Habits Of Thrift
( Originally Published 1884 )
Workmen and Capital. --Habits of Economy.—Self-indulgence.—Results of Thriftlessness.—Uses of Saved Money.—Extravagant Living.—Bargainbuying.—Thrift and Unthrift.—Mortality.—Will Nobody Help Us?-Prosperous Times the Least Prosperous.—National Prosperity.—Moral Independence.
" Most men work for the present, a few for the future. The wise work for both for the future in the present, and, for the present, in the future."—Guesses at Truth
COMPETENCE and comfort lie within the reach of most people, were they to take the adequate means to secure and enjoy them. Men who are paid good wages might also become capitalists, and take their fair share in the improvement and well-being of the world. But it is only by the exercise of labor, energy, honesty, and thrift, that they can advance their own position or that of their class.
Society at present suffers far more from waste of money than from want of money. It is easier to make money than to know how to spend it. It is not what a man gets thats constitutes his wealth, but his manner of spending and economizing. And when a man obtains by his labor more than enough for his personal and family wants, and can lay by a little store of savings besides, he unquestionably possesses the elements of social well-being. The savings may amount to little, but they may be sufficient to make him independent.
There is no reason why the highly paid workman of today may not save a store of capital. It is merely a matter of self-denial and private economy. Indeed, the principal industrial leaders of today consist, for the most part, of men who have sprung directly from the ranks. It is the accumulation of experience and skill that makes the difference between the workman and the no-workman; and it depends upon the work-man himself whether he will save his capital or waste it. If he save it, he will always find that he has sufficient opportunities for employing it profitably and usefully.
Thrift of time is equal to thrift of money. Franklin said, " Time is gold." If one wishes to earn money, it may be done by the proper use of time. But time may also he spent in doing many good and noble actions. It may be spent in learning, in study, in art, in science, in literature. Time can be economized by system. System is an arrangement to secure certain ends, so that no time may be lost in accomplishing them. Every business man must be systematic and orderly; so must every housewife. There must be a place for every thing, and every thing in its place, There must also be a time for every thing, and every thing must be done in time.
It is not necessary to show that economy is useful Nobody denies that thrift may be practiced. We see numerous examples of it. What many men have al-ready done, all other men may do. Nor is thrift a. painful virtue. On the contrary, it enables us to avoid much contempt and many indignities. It requires us to deny ourselves, but not to abstain from any proper enjoyment. It provides many honest pleasures, of which. thriftlessness and extravagance deprives us.
Let no man say that he can not economize. There are few persons who could not contrive to save a few shillings weekly. In twenty years, three shillings saved weekly would amount to two hundred and forty pounds; and in ten years more, by addition of interest, to four hundred and twenty pounds. Some may say that they can not save nearly so much. Well ! begin with two shillings, one shilling, or even sixpence. Begin somewhere; but, at all events, make a beginning. Sixpence a week deposited in the savings-bank, will amount to forty pounds in twenty years, and seventy pounds in thirty years. It is the habit of economizing and denying one's self that needs to be formed.
Thrift does not require superior courage, nor superior intellect, nor any superhuman virtue. It merely re-quires common sense, and the power of resisting selfish enjoyments. In fact, thrift is merely common sense in everyday working action. It needs no fervent resolution, but only a little patient self-denial. BEGIN is its device! The more the habit of thrift is practiced the easier it becomes, and the sooner it compensates the self denier for the sacrifices which it has imposed.
The question may be asked. Is it possible for a man working for small wages to save any thing, and lay it by in a savings-bank, when he requires every penny for the maintenance of his family? But the fact remains, that it is done by many industrious and sober men; that they do deny themselves, and put their spare earnings into savings-banks, and the other receptacles provided for poor men's savings. And if some can do this, all may do it under similar circumstances, without depriving themselves of any genuine pleasure or any real enjoyment.
How intensely selfish is it for any one in the receipt of good pay to spend every thing upon himself; or, if he has a family, to spend his whole earnings from week to week, and lay nothing by. When we hear that a man who has been in the receipt of a good salary has died and left nothing behind him that he has left his wife and family destitute left them to chance to live or perish anywhere we can not but regard it as the most selfish thriftlessness. And yet comparatively little is thought of such cases. Perhaps the hat goes round. Subscriptions may produce something perhaps nothing; and the ruined remnant of the unhappy family sink into poverty and destitution.
