Lessons of Thrift From 1875

Over the holiday season, I came across an antique book called “Thrift” at a used book store. It was by a guy named Samuel Smiles (Hah! Bad ass!), and was printed in November of 1875 as part of a “self help” series.

I really wanted it bad, but for $15.00 I just couldn’t get myself to pick it up. I mean, what would Samuel Smiles think of that? $15 for a book that’s almost 150 years old? ;) So I placed it back on the shelf, and it had been haunting me since.

“It’s only $15 bucks! How awesome would that be for your blog?? I wonder what’s changed in 150 years??? Why didn’t you just freakin’ buy it??”

These thoughts continued to bounce around my head, until one day I decided to go back and see if it was still there. If it was, I’d buy it and once and for all see what I’d been missing this whole time. After two months of thinking about it, it was quite obvious I wouldn’t have to deal with any buyer’s remorse at this point ;) And if it wasn’t there anymore, well, at least I tried and can move on with my life. (I’m so dramatic, haha…)

Well, as fate would have it, not only was the book STILL there, but a friend I took along with me had some store credit saved up and offered to buy it for me. At first I declined because again, it’s $15!, but he loved how happy it made me and had wanted to use up his credit anyways before he forgot and lost it. So the book has finally become mine!!! WOOHOO!!!!

And, now, you get to share in this awesomeness as well ;)

Starting today, I’ll be sharing snippets of the book so we can all see how smart people dealt with money back in the 1800s too. Which, spoiler alert, is pretty much the same as today. Only with cooler words and different examples ;)

Here’s today’s feature passage!

thrift book page 26

“Thrift does not require superior courage, nor superior intellect, nor any superhero virtue. It merely requires common sense, and the power of resisting selfish enjoyments. In fact, thrift is merely common sense in every-day working action. It needs no fervent resolution, but only a little patient self-denial. Begin is its device! The more the habit of thrift is practiced, the easier it becomes, and the sooner it compensates the self-denier for the sacrifices which it has imposed.”

BAM! The takeaways in paragraph #1:

  • Anyone can be thrifty – it doesn’t discriminate!
  • It can be practiced in every day actions
  • Just start!!!
  • The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

It then continues with…

 “The question may be asked: Is it possible for a man working for small wages to save anything, and lay it by in a savings-bank, when he requires every penny for the maintenance of his family? But the fact remains, that it is done by many industrious and sober men; that they do deny themselves, and put their spare earnings into savings-banks, and the other receptacles provided for poor men’s savings. And if some can do this, all may do it under similar circumstances, without depriving themselves of any genuine pleasure or any real enjoyment.”

Takeaways in paragraph #2:

  • Even if you barely scrape by, you can save money!
  • But you have to be sober and deny yourself equally enjoyable things ;)
  • You also have to have savings-banks.
  • Or other “receptacles” of the poor man, perhaps a can or mattress to hide it under?
  • If poor people can do it, so can you!

thrift book shelf

Doesn’t look like much has changed in 140 years, huh? :) But what I find interesting about this, is that the more I read it HERE – in these crisp yellowing pages – is that the words seem to sink in a lot more than when read elsewhere. Maybe it’s the novelty to the whole thing, or maybe that old “book” smell is releasing some freaky gases into my nostrils (haha…), but whatever the case I’ll take every last ounce of motivation I can get. If Samuel Smiles could do it before the age of the internet, or cell phones, or cars, online banking, debit cards, medicines, etc, so can we!

I’ll let you know how the rest of the book goes as I continue running through the pages, but for now just remember: Anyone can save money no matter what your circumstance. And even more so if you’re sober and have tons of poor man receptacles laying around ;)

See you back in the 21st century!

PS: Perhaps next time we’ll dive into “How to Get Strong” by William Blaikie, circa 1879. Who wants to bet nothing’s changed in that department either?

UPDATE: Want to own/read this yourself? You can find the original for $120 on Amazon (Hah!), or a modernized one for $10 :) Or, you can read it for free on the Kindle or at Gutenberg.org. Big thanks to my readers for alerting us of this!

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  1. Mr Ikonz @ Project Ikonz March 10, 2014 at 6:36 AM

    Saving money certainly never changes.

    You’re right about being able to save money, even if barely scraping by.
    Whilst earning a decent wage myself, I have seen a lot of friends/colleagues that have a lot less money that I am with a much higher net worth. It all comes down to how you spend/save your free cashflow.

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:06 PM

      Yep. Cash flow is key.

  2. Catina Mount March 10, 2014 at 7:38 AM

    How cool is that?! I wish I had found that book and the PF world long ago, I’d be a gazzillionaire!
    (That’s a word, right?)

