Regency Era Household Expenditures

This afternoon, I was searching for images of dinner settings for my next post from The London Adviser and Guide when I came across some charts of sample household expenses from 1829 in a volume titled The Home Book : Or, Young Housekeeper’s Assistant: Forming a Complete System of Domestic Economy and Household Accounts. With Estimates of Expenditure, &c. &c. in Every Department of Housekeeping, Founded on Forty-five Years of Personal Experience, by “a lady.”  The charts broke out the household expenses according to three family sizes including servants.  I couldn’t believe I just stumbled onto information that previously had taken me hours to piece together.  In my excitement (yes, I’m a geek. Haven’t you figured that out by now?) I decided to put off the London Adviser post until tomorrow and excerpt the appendix of The Home Book. Please let me know if I’m the only person who gets giddy over this kind of information.

*I created a new and exciting (not!) page explaining British money and coins in the Regency and Victorian era

I must here repeat my very earnest recommendation for you always to make yourself acquainted with the situation in life, and place of residence, of your servants’ nearest connexions; there are several advantages to be derived from the custom, whereas, ignorance on that point has sometimes occasioned very considerable inconvenience. I have been in the habit of paying my servants on the regular quarter days, when one trouble served for all, instead of having four or five to pay at different times.

In the above Bill of fare I do not mention Fish, because the price varies so much; and you should always know, as nearly as possible, what an article is likely to cost, previous to ordering it. The Fishmongers at the west end of London generally send round to their regular customers a list of what they have, with the prices; and if you enforce this custom, it will enable you occasionally to add Fish to your bill of fare, when you find it most reasonable in price.

I advise this mode of communicating to your Cook any fault you may occasionally observe, in preference to sending a message by the Footman; who may not only not deliver it in your words, but in a manner which may be very mortifying to a person of an irritable disposition, and, perhaps, be the occasion of your losing a good Servant.

Those articles extracted from the Cook’s and Footman’s books, or paid for in ready money, are to be entered in the first column, and transferred to the Cash-book as weekly sundries. Those bills which are paid monthly or quarterly, to be in the second column, as a register to the consumption, that the weeks may be compared with each other : and the mention of the number of persons in family, and what guests dine, either accidentally, or by regular invitation, will be found useful, as a standing explanation of any excess in the weekly bills.

If you pay your bills every week, the whole sum must then be entered as weekly housekeeping. There are some articles, however, such as Coals, which cannot be included in the weekly account, but must come in as a total at the end of the year. Amongst the observations, for which sufficient space will be left in the weekly pages, notice should be taken when any certain quantity of Coals was received, and what number of fires is generally kept; which will inform you how long the stock lasted, and give some idea if they have been wasted, or fairly used. As this article is of essential consequence in every family, care should be taken to lay in a sufficient quantity long before the commencement of Winter, as the price advances greatly as Christmas approaches; and in «ase of a severe frost they become exorbitantly dear. In every five Chaldrons of Coals, there is an allowance of three additional sacks, called the ingrain.

Candles, Soap, and Grocery, also, are all stores necessary to be kept in the house; and being ordered in quantities, the bills will be sent in at the end of the quarter or halfyear.

With respect to those articles which come under the general denomination of stores, I have known many young Housekeepers, who were desirous to be regular and economical, much puzzled how to keep an account of them. Thinking it right to have a Store-room well supplied, they probably gave orders for a quantity of goods, without the least idea what would be the consumption of the family, or how long the different articles ought to last. In such cases, when the bill was paid, it was entered in the Cash-book, under one general head, as Grocery; and as it included a variety of articles, some of which might last eight or nine months, while others required to be replaced in as many weeks, they could never arrive at any accuracy, nor ascertain the consumption and expense of any separate article of the many included under one denomination.

A well-filled Store-room is absolutely necessary for those who live in the country, but I very much doubt the great advantage of it in the Metropolis, where every requisite can be procured at the shortest notice. To the objection above-mentioned, of not being able to ascertain the consumption of the different articles, I will add one or two more. I will suppose you order six or seven loaves of Sugar, weighing 70 or 80 lbs.: although you keep the key of the Store-room, you may not like the trouble of breaking up a loaf of Sugar; it must, therefore, go into the kitchen to be broken: now, as we daily pray not to be led into temptation, we ought never to lead others into that danger. I have known servants strictly honest in other respects, who could not resist the temptation of Tea and Sugar, and justified themselves by saying that taking them was not stealing. Again, in respect to moist Sugar, a Cook will take a jar, or large basin, to her Mistress, who will fill it without knowing how much it will hold, or how long the quantity should last; and when the whole stock is consumed, is surprised that it lasted so short a time, though all enquiries concerning its rapid consumption must prove fruitless. Though I object to keeping a quantity of stores, I do not recommend that the Cook should go to the Grocer’s shop for every article as she wants it; but that you should order a small stock in the first instance, and make yourself acquainted with the quantity consumed of each article in any certain space of time. You will then be able to form some judgment of how much you will require for one quarter, or for half a year; and that you may do this without much trouble, I will mention a plan which I adopted many years ago. When I gave an order to the Grocer, I desired that the loaf Sugar, a sample of which I kept to compare with the quantity delivered, should be broken, and put up in bags, containing three to six pounds each; and that the raisins, currants, and moist sugar be in parcels of one pound, or half a pound, according to the number of persons in the family: by these means, and with the help of a Memorandum-book, which I keep in the Store-room, I can always ascertain if the quantities given out last the proper time.

