What Ancient Wisdom Can Teach Us About Managing Money

Ancient Chinese coins.

Today, I'm giving each of you 10 pieces of gold. You are to go out and do some virtuous deed.   (Image: 341762 via Pixabay)

Throughout the ages, the ancients passed down many words of wisdom, including how one should handle matters of managing money. 

Zhang Shuo, prime minister during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), once gave advice on managing money. He said that money is a sort of medicine in life. When used according to the right principles, including morality, virtue, righteousness, and compassion, money can help resolve problems, and lead to a good life.

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Some ancient wisdom about managing money

Virtue: Do not covet money that does not belong to you

Xie Tingen was a famous businessman during the Qing Dynasty (1616-1912). Born into a poor family, he decided to start his own business at the age of 16. 

One day, a businessman bought ramie from Xie. After the man left, Xie discovered that the man had overpaid. When others heard what happened, they advised Xie to keep the extra money for himself. But Xie knew the businessman ran a fabric store in the city, and Xie took the time to search for it. Xie finally found the store and returned the money to the man. The owner was so surprised by Xie’s kindness, that the two men became good friends, and the man became Xie’s loyal customer. The merchant even introduced his friends to Xie so that they could also buy from him. Because Xie always maintained a heart of kindness and virtue, he became a very wealthy businessman within just a few years.

There is an ancient saying that says accumulating virtue is better than accumulating money because the former not only changes one’s fate, but it also brings blessings. This truth is confirmed by Xie’s story. This is an important lesson in managing money.

Zhang Shuo on managing money.
Zhang Shuo, prime minister during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), once said that money is a sort of medicine in life. (Image: via Public Domain)

Compassion: sharing an umbrella with others

One day, a merchant named Hu Xueyan was conducting business, when suddenly another merchant came to see him with an urgent matter. It turned out that the merchant’s business was failing, and he needed a large sum of money within a short period of time in order to save it. He offered to sell his house and all his belongings to Hu at a low price so that he could save his business.

After listening to the man’s offer, Hu asked him to come the next day to discuss things further. Hu inquired with others around town and knew that what the merchant said was true. Touched by the merchant’s story, Hu raised enough money to buy his house and belongings at market price. He told the merchant that he could buy back everything, at any time, and for the same price, with only a little added interest.   

Hu’s friends could not understand him and asked why he did such a thing for the merchant. “Let me share a story with you,” Hu said. 

“When I was young, my job required that I go around town collecting payments. On rainy days, when others did not have an umbrella, I would share my umbrella with them. After a period of time, people on the street got to know me. If I did not have an umbrella with me on a rainy day, I would not need to worry, because many people would share their umbrellas with me.”      

Hu smiled and continued: “If you share your umbrella with others, others will do the same for you. This merchant might have struggled for decades to accumulate his fortune. If I bought his house at a low price, I would earn some money, but he might never be able to recover his fortune again. This is not a simple transaction; it affects his whole family. By handling things this way, I have made a friend and kept a clean conscience at the same time. Everyone will have rainy days; I am willing to hold up an umbrella for others whenever possible.”  

Hu’s compassion touched many people. The merchant later bought back what he’d sold, and became Hu’s loyal customer for life. This is another valuable teaching in managing money.

Chinese gold coins.
There’s a Chinese saying that a good promise is better than a thousand units of gold, and this saying refers to Zibu righteous actions. (Image: timcgundert via Pixabay)

Trustworthiness: never breaking one’s promise

In The Grand Scribe’s Records, it is recorded that Zibu was a righteous man during the early West Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 25) who was famous for his credibility. No matter how difficult a task was, he would try his best to accomplish it if he’d made a promise. 

There’s a Chinese saying that a good promise is better than a thousand units of gold, and this saying refers to Zibu’s righteous actions. He had joined General Xiang Yu to fight General Liu Bang, but was defeated by the latter. Many people spoke for Zibu, saying that he was very honest and always kept his word. As a result, Zibu was not punished by Liu Bang, and later went on to play an important role in Liu Bong’s ministry.  Trustworthiness is essential in managing money.

Another story is that of a merchant named Fan Li. Fan ran into financial difficulties and had to borrow 100,000 dollars from a wealthy man. One year later, the wealthy man set out with the receipt for a debt (IOU ) to ask Fan Li to repay the money. Unfortunately, the man’s luggage fell into a river, and he lost the IOU, as well as his money. 

When the man finally found Fan Li, Fan not only returned the man’s money with interest, but he also gave him extra money to pay for his travel home. Fan Li’s righteous behavior spread far and wide, and as a result, many merchants were pleased to do business with him. Thus, Fan Li’s financial problems were solved.  Managing money properly requires righteous behavior.

There is an ancient Chinese saying that people cannot live without credibility, meaning that you should live by your word, honor your promises, and not cheat others or yourself.  These are all ancient Chinese wisdom that can be applied to managing money.

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