Yet the merest prudence would, to a great extent, have obviated this result. The curtailment of any sensual and selfish enjoyment of a glass of beer or a screw of tobacco would enable a man, in the course of years, to save at least something for others, instead of wasting it on himself. It is, in fact, the absolute duty of the poorest man to provide, in however slight a degree, for the support of himself and his family in - the season of sickness and helplessness, which often comes upon men when they least expect such a visitation.
Comparatively few people can be rich; but most have it in their power to acquire, by industry and economy, sufficient to meet their personal wants. They may even become the possessors of saving sufficient to secure them against penury and poverty in their old age. It is not, however, the want of opportunity, but the want of will; that stands in the way of economy. Men may labor unceasingly with hand or head; but they can not abstain from spending too freely, and living too highly.
The majority prefer the enjoyment of pleasure to the practice of self-denial. With the mass of men the animal is paramount. They often spend all that they earn. But it is not merely the working people who are spend-thrifts. We hear of men who for years have been earning and spending hundreds a year, who suddenly die, leaving their children penniless. Every body knows of such cases. At their death the very furniture of the house they have lived in belongs to others. It is sold to pay their funeral expenses, and the debts which they have incurred during their thriftless life-time.
Money represents a multitude of objects without value, or without real utility; but it also represents something much more precious, and that is independence. In this light it is of great moral importance.
As a guarantee of independence, the modest and plebian quality of economy is at once ennobled and raised to the rank of one of the most meritorious of virtues. " Never treat money affairs with levity," said Bulwer; " money is character." Some of man's best qualities depend upon the right use of money such as his generosity, benevolence, justice, honesty, and forethought. Many of his worse qualities also originate in the bad use of money such as greed, miserliness, injustice, extravagance, and improvidence.
No class ever accomplished any thing that , lived from hand to mouth. People who spend all that they earn are ever hanging on the brink of destitution. They must necessarily be weak and impotent the slaves of time and circumstance. They keep themselves poor. They lose self respect, as well as the respect of others. It is impossible that they can be free and independent. To be thriftless is enough to deprive one of all manly spirit and virtue.
But a man with something saved, no matter how little, is in a different position. The little capital he has stored up is always a source of power. He is no longer the sport of time and fate. He can boldly look the world in the face. He is, in a manner, his own master. He can dictate his own terms. He can neither be bought nor sold. He can look forward with cheerfulness to an old age of comfort and happiness.
As men become wise and thoughtful, they generally become provident and frugal. A thoughtless man, like a savage, spends as he gets, thinking nothing of to-morrow, of the time of adversity, or of the claims of those whom he has made dependent on him. But a wise man thinks of the future; he prepares in good time for the evil day that may come upon him and his family; and he provides carefully for those who are near and dear to him.
What a serious responsibility does the man incur who marries! Not many seriously think of this responsibility. Perhaps this is wisely ordered. For much serious thinking might end in the avoidance of married life and its responsibilities. But, once married, a man ought forthwith to determine that, so far as his own efforts are concerned, want shall never enter his household; and that his children shall not, in the event of his being removed from the scene of life and labor, be left a bur-den upon society.
Economy with this object is an important duty. Without economy, no man can be just no man can be honest. Improvidence is cruelty to women and children, though the cruelty is born of ignorance. A father spends his surplus means in drink, providing little and saving nothing; and then he dies, leaving his destitute family his life-long victims. Can any form of cruelty surpass this? Yet this reckless course is pursued to a large extent among every class. The middle and upper classes are equally guilty with the lower class. They live beyond their means. They live extravagantly. They are ambitious of glare and glitter, frivolity and pleasure. They struggle to be rich, that they may have the means of spending of drinking rich wines and giving good dinners.
Many persons are diligent enough in making money, but do not know how to economize it, or how to spend it. They have sufficient skill and industry to do the one, but they want the necessary wisdom to do the other. The temporary passion for enjoyment seizes us, and we give way to it without regard to consequences. And yet it may be merely the result of forgetfulness, and may be easily controlled by firmness of will, and by energetic resolution to avoid the occasional causes of expenditure for the future.
