Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/March 1899/Shall We Teach our Daughters the Value of Money?

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 54 March 1899  (1899) 
Shall We Teach our Daughters the Value of Money? by Alexandra L. B. Ide



I AM induced to write a few lines on this subject by a remark recently made to me by a widow of large property. In speaking about the management of her money she said: "As to myself, I leave everything to my business man or agent. I would not know if my tax bills were correct. He gives me plenty of money to spend on my charities; why should I trouble myself about the details?" Evidently it had never occurred to her that she might be spending her principal; that some day she might wake up to the fact that her fortune had been dissipated. Another rich woman, to whom I made the remark that certain bonds were bought at par, inquired, "Is that the same thing as buying them on a margin?" Now here were representative women of New York society, both belonging to excellent families, and to all appearances well educated. It is amazing that such profound ignorance on ordinary business matters exists. In conversation with many other wealthy women I discovered that it was very much the exception to find a woman who possessed the slightest knowledge of money matters. Now, why should these things be? The time has passed for a young girl to be brought up a "perfect fool." Let her not waste the beautiful morning of her life in profitless and frivolous occupations. The reason often given as excuse for the ignorance of many women is, so few comparatively have any money to keep, therefore it is useless to teach them.

True, it is unusual to find a young girl with an independent fortune; but she may marry rich, and what a help she would be to a sensible man if she were capable of aiding him in his business affairs! Again, she might be left a widow, and have the entire direction of her husband's property. No knowledge is ever lost. The more one knows, the more one realizes how little one does know. I maintain that a woman's intellect is perfectly capable of coping with and understanding business affairs. In some matters she is far shrewder than the average man, and in many cases her quick insight sees at a glance that which man requires time to penetrate. Only give her half a chance. I do not wish for a moment to be understood as advocating women becoming stockbrokers or lawyers; nothing could be more unnatural or unsuitable. It seems to me only in accordance with the wishes of a reasonable woman to participate with her brothers in such rudimentary knowledge as will enable her to oversee or take the entire charge of her own property. Take, for example, a well-to-do New York business man. He has acquired through his own industry and shrewdness a large fortune. He maps out the education for his children. His sons are sent to the best schools, and afterward to college. He determines that no expense shall be spared to fit them for their future career.

For his daughters expensive foreign governesses are engaged, who teach them the languages, music, and other accomplishments. Or the daughters are sent to some high-priced fashionable school, where they are put through a course of training to enable them to "shine in society." Having reached the age of eighteen, the daughter returns to the parental roof.

What does she know in exchange for the large sum of money her education has cost? Usually her penmanship is bad and illegible. Her knowledge of arithmetic very slight. These two essentials of education are not her forte.

But she is a good dancer, and perhaps at the assembly or some such function the father's heart has swelled with pride as he noticed how eagerly she was sought as a partner. She can sing French songs, probably those which are rather risqué. She can converse, perhaps, in two or three different modern languages. As a general rule her French can scarcely be understood by the foreign attachés at Newport. The girl is absolutely unequipped for real life, and the man of sense, who has passed the boyish age and is looking for a partner for life, knows this. Possibly this is one cause why there are comparatively few marriages in our best society. What man is less likely to seek as wife a woman who knows something about the care and value of money? It is strange that a father should be so blinded to the best interests of his daughter. Is it because he considers her intellect so far below that of his son that he makes no effort to instruct her in regard to the care of money? The only thing she knows about money is how to spend it—generally on herself, for clothes and jewels. Perhaps on the first of the month, when the bills for his daughter's extravagance pour in on him, he is vexed; but if his fortune is large, and it is no inconvenience for him to pay them, he generally does so without a murmur. "Let her have a good time while she is young," he soliloquizes.

But stop a moment and consider. What you sow you reap is as true in this material concern as in the world of agriculture. The fond parent by his indulgence and neglect is sowing the seeds of extravagance, perhaps those of want. Years hence she may reap the fruit of his ill-judged kindness in fostering habits of reckless expenditure.

