Hanging Gardens of Babylon by Ferdinand Knab, 1886

When It Comes to Managing Your Money, the Old Rules Work Best

In an era of gimmicks and hype, this “ancient” guidebook stands above the rest

Mitch Horowitz
4 min readDec 13, 2019

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In an age of books that extol financial freedom and wealth, The Richest Man In Babylon stands out as a volume that promises financial freedom according to laying solid and simple plans, and following a few basic rules. The book’s lessons are as healthful and dynamic today as when the author first began describing his steps to wealth in 1926. I say this from personal experience as I have successfully used them myself.

“Pay yourself first” is the key (and often copied) lesson of George S. Clason’s guide, which he presents as a series of fictional parables from the Mesopotamian empire. Clason meant that you must set aside at least ten-percent of your earnings in savings — now a standard principle in financial guides — and dedicate the remainder of your money to paying down debt, procuring a home or other investment properties, buying insurance, caring for your family, and only then allowing yourself to spend on life’s pleasures.

His approach is one of thrift. “Every piece of gold you save is a slave to work for you,” one of his ancient characters says. He does not endorse asceticism; indeed he wants money management approached in a spirit of joy and adventure — knowing that your prudence will pay off in comfort and security. This is the aim of his rock-ribbed lessons to personal prudence and safe investment. And he got rich himself offering them.

In the early twentieth century, Clason was a Denver-based publisher of maps and atlases. He published the first road atlas of the United States and Canada. In 1926, he hit upon an idea that later saved his own finances and preserved his name as one of the most popular self-help writers of the last century, and our own. Clason began writing a series of pamphlets on managing personal finances, which banks, insurance companies, and brokerage houses bought in bulk and distributed free to their clients. The map-maker’s pamphlets proved so popular that in 1930 he grouped them together in a single volume, which he issued from his own publishing company.

Clason Publishing did not survive the Great Depression. But The Richest Man in Babylon did — and in the…

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Mitch Horowitz

"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China