It’s believed that metal coins were first used as money around 5000 BC- that’s 7000 years ago. Not much else has been around for that long. There is so much to learn when it comes to money, but the basic concepts haven’t changed. Below are some historical, and some contemporary proverbs that can and should be your guide on all money management matters.
“Never spend money before you have it” –Thomas Jefferson
This is a very roundabout way of saying “don’t go into debt.” This is a tough thing today. Do you have debt? Most do. I have debts- my mortgage, my car, and my wife’s car. These are common debts. However, if you can afford it, Jefferson is saying to keep out of debt (and I 100% agree). Debt is spending tomorrow’s money- you don’t have tomorrow’s money, you only have today’s money. Save up. Pay cash. No Debt.
“It takes a lot of borrowing to live within your means” - Unknown
I like this quote immediately following a quote about not going into debt. I tried very hard to credit this proverb, but I couldn’t find anything besides ‘unknown.’ Sorry. Anyway, this proverb is hilarious. You see, living within your means ultimately means having no debt- paying for today’s needs with today’s money. However, so many times we purchase things on credit and believe that if we can make the payments that we are living within our means. Are we? If our means are technically the money we have today, then taking out a loan to buy something is living outside or beyond our means, right? The lesson to learn here is that we have adjusted the definition of ‘living within your means’ to be understood as not taking on too much debt. I’m guessing a mortgage lender made this proverb up…
“A penny is a lot of money if you haven't got a penny.” - Yiddish proverb
The Jews get a reputation for being knowledgeable about money. I believe this type of proverb is the reason for that reputation. This proverb is very much about perspective. My minister, Mindy Ross (www.impactcity.tv) once said that “…blessings are a matter of perspective.” I’ve also heard the old phrase “it’s better than nothing.” I think that’s fitting here. To you, a penny probably isn’t much money, right? In 2015, the average annual wage in the US was $58,700. The average annual wage of Mexico was $14,867. That’s 1/4th the wage of the US. Why are you telling me this, Jeff? Let me finish, jeez. Money is a matter of perspective. For many of us, $58K is a really good wage, and $14K is a really bad wage. But in Mexico- $14K is the average. In Mexico, $14K is a really good wage. Consider the idea put forth in this Jewish proverb the next time you think you’re broke.
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost” -Luke 14:28
It seemed only fitting to follow a Jewish proverb with a scripture from the Christian bible. This is actually a quote from Jesus. Whether you believe He was the Son of God or not, one thing you have to at least acknowledge is that his life changed the course of history forever. Jesus was actually referencing the cost of following Him, but I think we can interpret it a little differently. What Jesus said was true, no matter his context- people need to budget. People need to analyze their money. People need to understand the costs of their actions. Same goes for us today, replace “to build a tower” with anything at all: ‘For which of you, intending to buy a house, does not sit down first and count the cost.’ ‘For which of you, intending to take out a second mortgage on your home, does not sit down first and count the cost.’ ‘For which of you, intending to leave your comfortable job for a new one, does not sit down first and count the cost.’ ‘For which of you, intending to invest in a family member’s small business, does not sit down first and count the cost.’ Do you get it yet? You need to, before making a financial decision, sit down first and count the cost. Let me give you my own proverb- “Every decision you make is a financial decision.”
“If you buy what you don’t need, you steal from yourself” –Swedish Proverb
I love this one- I’m going to type it out and glue it inside my wife’s wallet. The Swedes are typically known for being Vikings, inventing Vodka, and being the birth country of ABBA (who’s ABBA? I don’t know, I borrowed that list from www.listverse.com ). But this proverb is amazing. I’ve never heard it put so plainly. If you buy something you don’t need, you are stealing from yourself… wow. Mind. Blown. This is the ultimate reason for buyer’s remorse- you’ve purchased something that you don’t end up needing and you’re upset with yourself because you could have used that money elsewhere. Now that money is gone. You’ve stolen it from yourself.