  3. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life March 10, 2014 at 8:02 AM

    I’m definitely a modern gal. My eyes glaze over at the old language. I need some snark, sass, and humor to go along with my finances :)

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:08 PM

      Really? It has the opposite effect on me – I get glued to it and feel like it sinks in even more! :)

  4. John @ Frugal Rules March 10, 2014 at 8:04 AM

    Very cool J! I love his comment that it can be common sense and denying oneself of things that may not make sense in the long run. That said, it just goes to show you again that it isn’t what you’re making that matters (well, it does help ;)), but how you manage what you make that counts.

  5. Dave @ The New York Budget March 10, 2014 at 8:13 AM

    I’m not one for owning many things, but that book looks AWESOME! Not only is the content and fact that it is so old cool, it LOOKS amazing! The design of the cover is tasteful in a way that may have been more common back in the 1800s!

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:09 PM

      Oh man, I know… So much more focus on design and quality back then I feel like. Before everything turned digital and eye-catching!

  6. Brian@ Debt Discipline March 10, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    The book looks like it has a number of pages. What’s the page count? Surprising to see that much on the topic back in the 1800’s. Interesting stuff!

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:10 PM

      401 :)

  7. jestjack March 10, 2014 at 8:24 AM

    Wow …think about it…that book was published just ten years after the Civil War. And could be had for JUST $15…..A bargain IMHO….

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:11 PM

      Oh man, didn’t even think of that! I wonder if that time period was perfect for personal finance stuff since everyone was trying to get their lives back in order?

  8. Chris @ Flipping A Dollar March 10, 2014 at 8:25 AM

    Great book! I wish “thrift” didn’t have the negative connotation that it has today. Frugal is how I describe myself, but co-workers call me cheap. Sorry, but I’ll forgo that extra lunch out so I can save a bit more towards a house down payment. ;)

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:11 PM

      Macklemore at least helped it a bit :)

  9. Joel March 10, 2014 at 8:37 AM

    That’s incredible! I’m looking forward to hearing more.

  10. Cedes March 10, 2014 at 8:37 AM

    This book sounded so awesome I went to amazon to see if there were any copies I could get my hands on, and lo and behold, you can get it free for kindle!

    WOO HOO!

    Downloaded that baby already and will be pouring over it myself!!

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:12 PM

      Nice! I didn’t even think to find out where it was for y’all.. good lookin’ out :)

  11. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer March 10, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    Ok, I am already SO in love with this book!!!! Why does it seem that those from long ago have so much more wisdom than we do in this current time with all of our “education”?

  12. a terrible husband... March 10, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    So cool. Yes, it looks like not much has changed. “Industrious and sober men.” Nice. Plenty of gold in there. Definitely worth the $15 to hold it in your hand.

  13. Jon @ Money Smart Guides March 10, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    It’s crazy how the times have changed. Back then, you had people like this author telling you saving on a small income could be done and people went out and made it happen. Today you give that advice and you are met with resistance and reasons as to why it cant’ be done.

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:14 PM

      Well, at least that’s what we assume right? It would be interesting to look back and see how receptive people were of it for sure. I’d reckon you’re right though if it was right after the Civil War…

  14. debt free in dubai March 10, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    How fascinating to read about thrift in a 150 year old book! I love the language too and the fact that the common sense rules when it comes to saving money are simple and ageless.

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      It’s very hard NOT to click on your blog link fyi :)

  15. Liz March 10, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    Sounds like you got your hands on a great treasure there! I hope you’ll share some more passages from the book.

  16. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply March 10, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    I know it’s only $15…but I’m just like you…I have the same thoughts in my head when I make most purchases. I guess we’re just thrifty like that. But that’s pretty cool that the advice from that book which is almost 150 years old is still valid. As much as things have changed over that time, some things still stay the same. Thriftiness never gets old.

  17. Miss Thrifty March 10, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    Is that a first edition Samuel Smiles for $15????? Sounds like a bargain in more ways than one.

    Btw, not sure how much you know about Samuel Smiles but he was the Tim Ferriss of his day and the father of the self-improvement genre. He used to be a newspaper editor here in Yorkshire. :)

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:16 PM

      What? Really?? Haha… that is awesome! I had no idea who the guy was at all, so that makes me smile :) I also have no idea if it’s a 1st edition or not but I’m adding it to my list to research later… When I come out to visit you one day we can go searching for his home!

  18. Becky @ RunFunDone March 10, 2014 at 9:40 AM

    That’s amazing! I love it! I once read a re-print of a book all about how to attract a man, which I believe was written in the 1940s. It was pretty offensive. This book is much more entertaining!

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:17 PM


  19. Laura March 10, 2014 at 9:50 AM

    How cool! Funny how the basics about saving have not really changed since then, yet it is still a difficult thing for the average person to do.

