The family is a cooperative group at the foundation of our social structure. There must be kinship in this group. When the kinship is of mind and spirit only, as with a group of friends, the family may be a real one, and have distinct social value, but the word "family" in ordinary usage implies a relationship in blood, and implies also some head or heads of the group. The normal family has father, mother and child or children. If the father dies, if there are no children or if the latter grow up and leave the family home to establish homes of their own, those left do not cease to be a family, but are none the less, in any ordinary usage, an incomplete family. The vast majority of families include parents and children, and in this vast majority many contain other relations, such as grand-parents, uncles, aunts or cousins.
This cooperative group has many interests in common, however many additional interests there may be. Aside from the common needs of food, clothing, shelter, recreation, there is need in the family life for a kind of cooperation that will make for harmony in the home and for the greatest freedom of individual development that is compatible "with such harmony. The common interests must be cared for first, then individual needs considered. Within the group, each contributes according to his ability, and receives his proportionate share according to his needs.
It is not uncommon to hear the household - that is, the family - spoken of as a "business," and the mother of the family, who directs the detailed expenditure for common needs, spoken of as the "business manager." Some even go so far as to say that she should have a salary for her work, like any other business manager. Any such conception of course ignores the real nature of family life. There is a business side to it, granted, but it is not a business in the same sense that a money-making organization is a business. Its purpose is different, and its attitude toward money must be different also. And the wife and mother is not a paid worker, engaged for life, but something far finer and bigger than that. If Mother is paid a salary, then Father is her employer, and he pays her for looking out for himself and the children. It is true that such a relationship is an improvement on the old one of Mother as financially dependent on Father, who may occasionally graciously grant her a little money to spend for herself, or may not. But it is far from the ideal of the cooperative group.
Marriage is a partnership, in the interests of the whole family group. The husband and wife are the partners, and full partners, the children apprentices, learning how to live in such a partnership themselves, and as they grow older within the home they may even become junior partners. In the usual family the father gives his working hours to earning a money income, the mother hers to directing all the activities of the household, including the spending of that part of the income used for the family living. The income, whether in money or in labor, belongs equally to both husband and wife, in trust for the family. The wife has just as much "right" to the money income as has the husband - and no more right.
There are still belated households where the wife has no clear idea of the family income and can spend only what she can get out of her husband in irregular payments of irregular amounts. In many of those households charge accounts at shops of different types give the wife a chance to get things for herself that she could never get by paying cash, since she never has it in any quantity. This system is not only deeply humiliating to the woman and demoralizing to the children, but wasteful. There are many other households where the wife receives a regular allowance for maintaining the house, but unfortunately in too many cases she must get from this allowance all that she needs for herself also. The conscientious housewife in such a situation invariably fails to get her due share, and at the same time frequently suffers qualms of doubt whenever she spends anything whatever on herself.
The next step is a series of allowances - one for the household, one for the wife, one for the children, and perhaps one for the automobile. This is fairly common now, and is a just arrangement as far as the working of it goes. If husband and wife decide together what these allowances are to be, the wife is neither humiliated nor handicapped. Yet this may be in full swing where the husband still considers that he is the sole source of "support," and that he is (with glad generosity, in most cases) giving his money for the family use.
In practice the working out may be almost the same when the partnership idea is accepted - almost, not quite. If marriage is a full partnership, then husband and wife are contributing alike to the family resources. They decide together on the best use of the money, assign the direction of expenditure of each division as seems best, but always keep a general knowledge of all the headings. Usually the wife takes charge of the amount for household expenses - except that for some occult reason many men seem to like to pay the coal bills - and for clothing for herself and the children; the husband of the sum for his own expenses and of the investment of the money to be saved. It is frequent to turn over to the wife all the responsibility for Gifts (personal or for the public good), Recreation, Entertainment, Education, but all these should mean cooperation in spending as well as in budgeting. It is easy for a man to say: "I can't bother with those things. I have my business to attend to, and I turn everything else over to my wife." That is shirking part of the partnership work, and certainly the man who refuses his share of responsibility in the matter has no right to criticize his wife when he does not like the way she does the work single-handed.
There is a question regarding the surplus that can be invested. In a full partnership, after all the needs of the business are provided, the surplus profit is divided equally between the partners, each to do as he chooses with his share. This method is followed in many a modern family, especially where the wife has earned her own income before marriage and has learned independently how to handle money. A special savings fund may be set aside first to provide for the education of the children, or to cumulate for some family purpose like the purchase of a home, but then the rest is divided, and the wife is as free to use hers in her own way as the husband is to use his. Such an arrangement is only possible where both partners realize to the full the meaning of their partnership, but the oftener it is tried successfully, the faster will be the growth of a full conception of partnership in marriage.
It is true that most women have not experience in investing money, and that they do not get experience of that kind in their daily work as homemakers. But an intelligent woman can learn to invest money as well as an intelligent man. Thousands of wives save their husbands from foolish schemes by "influence;" why not recognize that they are equal to their own responsibilities ? And if a woman loses money in "Wall Street or in the oil fields, why is she more to be condemned than a man who does the same? Only because those who condemn her hold, consciously or unconsciously, that a man's money belongs to him and the woman's does not really belong to her. Even if the responsibility is not given her, she must for her own protection and that of the children, know what the family investments are, even to the share of her husband in his business and his obligations to it. Any lawyer who has had much to do with settling estates can tell many tales of how the ignorance of her husband's affairs has left his widow handicapped or even deprived of considerable sums that are due to his estate. The advantage of division of investments is pointed out in Chapter XVI.
The question at the head of the chapter seems to be answered. The husband and wife sit down together to consider resources and to make such a budget for their family as will make those resources count most. They assign responsibilities for expenditure of each heading as seems wisest to them, and they discuss together later any readjustments that have to be made.
But how about the children - the apprentices? Are they to have no hand in the discussion? The deciding votes must lie with those who have the responsibility, with Father and Mother. But in a cooperative group have the minor members no share? Surely as soon as the children have reached an age when they can understand the general meaning and purpose of the budget, they should be included in the budget conference. This does not mean, of course, that they need know in dollars and cents the whole family income; children old enough to understand and discuss the principles of division may not be old enough to be discreet in what they repeat of the family affairs. But they can help decide whether they will cut down the food expenditure a little - say, have chicken and ice cream once a month instead of once a week - so that Janet can have violin lessons. Or they can help decide that if John and Helen will be content with last winter's coats, Mother will do the same and all they save can go toward a Victrola.
The high school girl who must have silk stockings because "all the girls do," her brother who must have silk shirts because "all the boys do," get a new idea of value when they discover that if the silk stockings and silk shirts are bought, something else cannot be bought. The girl and the boy do not want to deprive Mother of her new gown, and do not realize that they do so when they ask for luxuries that the family income cannot meet without such sacrifice. They have no idea as to limits of expenditure or choice; they want "everything," quite naturally and simply, and they must learn those limits as definitely, and sometimes as painfully, as they must learn reading, writing and arithmetic. The question of training the children is dealt with in Chapter XIII, but the question of Who Makes the Family Budget ? cannot be answered without including them.
It is repetition to say here that no one outside the family can make the budget for any self-supporting group. Those more experienced may give wise advice, but the responsibility for decision lies with the partnership. It is repetition also to say that public opinion should not be allowed to make any of the decisions. It should be considered and usually it should not be defied, since the social cost of defiance is too great, but it may and must many times be disregarded in matters relating to social prestige, if the family is to get what it wants most. Both these warnings are repeated here because both dangers are large stones on the Hill of Difficulty.