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Personal Finance Lessons from George Washington

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He was the man who led our fair nation to freedom, the first President of the United States, and his face stares at us from the ubiquitous one dollar bill – he’s none other than George Washington. As one of our first elder statemen, President Washington had a wealth of memorable quotes, many of which are applicable to both sides of personal finance. He speaks much about the importance of one’s integrity and character as well as the importance of discipline and service, all characteristics that are important in establishing a sound personal finance life. Let’s take a look at the following nine quotes.

“Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”

Who you spend your time with will affect how you behave and that’s certainly true when it comes to spending habits. If you want to save, hang out with frugal people. If you want to be financially savvy, hang out with financially savvy people. How many stories have you heard of people looking to save money but always go out to expensive restaurants and trendy bars with their friends? There are a lot of ways to have fun (have a board game night!) and many of them cost very little. If you want to save up a few bucks, hang out with your friends who appreciate not going out to expensive places and you’ll reap the rewards. Don’t fight the current; just find a more favorable current.

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”

This particular quote, when applied to personal finance, speaks specifically to how you should select any sort of advisor. Finances are very personal and while you should give each advisor a chance, be very particular in who you trust with your treasure.

“Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved.”

The foundations upon which your personal finances are built on have to be strong. In this particular case, the seed can be something like bad debt. If you have credit card debt that’s holding you back, priority one should be erasing that debt because it’s a bad seed that you can’t let grow to fruition. Trying to do something else with your excess funds, like investing in the stock market, while you have this bad debt, will usually end badly because that debt is guaranteed, investment returns are not. Keep your roots strong and your tree will grow tall and wide.

“Experience teaches us that it is much easier to prevent an enemy from posting themselves than it is to dislodge them after they have got possession.”

This is almost a part two to the quote above. It is far easier to prevent yourself from going into debt than it is to get yourself out of it, simply ask any of the many people who have overcome their credit card (or other) debts. The unfortunate thing is that those who fall into credit card debt often don’t recognize the hole they’ve begun digging for themselves. It isn’t until after they recognize it that they truly appreciate the difficult spot they’ve put themselves in. However, it bears noting that nothing is insurmountable if you show the courage and discipline to face it head on. While it’s easier to prevent an enemy from posting themselves, it’s not impossible to dislodge them.

“Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.”

Take a look at Enron. Money corrupts. Need I say more?

“I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an Honest Man.”

Honesty of character is paramount.

“Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.”

The importance of philanthropy comes shining through in this particular quote, it’s important to lend a hand to those who are in need. First off, the world works in mysterious ways and we’re all in this fight together so why not help a fellow human being out when they need it? You never know when your kindness will be repaid in kind (perhaps never, but giving always gives back immediately with a nice warm fuzzy feeling!).

“My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”

Remember your roots and how you came into this world. You could be the richest man in the world but you got your start because of your mother and you were raised by your family, don’t ever forget that.

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

Considering it comes from our first President, I think we can take this last one at face value. 🙂

{ 8 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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8 Responses to “Personal Finance Lessons from George Washington”

  1. Mason says:

    I find your blog informative, but you grammar can be a little rough at times. Try doing a quick proofread of you material before you publish, or have someone else proofread it.

  2. A very interesting post. Thank you.

  3. Patrick says:

    Great advice – both George’s quotes, and your interpretations on how to apply them to today’s world.

    My favorite – “Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved.”

    Partly because it is solid wisdom, but mostly because I think the phrasing is eloquent. 😉

  4. Great post. General Washington is best known for his organizational skills and less for his quotes of wisdom. Ben Franklin is focused on primarily so it is nice to see other founders being recognized.

    Others of note: Patrick Henry, Lafayette, Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster etc.

    I include Lafayette as a founder as he, arguably, won the war for the Americans. If you want an excellent read pick up Unger’s “Lafayette” or ask for it at your local library. The best biography I have ever read.


  5. jpsfranks says:

    You forgot one:

    “Marry a rich widow.”

  6. Colin Joss says:

    Mr. George Washington has some points there. The way you save and How much you make is usually affected by your social networks

    Colin Joss
    East Lothian, Haddington
    United Kingdom

  7. fathersez says:

    Timeless wisdom from a truly great leader of our past.

    We are indeed unfortunate that our present leaders don’t leave anything like these as part of their legacies.

  8. Diane says:

    This brings to mind another financial lesson learned (gained?) from George Washington, although I cannot attest to its veracity.

    Seems George declined to accept a salary as the President of the United States, but agreed to accept an expense account. At the end of some kind of reckoning, where George seemed to come out on the better end of the deal (or perhaps just to keep things in hand), the Congress voted that the President would be paid a salary instead.

    I think today they get both, so go figure.

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