  20. Camille @ Challenge Mantra March 10, 2014 at 9:57 AM

    Last night, the beau and I spent an hour sharing lists of what each of us really wants in life. One item on his list is “I want to support your career goals [but] I am afraid of what will happen [if you pursue] a lower paying job.” I make twice as much as he makes but I am really unhappy in my current employment… I’ve been trying to discuss with him how much room there is for a lifestyle adjustment without feeling like we can’t enjoy life, but he’s extremely content with our current inflated lifestyle even though we both agree it is out of control (i.e. money in = money out).

    I thought the last sentence really spoke to the things he and I covered last night: “And if some can do this, all may do it under similar circumstances, without depriving themselves of any genuine pleasure or any real enjoyment.”

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:21 PM

      Amen, sister. It’s definitely do-able, but it also involves both parties being cool with it in order for it to work :( Maybe you can pinpoint the *actual* stuff he doesn’t want to lose and see if there’s a way to still keep it while enjoying a new (and cheaper) lifestyle? I swear most of us were just as happy without a lot of money than with. Lifestyle-wise, at least.

  21. George March 10, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    Wonderful book! I think that people were more clear headed back then. I doubt that any publisher these days would publish a book with such a straightforward title. One thing that made me cringe, though. I hope those starsyou used for emphasis are ones you drew on the scanned imaged and not in the book itself! :)

  22. George March 10, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    Oh, I did forget to mention one thing. This book is available for free through Project Gutenberg. Here is the link if you want to read it for free! :)


    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:22 PM

      Thanks!! Updated the post to include that :)

      (And yes – those stars were made by me. In Photoshop :))

  23. Holly@ClubThrifty March 10, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Nice! That book is badass!!! I love old stuff anyways. I am jealous =)

  24. Tyler March 10, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    I love these old hardcover books. I have a large collection of Scouting books that look very similar. The take away is always the same. It may have been over a 100 years ago, but the information can still be made relative to what we face today. Great Stuff!

    1. J. Money March 10, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      Like Boyscouting? That’s awesome. I have one old scouting book too, but it’s paperback. And actually, I think I gave it away during a fit of minimalism, haha…

  25. Gogig March 10, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    This is awesome! Looking forward to hearing more.

  26. Joe March 10, 2014 at 12:43 PM

    Nice find! It’s interesting how the language changed over the years, but the message is just the same. Anyone can play defense, it just takes effort.

  27. Andria March 10, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    That is pretty bad ass!!!!! : )

  28. Crystal March 10, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    Okay, that’s just cool. I’m not thrift enough to have been able to avoid buying this the first time. I have a thing for old books…and old books about money, well that’s just crack. This is why I don’t go into book stores any more…

  29. Shannon @ Financially Blonde March 10, 2014 at 2:13 PM

    Or….I can just keep reading your blog for free for when you update us on more “pearls of wisdom” from this book. You are like my Cliff Notes. :-) There is a saying “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I am always looking for signs of teachers and sometimes they are in old books…songs…blogs…movies…tv shows…etc. Thanks for keeping your eyes open and sharing here.

    1. J. Money March 12, 2014 at 7:47 AM

      Haha…. I like that :)

  30. Mario Adventuresinfrugal March 10, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    I guess it just goes to show that there really are just a few formulas to saving and building wealth. It’s a shame that we have to re-learn it all the time :)

  31. Becky March 10, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    I just saw Cede’s comment and went and bought it for the kindle as well. It is encouraging to know that we are practicing the same simple thoughts of saving as they did back then.

    1. J. Money March 12, 2014 at 7:49 AM

      Cool – hope you enjoy it!

  32. Raquel@Practical Cents March 10, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    What an excellent find. I look forward to seeing what other pieces of advise it provides.

  33. Done by Forty March 10, 2014 at 5:27 PM

    Ten bucks for a copy? Can’t you just post up a page at a time over the next few years?

    There really is something great about the writing style. It’s told with an authority that’s rare to see in contemporary text.

  34. Evelynn March 10, 2014 at 6:36 PM

    That’s so crazy! I dont know why the thought never came to me that people in the ‘olden days’ did personal finance books. Just seems like a modern day type thing to me.

    I run a blog about surviving your twenties. Finance, Lifestyle, Fitness, and Style. Check me out at http://survive20.blogspot.com

  35. Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) March 10, 2014 at 7:17 PM

    Yes! I am SO JEALOUS of this book. Do not bring it to FinCon because I will steal it out of your bare hands and run away and hide it and you will never see it again………. I mean, awesome book J. Very cool. No biggie. Thanks for sharing. I spent 6 years of my life studying 19th c. US history, so your 1875 book in ridiculously good condition is very interesting to me. And no, I am not jealous. Not at all.