The habit of saving arises, for the most part, in the desire to ameliorate our social condition, as well as to ameliorate the condition of those who are dependent upon us. It dispenses with every thing which is not essential, and avoids all methods of living that are wasteful and extravagant. A purchase made at the lowest price will be dear, if it be a superfluity. Little expenses lead to great. Buying things that are not wanted soon accustoms us to prodigality in other respects.
Cicero said, " Not to have a mania for buying, is to possess a revenue." Many are carried away by the habit of bargain-buying. " Here is something wonderfully cheap; let us buy it." " Have you any use for it?" "No, not at present; but it is sure to come in useful, some time." Fashion runs in this habit of buying. Some buy old china as much as will furnish a china-shop. Others buy old pictures old furniture old wines all great bargains! There would be little harm in buying these old things, if they were not so often bought at the expense of the connoisseur's creditors. Horace Walpole once said, " I hope that there will not be another sale, for I have not an inch of room nor a farthing left."
Men must prepare in youth and in middle age the means for enjoying old age pleasantly and happily. There can be nothing more distressing than to see an old man who has spent the greater part of his life in well-paid-for labor, reduced to the necessity of begging for bread, and relying entirely upon the commiseration of his neighbors or upon the bounty of strangers. Such a consideration as this should inspire men in early life with a determination to work and to save, for the benefit of themselves and their families in later years.
It is, in fact, in youth that economy should be practiced, and in old age that men should dispense liberally,, provided they do not exceed their income. The young man has a long future before him, during which he may exercise the principles of economy; while the other is reaching the end of his career, and can carry nothing out of the world with him.
This, however, is not the usual practice. The young man now spends, or desires to spend, quite as liberally, and often much more liberally, than his father, who is about to end his career. He begins life where his father left off. He spends more than his father did at his age, and soon finds himself up to his ears in debt. To satisfy his incessant wants, he resorts to unscrupulous means. and to illicit gains. He tries to make money rapidly; he speculates, overtrades, and is speedily wound up. Thus he obtains experience; but it is the result, not of well-doing, but of ill-doing.
Socrates recommends fathers of families to observe the practice of their thrifty neighbors of those who spend their means to the best advantage and to profit by their example. Thrift is essentially practical, and can best be taught by facts. Two men earn, say, five shillings a day. They are in precisely the same condition as respects family living and expenditure. Yet the one says he can not save, and does not; while the other says he can save, and regularly deposits part of his savings in a savings-bank, and eventually becomes a capitalist.
Samuel Johnson fully knew the straits of poverty.. He once signed his name Impransus, or Dinnerless. He had walked the streets with Savage, not knowing where to lay his head at night. Johnson never forgot the poverty through which he passed in his early life, and he was always counseling his friends and readers. to avoid it. Like Cicero, he averred that the best source of wealth or well-being was economy. He called it the daughter of Prudence, the sister of Temperance, and the mother of Liberty.
"Poverty," he said, "takes away so many means of doing good, and produces so much inability to resist evil, both natural and moral, that it is by all virtuous means to be avoided. Resolve, then, not to be poor; whatever you have, spend less. Frugality is not only the basis of quiet, but of beneficence. No man can help others who wants help himself; we must have enough before we have to spare."
And again he said, " Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness. It certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable, and others extremely difficult. . . . All to whom want is terrible, upon whatever principle, ought to think themselves obliged to learn the sage maxims of our parsimonious ancestors, and attain the salutary arts of contracting expense; for without economy none can be rich, and with it few can be pure."
When economy is looked upon as a thing that must be practiced, it will never he felt as a burden; and those who have not before observed it, will be astonished to find what a few pence or shillings laid aside weekly will do toward securing moral elevation, mental culture, and personal independence.
There is a dignity in every attempt to economize. its very practice is improving. It indicates self denial, and imparts strength to the character. It produces a well-regulated mind. It fosters temperance. It is based on forethought. It makes prudence the dominating characteristic. It gives virtue the mastery over self-indulgence. Above all, it secures comfort, drives away care, and dispels many vexations and anxieties which might otherwise prey upon us.
