The tradition of penning personal finance books is very old. It started, like so many things in America, with Benjamin Franklin. In 1758, he published The Way to Wealth, a compilation of some of the money-related aphorisms contained inPoor Richard’s Almanac over the previous 25 years. The Way to Wealth is the source of many sayings that are still current today, including
Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
Keep the shop, and thy shop will keep thee.
Franklin’s financial advice is unusual, though, because he hardly ever refers to money. Instead, he talks about hard work, diligence, and frugality. With these qualities, he counsels, wealth is assured. “So what signifies wishing and hoping for better times,” Franklin writes. “We may make these times better if we bestir ourselves. Industry need not wish and he that lives upon hope will die fasting.”
Since Franklin’s day, financial self-help books have become a bit like diet books: They are in fashion for a season or two, then swiftly disappear into the discount bins. One book that has withstood the test of time, though, is George S. Clason’sThe Richest Man in Babylon. Clason was born in Louisiana, Missouri in 1874. He founded the Clason Map Company of Denver, CO, and hit it big with the first road atlases of the United States and Canada. In the 1920s, he began writing a series of pamphlets about personal finance, which took the form of parables set in ancient Babylon, the place where money may have been invented. Banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions started distributing Clason’s fables, and in 1926 he collected them into The Richest Man in Babylon. He died in 1957.
Clason is a worthy successor to Franklin. His stories are funny, familiar and studded with little aphoristic insights that make their lessons easy to remember. And like Franklin, he doesn’t talk as much about making money as about managing it.
Our acts can be no wiser than our thoughts.
Wealth that comes quickly goeth the same way.
Better a little caution than a great regret.
Where the determination is, the way can be found.