Dumb money quotes that are more like prayers to the gods of consumerism

Having been a keen fan of personal finance blogs for some time, I have come to realise that there are so many sayings out there that are supposed to be critical of people that are watching their pennies or imply some sort of wisdom, but instead sound more like prayers to the gods of consumerism. That, and they are often quotes that have been completely butchered and their original meanings completely misunderstood.

Often these sayings then come out as a form of defense from people when money comes up and they feel that the discussion is critical of them or reflects poorly on them. Little do they realise the origins of these sayings, and that when they believe they are using their brains in their own defense they are actually rattling off a phrase that has been planted by someone with a very different motive or with a very different context.

Here are some of the phrases that make me cringe when I hear them, and they often sound more like prayers to the gods of consumerism than any sort of logical retort.

Money is the root of all evil: This is actually derived from the bible, where the real quote from Timothy 6:10 is actually “the love of money is the root of all evil”. This is one of the most misquoted verses of the bible, as the first three words, which totally change the meaning of the quote, are missed. The proper quote is actually saying that money in itself isn’t evil, but peoples love of it is the root of evil.

It takes money to make money: Sometimes this is true, but not always. Typically however, the times when it is actually said, it is by people that have no ability to save any money, despite earning an income that places them in the top income earners in the world. As with all of these sayings, it is usually justification for poor decisions or a lack of action.

You’ve got to be in it to win it: Yes, it is certainly true. So true and obvious that it is pointless to even say it. But can’t people see that this, which is the catch phrase of lottery organisations in English-speaking countries throughout the world, is exactly what they want you to say and want you to think? I don’t know about you, but even when I am exposed to advertising, I don’t go repeating their catch-phrases to further support their marketing.

You can’t take it with you: This is actually derived from the bible, where in Paul’s first letter to Timothy he stated “For we have brought nothing into the world, and so we cannot take anything out of it. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content”.

Clearly we all know that you can’t take your wealth with you, but when people use this quote, they ignore the last part that says that if we have food and covering (shelter) we should be content. I think the people that say “you can’t take it with you” are actually those that desire far more than just food and shelter, and the people that are more frugal (the very same people that are usually criticised with this quote) have simpler needs in life and would be closer to meeting the final part of the quote.

You only live once: This phrase is commonly attributed to Mae West, but the first variation of the phrase was the German equivalent of “one lives but once in the world” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his 1774 play Clavigo. Johan Strauss also titled a waltz “Man lebt nur einmal” (“You only live once) in 1855.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Supposedly the first one to use a variation of "You only live once".

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Supposedly the first one to use a variation of “You only live once”.

As with the lotto quotes, it is true that you only live once, but again this is so obvious that it’s not even worth saying. I find that it is typically used to disclaim stupid mistakes that people make, and in the personal financial world, stupid finance mistakes.

Money doesn’t buy happiness: I have searched and can’t find who originally said this, but it really is just a throw away line that people use to disclaim any responsibility for being irresponsible for their finances. While there have been many studies with slightly conflicting levels, the general consensus is that money does actually buy happiness to a point (essentially once you have met your basic needs), but its effectiveness greatly declines beyond that point. So imagine if you had enough wealth to generate sufficient regular income up to that point? Then I imagine that it really would have bought you happiness, and the challenge would be to become even happier by pursuing the things that matter to you, not just the things that pay you.

Go on, spoil yourself,  you deserve it: This isn’t a quote as such, as no one person or organisation said it or says it consistently from what I can see, but it seems to be a catchphrase of businesses that have a completely non-essential product that is probably a luxury, and is often repeated by financially irresponsible people that are keen to spread their philosophy to others often so that they don’t feel so alone in their misery. The experiences that this phrase is usually used for are typically very short in duration, and are potentially even less worthwhile as a result.

Diamonds are forever: This is actually an advertising slogan for De Beers diamonds that they began using from 1948 and continue to use today. At the same time they brought out the slogan they also stressed the “tradition” of buying a diamond engagement ring – a “tradition” that was nothing like it is today. Here is a huge article on why diamonds are actually one big scam, but good luck convincing your wife/fiance/girlfriend of that.

Tight-ass: In Australia this is a derogatory way to refer to a frugal person, as if it is an insult to say that someone actually manages their own money. However, this word is actually recorded in Farmer and Henley’s 1903 slang dictionary with the sense of a chaste woman, and gradually expanded in meaning to refer to any strait-laced or inhibited person. So when someone calls you a tight-ass for watching their money, they probably don’t even realise that it is meant to mean something completely different.

So what about you? Are there any finance-related quotes like these that make you cringe when you hear them? Or were you guilty of using any of them in your days as a hyper-consumer?


2 thoughts on “Dumb money quotes that are more like prayers to the gods of consumerism

    • Yeah I quite like that one as an accountant though, especially since I have a miniature money tree in my office at work. My parents used to tell me this when I was young too – it may be a cloche but at least it isn’t a phrase that is blindly supporting poor spending choices like some of the others!

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