We’re heading towards that time of year to be extra-generous to people while spending up large on gifts, holidays and other treats. But here’s a cautionary tale from Judy not to take either one to extremes. The consequences can be just as damaging as for the other extreme that we always hear about at Christmas – Scrooge. As the parents in this story found out, not even a pools win is a limitless amount of money for spending.
Published: Judy #1564 December 30 1989 to #1577 (31 March 1990)
Artist: Unknown artist – “Merry”
Writer: Unknown. Possibly the same writer as “Hard Times for Helen”
Minnie Mill and her family live in a shabby house in Badger Street. Then they win £300,000 on the pools.
Unfortunately Mum and Dad let the whole new flush of money go to their heads and turn into super-spendthrifts. They go crazy on buying new things right, left and centre. They treat the money as if it will never cease to end and begin to lose the meaning of its value. For example, when Dad receives a letter saying there’s a back payment from his old company he scorns it because it seems like chickenfeed to what he has now and can’t be bothered collecting it. Minnie is horrified at his attitude, and she collects it herself because someone around here has to be sensible. They give no thought to investment or long-term planning at all, despite the offer – and warning – from the pools representative.
The worst of it is that Mum is a good-natured woman with a heart of gold, so it is an all-too-easy matter for the money to turn her generosity into over-generosity. Dad is just the same. And Minnie is quick to realise why the residents of Badger Street who previously took little notice of them are suddenly crowding around to be nice and friendly – they are out to take advantage of the money and the parents’ generosity. Dad soon has a well-earned reputation for spending and giving away huge handfuls of money as if it were nothing and people say he’ll give away his last penny.
Minnie is also finding that kids are taking advantage of her as well and pretending to be friendly while finding ways to cheat her out of huge sums of money. Several of these tactics are really despicable. For example, one girl, Gladdie, appears to be genuine, so Minnie trusts her with £600 to pay her mother’s rent with. When she discovers the money has in fact gone into Gladdie’s bank account, she orders her to pay the money to charity – or else. Another girl, Ida, cons Minnie out of money that was supposed to go on replenishing her grandmother’s empty coal cellar. When Minnie finds out, she helps to replenish the cellar secretly. Even a girl who is far richer than Minnie cheats her out of money.
Minnie reckons she has no friends anymore; the ones she had have joined the bullies who shout “Minnie the Meanie!” at her. Only one girl, Rosie, seems to be a friend. But by now Minnie has been so badly burned she just can’t trust anyone.
Because of all this cadging and cheating, Minnie becomes afraid to display her generosity openly and with the gay abandon that the parents do. She resorts to doing it in secret, and where she sees it is going to a genuine cause, such as replenishing the grandmother’s coal supply or getting treatment for a sick dog.
Minnie also starts saving any money she can get her hands on (including Dad’s unwanted back payment) into the account her parents gave her. This is because she realises their money will run out because of their careless spending, and a reserve will be required for when this happens.
This and not displaying her generosity openly give the impression that she is turning into a miser, a reputation she believes she must cultivate in order to protect her parents’ money as best she can. The people of Badger Street start to bully and jeer at her, calling her “Minnie the Meanie!” in the street. This causes misunderstandings with her parents, who think she is turning into a miser too. So they don’t listen when she tries to tell them that people are taking advantage of them. They just brush it off because they have lots of money anyway, so what’s the big deal?
At first the parents dismiss warning signs that they are spending too much. Dad laughs and says there’s still plenty left. They buy over a house next door (and make an overinflated offer for it!) so they can add it to their own and develop their residence in accordance with how they are rising up the social scale. Once the redevelopment is complete, Mum throws out the furnishings they only just bought when the money first arrived and buys whole new ones!
Ironically, the parents don’t even approve of Minnie saving money instead of spending it as they do and think it’s just more of her miserliness. This attitude gets really bizarre. For example, when they find out what Minnie did with the back payment, what angers them is that she saved the money instead of spending it! They are far less bothered about her taking the money herself.
Minnie’s saving causes other problems too. For example, she goes on a shopping spree, and then returns the gifts for money, which gets banked. Nasty Ella Stevens finds out and starts blackmailing her. To get Ella off her back, Minnie tells the folks herself. She then teaches Ella a lesson by compelling her to donate £20 to the Youth Club Roof Fund.
One day Dad comes in looking awfully worried. He does not say what is wrong, but Minnie guesses that Dad is paying more heed to warning signals that the money is running out. Indeed, he now becomes more wary about spending money. Strangely, Dad would still much rather have Minnie spending than saving, which she steps up of course. Meanwhile, Mum pays no attention and continues with heedless spending.
Dad getting worried about the spending prompts nasty gossip from the neighbours that the parents are getting as mean as Minnie. Despite Minnie’s protests not to give in to such bullying, Mum tries to stop the gossip by lavishing even more generosity on them.
One of the worst cases of this is when Mum takes the residents of Badger Street on an outing that includes a funfair and an expensive lunch. Dad joins in Minnie’s protests that they are spending far more than necessary on the trip, what with buying snacks for the residents on top of the lunch and giving them all spending money at the fair. Mum just tells him that he’s getting as bad as Minnie and he gives in to keep the peace. Minnie secretly cancels the lunch and temporarily hides Dad’s wallet so he can’t treat the residents elsewhere, hoping their reaction will make the parents see sense. Their reaction is to accuse the parents of pulling cheap tricks despite the other treats they provided, stalk off to find a cuppa without including the Mills, and they show they care more about a free lunch than Dad getting his wallet nicked. Dad is outraged and disgusted at this, while Mum does not open her eyes at all. However, Minnie has new hope that Dad is beginning to see things her way.
