10 Money Lessons We Can Learn From Past Presidents

Americans celebrate Presidents’ Day every February on the third Monday of the month. What this day generally represents is a day out of school, a day off for public officials, and a day of major sales. This year, however, let’s take a lesson from past presidents and see what we can learn from them on the subject of money. Money is definitely in short supply as jobs are getting harder and harder to come by. Perhaps taking some sage advice from some of America’s smartest and suavest presidents will help us all learn to save a little. After all, as Benjamin Franklin once said, ”A penny saved is a penny earned.” Here’s 10 money lessons we can learn from past presidents.

1, 2. George Washington

There are actually two money lessons we can learn from George Washington. The first is one that seems to be an easy one to get, but apparently not as easy as you’d think. Washington wrote in a letter almost 240 years ago that the way to pay old debts was not by contracting new ones. In other words, you shouldn’t borrow more money to pay debts you’re unable to pay in the first place. That just compounds the debt. Of course, sometimes you have no other alternative. It seems people have forgotten how to live within their means.

Another valuable money lesson we can learn from Washington is to diversify our investments. In the eighteenth century, Washington grew tobacco, which was extremely profitable. However, he decided to stop growing it due to it being hard on the soil and it was starting to lose its value as well. Instead, Washington decided to diversify, planting several crops that all had a demand locally and wouldn’t require being shipped overseas. This ended up being a very smart move; farmers who continued growing tobacco ended up losing their investments. Instead of putting all your money in one investment, you should diversify, putting your money into several.

3, 4. Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson can also teach us two money lessons. The first is to not spend your money before you get it. This is the reason so many of us end up in debt, spending money before we get it. Credit cards are great and can be very useful, but they should only be used if you have the cash to cover the amount charged or in absolute case emergencies. When Jefferson died, he was actually in a lot of debt; apparently he didn’t take his own advice very well.

On that note, we can also learn another lesson from Jefferson, and that is the fact that keeping track of your spending isn’t enough. Jefferson kept track of every expenditure, but died broke and in debt nonetheless. Why? Because even though he was keeping track, he still spent beyond his means. So, don’t spend your money before you get it and don’t spend more money than you have.

5. Abraham Lincoln

From Abraham Lincoln we can learn to be frugal. Maybe it’s because of Lincoln’s impoverished childhood that he embraced frugality so completely; everyone has heard of his living in a log cabin as a child. His background only adds to the richness of his story. Lincoln saved money his whole life and tried to save the government’s money as well. In fact, he saved almost all of his annual salary from being president. Lincoln can teach us all an important lesson when it comes to saving money. After all, the more we save, the more we have to fall back on in retirement or in case of an emergency. It’s always smart to prepare for the future.

6. Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S Grant can teach us a valuable lesson: only invest in what you understand. Grant struggled with money problems all his life. After his presidency, he decided to go into banking with a partner who at the time was known as the ”Young Napoleon of Wall Street”, Ferdinand Ward. However, because Grant had no idea what he was doing, Ward swindled him with what was basically a Ponzi scheme set up to bilk money from rich friends of Grant’s. In the end, Grant lost everything. Soon after, he was diagnosed with cancer. In order to avoid leaving his wife destitute, he wrote his memoirs which were published by Mark Twain. The book ended up becoming a best-seller, however Grant didn’t live to profit from it, but his wife did as he’d intended.

7. Harry S. Truman

What we can learn from Harry Truman is that ”all leaders are readers” (but ”not all readers are leaders.”) Truman believed that in order to keep learning and growing as leaders, one must read. It’s been said that the average millionaire reads at least one non-fiction book a month. The point Truman was trying to make was that leaders don’t sit and wait for the world to come to them; they go get it for themselves. Reading is one way to do that and is an important part of a healthy financial and personal lifestyle.

Another interesting tidbit about Truman was that he refused to accept financial gain for his having been president once his presidency was over beyond selling his memoirs. However, Congress passed the Former Presidents Act in 1958, which awarded past presidents Secret Service protection along with a lifetime pension.

8. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower can teach us to take first things first. He was quoted as saying that the older he got, the more wisdom he found in that ancient rule. He said taking first things first was a process which often reduced the most complex problems to a much more manageable proportion. Another way of looking at this sage advice is that you can’t tackle all your problems at once. Instead, take them one by one, such as your debt. It can’t all be paid at the same time; take the most important one and pay on that, and then the next important, and so on and so on. The same can be said for life’s problems as well; take on one at a time.

9. Jimmy Carter

What we can learn from Jimmy Carter is the truth that many of us have become overly self-indulgent and have come to worship all forms of consumption. He said that we, as humans, were no longer identified by what we do, but by what we have. He stressed that Americans’ productivity had become stagnant and that we were unwilling to save for the future. As much as what he said was true back then, it rings even more true today. Although Carter diagnosed the problem, it has grown ever-larger as the years passed until today we seem to all be judged by how big our house is, what car we drive, and where we take vacation. It’s better to learn to be satisfied with less. When all you want is more, you’ll never be satisfied.

10. Barack Obama

Barack Obama said if you’re successful, more than likely you had some help along the way. What he meant is that the economy is a community in which everyone plays a part, however crucial. If you are in the position to help someone else out, do it. If ”what comes around goes around” is true, the more you help, the more you’ll get back.


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