    1. J. Money March 12, 2014 at 7:49 AM

      Haha…. I’ll let you sleep with it under your pillow at FINCON but I WILL be coming back for it :)

  36. Mark Ross @ Money Saving Dude March 10, 2014 at 9:13 PM

    That’s a great find J! A 150 year-old book with lots of amazing content in it for just $15 that’s not a bad deal, isn’t it?

  37. Mintly @ MintlyBlog March 10, 2014 at 10:08 PM

    This is AWESOME. Thanks for the heads-up about the free Kindle download! I’d love a real copy, but “free” has a really nice ring to it. I’ve got it downloaded and ready to go!

  38. Pauline @ Savvy Scot March 10, 2014 at 11:58 PM

    Sounds like a great read, and I had no idea there were superheros 140 years ago!

  39. Mrs. Frugalista March 11, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    J Money,

    Eleven months ago we paid off a $243K mortgage in three years. We put every extra cent we had, part of our savings and the proceeds from the sale of a rental home. The rental was sold to our young adult sons and their out-of-pocket mortgage payment is about $100. A month after we paid the home and the car loans off ($25K), my husband lost his job of 16 years, leaving us to live on one income. To date, my husband is still unemployed and I’m a teacher with no income in the summer months. In September of 2013, we had $22K in savings and that made me very nervous because we live in a high cost of living state. We banked my husbands unemployment checks, I picked up some extra hours at work and remained determined to continue saving despite the loss of nearly $60K in income. Fast forward to this month and our savings have increase to nearly $60K. I write this comment not to brag about our ability to save but to let people know that we, as a society, need to start respecting every dollar we make because bad things happen to people. Lastly, I wish it was me to come across such a wonderful book and I’ll give you $20 for it and will even pay the shipping. :)

    1. J. Money March 12, 2014 at 7:53 AM

      Wow, great job rockin’ all that money!! I’m sure paying off the mortgage helped immensely with the lay off too – very smart of you guys. People dream about paying off their house :)

      As for the book, well, if Cat above doesn’t pry it out of my hands, you can be the next on the list :)

      And I LOVE this btw “we, as a society, need to start respecting every dollar we make” – so true!

  40. wes@genwisewealth March 11, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    I’ll definitely have to pick up this “classic”. There are so few things in life today that are truly timeless, so it’s great to pick up a book like this with principles that last for eternity!
    Thanks for the post!

  41. mistersquirrel March 13, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    Great find – and it’s available on amazon UK too! For free – we love free stuff – I’ve just clicked to download

    1. J. Money March 18, 2014 at 4:43 PM

      Awesome! Let me know what you think :)

  42. Ryan @ Impersonal Finance March 13, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    Totally jealous. I love antique books. The smell, texture, print – all of that. Not to mention it’s worth about 8x what you paid and covers an awesome topic, I’d say thats a major win.

    1. J. Money March 18, 2014 at 4:44 PM

      I know – you can get yourself in trouble spending money filling up your library! I’ve had to restrict myself pretty well, but every now and then I slip :)

  43. Steph April 26, 2014 at 8:52 AM

    That is a nice looking book. I know several people who I should beat over the head with it because they will refuse to open it up and actually learn something about being frugal.

    1. J. Money April 26, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      Haha… best laugh I’ve had all day :)

  44. Nicola July 19, 2014 at 12:51 PM

    What an awesome book! I hope you’ll share more of it over time, as it looks like it’s just as useful in our day and age as it was when it was written. *must not buy a copy* I’d love a library with all old books in, but goodness knows what that would cost!

    1. J. Money July 21, 2014 at 11:29 AM

      Someone said you can download it for free somewhere on line :) But I prefer the old musty feeling of reading straight from the book, haha…

  45. kapil March 31, 2015 at 2:16 PM

    FYI, this book is available on Amazon as a free kindle book.

    1. J. Money April 3, 2015 at 10:41 PM

      Ahh – that’s where it is! Thanks!

  46. B.C Kowalski March 7, 2018 at 12:39 PM

    Dang, that book is cool. This period of American history fascinates me greatly. I will have to grab that kindle version of the book. I’m currently reading the first volume of Mark Twain’s biography, and I love this insight into the thinking of this time period. One of my favorites is Poor Richard’s Almanac, much of which is still relevant today, and very easy reading. Thanks for sharing about this book!

    1. J. Money March 7, 2018 at 3:02 PM

      Oh, I bet!! That Ben Franklin was something else… If only we could be 1/10th as smart as he was, haha… And there was no internet helping him out!!

  47. Katie June 15, 2018 at 6:26 AM

    Just wanted to say, I’m now about half way through this book and it is blowing my mind! As a Brit, its crazy to see what has changed but evidently, so much hasn’t… Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. J. Money June 15, 2018 at 10:30 AM

      Heyyy!!! Very cool!!! I’m so glad you’re enjoying it – thanks for letting me know! My A.D.D. only allowed for a chapter or two, haha…