Sometimes, when I’m feeling really down or disheartened, I like to escape to the world of literature. Not only does reading make me feel better, but sometimes just reading about my favorite characters’ misfortunes helps me put my own suffering into perspective. No matter how bad things are for me, at least I know I don’t have to defeat the most powerful Dark Lord of all time or travel halfway across the Earth to destroy an evil ring!

Apart from making people everywhere feel better about their lots in life, literature is also great to learn from; and while there are superheroes and everyday people that we can admire and learn from in literature, there are also those who serve as warnings themselves. Fortunately, we can learn moral lessons as well as financial and frugal lessons if we pay attention. Most of the following characters from classic literature are bound by the time period they lived in. Others just made really terrible choices because, unlike us, they had no examples to illuminate their financial way forward.

Don’t let these characters’ excuses or circumstances become yours. Wouldn’t you rather be a star of your own personal epic tale as opposed to a victim in an unfortunate financial tragedy? Focusing on some classic literature works, let’s take a look at some of the fates that we can avoid, in reality, today.

Les Miserables

Poor Fantine is a single mother who has to send her child away to live with an awful innkeeper and his wife. They keep lying to Fantine, telling her that her child is sick and that she needs to send more money. Fantine is reduced to working all of the time, eventually selling her hair and her body to make enough money for her daughter’s “healthcare.” Eventually, she dies from illness, leaving her daughter in the care of the novel’s protagonist, Jean Valjean.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short, or Sell Yourself Period

While childcare can certainly be expensive, there is no need to reduce yourself to nothing like Fantine does. Even for all the single parents out there, there are options for you, and hopefully you need not send your children away to be able to care for them.

There are many options for frugal childcare, like finding community center programs, co-op babysitting programs or trading with friends or family. You could also check to see if your employer has a child care flexible spending account. This account created by the IRS allows you to set money aside for child care expenses with pre-tax dollars. You basically ask your employer to take a certain amount from your paycheck and this money can be used tax free for child care expenses. There are even single parent networks out there if you need support, government resources, or vital information.

So don’t be les miserables like Fantine. These days, there are more options out there than selling your body.

Pride and Prejudice

Mr. Bennet is the father of 5 children, and all of these children happen to be daughters. He is terrified to die because then he will leave his wife and five daughters with nothing. In the Bennets’ time, women generally could not acquire money on their own without inheriting or marrying into good fortune. As Mr. Bennet was not blessed with riches, his daughters had to rely on marriage to live comfortable lives. Therefore, the main task the Bennet women (like many women in the 18th century) had to focus on was marriage, if only for financial reasons in a lot of cases.

Marriage in Not Equal to Life

Gone are the days when women have to rely on marriage to survive in this world. Back in Elizabeth Bennet’s day, a single woman’s life was all about finding a husband so that she could live comfortably and be taken care of. These days in America, the old damsel in distress routine is all but extinct. It is completely possible to depend upon only yourself for income, goal-setting, decision-making, and retirement planning. Whether you’ve been divorced, widowed or just never got married, all you need to begin with is a strong plan for your financial future. Be proactive when it comes to your life and your own finances. Don’t wait around for marriage to come so you can start living. Live now, whatever that may mean to you.

The Scarlett Letter

This example seems appropriate since that movie Easy A is coming to theaters this week. To me, The Scarlett Letter is mostly about the power and effects of judgment. Poor Hester Prynne is forced to wear an “A” for adultery on her chest for all to see and judge. This makes normal life extremely difficult for her. She can’t go anywhere without people knowing about the crime that she has committed.

Don’t Wear Your Shame on Your Chest (or Face)

We may not have to wear a mark of our “crimes” or misdeeds on our chests, but I can think of a few outlets that people use daily to broadcast their, well, transgressions. Do Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace ring a bell? While it is great to keep up with friends and post pictures and updates of/about yourself, proceed with caution. Employers will look at these sites before hiring you and make judgment calls based upon what they find. Chances are if there are pictures of you passed out drunk on the street, potential employers will not be too impressed. It may seem unfair, but a social network like Facebook may be the thing that prevents you from getting the great job that will help you out of a financial rut.

People have even been fired for broadcasting certain things on Facebook. A server not too long ago got fired from a restaurant for posting her opinion of a couple of guests she served. Less than a month ago, a teacher got fired for commenting about her students on Facebook. So, lesson (hopefully) learned, friends. If you wouldn’t want your employers, parents, grandparents, kids, etc. to read about it/view it, keep it off the Face. Poor Hester really had no choice. You do.

Treasure Island

Treasure Island recounts the tale of young Jim Hawkins who sets sail with a motley crew, including the slippery Long John Silver, to find pirate Captain Flint’s famed treasure. In this swashbuckling tale, all the characters need to do is follow a map that shows the island on which the treasure is hidden.

There’s No Map to Treasure Island

Gone are the days where people could just set sail for a distant island that held riches and treasures beyond their wildest dreams. There are no maps leading to certain wealth. This has its pros and cons. At least there aren’t many bloodthirsty pirates running (or sailing) around unchecked! Acquiring wealth these days usually requires more than seeking out adventure on the open sea.

Get Rich Quick schemes are out there, claiming to be the modern equivalent of treasure maps (i.e. “follow this formula and you will be rich.”) It’s not so simple anymore. There are easy ways that you can hope to make some extra money in difficult times, but getting rich or just happening upon instant wealth is a bit trickier. Stick to scavenger hunts if you can’t resist a treasure map.


In 1984 by George Orwell, Winston Smith rebels against “The Party” (lead by “Big Brother”) that controls society with government surveillance and public mind control. The Thought Police are always on constant lookout for people committing “thought crimes” or not thinking the way that the government wants them to think. All thoughts, speech and actions are closely monitored and violations are punishable by public death. The entire population is kept in a state of fear to maintain the totalitarian society.

Big Brother Is(n’t) Watching

Thank goodness the world didn’t turn out like this. Twenty-six years later it still seems safe. (Well, except the people that chose to be watched by Big Brother.)

Luckily, here in 2010, the government does not have mind control powers to use to enslave us. We are able to think for ourselves and act as we see fit (within the boundaries of the law, of course). We do not have to live like our neighbors. The police have no power to tell us what to think.

There are, however, ways that we can subject ourselves to 1984-ish behavior. The best example I can think of that is sort of like Big Brother is advertising. Television, magazine and internet ads exist to tell us what is cool, and just like the cool kids in high school, they love to tell us what “everyone is doing.”

For example, many people automatically think that you need to spend at least $20,000 on your wedding, but where does that number come from? To avoid the “norms” that the media has put into your head, break down the individual costs for everything, figure out what you specifically need and come up with your own number. Luckily, the Thought Police are not prowling the streets these days, so don’t treat your freedom lightly and think for yourself! Do what works for you and you will most definitely save more money than if you had followed trends because Big Brother, I mean, the media told you to.

Your Turn!

What examples can you think of? What financial advantages do we have over your favorite literary characters? Share your ideas/thoughts in the comments below and thanks for being a Tip Hero!

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[Photo credits: zap to it, mart wegman, daughter of Chaucer, Darth Praxus, view-askew, Spark Notes, bryndanbedel]