Indeed, Dad starts quarrelling with Mum over her overspending while she says he’s just a big meanie like Minnie. Minnie cannot reason with her either. Dad groans when the latest bank statement arrives, and Minnie can guess why.
Finally, the inevitable happens because of Mum’s overspending. But by the time she learns this, it’s too late – her latest spending spree has run up a total of £29,500 in bills to pay! So they are not only stony broke but also in huge debt, and there are angry creditors on the doorstep too.
Minnie managed to save enough to clear the debts, and there is even a bit left over. The parents now understand why Minnie was saving so hard. So the next time the bullies call Minnie a meanie, Mum gives them a real piece of her mind and tells them what Minnie did for them. After this they apologise to Minnie, admit they were just jealous and how horrible they were, and they also guess who the secret beneficiary was. Minnie gets her friends back and forgives their conduct. The other Badger Street residents rally around to help out once the word spreads (with a few gloating exceptions).
The parents have to find a new way to make ends meet. At Minnie’s suggestion, they use the two cars they have now and the remaining money to start a taxi business.
This story is so realistic because it draws on so many real-life stories that we hear about. People who go from rags to riches, only to end up in rags again. People who win vast fortunes – only to lose the lot within a few years because they handled the money badly, as the Mill parents did. People who come into a huge amount of money get taken advantage of by cadgers and false friends. Which is precisely the reason why some people who win the lotto prefer to stay quiet about it. Over-generous people losing huge amounts of money because they can’t stop giving – sometimes even when they can’t even afford to give – and cadgers taking advantage of them as well. People who found that huge wins turned sour for them and prove the old adage that money is not everything. All of it is revolving around in this story.
Through Minnie’s eyes, we see an exploration of greed and how it brings out the worst in people, even in people Minnie thought were her friends. Minnie always sees vultures swooping in on what the parents have to give away and cadgers dropping in to take advantage with sob stories and such. She also sees jealousy in people when they’re not grasping, such as nasty gossips. Jealousy is clearly behind all their nastiness towards Minnie as they were whispering she was turning into a miser well before she started on her so-called miserly conduct. At the party to celebrate the win they are gossiping that she is a miser just because she doesn’t look so happy; in fact it’s because she already suspects their cadging.
While the residents of Badger Street say Mrs Mill has a heart of gold, they do not reciprocate it in any way or show any gratitude for the things the Mill parents do for them. They don’t even give the Mill family a cup of flour when they ask for one or offer to help out when Dad loses his wallet. All they do is take, take, take from the Mill family now that they’re in the money, and they don’t give anything in return. They have a nerve calling Minnie a meanie when they are so mean themselves towards the Mill family and don’t show them any generosity. It’s not until the very end that they rediscover their kindness and give something back to the Mill family.
The story also comments on how a huge supply of money can get people to take things for granted. Dad laughs off the back payment because it looks nothing compared to his win. Mum throws out brand-new and expensive furnishings and thinks nothing of the expense of buying new ones. An expensive trolley goes when the vultures swoop on the old furnishings, but Mum dismisses it as no big deal (Dad is more horrified). Mum thinks little of a woman cadging off her because she’s got so much money anyway. The parents would never have thought that way in the days when they lived in shabby accommodation and Mum had to be a careful housekeeper because they did not have much money. Minnie never goes that way at all and is appalled at her parents’ attitude.
This story is no exception to girls’ serials where the protagonist has far more brains, common sense and perception than her parents. While the parents are so blithe to the cadging or shrug it off, Minnie can see right through it. Minnie gets victimised by the cadging too, but at least she rumbles the cadgers and does something about it wherever she can. Also, Minnie never catches the “buying disease” as her parents do and goes crazy on spending, so she is quick to realise where it is all going to lead. She is the only one to take active steps to prepare for that eventuality. Dad eventually heeds the warning signals about the impending doom, but he does not really do anything about it. He does worry and quarrels with his wife about overspending, but he does not actually tell the family what is going on or show them the bank statements. Nor did he put any remaining money into a reserve, as Minnie did.
Minnie is more assertive than many protagonists. So many of them, such as Helen Shaw from “Hard Times for Helen”, just suffer in silence and don’t speak out (until the end). But Minnie is not afraid to speak up. She constantly speaks parents about the cadging, even if they don’t listen. At times she even talks back at the cadgers and bullies.
And of course it’s all thanks to the protagonist that things do not turn out so badly for the parents in the end. If it had not been for Minnie, their stupidity, lack of foresight and heedless spending would have ruined them entirely and they would ended up even worse off than when they were to begin with. As it is, Minnie’s money and brains and Mum’s not-too-bad idea of buying a second car enable them to begin on a new business venture that keeps them from going right back to square one or even worse.
It’s a relief all around when the money goes, because it brought only trouble. But then, much of that was due to the parents handling the money badly and not heeding the advice of the pools representative. If the Mill parents get another chance at the pools, they will no doubt try to use the money more wisely.