In a few years the father dies; his property is divided; the daughter receives her share. If she is married to a good business man who has time to take charge of her fortune, possibly, during her husband's lifetime, the difficulty is bridged over. But the chances are she may not be married, or again the man she has selected as husband may be worthless as a business man. It is not to be expected that a brother (even if she is fortunate enough to possess one), however kind, will overburden himself with the manifold details of looking after the property of a sister. He has his own interests, which demand his attention. He thinks his duty accomplished when he has chosen a man to look after his sister's affairs whom he believes to be reliable. The person whom he has appointed as guardian over his sister's interests may have an honest and high character, but that is no guarantee that in a moment of weakness he may not yield to the temptation of abusing the trust. He knows the woman is absolutely ignorant of how her affairs are being conducted, and in all probability would not be the wiser if he appropriated some of her fortune to his own uses. Her very ignorance is his security. Who can not recall several such cases? If each day for half an hour the father had instructed his child in the essentials of business—how to calculate interest quickly, the manner of filling out a lease in renting property, explaining about mortgages, and giving her a lesson as to what were the best investments—she would know enough to steer clear of the many sharks and vultures which usually find her a ready prey. The woman who does not know the difference between a registered and coupon bond should be ashamed to acknowledge such ignorance. A parent's neglect in teaching his child about monetary affairs is culpable, almost amounting to a crime. There is nothing so costly as ignorance. This very fortune which you have taken infinite pains to accumulate will be perhaps dissipated, owing to your want of forethought in imparting the requisite knowledge to your child. This information she will in after years buy for herself at a heavy premium. If knowledge is power in other matters, it is more than ever true in monetary affairs. Power to keep your fortune is a power worth having, and more difficult to acquire than to make a fortune. Let a girl but try to earn five dollars, and she will see the task is not an easy one. Then, unless she be a fool, she will realize that what is so difficult to obtain should not be wasted.

I recall the case of a fashionable woman in New York society which came under my own observation. Her husband told me he had deposited in a bank a large sum of money for his wife to draw on, given her a bank and check book, explained and showed her how to draw checks. He very sensibly thought that it would be a far better plan for her to pay her bills herself, instead of coming to him every time she needed money. His relief from being her almoner was of short duration, for in less than a month she came to him, and, throwing the check and bank books on his library table, told him it was too much trouble—she could not make head or tail of it; she wished to return to the old system! He could pay her bills in future. This woman had been married twenty years. Too much trouble, is it? Yes, I believe this is the keynote why women are so ignorant. They are lazy, pure and simple. The details of business are too dry and uninteresting. It is so much easier to have some one else do the work for you. So much less exertion to read a novel, or ride the wheel with some attractive man. "How prosaic," you say, "to add up account books, balance check books, and calculate whether your tax bill is correct when your property is assessed at the rate of 2.01!"

I believe, if the truth were told, half the divorces in which the reason given is incompatibility of temper arise from the fact that women know nothing of the value of money. I am not speaking entirely of women who have their own property, but also of those who are dependent on a husband's income. The wife has a vague idea that there is an inexhaustible supply of cash somewhere! What man can not tell you how worried and harassed he felt when his wife came to him for money to spend on nonessentials, and which he could ill afford? If he attempted to remonstrate with her he probably received a rude or angry reply! The wife, perhaps, had been used to an indulgent father, who gratified her every whim. She overlooks the fact that a father and husband are two vastly different beings, and require different treatment. To some women a husband's value decreases when he can no longer supply them with finery. Their alleged love soon wanes, and a divorce is sought on any pretext.

It is easy to see that by a knowledge of business affairs a woman can dispense with the services of an agent or trust company, whose salary thus being saved is added to her income. In case a woman is fitted by a proper education for so doing, who could attend to her own interests better than herself, as she is the party interested? The phrase, "If you wish anything well done, do it yourself," is never better exemplified than in this case. Lastly, but not least, in saving our money it need not be from a miserly spirit; but the more we have, the more we can profitably give away. What pleasure equals that of relieving real distress, and of helping others? Did not our Saviour himself set the example of saving when, after performing the miracle where he fed the multitude with the loaves and fishes, he said: "Gather up the fragments that remain. Let nothing be lost."