The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Monday, January 14, 2013

P.T. Barnum Speaks of the Art of Money Getting

In P.T. Barnum's The Art of Money Getting or Golden Rules for Money Making, the grand nineteenth century entrepreneur, museum owner, and circus magnate gives pearls of wisdom for those seeking their own wealth "In the United States, where we have more land than people." He posits that, "It is not at all difficult for persons in good health to make money." If you wish to read his book in its entirety for free (an admirable savings of income that I could Mr. Barnum would have appreciated), you may download a copy from Project Gutenberg at

In these opening paragraphs, Mr. Barnum speaks of the general misapprehensions about the economy and then of one great truth. Be patient, it takes the great man three paragraphs to do so ...

True economy is misapprehended, and people go through life without
properly comprehending what that principle is. One says, "I have an
income of so much, and here is my neighbor who has the same; yet every
year he gets something ahead and I fall short; why is it? I know all
about economy." He thinks he does, but he does not. There are men who
think that economy consists in saving cheese-parings and candle-ends,
in cutting off two pence from the laundress' bill and doing all sorts of
little, mean, dirty things. Economy is not meanness.
The misfortune is,
also, that this class of persons let their economy apply in only one
direction. They fancy they are so wonderfully economical in saving a
half-penny where they ought to spend twopence, that they think they can
afford to squander in other directions. A few years ago, before kerosene
oil was discovered or thought of, one might stop overnight at almost any
farmer's house in the agricultural districts and get a very good supper,
but after supper he might attempt to read in the sitting-room, and
would find it impossible with the inefficient light of one candle. The
hostess, seeing his dilemma, would say: "It is rather difficult to read
here evenings; the proverb says 'you must have a ship at sea in order
to be able to burn two candles at once;' we never have an extra candle
except on extra occasions." These extra occasions occur, perhaps, twice
a year. In this way the good woman saves five, six, or ten dollars in
that time: but the information which might be derived from having the
extra light would, of course, far outweigh a ton of candles.

But the trouble does not end here. Feeling that she is so economical
in tallow candies, she thinks she can afford to go frequently to the
village and spend twenty or thirty dollars for ribbons and furbelows,
many of which are not necessary. This false connote may frequently
be seen in men of business, and in those instances it often runs to
writing-paper. You find good businessmen who save all the old envelopes
and scraps, and would not tear a new sheet of paper, if they could avoid
it, for the world. This is all very well; they may in this way save five
or ten dollars a year, but being so economical (only in note paper),
they think they can afford to waste time; to have expensive parties,
and to drive their carriages. This is an illustration of Dr. Franklin's
"saving at the spigot and wasting at the bung-hole;" "penny wise and
pound foolish." Punch in speaking of this "one idea" class of people
says "they are like the man who bought a penny herring for his family's
dinner and then hired a coach and four to take it home." I never knew a man
to succeed by practising this kind of economy. 

True economy consists in always making the income exceed the out-go.
Wear the old clothes a little longer if necessary; dispense with the new
pair of gloves; mend the old dress: live on plainer food if need be; so
that, under all circumstances, unless some unforeseen accident occurs,
there will be a margin in favor of the income. A penny here, and a
dollar there, placed at interest, goes on accumulating, and in this way
the desired result is attained. It requires some training, perhaps, to
accomplish this economy, but when once used to it, you will find there
is more satisfaction in rational saving than in irrational spending.
Here is a recipe which I recommend: I have found it to work an excellent
cure for extravagance, and especially for mistaken economy: When you
find that you have no surplus at the end of the year, and yet have a
good income, I advise you to take a few sheets of paper and form them
into a book and mark down every item of expenditure. Post it every day
or week in two columns, one headed "necessaries" or even "comforts", and
the other headed "luxuries," and you will find that the latter column
will be double, treble, and frequently ten times greater than the
former. The real comforts of life cost but a small portion of what most
of us can earn. Dr. Franklin says "it is the eyes of others and not
our own eyes which ruin us. If all the world were blind except myself I
should not care for fine clothes or furniture."
It is the fear of what
Mrs. Grundy may say that keeps the noses of many worthy families to the
grindstone. In America many persons like to repeat "we are all free and
equal," but it is a great mistake in more senses than one.

The emphasis is mine.  My favorite quote from this section is the first highlighted and repeated here: There are men who think that economy consists in saving cheese-parings and candle-ends, in cutting off two pence from the laundress' bill and doing all sorts of little, mean, dirty things. Economy is not meanness. 

I'm hoping in the budget battles to come, our Congress people and Senators will bear this in mind. Economy is not meanness. 

Thank you Mr. Barnum.

And now, a little attempt of "money getting" of my own that I hope is not meanness ...

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