The Sum of Trifles
Or, "A Penny Saved, Is a Penny Gained."
By Timothy Shay Arthur
"Saving? Don't talk to me about saving!" said one journeyman mechanic to another. "What can a man with a wife and three children save out of eight dollars a week?"
"Not much, certainly," was replied. "But still, if he is careful, he may save a little."
"Precious little!" briefly returned the other, with something like contempt in his tone.
"Even a little is worth saving," was answered to this. "You know the old proverb, 'Many littles,, make a mickle.' Fifty cents laid by every week will amount to twenty-six dollars in a year."
"Of course, that's clear enough. And a dollar saved every week will give the handsome sum of fifty-two dollars a year. But how is the half-dollar or the dollar to be saved, I would like to know? I can't do it, I am sure."
"I can, and my family is just as large as yours, and my wages no higher."
"If you say so, I am bound to believe you, but I must own myself unable to see how you do it. Please, how much do you save?"
"I have saved about seventy-five dollars a year for the last two years."
"You have!" in surprise.
"Yes, and I have it all snugly in the Savings Bank."
"How have you possibly managed to do this? For my part, it is as much as I can do to keep out of debt. My wife is as hard-working, saving a woman as is to be found anywhere. But all won't do. I expect my nose will be at the grindstone all my life."
"How much does your tobacco cost you, Johnson?" asked his companion.
"Nothing, to speak of. A mere trifle," replied the man named Johnson.
"A shilling a week?"
"And you take something to drink, now and then?"
"Nothing but a little beer. I never use anything stronger."
"I suppose you never take, on an average, more than a glass a day?"
"No, not even that."
"But you occasionally ask a friend to take a glass with you?"
"Of course, that is a thing we all must do, sometimes — "
"Which will make the cost to you about equal to a glass a day?"
"I suppose it will; but that's nothing."
"Six glasses a week at sixpence each, will make just the sum of three shillings, which added to the cost of tobacco, will make fifty cents a week for beer and tobacco, or what would amount to a hundred dollars and over in four years."
"A poor mechanic like me, has few enough comforts without depriving himself of trifles like these," said Johnson.
"By giving up such trifles as these, for trifles they really are — permanent and substantial comforts may be gained. But, besides chewing tobacco and drinking beer, you indulge yourself in a plate of oysters, now and then, do you not?"
"Certainly I do. A hard-working man ought to be allowed to enjoy himself a little sometimes."
"And this costs you two shillings weekly?" said the persevering friend.
"At least that," was replied.
"How often do you take a holiday to yourself?"
"Not often. I do it very rarely."
"Not oftener than once a month?"
"Yes, I suppose I take a day for recreation about once in a month, and that is little enough, dear knows."
"You spend a trifle at such times, of course?"
"Never more than half a dollar. I always limit myself to that, for I cannot forget that I am a poor journeyman mechanic."
"Does your wife take a holiday, too?" asked the friend, with something significant in his look and tone.
"No," was replied. "I often try to persuade her to do so; but she never thinks she can spare time. She has all the work to do, and three children to see after; and one of them, you know, is a baby."
"Do you know that this day's holiday once a month, costs you exactly twenty-two dollars a year?"
"No, certainly not, for it costs no such thing."
"Well, let us see. Your wages per day come to one dollar thirty-three cents. This sum multiplied by twelve, the number of days lost in the year, gives sixteen dollars. Half a dollar spent a day for twelve days makes six dollars, and six dollars added to sixteen amount to twenty-two. Now, have I not calculated it fairly?"
"I believe you have," replied Johnson, in an altered tone. "But I never could have believed it."
"Add to this, thirteen dollars a year that you pay for oysters, and you have — "
"Not so fast, if you please. I spend no such sum as you name, in oysters."
"Let us try our multiplication again," coolly remarked the friend. "Twenty-five cents a week multiplied into fifty-two weeks, gives exactly thirteen dollars. Isn't it so?"
"Humph! I believe you are right. But I never would have thought of it."
"Add this thirteen dollars added to the twenty-two it costs you for twelve holidays in the year, and this again to the price of your beer and tobacco, and you will have just sixty-one dollars a year that might be saved. A little more careful examination into your expenses, would, no doubt, detect the sum of fourteen dollars that might be as well saved as not, which added to the sixty-one dollars, will make seventy-five dollars a year uselessly spent, the exact sum I am able to put into the Savings Bank."
Johnson was both surprised and mortified, at being thus convinced of actually spending nearly one-fifth of his entire earnings in self-gratification of one kind or another. He promised both himself and his friend, that he would at once reform matters, and try to get a little ahead, as he had a growing family that would soon be much more expensive than it was at present.
Some months afterward, the friend who had spoken so freely to Johnson, met him coming out of a tavern, and in the act of putting tobacco in his mouth. The latter looked a little confused, but said with as much indifference as he could assume:
"You see I am at my old tricks again?"
"Yes, and I am truly sorry for it. I was in hopes you were going to practice a thorough system of economy, in order to get ahead."
"I did try, but it's no use. As to giving up tobacco, that is out of the question. I can't do it. Nor could you, if you had ever formed the bad habit of chewing or smoking."
"We can do almost anything, if we try hard enough, Johnson. We fail, because we give up trying. My tobacco and cigars used to cost me just twice what yours cost you, and yet I made a resolution to abandon the use of the vile weed altogether, and what is better, have kept my resolution. So, you see, the thing can be done. All that is needed, is sufficient firmness and perseverance. I used to like a glass of ale, too, and a plate of oysters, but I saw that the expense was rather a serious matter, and that the indulgence did not do me a particle of good. So I gave them up, also; and if you try hard enough, you can do it, too."
