Jane Austen said in one of her letters – “I like what Edward calls pewter too”. She was not sentimental or romantic about money: a mercenary attitude to life was not appropriate but one had to be pragmatic. This attitude can be evocative of this earlier time where there was not access to easy credit. And an earlier time when there was not the safety net of the welfare state. My late mother embodied this time too. One of the many memories I have of her is the citing of the proverb, “It is not money that is the root of all evil, it is the love of money”. Such phrases are gleaned from a generation who had a much tougher time and could spout a proverb in the time it took us to switch a TV channel.
Every Charles Dickens fan would remember Macawber in David Copperfield saying, “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” Dickens, of course, came after Austen but her sentiments would be the same. Living the lifestyle you can afford, rather than chasing the lifestyle you want, is an ingredient of happiness. Making life decisions based solely on money will not produce a happy life, but not thinking about money at all may equally lead to problems. But where is the balance? What is sufficient? How can one focus on earning enough money, without getting drawn in to the money trap?
What constitutes sufficient funds to live a reasonably comfortable life?This is such a personal thing that it’s impossible to define. For Jane Austen, it was a modest house with security of tenure and situated in a placeof choice: it meant funds to allow travel to relatives and friends; money to buy fabrics to make fashionable clothes; and enough quality food, much of it home grown, to keep a body healthy; it would have also meant money to buy books or join a circulating library to keep the mind engaged and money for postage to keep the lines of communication open for all one’s connections. However, Jane did not often have this sort of money. Unlike her sister Cassandra, who had 1,000 pounds from the will of her late fiancé, Thomas Fowle, Jane had very little income of her own. She had to rely on an annual allowance from her father to buy necessities. It is clear that Jane found this difficult. She needed a legacy to make her more independent. And it was not until she published some of her novels, that she was able to enjoy a lifestyle that was not full of “vulgar economy”.