March 20, 2013

The Expense Book: Finances in the 19th Century

There once was a time when many people wrote down every purchase made in a household. Today this seems ludicrous as we make so many small purchases on a daily basis. We even make scheduled payments that we don't even think about. Running a home is like running a small business, it only makes sense to keep the same kind of records.

Many books from the time period recommended that income in and expenses paid were calculated weekly to make sure that the family was not spending more than they were making. 

Many books for new housekeepers demonstrate basic record keeping as it was seen as a very useful skill for a wife to have. It was the bane of many men to have a spendthrift wife who had no inclination or want to spend wisely. It's really a great skill to learn in modern times. Due to our culture and lifestyles, many people never learn to manage money to their own detriment. It might seem like a complicated thing, but once you find a system that works, it is really a helpful tool.

Benefits of Keeping an Expense Book:

-You know if you paid something or if someone owes you money. This is the biggest reason, as accounts get more complicated, sometimes it's easy to forget what needs to be paid or how much income you will have coming in.

-You spend less. Writing down and holding yourself accountable for purchases makes you think about purchases more and you're likely to not buy as many little unimportant things.

-You can spot trends. You can spot trends you'd like to promote and trends you would like to see decreased. With an expense book, trends help you spend your money more wisely. $7.00 lunches from work everyday may not seem like a lot but it comes to $35 a week or more than $1,500 a year. You can also see that you aren't spending enough money on important things. For instance, if it's a goal of yours to eat healthier, you may want to dedicate a little more money to do so.

-The more watchful you are, the more leeway you have. This is closely related to "waste not, want not." If you are aware of your fixed expenditures, you can spend a bit more on necessities. It also brings people closer. If you know you and your spouse only have $10 for entertainment this week, you can brainstorm ideas and learn to work together to make the most of it.     

-You have a year to year record. You can see when you bought important purchases and how often you paid for maintenance on big items.

-It's just cool. Yes, it's actually really neat for historians to see what people bought, how often and money spent in any given time period. Remember when your grandparents told you they could see a movie for a dime? You can show our grandchildren the going rates of items and what you bought when. You also can help create a good historical record so historians can learn straight from your life. It's interesting to note that in modern times, we spend the smallest percentage of our incomes on food than ever before. Something we could not have known without expenditure books.   

I am old fashioned and use a modernized version of the record sheet in the top page scan. I leave one page for each week. I keep my receipts in an envelope in my purse and total up my purchases at the end of the day to simplify things. It's an especially helpful record for people who have multiple sources of income or irregular paychecks. After you keep a book like this for a while, you can start to create a realistic budget which will allow for economy, which is not learning to do without but learning to do more with less. It's always fun to see how our predecessors did things.

Today we have computer programs and phone apps that do this kind of thing, but I still find the actual writing helps me. Is there anything that you find particularly helpful?


  1. Nah, I don't think you're old-fashioned, Stephanie: You're merely careful with your money and have what you consider an easy-to-maintain record of your expenditures. :) That's to be commended.

    Writing on paper is a good way to keep a record, but I usually use Word. Saving PDFs of online payments is a good idea, too.

  2. Maybe it's because I have so little money. :)


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