Frugality may be termed the daughter of Prudence, the sister of Temperance, and the parent of Liberty and Ease. It is synonymous with economy, and is a sound understanding brought into action. It is calculation realized; it is the doctrine of proportion educed to practice. It is foreseeing contingencies and providing against them. Its other and less reputable sisters are Avarice and Prodigality. She alone keeps the straight and safe path, while Avarice sneers at her as profuse, and Prodigality scorns at her as penurious. To the poor she is indispensable; to those of moderate means she is found the representative of wisdom. Joined to industry and sobriety, she is a better outfit to business than a dowry. She conducts her votaries to competence and honor, while Profuseness is a cruel and crafty demon, that gradually involves her followers in dependence and debt.
Frugality shineth in her best light when joined to liberality. The first consists in leaving off superfluous expense; the last is bestowing them to the benefit of those that need. The first without the last begets covetousness; the last without the first begets prodigality. There is ever a golden mean between frugality and stinginess, or closeness. He that spareth in every thing is an inexcusable niggard; he that spareth in nothing is an inexcusable madman. The golden mean of frugality is to spare in what is least necessary, and to lay out more liberally in what is most required in our several circumstances. It is no man’s duty to deny himself every amusement, every recreation, every comfort, that he may get rich. It is no man’s duty to make an iceberg of himself, and to deny himself the enjoyment that results from his generous actions, merely that he may hoard wealth for his heirs to quarrel about. But there is an economy which is especially commendable in the man who struggles with poverty, and is every man’s duty—an economy which is consistent with happiness, and which must be practiced if the poor man would secure independence.
When one is blessed with good sense and fair opportunities, this spirit of economy is one of the most beneficial of all secular gifts, and takes high rank among the minor virtues. It is by this mysterious power that the loaf is multiplied, that using does not waste, that little becomes much, that scattered fragments grow to unity, and that out of nothing, or next to nothing, comes the miracle of something. Frugality is not merely saving, still less parsimony. It is foresight and combination. It is insight and arrangement. It is a subtle philosophy of things, by which new uses, new compositions, are discovered. It causes inert things to labor, useless things to serve our necessities, perishing things to renew their vigor, and all things to exert themselves for human comfort.
As the acquisition of knowledge depends more upon what a man remembers than upon the quantity of his reading, so the acquisition of property depends more upon what is saved than upon what is earned. The largest reservoir, though fed by abundant and living springs, will fail to supply their owners with water if secret leaking-places are permitted to drain off their contents. In like manner, though by his skill and energy a man may convert his business into a flowing Pactolus, ever depositing its golden sands in his coffers, yet, through the numerous wants of unfrugal habits, he may live embarrassed and die poor. Economy is the guardian of property, the good genius whose presence guides the footsteps of every prosperous and successful man.
Either a man must be content with poverty all his life, or else be willing to deny himself some luxuries, and save to lay the base of independence in the future. But if a man defies the future, and spends all that he earns, whether it be much or little, let him look for lean and hungry want at some future time; for it will surely come, no matter what he thinks. To economize and be frugal is absolutely the only way to get, a solid fortune; there is no other certain mode on earth. Those who shut their eyes and ears to these plain facts will be forever poor. Fortune does not give away her real and substantial goods. She sells them to the highest bidder, to the hardest, wisest worker for the boon. Men never make so fatal a mistake as when they think they are mere creatures of fate; it is the sheerest folly in the world. Every man may make or mar his life, whichever he may choose. Fortune is for those who, by diligence, honesty and frugality, place themselves in a position to grasp hold of fortune when it appears in view.
Simple industry and thrift will go far towards making any person of ordinary working faculties comparatively independent in his means. Almost any working-man may be so, provided he will carefully husband his resources and watch the little outlets of useless expenditures. A penny is a very small matter, yet the comfort of thousands of families depends upon the proper saving and spending of pennies. If a man allows the little pennies—the results of his hard work—to slip out of his fingers he will find that his life is little raised above one of mere animal drudgery.
One way in which true economy is shown consists in living within one’s income. This is the grand element of success in acquiring property. To carry it out requires resolution, self-denial, self-reliance. But it must be done, or grinding poverty will accompany you through life. We urge upon all young men who are just starting in life to make it an invariable rule to lay aside a certain proportion of their income, whatever that income may be. Extravagant expenditures occasion a large part of the suffering of a great majority of people. And extravagance is wholly a relative term. What is not at all extravagant for one person may be very much so for another. Expenditures, no matter how small in themselves they may be, are always extravagant when they come fully up to the entire amount of a person’s income.
On every hand we see people living on credit, putting off pay-day to the last, making, in the end, some desperate effort—generally by borrowing—to scrape the money together, and then struggling on again with the canker of care eating at their hearts; but their exertions are vain; they land at last in the inevitable goal of bankruptcy. If they would only be content to make the push in the beginning, instead of the end, they would save themselves all this misery. The great secret of being solvent and well-to-do and comfortable is to get ahead of your expenses. Eat and drink this month what you earned last month, not what you are going to earn next month. It is unsafe to draw drafts on the future, for hope is deceitful, and your paper is liable to go to protest. When one is once weighed down with a load of debt he loses the sense of being free and independent. The man with his fine house, his glittering carriage, and his rich banquets, for which he is in debt, is a slave, a prisoner, dragging his chains behind him through all the grandeur of the false world through which he moves.
In urging a course of strict economy we admit that it is hard, embarrassing, perplexing, onerous, but it is by no means impracticable. A cool survey of one’s expenditures, compared with his income; a wise balancing of ends to be gained; a firm and calm determination to break with custom wherever it is opposed to good sense, and a patience that does not chafe at small and gradual results, will do much towards establishing the principle of economy and securing its benefits. Economy has, however, deeper roots than even this—in the desires. It is there, after all, that we control our expenditures. As a general rule we may be sure that we shall spend our money for what we most earnestly crave. If it be luxury and display then it will melt into costly viands and soft clothing, handsome dwellings and rich furniture. If, on the other hand, our desires are for higher enjoyments, or for benevolent, purposes, our money will flow into these channels. Every one, then, who cherishes in himself, or excites in others, a desire more pure and noble than existed before, who draws the heart from the craving of sense to those of soul, from self to others, from what is low, sensual, and wrong to what is pure, elevating, and right, in so far establishes, on the firmest of all foundations, a wise economy.
A true economy appears to induce the exertion of almost every laudable emotion; a strict regard to honesty; a laudable spirit of independence; a judicious prudence in providing for the wants, and a steady benevolence in preparing for the claims of the future. Such an economy can but appeal to the good sense of all who candidly ponder over life and its realities. To spend all that you acquire as soon as you gain it is to lead a butterfly existence. Were you always to be young and free from sickness and care, and life were to pass as one perpetual Summer, it would do no harm to so live; but care will come, sickness may strike you at any time, and, if you escape these, yet you know life has its Autumnal and Winter seasons as well as its Summer. And, alas! for the veteran who finds himself obliged to learn in his latter years the lessons of strict economy for the first time, having lived in utter defiance of them in the season of youth and strength.
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