Some will say, " It can't be done." But every body can do something. " It can't " is the ruin of men and of nations. In fact, there is no greater cant than can't. Take an instance: A glass of beer a day is equal to forty-five shillings a year. This sum will insure a man's life for a hundred and thirty pounds payable at death. Or, placed in a savings-bank, it would amount to a hundred pounds in twenty years. But many drink half a dozen glasses of beer a day. This amount of beer, not drunk, would amount, during that time, to six hundred pounds. The man who spends ninepence a day in liquor squanders in fifty years nearly two thousand pounds.
A master recommended one of his workmen to " lay by something for a rainy day." Shortly after, the master asked the man how much he had added to his store. " Faith, nothing at all," said he; " I did as you bid me; but it rained very hard yesterday, and it all went in drink!"
That a man should maintain himself and his family without the help of others is due to his sense of self respect. Every genuine, self-helping man ought to respect himself. He is the center of his own little world.
His personal loves, likings, experiences, hopes, and fears —how important they are to him, although of little consequence to others! They affect his happiness, his daily life, and his whole being as a man. He can not, therefore, but feel interested, deeply interested, in all that concerns himself.
To do justice, a man must think well not only of himself, but of the duties which he owes to others. He must not aim too low, but regard man as created " a little lower than the angels." Let him think of his high destiny of the eternal interests in which he has a part of the great scheme of nature and providence of the intellect with which he has been endowed of the power of loving conferred upon him--of the home on earth provided for him; and he will cease to think meanly of himself The poorest human being is the centre of two eternities, the Creator overshadowing all.
Hence, let every man respect himself his body, his mind, his character. Self-respect, originating in self-love, instigates the first step of improvement. It stimulates a man to rise, to look upward to develop his intelligence to improve his condition. Self-respect is the root of most of the virtues of cleanliness, chastity, reverence, honesty, sobriety. To think meanly of one's self is to sink sometimes to descend a precipice at the bottom of which is infamy.
Every man can help himself to some extent. We are not mere straws thrown upon the current to mark its course; but possessed of freedom of action, endowed with power to stem the waves and rise above them, each marking out a course for himself. We can each elevate ourselves in the scale of moral being. We can cherish pure thoughts. We can perform good actions. We can live soberly and frugally. We can provide against the evil day. We can read good books, listen to wise teachers, and place ourselves under the divinest influences on earth. We can live for the highest purposes, and with the highest aims in view.
" Self-love and social are the same," says one of our poets. The man who improves himself, improves the world. He adds one more true man to the mass. And the mass being made up of individuals, it is clear that were each to improve himself, the result would be the improvement of the whole. Social advancement is the consequence of individual advancement. The whole can not be pure, unless the individuals composing it are pure. Society at large is but the reflex of individual conditions. All this is but the repetition of a truism, but truisms have often to be repeated to make their full impression.
Then, again, a man, when he has improved himself, is better able to improve those who are brought into contact with him. He has more power. His sphere of vision is enlarged. He sees more clearly the defects in the condition of others that might be remedied. He can lend a more active helping hand to raise them. He has done his duty by himself, and can with more authority urge upon others the necessity of doing the like duty to themselves. How can a man be a social elevator, who is himself walking in the mire of self-indulgence? How can he teach sobriety or cleanliness, if he he himself drunken or foul? " Physician, heal thyself," is the answer of his neighbors.
The sum and substance of our remarks is this: In all the individual reforms or improvements that we-desire, we must begin with ourselves. We must exhibit our gospel in our own life. We must teach by our own example. If we would have others elevated, we must elevate ourselves. Each man can exhibit the results in his own person. He can begin with self respect.
The uncertainty of life is a strong inducement to provide against the evil day. To do this is a moral and social as well as a religious duty. " But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."
The uncertainty of life is proverbially true. The strongest and healthiest man may be stricken down in a moment, by accident or disease. If we take human life in a mass, we can not fail to recognize the uncertainty of life as much as we do the certainty of death..
There is a striking passage in Addison's " Vision of Mirza," in which life is pictured as a passage over a bridge of about a hundred arches. A black cloud hangs over each end of the bridge. At the entrance to it there are hidden pitfalls very thickly set, through which throngs disappear, so soon as they have placed their-feet upon the bridge. They grow thinner toward the centre; they gradually disappear; until at length only a few persons reach the farther side, and these also having dropped through the pitfalls, the bridge at its farther extremity becomes entirely clear. The description of Addison corresponds with the results of the observations made as to the duration of human life.