"I don't know — perhaps I might; but somehow or other, it strikes me that seventy or eighty dollars a year, laid by in the Savings Bank, is rather a dear saving, if made at the expense of every comfort a poor man has. What good is the money going to do?"
"A strange question, that, to ask, Johnson. I will tell you what good it is going to do me. I intend saving every cent I can possibly lay aside, until I get five hundred dollars; and then I mean to set up my trade for myself, and become a master-workman. After that, I hope to get along a little faster, and be able to send my children, who will be pretty well advanced by the time, to better schools. I shall also be able, I hope, to get help for my wife, who will need assistance in the house."
"All very well to talk about, but not so easily done," replied Johnson.
"I don't know. For every effect, there is an adequate cause. The cause of all this will be the saving of seventy-five dollars a year. This I have been doing for three years, and I hope to be able to do it for three or four years longer. Then the desired effect, in a capital of five hundred dollars, upon which to commence business, will be produced. Is it not so?"
"Yes, I suppose it is. But it is one thing to commence business, and another thing to succeed in it. There are plenty of chances in favor of your losing every cent you have, and then being obliged to go back to journey-work, which will not be the most agreeable thing in the world. For my part, I would much rather enjoy what little I have as I go along, than stint and deny myself everything comfortable for six or seven years, in order to set up business for myself, and then lose every dollar. It is not every man, I can tell you, who is fit to go into business, nor every man who can succeed, if he does. The fact is, there must be journeymen as well as master-workmen. As for me, I have no taste for going into business, and don't believe I would succeed if I did set up for myself. I expect to work journey-work all my life, and might just as well take my comfort as I go along."
"I shall not attempt to dispute what you say about some men being born to be journeymen, and others to be master-workmen," replied the friend of Johnson, "for I am very well aware that the gifts of all are different; and that some men are so peculiarly constituted, that they would not succeed if they were to set up business for themselves. But the lack of a business capacity, or inclination, is no reason at all why a journeyman mechanic should not save every cent he can."
"What good will it do him? He is bound to be a poor worker all his life, and why should he deny himself the few comforts he has as he goes along, in order to lay aside a hundred or two dollars?"
"I am surprised to hear you ask such a question, Johnson. But I will answer it by saying, that he should do it for the very reason that I save my money; that is, to enable him to educate his children well, to lighten his own and his wife's toil, when they grow older, and to be able to obtain for his family more of the comforts of life than they now enjoy."
"Don't exactly see how all this is to be achieved. Suppose he gets together as much as five hundred dollars; and instead of risking it in business, he sends his children to some expensive schools, hires help for his wife, and takes some comfort as he goes along; how long do you suppose his five hundred dollars will last? But two years, and then he must come down again and be ten times as unhappy, for it is a much easier matter to get up — than to go down."
"Pardon me, Johnson," replied his friend, "but I must say you are a very short-sighted man. If you can't imagine any better mode of using your five hundred dollars after you have saved it, I don't blame you for not caring about making the attempt to do so. But I can tell you a better way."
"Well, let us hear it."
"With your five hundred dollars, after you had saved it, you could buy yourself a snug little cottage, with an acre of ground around it. How much rent do you pay now?"
"Seventy-five dollars a year."
"Of course this would be saved after that, which, added to what you were already saving, would make a hundred and fifty dollars a year. Take fifty of that to buy yourself a cow, some pigs, and chickens, and to get lumber for your pig-sty, hen-house and shed for your cow in winter, and you would still have a hundred dollars left, the first year, to go into the Savings Bank. Your garden, which you could work yourself by rising an hour or two earlier in the morning; your cow, your chickens and your pigs, would make a sufficient saving in your expenses to pay for all additional charges in entering your children at better schools.
In three years more, laying aside a hundred and fifty dollars a year, which you could easily do, would give you enough to buy another cottage and an acre of ground, which you could easily rent to a good tenant for eighty dollars a year. In three years more, going on with the same economy, you would have seven hundred dollars more to invest, which could be done in property that would yield you seventy or eighty dollars a year additional income. By this time, the village would have grown out toward your grounds, and perhaps doubled, may be quadrupled their value for building lots, some of which you could sell, and adding the amount to the savings of a couple of years, be able to build one or two more comfortable little houses on your own lots. Going on in this way, year after year, by the time your ability to work as a journeyman began to fail you, the necessity for work would not exist, for you would have a comfortable property, the regular income from which would more than support you. Now all this may be done, by your simply giving up your tobacco, beer and oysters, and your day's holiday once a month. Is not the result worth the trifling sacrifice, Johnson?"
"It certainly is," was the serious reply. "You have presented a very attractive picture, and I suppose it is a true one."
"It is, you may depend upon it. Every journeyman mechanic, if he be industrious and has a prudent, economical wife, as you have — may accumulate a snug little property, and live quite at his ease, when he passes the prime of life. Is it not all very plain to you."
"It certainly is, and I am determined that I will try to get ahead just in the way that you describe. If you can save seventy-five dollars a year, there is no good reason why I should not do the same."
"None in the world. Only persevere in your economy and self-denial, and you are certain of accomplishing all I have set forth."
We are sorry that we cannot give as good an account of Johnson as we could wish. He tried to be economical, and to break himself of his bad habits of chewing, drinking, and other self-indulgences, for a little while — and then sunk down into his old ways and went on as usual.
Hopelessly his poor wife, now in ill health, is toiling on, and will have to toil on until she sinks, from exhaustion, into the grave, and her children become scattered among strangers, to bear the hard lot of the orphan.
How many hundreds are there like Johnson who spend as they go, in self-indulgence, what, if properly saved up, would make their last days bright with life's declining sunshine.