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What I learned from P.T. Barnum

The great circus showman shared his financial secrets in an 1880 book, 'The Art of Money-Getting.'

By MSN Money Partner Nov 9, 2011 4:54PM

This post comes from Mark Frauenfelder at partner site on MSN MoneyP.T. Barnum, the great circus showman of the 19th century, is probably best remembered for saying, "There’s a sucker born every minute." That's a shame, because he never said it. His competitor did. And as a result of this misattribution, many people think Barnum was nothing but a brash huckster who wasn't worth learning from.


I counted myself among those who thought Barnum was a con artist, but fortunately my curiosity got the better of me when I saw that Amazon was offering a free Kindle version of his book, "The Art of Money-Getting," and I downloaded it.  (If you don’t have a Kindle or tablet you can read it here.)


I learned that Barnum didn't think of his customers as suckers -- in fact, he had a great deal of respect for them. And in this book he warned that anything less than scrupulous treatment of customers would lead to financial ruin and a worthless reputation. "The public is wiser than many imagine," he wrote.


The other chapters in this short book are loaded with practical advice that makes as much sense today as it did when he wrote it in 1880. Post continues below.

Some of my favorites:

  • "There is more satisfaction in rational saving than in irrational spending."
  • "A handful of people, calling themselves the aristocracy, run up a false standard of perfection, and in endeavoring to rise to that standard, we constantly keep ourselves poor."
  • "There is one thing nothing living except a vile worm ever naturally loved, and that is tobacco; yet how many persons there are who deliberately train an unnatural appetite."
  • "I have discovered the philosopher's stone: pay as you go."
  • "Whatever you do, do it with all your might."
  • "Be cautious and bold … you must exercise caution in laying your plans, but be bold in carrying them out."
  • "By introducing system into all your transactions, doing one thing at a time, always meeting appointments with punctuality, you find leisure for pastime and recreation."

There are many more nuggets of pecuniary wisdom in P.T. Barnum's "The Art of Money-Getting." Step right up, ladies and gentlemen. It's absolutely free of charge!


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