Thus, of a hundred thousand persons born in this. country, it has been ascertained that a fourth of them die before they have reached their fifth year, and one-half before they have reached their fiftieth year. One thousand one hundred will reach their ninetieth year. Sixteen will live to a hundred. And only two persons. out of the hundred thousand like the last barks of an innumerable convoy will reach the advanced and helpless age of a hundred and five years.
Two things are very obvious the uncertainty as to the hour of death in individuals, but the regularity and constancy of the circumstances which influence the duration of human life in the aggregate. It is a matter of certainty that the average life of all persons born in this country extends to about forty-five years. This has been proved by a very large number of observations of human life and its duration.
Equally extensive observations have been made as to the average number of persons of various ages who die yearly. It is always the number of the experiments which gives the law of the probability. It is on such observations that the actuary founds his estimates of the mortality that exists at any given period of life. The actuary tells you that he has been guided by the laws of mortality. Now, the results must be very regular to justify the actuary in speaking of mortality as governed by laws. And yet it is so.
Indeed, there would seem to be no such thing as chance in the world. Man lives and dies in conformity to a law. A sparrow falls to the ground in obedience to a law. Nay, there are matters in the ordinary trans-actions of life, such as one might suppose were the mere result of chance, which are ascertained to be of remarkable accuracy when taken in the mass. For instance, the number of letters put in the post-office without an address, the number of letters wrongly directed, the number containing money, the number unstamped, continue nearly the same, in relation to the number of letters posted, from one year to another.
Now, it is the business of man to understand the laws of health, and to provide against their consequences; as, for instance, in the matter of sickness, accident, and premature death. We can not escape the consequences of transgression of the natural laws, though we may have meant well. We must have done well. The Creator does not alter his laws to accommodate them to our ignorance. He has furnished us with intelligence, so that we may understand them and act upon them : otherwise we must suffer the consequences in inevitable pain and sorrow.
We often hear the cry raised, " Will nobody help us?" It is a spiritless, hopeless cry. It is sometimes a cry of revolting meanness, especially when it issues from those who, with a little self denial, sobriety, and thrift, might easily help themselves.
Many people have yet to learn that virtue, knowledge, freedom, and prosperity must spring from them-selves. Legislation can do very little for them: it can not make them sober, intelligent, and well-doing. The prime miseries of most men have their origin in causes far removed from Acts of Parliament.
The spendthrift laughs at legislation. The drunkard defies it, and arrogates the right of dispensing with fore-thought and self-denial, throwing upon others the blame of his ultimate wretchedness. The mob orators, who gather " the millions" about them, are very wide of the mark, when, instead of seeking to train their crowds of hearers to habits of frugality, temperance, and self-culture, they encourage them to keep up the cry, " Will nobody help us ?"
The cry sickens the soul. It shows gross ignorance of the first elements of personal welfare. Help is in men themselves. They were born to help and elevate themselves. They must work out their own salvation. The poorest men have done it; why should not every man do it? The brave, upward spirit, ever conquers.
The number of well-paid workmen in this country has become very large, who might easily save and economize to the improvement of their moral well-being, of their respectability and independence, and of their status in society as men and citizens. They are improvident and thriftless to an extent which proves not less hurtful to their personal happiness and domestic comfort, than it is injurious to the society of which they form so important a part.
In " prosperous times " they spend their gains recklessly; and when adverse times come they are at once' plunged into misery. Money is not used, but abused; and when wage-earning people should be providing against old age, or for the wants of a growing family, they are, in too many cases, feeding folly, dissipation, and vice. Let no one say that this is an exaggerated picture. It is enough to look round in any neighbor hood, and see how much is spent and how little is saved; what a large proportion of earnings goes to the beer-shop, and how little to the savings-bank or the' benefit society.
" Prosperous times " are very often the least prosperous of all times. In prosperous times, mills are working full time; men, women, and children are paid high wages; warehouses are, emptied and filled; goods are manufactured and exported; wherries full of produce pass along the streets; immense luggage trains run along the railways, and heavily laden ships leave our shores daily for foreign ports, full of the products of our industry. Every body seems to be becoming richer and more prosperous. But we do not think of whether men and women are becoming wiser, better trained, less self indulgent, more religiously disposed, or living for any higher purpose than the satisfaction of the animal appetite.
