What can possibly be learned about modern finance from a book first published in 1926, you ask? What is so worthwhile about The Richest Man in Babylon that causes it to still be in print today? This week, we’ll look closer at this personal finance classic to see what hidden gems are within.
Since The Richest Man in Babylon is divided up into several short stories of varying degrees of quality, I thought I would review in great detail the one story that I found the most compelling.
The tale “Seven Cures for a Lean Purse” relates a story about Arkad, the titular richest man in Babylon. He is requested by the king to teach a class to anyone who wishes to attend on the methods he used to build his wealth. He divides this class across seven days, with each day focusing on a particular method for saving money. Here are the seven methods.
Start thy purse to fattening Take one-tenth of what you bring in and save it for the future. The book uses a coin analogy: for every nine coins you spend, take one and put it away for yourself. This is very sensible; a goal all of us should have.
Control thy expenditures Don’t buy frivolous things even if you have enough money to pay for them. Instead, make sure that you can continue to save one-tenth of what you bring in. For this reason, I write about frugality on The Simple Dollar.
Make thy gold multiply Once you start to build up some savings, invest that money so that it will make more money for you. Another pretty clear point; if you start saving money, it shouldn’t just sit in a mattress. Even a high-yield savings account is much better than that, and it can double your principal in about fifteen years.
Guard thy treasure from loss This one is interesting: you should only invest in things where the principal is safe. In other words, the book seems to discourage stock investing. I found this to be particularly interesting given that it was written in 1927, right in the midst of the first big American stock market boom. Of course, 1929 proved the author right.
Make of thy dwelling a profitable investment One should own their own home rather than renting because then money can be invested in the home or invested in other things rather than handed over to the landlord. Something tells me that this lesson applied better before people were looking at homes that were three or four times their annual income.
Insure a future income In other words, invest for retirement and your family’s well being after your passing. You should be dropping some Hamiltons right into your retirement account if you can possibly afford it.
Increase thy ability to earn Work hard, look for opportunities, and educate yourself. Today, a college education is one of the best investments you can make; I’m not saying that it’s a requirement to be successful, but it opens the door to greater possibilities.
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss in detail another short story that impacted me, then on Thursday I’ll discuss the remainder of the stories as a whole.
The Richest Man in Babylon is the seventh of fifty-two books in The Simple Dollar’s series 52 Personal Finance Books in 52 Weeks.