Money Advice from Shakespeare

Today is William Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday. In honor of the Bard, I thought I would nerd out and give some money advice based on his work. Who knew the Greatest Writer of All Time was also a financial counselor?

He looks pretty good for his age.

He looks pretty good for his age.

Foul cankering rust the hidden treasure frets,
But gold that’s put to use more gold begets.

Venus and Adonis


Simply put, INVEST! Although I’m sure we’d all love to have enough money that we referred it as “hidden treasure” and kept it stock-piled somewhere untouched, I think we can agree with Shakespeare that it wouldn’t really do us any good. You want your money to grow. You want it help you start a business. You want it to make a difference in your life. Keep some money in savings, but have a financial counselor help you invest the rest.


All that glitters is not gold, often have you heard that told.

The Merchant of Venice 2.7.65-66


Apparently this was a cliché even in Shakespeare’s time, which might prove just how true it is. The key take-away: money isn’t everything. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “grass is always greener on the other side” game; life would be so much better if I just had a new car, a higher level job, or a bigger house. Just because something is newer, more expensive, or shinier than what you have, doesn’t mean it’s better. Appreciate the things you have!


Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, 
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy; 
For the apparel oft proclaims the man, 
And they in France of the best rank and station 
Are most select and generous, chief in that. 
Neither a borrower nor a lender be; 
For loan oft loses both itself and friend, 
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. 

Hamlet 1.3.556-563, Polonius to Laertes


There’s a lot of good stuff in this soliloquy so let me break it down for you:

  1. Live within your means. All that “Costly thy habit” stuff basically just means that you shouldn’t have spending habits your wallet can’t afford. If you can’t pay for it, don’t buy it. This is a rule modern Americans break a lot. It’s so easy to charge something to your credit card, the payment is delayed, and then you don’t really have to think in the moment about whether or not you can afford the item. It’s not until you get your credit card statement in the mail that you realize how much trouble you’re in and by then it’s too late to do anything. Polonius is saying it’s okay to enjoy nice things, but only if you can pay for them.
  2. Don’t lend money to others, especially your friends. You’re not a bank. Or the mafia. Not only are you risking not getting your money back when you casually lend it out to friends, but you’re also putting the friendship in jeopardy because owing someone money is awkward.
  3. On the flip side, don’t be that friend that’s always borrowing money from everyone. If you constantly rely on others to buy your drinks and never pick up the tab yourself, pretty soon your Saturday nights will start to look kind of lonely. Loans should be given by credit unions or banks and only for purchases that require financing (ie. car or house), not taken from friends who wish they could say no to you. Don’t be that guy.


He that wants money, means, and content is without three good friends.

As You Like It 3.2.21-22, Corin to Touchstone


Basically you need three things in life: money, employment, and happiness. Shakespeare is implying that these three things go hand in hand. A job that makes you happy to do will lead you to money. Making money will make you happy to do your job. Having a job that makes you money will make you happy. Sound familiar? Probably because it’s a lot like ye old “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”


I think it’s important to note that most scholars believe Shakespeare died a wealthy man. Though modern cinema likes to depict him as the starving artist type, historical records of his property purchases and other investments indicate that he actually had quite a large estate. So if you’re going to take money advice from a historical figure, the Bard isn’t a bad choice at all! Plus if you can slip one of these quotes into casual conversation, you will sound wicked smart.


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