One thing I didn't expect to see so much about as I have in my 1940s housekeeping books is the family budget. I had sort of thought of money management as the domain of men at mid-century, but apparently many housewives kept their families' books. America's Housekeeping Book warns against one-size-fits-all budgeting, but then goes ahead to provide the following template for making a budget:
Rent (if heat is included): 25% of income
Rent (if heat must be supplied): 20% of income
(If you are buying your home, or already own it, the "rent" is the total of interest on mortgage, taxes, insurance, upkeep, and repairs which should not ordinarily exceed 1/8 to 1/10 of income. If payments on principle are included it may reach 1/4 to 1/5 of income.)
Clothes: 15% of income
Operating expenses: 10-15% of income
Food: 20-35% of income (the smaller the income, the larger the percentage that must be spent on food)
Advancement: 15-20% of income
Savings (other than life insurance): 10% of income
Life insurance: the face of your policies should amount to 2 or more years' income
In this case, "advancement" is taken to mean "health, recreation, pocket money, personal care, automobile expenses, gifts, contributions, and education."
As an exercise, and to illustrate how things may have changed, I decided to compare our monthly spending, which I track, to these suggestions. Here's what I found:
Rent (heat is not supplied): 35%
Operating expenses: 7%
Life insurance: policies are worth approx 1.5-2 years income
I was really surprised by this result. I knew our rent would be a higher percentage--the price of housing is high here, and we're renting in some ways "above our income level" in order to get a yard and a good commute for Mark. I'm shocked at how low the other percentages are, though--particularly the "operating expenses" category, which includes all of our utilities. Those bills had previously seemed really high to me. I'm also thrilled at the savings percentage, and not bothered by the lower-than-recommended life insurance, given that we're a two-income family with no children. The need for us to have life insurance is not nearly so great as it was for the family to whom the book was speaking.
The advice on money management goes on to explain lots of ways in which the housewife can be frugal, including marketing advice, energy efficiency, fuel efficiency, taking excellent care of clothing, etc. The most surprising thing about all of it is much it sounds like modern frugal living advice. Other than the dramatic shift in the percentage of typical income (particularly working and lower-middle class income) spent on food, not much seems to have changed.