Oscar Wilde was never lost for words when it came to money - or anything, for that matter
I’d love to have the cheek to say to a customs officer: “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” Unfortunately, not only would the official quite rightly take a dim view of my time-wasting arrogance, but it wouldn’t be a very original claim: it was supposedly first made by Oscar Wilde at customs control in New York in 1882.
It sometimes seems that most wise or witty words you can think of have already been said by someone else, and wise words about money are no exception. Here’s a selection of things I might have said if only I’d thought of them first:
“When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.” That was Oscar Wilde again.
“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can allow you to be miserable in comfort.” That was a favourite saying of my father – sadly, he didn’t coin it and its author is unknown.
We may hate the banks, but Bob Hope had the measure of them a long time ago: “A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it,” he said.
The workings of the process of share trading drew this observation from the American newspaper owner and editor William Feather: “One of the funny things about the stock market is that every time one person buys, another sells, and both think they are astute.” So they do.
Journalist and humorist Frank “Kin” Hubbard had some wise words for those tempted to speculate: “The safe way to double your money is to fold it over once and put it in your pocket.” Good advice.
Woody Allen knew a thing or two about stocks and shares, too – and about those who give you advice on which ones to buy: “A stockbroker is someone who invests your money until it’s all gone,” he mourned.
Novelist Martin Cruz Smith felt the same way: “I tell stories and people give me money. Then financial planners tell me stories and I give them money.” Oh dear. We’ve all been there.
We need to tread carefully when it comes to investing this month, according to Mark Twain. “October: this is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks,” he famously said, adding: “The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August and February.” You have been warned.
If nothing is certain but death and taxes, as Benjamin Franklin once declared, John Maynard Keynes was of the opinion that “the avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that still carries any reward”.
The Government doesn’t even have to pass a law to tax you. It can just mess up the economy to part citizens from their money. Economist Milton Friedman realised that: “Inflation is taxation without legislation,” he noted.
But surely we need taxation to look after less fortunate members of society? Jacques Delors recognised the difficulty of trying to run a social system where people resent paying in more than they get out. He said: “The problem of how we finance the welfare state should not obscure a separate issue: if each person thinks he has an inalienable right to welfare, no matter what happens to the world, that’s not equity, it’s just creating a society where you can’t ask anything of people.” He should know.
It seems you make your own luck. Confucius famously said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
More recently, Hollywood actress Greer Garson similarly recognised that making money for its own sake can be a miserable business, but being good at something you love will bring financial rewards: “Starting out to make money is the greatest mistake in life. Do what you feel you have a flair for doing, and if you are good enough at it, the money will come.”
And finally, you needn’t fear poverty if you take the advice of theatre critic and university professor Joseph Wood Kruch: “Security depends not so much upon how much you have as upon how much you can do without.” That certainly makes you think.
* Read Annie Shaw's money articles every month in Saga Magazine.