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Ye Olde Financial Advice That Still Rings True

These 16 wise money tips published a century ago remain on the mark today

illustration of a balanced old-fashioned scale, wallets, coin purses, hand bags, jewelry and more

Illustrations by Carolyn Sewell

 

Some of the best financial advice you can read today isn’t original or innovative; it’s just been rewritten for a new audience. Because money itself has been around a few thousand years, wise thinkers have had plenty of time to come up with helpful hints about saving, spending and borrowing the stuff. Want some evidence that your grandparents — or great-great grandparents, even — knew as much or more about money than you do? Check out these nuggets of financial wisdom drawn from books published generations ago. Their phrasing may be quaint, but their substance is as relevant as ever.

 

Let Us Rename Saving

“The great trouble with talking about saving is that people don’t like to be denied. They dislike to be repressed. They dislike to be told not to do things. ...

Is it not unfortunate that we have the word ‘saving’ at all, with its ‘kill-joy’ implication? Would it not be better if we spoke of ‘delayed spending’ rather than saving?”

—Putnam’s Investment Handbook (1919)

 

Pay Yourself First

“We all probably have determined again and again to spend as economically as possible, that we may have something at the end of the month that we could ‘save,’ only to find that there never was anything left over. The only way that one can save money systematically is to put aside a fixed amount for that purpose every month or week, and this BEFORE one considers the other items of the budget.”

—Spending the Family Income (1922)

 

Some Luxuries Are Necessities

“The half dollar that a man saves by renouncing the custom of bringing the weekly handful of flowers or box of candy to his wife is as poor an investment as that she makes when she abstains from giving him the savory meat which his soul loveth because it costs two cents more a pound than a cheaper dish for which he cares nothing. These kindly thoughts, these little evidences of tender recollection, make a better showing when they are added up than any savings bank account.”

—In City Tents (1902)

 

Appearances Are Costly

“A man should live more for himself than for the world — that is to say, that his expenditure should be regulated rather by the real extent of his means than by what the world supposes those means to be. ... If he is to model his conduct and expenditure on what he may suppose the world expects from him, he ceases to be independent, and is in fact the slave of all the gossips of his parish.”

A New System of Practical Domestic Economy (1827)

 

Unpaid Labor Is Still Labor

“To describe [mothers who are earning money] as the ‘gainfully employed’ would have implied a discrimination against labor in the home as productive work, which married housekeepers who do not receive wages justly resent.”

—Mothers Who Must Earn (1914)

 

Balance Is Everything

“No man is rich whose expenditure exceeds his means, and no man is poor whose income exceeds his outgoings.”

—The Prosperity Book (1919)

 

Diversification Is Crucial

“Another thing of a precautionary nature it is well enough for the investor to do, and that is to scatter his purchases. The old adage about putting all the eggs in one basket applies with peculiar force to investments. The tendency with those having but moderate sums ... is to make up their minds in favor of a single line of securities and put everything there. Of course, a failure in that quarter is particularly disastrous.”

—The Art of Investing (1888)

 

Emergency Funds Are a Blessing

“Nothing makes one feel so at peace with all the world as to know that there is a small but growing sum laid by for the rainy day which is absolutely sure to come just when you can least endure it. Think what it means to have something to fall back on in a great emergency!”

—Living on a Little (1908)

 

Beware of Stockbrokers Guaranteeing Success

“The more responsible and reputable a broker is, the less rosy the promises he will make you. It is only the irresponsible promoter and fly-by-night, mushroom broker who will make big promises.”

—Putnam’s Investment Handbook (1919)

 

Talk Money With Your Spouse

“Many women are kept in the dark concerning their husbands’ business affairs, their plans and investments. ... Husbands should take their wives into their confidence, and explain what they are doing and why. In many cases the natural intuition of women may raise questions or sound warnings which, if observed, may avert disaster.”

—Making the Most of Your Income (1937)

 

Shun Hot Tips

“Many a small investor goes into stock buying because he has received that peculiar something, or that indescribable nothing, which is known as a ‘tip.’ Ninety-nine and nine-tenths of the so-called ‘tips’ are intentionally misleading. People who have ‘tips’ good for anything usually have brains enough to keep them to themselves.”

—How to Save Money (1912)

 

You Can Be Too Cheap

“There is waste ... in false economy. It is always wasteful to buy articles of inferior quality, as sleazy towels and table-cloths that have no wear in them, or loosely woven matting that soon pulls apart, or poor food that cannot be eaten.”

—How to Live on a Small Income (1909)

 

Don’t Be Distracted by Sales Pitches

“When making a purchase, keep your mind on the qualities you are out to buy. This guards you from the irrelevancies of sales talk. Forget ‘From France Comes the Gift of a Smooth Skin’; think of lather, freedom from alkali, and price per pound.”

—Your Money’s Worth (1938)

 

Lend Money Cautiously

“Your friend comes to you to borrow one hundred dollars. You must consider, first, whether or not you can afford to give him the money, whether or not you can take the ordinary or extraordinary chance in justice to yourself and your family. If you decide that you cannot afford to do this, then you should not loan the money.”

—How to Save Money (1912)

 

Balance Is the Key to Wealth

“ ‘If you know how to spend less than you earn,’ says one, ‘you have the philosopher’s stone’; for, after all, it is not what we make, but what we save, that enriches us.”

—Six Hundred Dollars a Year (1867)

 

Money Is Not a Cure-all, but ...

“Money isn’t everything. It can’t always buy health and happiness, but if by your present thrift you are able to get into comfortable circumstances and banish the worry of debt, will you not be doing something that will surely make for health and happiness?”

—The Book of Thrift (1915)

 



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