It is a truth universally acknowledged that a novelist of marriage, manners and class conflict must know a thing or two about managing money. In “Jane Austen’s Guide to Thrift,” Kathleen Anderson and Susan Jones look to classic works by Jane Austen for wisdom on saving, spending, investing and offering charity. In this exclusive list for Bookish, the authors lay out the core financial lessons from each of Austen’s beloved novels, which are just applicable today as they were in Regency England.
Save, save, save
Make saving a lifelong habit, whether for your own benefit or for that of five daughters in need of dowries: You never know what the future holds or what your friends or relatives might pull. Too bad Mr. and Mrs. Bennet didn’t follow this advice! Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet’s only male heir, officially whisks the Bennet estate out of the family’s hands by marrying the daughter of a local knight (not to mention Elizabeth’s best friend), leaving the Bennet sisters to chase subpar marriage prospects in search of financial security.
Keep track of your spending
Before her departure to the posh city of Bath, Catherine Morland’s father gives her a spending allowance of 10 guineas and her mother advises her to keep a strict record of her spending. It’s a modest sum, but in the gossipy, tangled world of the upper class, Catherine’s budgetary discipline is just about the only thing that gives her a sense of order.
Be thrifty, not miserly
Aunt Norris is probably the thriftiest character in this novel, but we don’t want to follow all of her examples. She doesn’t let anything go to waste for which she can find a use, which is a good financial lesson for us all. But one should avoid parasitically mooching people’s various resources. Ill-gotten gains taint relationships and cause a loss of self-respect in “Mansfield Park”: Aunt Norris doesn’t seem to care about that, but she should!
Stay out of debt
Unlike her superficial father Sir Walter or her brother-in-law Charles Musgrove, whose lavish spending sinks the family in debt, Anne Elliot holds truth (especially when it comes to one’s financial situation) above appearances. She takes “the side of honesty against importance. She wanted more vigorous measures, a more complete reformation, a quicker release from debt, a much higher tone of indifference for every thing but justice and equity.”
Live within your means
Elinor Dashwood reminds us that we need to fit our living circumstances to our budget. She is the wise counsel in her household, and it’s because of her that her mother doesn’t overspend on the cost of housing and her sister turns down the gift horse that they wouldn’t have been able to afford to keep (not to mention that it would have set up an obligation to a rotter).
Give graciously—within your means
Emma Woodhouse brings things to the poor people in her community that will be useful to them. Her friend Harriet, who is less wealthy, joins in by offering time instead of money. In a novel rife with class tensions, “Emma”teaches us that volunteering and taking care of others doesn’t have to cost a penny.
Dr. Kathleen Anderson has published numerous essays in academic and arts journals, including Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal. She earned her B.A. from Harvard University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa.
Dr. Susan Jones has published essays in academic journals and books on subjects ranging from Jane Austen to the role of women. Her work has appeared in Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal and her creative work has appeared in Quilt Magazine and The Santa Fe Review.