The helpful handbook for the “well-known mouse with religious affiliations.”

When I was browsing the Oxfam shelves this morning, I found a delightful book in the Nostalgia section called Orchids on Your Budget. As I flipped through it, I noticed its funny and charming chapter titles like “Well, Who Isn’t Poor?” I had never heard of this advice book for 30s women before, so I of course ‘googled’ it in preparation for writing this post. Turns out, it is the First Edition of Marjorie Hillis’s work printed in 1937. And I hope they fired the editor. The title page of this enduring work (copies are still being printed and sold) reads, “Orchids on Your Budget: Or Live Smartly on What Have You.” Clearly no one was paying too much attention. They got the title wrong. Thankfully, the newer editions’ more careful editors have fixed that small snafu.

“Can You Afford A Husband?”

Hilarious. The first paragraph begins by treating husbands as pets- a lot of women support them, even though it is a bit of an extravagance. For the woman on the budget, Marjorie describes the waiting-for-better-days feeling like a drug; its hard on your friends and you keep needing a boost. And you just might die before those days come! For a 30s woman, Marjorie is clearly forward-thinking and very witty. Even just flipping through to random passages, I find gem after gem of hilarious advice for a budgeting woman.

Advice for life.

Although picking out and reading a women’s advice book has never appealed to me, and I would like to think I had better things to do with my time, I think this witty book should be an exception. It is full of smart advice alongside the uplifting and entertaining tid-bits to keep you interested. From budgeting for food (because “there may be those who can get along on peanuts and dates eaten at odd hours, but it is our inexpert opinion that they are queer ducks who like what it does to their ego more than they dislike what it does to their health.”), to economizing on clothes but looking great (“You’ve got to wear clothes whether you like them or not, unless you want to join a Nudist Colony or go to jail, and wearing the right clothes makes life a lot simpler.”). Marjorie also regales young ladies with the ways to avoid becoming grouchy old women with no money for fun. Nine detailed vignettes keep up the banter and the attentions of her readers throughout, while still relating valuable knowledge that could help those women needing to budget yet not miss out on life.

I think one of my favourite images (for each chapter is headed by a black and white drawing) is that for the chapter entitled “Things You Can’t Afford.” A crazy-haired woman with dark circles under her eyes stares in shock as a man runs in fright from her bed. Economizing too much can go just as wrong as not budgeting enough. “First and foremost among these little errors is the extravagance of Letting Yourself Go… The resulting debacle has been known to play havoc with both jobs and husbands, and it is bound to play havoc with her opinion of herself.” For those married ladies who look humdrum without company, they’ll probably be divorced and neglected by their friends. No one wants to be around a slob! Helpfully, Marjorie has a solution. “Crisp little house dresses” are sold for only $2.98, after all! You should also buy some makeup to improve on Nature and keep those wrinkles at bay. It’s necessary.

All in all, this book is pretty awesome. I think its demure pink-purple cover belies its feisty nature, and hopefully someone else will come along with enough curiosity to look inside its cover to find the hidden value of such a find. And it is a first edition (for those of you who go for that sort of thing). I may just decide I can budget a bit to afford this £5 book of hilarity myself. So really, you should hurry. Oh, and if you didn’t understand why a mouse would have religious affiliations, or have anything at all to do with this budgeting book, you should know that she is a poor church-mouse and they need help too.

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