How a 16th-century Farmer Invented Personal Finance

As a personal finance writer for three decades (and a proud English major), I have always been curious about the link between money and language. So I was excited that my parents’ new book, So to Speak: 11,000 Expressions That’ll Knock Your Socks Off, included a chapter with more than 200 expressions related to money matters — from “bang for your buck” to “worth diddly squat.” These financial turns of phrase got me thinking: Where do they come from? Some research led me, surprisingly, to an obscure 16th-century guide to agriculture — think Get a Financial Life on the Farm. Called Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie, the 1557 instructional poem offers the musings of a wise English farmer named Thomas Tusser, who managed to hit on just about every basic tenet of personal finance — while also offering practical advice on growing hops and keeping bees. (If that’s your thing.) Here are just a few of Tusser’s financial tips and sayings in their originally published form.

A foole and his monie be soone at debate.

The foole at the bottom, the wise at the brim.

The stone that is rouling can gather no mosse, who often remooueth is sure of losse.

Think not thy monie purse bottom to burn, but keepe it for profite, to serue thine owne turn.

At some time to borow, account it no shame.

Rent corn who so paieth…must liue as a slaue.

Once weekelie remember thy charges to cast, once monthlie see how thy expences may last: If quarter declareth too much to be spent, for feare of ill yeere take aduise of thy rent.

Author of NY Times bestsellers Get a Financial Life and Make Your Kid a Money Genius. Journalist, #finlit nerd & mom.