“Spending is quick; earning is slow” –Russian proverb
Earning takes time. How many hours do you have to work to make $250? Some of us that’s an entire day. Some of us that’s 2 days. Some of us it’s 3. If you’re making $10/hour you’d probably have to work 30+ hours to bring home $250. How many seconds does it take to buy a 1-Drawer Demilune Sofa Table for $247.30 (+ FREE SHIPIING) from Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Sofa-Table)? Well, it takes about 1 minute depending on your internet connection. So you can work for 30 hours to make enough money to spend in 1 minute on Amazon. Stew on that for a minute. 30 hours to make $250. 1 minute to spend $250. Think about the time you put in to get your $250. The time you spent away from your family, away from your children, away from your Coors Light. Now think about how quickly you blew it… stop crying.
“If possible honestly, if not, somehow, make money.” the poetry of Horace (65–8 BC)
This is the oldest known proverb on my list. This was created by Horace in the century prior to Jesus’s birth… so a really long time ago. It’s an interesting take on profit. What Horace is pointing out is that you need to make money. Money is very important and you should try to get some. The proverb suggests that you try an honest approach first, get a job, work in the community, provide a service, start a business, etc. He wants you to work as best as you can to make money. However, if you cannot make money ‘honestly’, you still need to make money. So if not ‘honestly’ the other option is ‘somehow’ make money. Notice that he didn’t say, if not honestly, then you won’t ever make money. I’m not condoning illegal actions here and I don’t believe Horace was either- the focus of this proverb is that money is important and that you need to have it. If you don’t have it, you need to get it.
“The rich man plans for tomorrow... The poor man for today.” - Chinese proverb
The Chinese sort of remind me of the Jews in terms of their reputation for money. They know a lot about it. This one isn’t necessarily about money, but it’s about people with money. This analogy is really saying that the rich plan ahead. They are smart. The poor plan in the near term. They are dumb (stop being dumb). Rich people invest, they budget, they save, they manage their money. The poor focus on their immediate needs and wants. I believe this proverb is also saying that if you want to become rich you need to start planning for tomorrow.
“An inch of time is worth an inch of gold, but it is hard to buy one inch of time with one inch of gold” -–Chinese Proverb
“Time is money” is a common proverb- notice it’s not on my list. I replaced it with this one instead. This proverb is saying that time is more important than money. Time and money are linear, not cyclical. You spend time at your job to get money. You spend that money on things. The more things you have the more money you’ll need, so the more time you’ll spend at your job. However, you can never use that money to buy more time- you can only buy things. Time is the real currency. This proverb reminds us that time is precious and that we should be just as careful with our time as we are with our money. Take time to live. Take time and give it to your children or your spouse. Take time and give it to your parents and grandparents. Take time and give it to your church or to whatever you believe in. Time will be more valuable to those people than your money. Can you imagine telling your mother “I don’t want to come over for Christmas this year, so I’ll just pay you $100.”? If your mother is anything like mine you probably wouldn’t even finish that sentence- she’d interrupt you with a quick smack across your face. Your mother wants your time- it’s more valuable than your money.
“It’s not money that brings happiness, it’s lots of money.” - Russian proverb
“Money can’t buy happiness.” Screw that. Money can buy happiness if you know what you’re doing. I have some money, I’m happy when I can use it. I spend money on things and trips and gifts- it makes me happy. I know what you’re thinking- “Jeff, it’s not the money that makes you happy, it’s the experiences.” Well, you’re wrong. Without the money, I wouldn’t have the experiences of taking a trip, giving a nice gift, buying nice things for my house. If I had LOTS of money, think of all the happiness I could buy…
Our ancestors dealt with money as much as we do today, if not more. They had lots of strategies for saving, investing, and spending their money. I hope this post can be referenced by you in the future and you can take the 2,060 years’ worth of advice I just gave you and apply it to your money management today. Let me know what you think- post a comment with your favorite life or financial proverb. I look forward to reading and responding to every single one of them.