy in paying off their debts....He facetiously tells how he went to New York to have his watch stolen, and his boots blacked like a looking glass, and she shows her Lake George diamond ring, and tells how the steamboat was crowded, and how afraid she was the boiler would burst, and always ends by saying 'After all, it was a toil of pleasure'...[But] if men would have women economical, they must be so themselves.
Peach leaves and Lake George diamond rings notwithstanding, much of Child's sensible advice still rings true today: save your money, learn to bake your own bread and do your own mending when possible, and keep track of your finances. In addition, today's money-conscious gentlemen can delve into the wealth of information provided on sites such as frugaldad.com. They can add to Mrs. Child's edicts those which encourage the male hunter-gatherers among us to hunt down bargains and gather coupons. And if the gentleman in question would like to come home (laden with bargains, but not too many, since he is very frugal!) and make us all some Cheap Custards - well, that would be lovely. We will all go over the river and through the woods for that.