Some 19th-Century Money-Saving Tips

A dandy’s toilette, 1818. “Never lay out your money in dress before it is wanted, on the score of comfort and decency.” One of William Mavor's money saving tips

A dandy’s toilette, 1818. “Never lay out your money in dress before it is wanted, on the score of comfort and decency.”

When looking into the history of the 20 Questions game, I came across some splendid money saving tips published in 1829. Although intended for young men, these “Twelve Golden Rules of Prudent Economy Necessary to be Studied in Early Youth, that they May be Practiced at Maturer Age” could usefully be heeded by anyone at any age, even today. They were written by William Fordyce Mavor (1758-1837), a Scottish teacher, priest and prolific author of educational books. Perhaps something to show the student in your life?

Rules of Prudent Economy

I. Whenever you feel yourself disposed to go to the tavern, club, or any place of public or private entertainment, stay at home; and put down under this head what you reasonably suppose it would have cost you, had you indulged your taste for pleasure or dissipation.

II. When business can be as well despatched by a letter as by a journey, calculate the difference in the expense, and consider it as clear gain.

III. If under the necessity of taking a journey, compare the expense of going on foot, on horseback, or in a carriage; and whatever you save by altering your usual mode of travelling is unquestionably so much put into your pocket.

IV. When invited to make one on a party of pleasure, near home, or to take a distant excursion, not only estimate the money it will cause you to expend, but how much you may save or earn by declining the allurement. Enter this on the credit side of your accounts.

V. When you see any fruit, tarts, trinkets, or toys, which tempt you to draw your purse, but which you can do very well without, pull out as much money as the present object of temptation would cost, and set it apart as so much gained.

VI. If you have more servants, horses, dogs, or carriages than are necessary, or suitable to your fortune and rank in life, retrench till you barely consult convenience; and in many cases the balance in your favour will be very considerable.

VII. When you ask a party of friends to dinner (for without some society life is insupportable) make out a bill of fare, equally remote from extravagance and meanness; and instead of pressing bumpers [a glass filled to the brim], have the good manners and good sense to let each drink as he likes; by which means your stock of wine will last the longer, and you will save yourself and company a head-ache, or a debauch; besides no inconsiderable charges it would cost you to obtain this poor gratification. N.B. This rule is to be applied to all superfluous domestic expenses.

VIII. If you have a taste for showy or useless improvements, in order to indulge yourself, you make or get an estimate made of what they would cost; but put the money by, for some more urgent occasion.

IX. When you see your neighbour or equal changing his furniture, or new hanging his rooms because the fashion has changed, do not be fool enough to copy him; but think how much he spends idly, and estimate what you save wisely.

X. Never lay out your money in dress before it is wanted, on the score of comfort and decency; nor fancy that you gain in consequence in proportion to the expensiveness of your apparel. Only women and beaux value finery; and all the world knows they are laughed at for their folly and extravagance.

XI. Should indolence endeavour to arrest you, rouse yourself manfully: and if you know any honest means of employing a few leisure hours to advantage, reckon how much you gain by opposing a favourite inclination.

XII. And to conclude: if you have any private expenses which may be retrenched, convert them to the service of the poor, or the benefit of your family, if you have one. Thus you will frequently save your pocket, your credit, and your constitution, three things on which a wise and good man still continues to fix some value, notwithstanding the vicious refinements of the age.

These rules, duly observed, mutatis mutandis, according to age, circumstances, and situation, will tend to make men rich and respectable, enable them to do good, and promote long life and happiness. (1)

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Coiffure à la Titus

  1. William Fordyce Mavor, Miscellanies in Two Parts (Oxford, 1829), pp. 155-156.

8 commments on “Some 19th-Century Money-Saving Tips”

  • John Adan, MD, FACC, FSCAI says:

    A wonderful article. If we do not do stupid things, we can look brilliant. Berkshire Hathaway has paid 20.8% average annual compound interest for 51 years already. Save it and spend it on good stocks. You can draw 10% and continue growing at 10%, never out of money.

  • Rosemary says:

    Great stuff. Thanks

  • Mari Christian says:

    Strong recommendation from Dirk to join your blog.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      That’s very kind of Dirk. Thank you for taking a look at the blog, Mari. I hope you enjoy it. If you’d like to be notified of future posts, you can sign up for my mailing list or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr or LinkedIn (options at the bottom of the page).

  • Mari Christian says:

    No.X is my favorite, wherein women and beaux are lumped together as silly and extravagant. Mr or the Rev Fordyce Mavor is clearly a miserly sort who urges some kind of gloating over money saved. Sincere thanks for most instructive and amusing blog, Shannon.

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When you see your neighbour or equal changing his furniture, or new hanging his rooms because the fashion has changed, do not be fool enough to copy him; but think how much he spends idly, and estimate what you save wisely.

William Fordyce Mavor