On the Virtue of Thrift


On the Virtue of Thrift


On the Virtue of Thrift


Having read a book by Dr Smiles, the author of “ Self Help ” on the subject of “ Thrift ” Claudius Clear is lead to express the opinion that nowadays not enough emphasis is laid on the wisdom of saving. He points out how necessary it is to lay by a store for old age or emergencies and shows that it can only be done by practising economy.

IT IS customary in these days to laugh at Samuel Smiles and his teachings. Mr. Shorter and other critics openly deride him, and maintain that the great secret of getting on is to have good luck. . . . But

still I am persuaded that moralists ought to say more than they do about the virtue of thrift and the wisdom of saving. There is none of Die virtues that has gone so much out of fashion. One generation ago thrift was earnestly inculcated and assiduously practised even by the poorest. This at least was true of Scotland. Children were encouraged by money-boxes which accommodated pence and answered for their safe custody with life itself. Carlyle, it will be remembered, saved his money in a receptacle of this kind. What was learned in childhood was often the rule of the years. I remember three old men whose incomes never exceeded £40 a year. They saved and saved till they accumulated and left behind them as much as £1,000. Their way was to lie there accumulating' interest, and ' the bank, to let it then when they had enough to buy or build a house which they let out in rooms. There are at least three such houses well known to me, which were reared in this manner. My father was the most frugal of men, but everything he saved went for the purchase of books. When he was nearing eighty he used to walk eight miles to the station when he visited the county town, and eight miles back. He returned triumphant with his three shillings converted into books. In

the volumes thus acquired he had a peculiar pleasure. But nowadays children get a great deal of money, and they are often urged by the donors to spend it immediately. There is a considerable contempt for thrift, and most people seem to live up to the limits of their income. To preach economy is thought the sure sign of a narrow soul. It is not so. r. iiere never was a more generous man than Dr. Guthrie, and yet he could read the lesson of thrift with a rare impressiveness.

When I write about the advisability of saving, I am not referring to the consummate passion for getting on and making huge fortunes which is the special characteristic of the age. There was a time when the ideal of mankind was happy continuance in a state of well-being. This was specially true of the Orientalists, true of’the Chinese, of the Hindoos, and of the Mussulmans. The^ did not despise money or power, but they did not over-prize them, and the idea of social advance had little or no attraction. It has been said that a century before the revolution, continance was considered not merely a pleasant thing, but a right thing. It was the most prominent social idea embodied in the teaching of the Church Catechism. If a man could stay where he was and live easily, he was quite content, free from envy, and untroubled by care. What more did he want ? He might have been glad to have more, but the desire to get on was quite subordinate to his satisfac-

tion in defending the position he had attained. I suppose America is largely responsible for the intense craving after material success which seems to be the dominant impulse among the vast majority to-day. Will the passion ever entirely die out ? Many feelings equally dominant for the time, like the patriotism of the Romans, have gone. Perhaps it is not very likely. It may be killed b^ force. A new system may overthrow the possibility of getting on. Socialism may be tried, and, if the experiment is ever made, we shall see how far it can be permanent. But at present stagnation is far off. The more money that a man accumulates, the more he desires. One need not look further than the daily papers for proofs in abundance.

In this country the vast majority of us have no prospect whatever of making money to any large extent. We shall be very fortunate if we remain as we are to-day. So the question for us is how can we spare a part of our present incomes, and this we can only do by the old-fashioned method of thrift. Thrift in its extreme form has been long practised in France. Every Englishman, so far as I know, who has written on French life, has been impressed by this economy. Their thrift has its sordid side, but also its noble. Mr. Hammerton tells us of a friend of his who talked very frankly on this subject. “All rnv life,” he said, “I had the reputation of being exceedingly avaricious because I have been careful about money, and have never been willing to let my substance be squandered by idle people for their amusement. Now please consider how far I have deserved this reputation for avarice. I have saved money, it is true, but it has always been for others, and not for my own pleasure.

You know how simply I dress and live and what indulgences I give myself,” Hammerton goes on to tell us that his friend had been in his own person a sort of general insurance company for the benefit of all his relations, and of his wife’s relations too. He began life with nothing, and one of the first things he did when he had made money was to present a snug little property to his father, which gave him a retreat for his old age, and the means of passing it comfortably. He helped his own and his wife’s poor relations. He had two daughters, one of whom married a barrister. A very short time after their marriage the barrister was stricken down by paralysis, and so prevented from pursuing his profession. On this the “miserly” fatherin-law stepped in and made him an allowance of £400 a year that the misfortune might be less severe. Besides these aids to relations, he had often assisted friends ; but he would not lend money to be spent in luxuries. He thought that this only encouraged idleness. So this “miserly” man had been little else than a beautiful contrivance of providence for distributing wealth wisely to those who needed it, and the more he gave the more he prospered. Yet the private household expenses of himself and his wife were fixed at £360 a year, and this included £60 for a little tour.

