Saturday, December 5, 2015

Bubbly on Your Budget, by Marjorie Hillis

Earlier this year I read Marjorie Hillis's first book, Live Alone and Like It from 1936, and loved it. When Claire wrote about this second book, I rushed to order a copy. It was originally published in 1937 as Orchids on Your Budget. In the last few years it has been reprinted a couple of times. The edition I read is from Chronicle Books in 2011. I suppose somewhere along the line, someone decided that bubbly in the title would appeal more to 21st-century readers than orchids. The subtitle was also changed, from "Live Smartly on What You Have" to "Live Luxuriously With What You Have."

That was an unfortunate change, because this book is not really about living luxuriously. It's about living within your means, and managing to have your bubbly on those terms. As with the first book, some of what Marjorie Hillis wrote now seems dated, but much of her advice is just as applicable today as in 1937. She was writing in the later years of the Great Depression, which by her account had begun to lift. Sometimes this book felt like it could have been written yesterday, given the economic roller-coaster that we have been riding lately (and not just in the United States).

The two books are very similar in approach, and in the tone of the writing. They tackle serious topics, offering practical advice mixed with snarky commentary. As with Live Alone and Like It, one of the main points here is that proper living takes attention and planning.
    As a matter of fact, most of the people who think they're poor are right. For the feeling of poverty isn't a matter of how little money you have - it's a matter of being behind on your bills at the end of the month or not making your income stretch over the things that you want. . . What most people don't concede is that, with a little planning and a dash of ingenuity, they might have what they want. They hate to plan (planning about possibilities and daydreaming about improbabilities are not the same things), they detest the Problem anyway, and they don't want to make the effort needed to Do Anything About It. They want bubbly on their budgets - but that's about as far as they get.
    This isn't very intelligent, because almost anyone with spirit can wangle a bottle of bubbly or two, and have a lot of fun besides. We are all for fun and bubbly. . . 

As Hillis wrote in a later chapter, though, "The point, nowadays, is not merely to know the cost of a thing and whether you have money to pay for it, but to know whether it's worth its price to you." That is a question that I need to ask myself more often.

The chapters that follow deal with practical matters: housing, food, budgeting, savings, and clothes. That last one is a very detailed guide to choosing clothes wisely and dressing well, in 1937, which makes it feel the most dated. I kept trying to think of films from the mid-1930s, to picture the clothes. I was sometimes a bit lost among all the requirements and the rules on color (don't buy a blue dress, brown coat, and black hat to wear together, but you can wear a canary-yellow gilet with a navy-blue suit). At least the "Little Black Dress" sounded familiar, however much its length and lines may have changed in the last 80 years.

I found two chapters particularly entertaining. "Things You Can't Afford" covers the wrong kind of economies, and ends with a quiz, "Are you thrifty or stingy?" (Apparently I am occasionally stingy.) The other is "Can You Afford a Husband?"
Well, can you? A lot of women do, and support them nicely on a small salary at that. And why not, if they want to? It may be an extravagance, but even periods of strict economy should include some extravagances if possible.
Hillis admitted that a husband might be nice to have around, but she did not consider one indispensable. (Which makes me wonder a little about her own marriage.) And with all due respect to Love, a woman still had to consider the practicalities - particularly since, in the author's experience, "the most delightful people are seldom big money-makers." A woman who chooses a "non-money maker" must be prepared to support him as well as herself. In any case, for Hillis marriage didn't automatically mean the wife stayed home. Even if the husband was working, they might need two salaries - particularly if they wanted bubbly in their budget.

I am not that fond of bubbly myself, nor of orchids. I think that books are my bubbly, and this was certainly a fizzy read!


  1. Oh, I love the quotes you've posted! Particularly the one about that you have to know whether a thing is worth it to you. That is a zillion percent true. So many things I would like to buy aren't worth it to me -- I can get by without them just as easily. That's why I live on leftovers rather than buying groceries for and then preparing four different meals in a week (lazy and miserly!). :p

  2. I have a bad habit of buying first, and then too late asking if I really needed it. I am also trying to ask myself if I really need to own a particular book - particularly when I've just read an exciting review on another blog - or if I just want to read it. I have stacks of books bought impulsively that are just sitting there (some for a decade or more).

  3. Books are also my bubbly and I imbibed a bit too much this year! I love the sound of these books - so fun, yet useful (except for maybe the clothes advice).

    1. I've had a bit of a binge myself in the last couple of weeks. It's just so easy to buy books on-line - and a lot faster than I can read them.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!