I came across today a wonderuful article entitled “Why is Bob Cratchit So Poor?” This is a beautiful analysis that shows that Bob Cratchit was not poor by Victorian standards, rather he was quite middle class. His problem: he was a spendthrift.
In reading other blogs allegedly about being frugal, I am always surprised to see to what extreme people will justify spending money.
- The coupon clippers: these are the people who will clip coupons and will be so happy to show that they saved so much money by using coupons. However, if you look at what they bought, you see pop, you see hot dogs, you see chips. In other words, you see foods that are waste both in terms of money and nutrition.
- The “buying designer jeans are actually saving money because they last longer” investor spendthrifts: Yes, some things are worth the investment, but $90 jeans? I can buy the same jeans for $5 in a thrift store. When I pointed this out in another blog, they came up with the lame excuse that the “gas” and “time” spent finding used jeans would make up for the savings. As any true penny pincher knows, that is a pile of crock.
In both of these cases, waste and spendthrift ways are justified either by calling it “saving money” or calling a luxury item an “investment.”
How does this apply to The Christmas Carol? Well, if Bob Cratchit were alive today, he would likely be living in a sub-prime house he is soon to lose, spending money he does not have with credit cards to buy designer jeans for his children and going to the restaurant every day claiming that is was saving his money.
Here is an excerpt for the Marotta Asset Management article analyzing the Cratchit lifestyle:
But, the true source of the Cratchits’ poverty is not Scrooge but Bob’s own impulse to live a lifestyle worthy of the Lord Mayor himself.
Bob Cratchit is a clerk and a member of the British middle class. He lives a genteel life. He goes to work with a coat and tie on. His family lives in a four-room house and has a much easier working existence than most of Victorian England. Bob Cratchit earns more than an ample wage.
His salary, we are told, is fifteen shillings a week. The British pound was divided into twenty shillings, and each shilling was divided into twelve pennies or pence. So, Bob Cratchit makes 15 shillings or 180 pence each week—about the wage of a metropolitan police officer and well above the truly needy.
Essays of the Victorian era included titles such as, “How to live on eight shillings a week.” The Cratchit’s daughter, Martha, is apprenticed to a milliner and earns additional income. And Peter, their eldest son, is about to obtain a job earning five shillings and six pence weekly. He, too, is to be a man of business.
So why is the Cratchit family so poor?
Bob Cratchit is a spendthrift, or shopaholic. The shopaholic is one of eight different personality types in Bert Whitehead’s book, “Facing Financial Dysfunction.” Cratchit is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Ebenezer Scrooge. Whereas Scrooge combines greed with a propensity to save, Bob Cratchit combines fear with a propensity to spend.
Spendthrifts are some of the most pleasant people to be around. They are socially outgoing and often demonstrate their own friendliness by buying things for other people.
As a typical spendthrift, Bob was probably raised in poverty. Buying gives spendthrifts great pleasure in life. Spending produces an addictive high and helps them establish their social status. In Bob’s mind, raising his social status mistakenly depends on the amount he spends, not the amount he saves.
For Bob Cratchit, living within a budget and saving money would be like setting out to deprive yourself and suffer. Spendthrifts live for the pleasure of the moment. Eating out or buying clothes are viewed as immediate pleasures for relatively small amounts of money. They do not realize that the purpose of budgeting and saving is to make sure they are spending money on the things they really want instead of frittering it away.
On Christmas Eve, Mr. Scrooge has brought his banker’s book home with him to review all evening. Shopaholics, on the other hand, almost never keep any records of their purchases. But, records would show the Cratchit family that Bob’s spending habits are exposing his family to want and suffering.
Christmas grew in popularity during the Victorian era as a time of feasting and a time for those of stature to show their affluence. During the Victorian era, Christmas was more about food than about giving gifts and the Cratchit family is determined to show that they know how to keep Christmas.
The Cratchits buy a beautiful goose and then admired it for its cheapness. Spendthrifts typically go bankrupt saving money. We are not told what Bob paid for his Christmas goose, but stories of the day suggest that a goose conservatively cost about 400 pence (1.5 Pounds). At this amount, the Cratchit family goose is costing the family a year’s supply of medical attention for the entire family.
Many spendthrifts justify their purchases as “investments.” They often buy jewelry, clothes, or even fancy house wares as an investment to provide themselves an excuse to gain the trappings of a richer lifestyle. This purposeful self-deception shows the depth of a typical spendthrift’s denial. An investment is something which pays you money, not an article of clothing.
But the Cratchit family are typical spendthrifts when it comes to clothing. On Christmas day, Bob Cratchit confers on his son Peter a shirt in honor of his apprenticeship. It was common in the day for the rich to go through the Parks to show off their finery. And Peter is amazed to find himself so gallantly attired that he too is anxious to show off his fashionable new linen in the park.
Even Mrs. Cratchit is described as “brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence.” Making a good show is important for spendthrifts. Mrs. Cratchit’s ribbons cost about two to three weeks of medical attention for the entire family. Their second daughter, Belinda, is also brave in ribbons too—another three weeks of medical attention.
The Cratchit family is clearly living beyond their means.
Rather than pitying the “poor” Cratchits, we should admire Ebeneezer instead. Stop justifying buying things you do not need because you have a coupon, stop finding ways of justifying to yourself that spending money on luxuries is an investment. This will help you become a true penny pincher freed from the desire for material things and the stress that comes with this desire to always spend more than the neighbors.