Now it is to be admitted frankly that thrift degenerates easily into sordidness and miserliness. The thrifty man often fails to live his true life, and often he accumulates with a selfish end. But I submit that every man, so far as his means will allow, ought to make provision for the future. He should provide first, if possible, for his own old age. There never was a time when this was more

advisable. I do not profess to be a business man, but anyone who uses his eyes and his ears may be aware of certain facts. One is that in every large establishment there are assistants who have been for many years in the service, and have received successive increments of income. They are failing a little as the years pass. They are less alert, and they find it more difficult to adapt themselves to new situations. Their employers could replace them with young men for perhaps half the money, and on the whole these young men would be more efficient. Thousands of employers, out of loyalty and consideration, make no change. But sometimes, and perhaps often, they are compelled to reduce their working expenses, and when an elderly man is thrown out of employment, what is he to do ? He will be much happier in the present and in the future if he arranges that the inevitable hour when it comes shall not find him penniless, that he shall have something at least to supplement any earnings he may be able to secure. Then does he not owe it to his faithful wife to see that some provision is made for her ? His duty to his sons is, in most cases, fulfilled if he gives them a decent education and a good start in life. But should he not do something for his daughters ? In this the French are much ahead of us, and perhaps they do more than is necessary. But I fancy that men in this country will not, as a rule, make persistent efforts to secure the independence of their, daughters. They will not undergo the sacrifices cheerfully made by French, German and Italian fathers for this end. They often leave their daughters penniless to the mercy of the world. This is more from want of thought than from want of heart. Our men are very generous to their

women. It should be admitted also that fresh careers have opened out to women, though I doubt whether the development has been so great as is commonly supposed. Perhaps the success of women in earning a livelihood for themselves has been much exaggerated. At any rate, this is the testimony of many women who have had experience. It is good that women should work, but they ought not, if possible, to be entirely dependent on what they can earn. There ought to be for them some reserve on which they can fall back, something that they cannot fool away, some last defence which the enemy, cannot overcome. ^ If, when a daughter was born into the world, something was set by resolutely each year for her benefit, she would find life a much happier, simpler, and safer business than alas! it often is. I have full in view the fact that most of us can do very little, but I feel that most of us could do more, and the gain of the vote will not be an adequate compensation to a woman for the hard lot of fighting the battle of life unarmored.

How shall we save, and how much may we hope to save ? It is not possible to answer these questions specifically. Before giving my own view, I shall state the opinion of a very able and experienced man of the world.

He has a rule which he thinks, if adopted, would save the world from poverty. That view is that everyone should save one year’s income. There is no blessing, he thinks, equal in its direct advantages, moral and mental, as well as material, to the possession of a year’s expenditure. It gives independence, peace of mind, and the power to get the best out of oneself. A man with a year’s income laid past is twice the man with double his income and no store. The trouble is

that Englishmen—he does not speak of Scotsmen—can live from year to year, quarter to quarter, from week to week without a sovereign in reserve, quiet, contented, and cheerful, till people with a more apprehensive turn of mind or greater foresight, or a drop of thrifty blood in their veins, think them almost mad. He holds that the way to do it is to apply the life assurance principle to the entire income. Let men pay away into a bank month by month, or quarter by quarter, the sum they think they can afford, or rather are determined to afford, as a first charge upon income, and live upon the remainder. “The man who tries it will find in two years that his ideas of his own wealth are contracted, that he regards the remainder as his whole income just as much as if he were paying the same sum to a life insurance or a mortgage. The sense of the hopelessness of the task disappears as the heap grows, and the pace at which it grows soon astonishes the depositor. Half the workers in London, of all grades, would live just as comfortably on three-fourths of their income as on the whole, the difference going in superfluities ; and four years of such saving gives them the clear year’s income, the possession of which makes the wrhole difference between independence and slavery, care and contentment, poverty and competence. There is no need whatever to set up any loftier standard of saving, to dream of fortune, or think for ever about the charms of that existence which is to repay the stupid

mistake made by so many active men called retiring from business. We will guarantee any man who has once saved a whole year’s income from ever again growing poor through any default of his own.”

This is very good, but the saving of a year’s income is commonly not enough. I venture to think that the easiest and the surest way rf saving is to live in a modest house. Again and again I have known men who, when their incomes increased, immediately removed to a larger residence. The result was that all their expenses went up at once. They had little additional comfort, and the margin between expenditure and income was as narrow as ever. If people will have patience to go on Jiving in the same house-and on the same scale, they will find not only that they can save money, but that their life is much more comfortable and smooth. It is very hard work to be always thrifty, to be always considering whether you can afford a cab, whether you will travel thirdclass or first-class. The man whose rent is low can afford to make his house beautiful. He can spend extra shillings without uneasiness, and he finds at the end of the year that there is something to invest. The old proverb, “Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves,” was well fitted for communities where pence were few, but for the middle-classes in these days it would be better to say, “Take care of the pounds, and the pence will take care of themselves.”