The general Cash-book, as I have said before, is for the entry of all sums received or paid, borrowed or lent. I have found the utility of ruling mine according to the above pattern, having six persons of my own family, for whom I had frequent occasions to make purchases, or to pay bills. It was necessary to keep a book for the separate accounts: every sum was first entered in the Cash-book at the time it was paid; in the first small column, was the initial of the person on whose account it was paid, and the second referred to the page in the small book where each person’s separate account was kept. When the sums are transferred to the different accounts, if the article be ticked off in the Cash-book, it will save some trouble when the annual abstract is made. As the entries of cash received will be very few in a family, in comparison with those of expenditure, it is not necessary to sacrifice the corresponding page for the purpose of one or two sums; I have, therefore, appropriated six or eight pages at the commencement of my Cash-book for the account of all sums received. It would be advisable also to balance your accounts frequently, for your own satisfaction, and to make a regular balance in your Cashbook, at the end of every month, or, at farthest, of every quarter.

In the following Tables are to be inserted the quantities and cost of every article of consumption, from the weekly accounts, according to the example of January; by which means the accurate quarterly accounts will be immediately ascertained: which arrangement, it will readily be perceived, is equally desirable for the purpose of checking an excess in any branch of expenditure, and for forming a correct average estimate of your future consumption. The value of this mode of an arrangement will be readily appreciated by you on its first inspection; but when experience enables you to do full justice to its importance, you will then find it, as I have done, inestimable, and indispensable.

Home Book

(a) This estimate does not include milk for puddings.

(b) This is for the servants only.

(c and d) The servants find their own tea.

(e) The Gentlemen’s washing is not included in this scale.

(f) I have not given a weekly average of Oil, as the consumption must be continually varying, according to the length of the days; but have taken the half of a Winter, and the half of a Summer quarter, which will give nearly the quantity, and the expense at the end of the year. The lamps used were the Rumford reading lamps. Two common, for the kitchen, and one night lamp.

(g) The consumption of Coals may be calculated by the number of fires. Eight chaldrons, with care, will be sufficient for three fires; viz. the kitchen, which will consume nearly sixty sacks; a moderate sized parlour stove, which will burn a sack a week during Winter; and the third fire will be probably for a few hours in the day only.

It is to be observed, that the above sum of 321 is for articles of regular consumption only: does not include House-rent, Wine and spirits, nor strong beer. Personal expenses, entertainments, and journeys, are also not mentioned; and there are many other articles, which, however individually trifling, yet, at the end of the year, amount to a larger sum than could be expected, though they are seldom taken into consideration by young housekeepers, when making an estimate of expenses. I subjoin a list of some of the items, with a calculation at a moderate rate.

A house in a respectable situation, large enough for such a family, is scarcely to be procured for less rent than ₤100 per annum, and the taxes are usually calculated to be more than one-fifth of the rent. A bottle of wine will not give more than fourteen small glasses; therefore, allowing two only for the master, and one for each of the other four persons, the consumption would be fourteen dozens in the year. I have calculated the Wine at a very low price.

The sum allowed for wearing apparel may appear small for persons in a respectable situation of life, but with care it would be found sufficient; unless the Ladies frequented gay evening parties three or four times in the week.

In the above amount, no allowance has been made for the following articles, which, being contingent, cannot be calculated; viz. amusements, journeys, occasional coach hire, medicines, postages, stationery, repairs and tradesmen’s jobs, replacing household linen, glass, china, tin ware, brooms, and brushes; the sum total of which expenditure, however economically superintended, cannot but be considerable.

7 Replies to “Regency Era Household Expenditures”

  1. Invaluable information. Surprising about the fish as I would have thought that would be one item that was usually the same, unlike vegetables or beef.
    Some people have the most amazing luck nosing around on the internet.

  2. @Nancy, my luck only happens when I’m not looking for something in particular.

  3. @Ella – No lie! Cause every time you write a story where some of the characters are poor, you need a baseline of how much the basic necessities cost.

  4. U said let you know if you are the only one who gets excited about this… You’re not! Thanks

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