There are a few basic tenets to follow if you want to grow your wealth without compromising your integrity:
- Save more than you earn.
- Watch out for debt.
- Live simply.
- Don’t be greedy.
- Give back if you can.
Remarkably, these foundations were being discussed by the ancient thinkers who wrote our most famous religious texts. The personal finance dictates laid down by the The New Testament (Christianity), The Torah (Judaism), and the Quran (Islam) are as applicable today as they were centuries years ago.
Here’s what three of the most famous ancient texts have to say about the key aspects of building wealth while living a happy life:
Watch Out for Debt
New Testament: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” (Romans 8.13)
Quran: “Devour not usury, doubling and quadrupling (the sum lent).” (3:130)
Torah: “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)
Debt is a constant nuisance in our modern, credit-based society, so the ancients were especially prescient with their warnings. Back in their day, getting behind on payments after borrowing a couple goats was the extent of the biblical-era worries. You can imagine the people who said the above quotes fainting were they to learn that people now borrow $200,000 to get a liberal arts degree.
- Related: The True Cost of Debt
Plan Ahead and Budget
New Testament: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28-30)
Quran: “Do not spend wastefully.” (Surat Al-Isra 17:26)
Old Testament: “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” (Proverbs 6:6-8)
People in the modern era struggle to budget and save. Year after year, surveys show about half of Americans would be forced to take on debt to cover one unplanned $500 expense. That indicates a startling amount of poverty, but it also shows we have much room for improvement in the budgeting and saving department. Many of the people polled had salaries that should have easily been able to support a middle-class lifestyle and still cover minor emergency expenses.
The ancients might have built up an emergency fund by socking away a stash of dried fruit and gold coins, and we should follow the same principles with our modern means. Spending wisely and setting aside cash for emergencies will go a long way toward helping the average American sleep at night.
Don’t Cheat People
Quran: “Eat up not one another’s property unjustly.” (2:188)
Torah: “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages.” (Jeremiah 22:13)
New Testament: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:7)
In an era rife with corporate greed, political embezzlement scandals, and worker exploitation, there is no better time to reflect on the quotes from this section. Cheating always ends up coming back to bite you, be it through guilt or some other means. Wealth built through chicanery will always be unstable. The ancients recognized this and warned against it accordingly.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go return all the pens and notepads I’ve pilfered from my office over the years (okay, maybe that’s too far).
Torah: “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Proverbs 10:4)
Quran: “Be not prodigal.” (6:141)
New Testament: “Whoever doesn’t want to work shouldn’t be allowed to eat.” (Thessalonians 3:10)
These old books can be pretty harsh when it comes to promoting the values of hard work. You imagine that was due to the fact that they couldn’t just drive over to Costco and buy a 70-pound drum of rice if they wanted to feed their families.
Despite the slightly aggressive overtones, the fact remains that they have a point. Focused effort is what keeps you on track when times are tough, especially when it comes to saving money. This idea was put into writing ages ago, but remains as relevant as ever. You won’t get an interview, get a job, get promoted, or build a business if you don’t develop and practice a good work ethic.
Appreciate What You Have
Torah: “He who is greedy of gain destroys his own house.” (Proverbs 15:27)
New Testament: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” (Hebrews 13:5)
Quran: “Two hungry wolves loose among sheep do not cause as much damage as that caused to a man’s deen by his greed for money and reputation.” (Hadith number 484)
Greed and envy inevitably lead people to get caught on a “keeping up with the Joneses” treadmill. You’ll always need bigger, better, and more expensive things until you realize that happiness cannot be found solely through money and status.
If you can’t slow down to appreciate what you already have, all your efforts at obtaining financial independence will be for not. There will always be people with more money than you, so it’s best to focus on what you can control and to forget about the rest.
- Related: Running on the Hedonic Treadmill
Consider Giving to the Less Fortunate
Quran: “[…] And giveth to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer.” (2:177)
Torah: “Open your hand generously, and extend any credit he needs to take care of his wants.” (Deut. 15:8)
New Testament: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (Luke 12:33)
Life is not all about accumulating so much money you can afford to dive into a swimming pool full of gold coins. It’s about being smart with your money so that you have enough left over to give to causes that matter to you. Selling your possessions and going minimalist isn’t necessary, but it does make you think about the value you can provide to others if you pare down your life.
These quotes, specifically, help me to slow down and reevaluate the things that actually make me happy. They are useful to remember when financial stresses start to build.
The Bible, The Torah, and the Quran contain their own nuances, unique teachings, and preferences. But, they are more alike than not when it comes to advice on how to grow wealth in a responsible manner.
In a time in when it’s so easy to become divisive and isolated, it’s helpful to see that, at least when it comes to handling money, the major religions agree on some of the most important precepts.