If this apparent prosperity be closely examined, it will be found that expenditure is increasing in all directions. There are demands for higher wages; and the higher wages, when obtained, are spent as soon as earned. Intemperate habits are formed, and, once formed, the habit of intemperance continues. Increased wages, in-stead of being saved, are, for the most part spent in drink.
Thus, when a population are thoughtless and improvident, no kind of material prosperity will benefit them. Unless they exercise forethought and economy, they will alternately be in a state of " hunger and burst." When trade falls off, as it usually does after exceptional prosperity, they will not be comforted by the thought of what they might have saved, had it ever occurred to them that the " prosperous times " might not have proved permanent.
During prosperous times, Saint Monday is regularly observed. The bank holiday is repeated weekly.
" Where are all the workmen?" said a master to his foreman, on going the rounds among his builders; " this work must be pushed on, and covered in while the fine weather lasts." " Why, sir," said the foreman, " this is Monday; and they have not spent all their money yet." Dean Boyd, preaching at Exeter on behalf of the Devonshire hospitals, expressed his belief that the annual loss to the work-people engaged in the woolen manufacture, the cotton trade, the brick-laying and building trade, by Idle Monday, amounted to over seven million sterling.
If man's chief end were to manufacture cloth, silk, cotton, hardware, toys and china; to buy in the cheapest market and to sell in the dearest; to cultivate land, grow corn, and graze cattle; to live for mere money profit, and hoard or spend as the case might be, we might then congratulate ourselves upon our national prosperity. But is this the chief end of man? Has he not faculties, affections, and sympathies, besides muscular organs? Has not his mind and heart certain claims, as well as his mouth and his back? Has he not a soul as well as a stomach? And ought not prosperity " to include the improvement and well-being of his morals and intellect as well as of his bones and muscles?
Mere money is no indication of prosperity. A man's nature may remain the same. It may even grow more stunted and deformed, while he is doubling his expenditure, or adding cent. per cent. to his hoards yearly. It is the same with the mass. The increase of their gains may merely furnish them with increased means for gratifying animal indulgences, unless their moral character keeps pace with their physical advancement, Double the gains of an uneducated, overworked man, in a time of prosperity, and what is the result? Simply that you have furnished him with the means of eating and drinking more! Thus, not even the material well-being of the population is secured by that condition of things which is defined by political economists as " national prosperity." And so long as the moral elements of the question are ignored, this kind of " prosperity " is, we believe, calculated to produce far more mischievious results than good. It is knowledge and virtue alone that can confer dignity on a man's life; and the growth 'of such qualities in a nation is the only true mark of its real prosperity; not the infinite manufacture and sale of cotton prints, toys, hardware, and crockery.
The Bishop of Manchester, when preaching at a harvest thanksgiving near Preston, referred to a letter which he had received from a clergyman in the South of England, who, after expressing his pleasure at the fact that the agricultural laborers were receiving higher wages, lamented "that at present the only result he could discover from their higher wages was that a great deal more beer was consumed. If this was the use we were making of this prosperity, we could hardly call it a blessing for which we had a right or ground to thank God. The true prosperity in the nation consisted not so much in the fact that the nation. was growing in wealth though wealth was a necessary attribute of prosperity but that it was growing in virtue; and that there was a more equable distribution of comfort, contentment, and the things of this lower world."
In making the preceding observations, we do not in the least advocate the formation of miserly, penurious habits; for we hate the scrub, the screw, the miser. All that we contend for is, that men should provide for the future; that they should provide during good times for the bad times which almost invariably follow them; that they should lay by a store of savings as a break-water against want, and make sure of a little fund which may maintain them in old age, secure their self-respect. and add to their personal comfort and social well-being. Thrift is not in any way connected with avarice, usury, greed, or selfishness. It is, in fact, the very reverse of these disgusting dispositions. It means economy for the purpose of securing independence. Thrift requires that money should be used, and not abused that it should be honestly earned and economically employed
" Not for to put it in a hedge,