How to Live on 24 Hours a Day: Published 100+ Years Ago, Still Practical Advice Today

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Either Jonathan Clements or Jason Zweig (both long-time, award-winning personal finance columnists) once wrote that personal finance writing was all about finding the 1,000th different way to discuss the same five basic concepts. Early in the book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett, first published in 1908, is the following mention of their professional ancestors:

Newspapers are full of articles explaining how to live on such-and-such a sum, and these articles provoke a correspondence whose violence proves the interest they excite. Recently, in a daily organ, a battle raged round the question whether a woman can exist nicely in the country on £85 a year.

100 years later, we have the exact same debates. 100 years later, financial freedom is still whether you control how you spend your time. Work is still trading your life energy (time) for money, and financial freedom means creating a different source of money so you can stop trading your life energy (time) away. We are all given 24 hours a day.

You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours. It is the most precious of possessions.

For remark! No one can take it from you. It is unstealable. And no one receives either more or less than you receive.

This may also sound familiar:

Which of us is not saying to himself—which of us has not been saying to himself all his life: “I shall alter that when I have a little more time”?

I assumed that this would be a philosophical book, but was pleasantly surprised at the amount of practical and actionable advice inside. Please read the book for the full and original message; I am crudely paraphrasing below.

Notice that you want more out of life. I call this the “itch”. The “itch” is what makes people seek out and devour information about financial freedom.

If we further analyse our vague, uneasy aspiration, we shall, I think, see that it springs from a fixed idea that we ought to do something in addition to those things which we are loyally and morally obliged to do. We are obliged, by various codes written and unwritten, to maintain ourselves and our families (if any) in health and comfort, to pay our debts, to save, to increase our prosperity by increasing our efficiency. A task sufficiently difficult! A task which very few of us achieve! A task often beyond our skill! Yet, if we succeed in it, as we sometimes do, we are not satisfied; the skeleton is still with us.

And such is, indeed, the fact. The wish to accomplish something outside their formal programme is common to all men who in the course of evolution have risen past a certain level.

Realize that even with a full-time job, you DO have control over part of your day. Most of us will spend at least a couple decades working 8-9 hours a day, 5 days a week while building up those other income sources. However, even if you spend 10 hours a day working/commuting and 8 hours a day sleeping/eating/grooming, that still leaves 6 hours where you are free to do millions of different things. (Caregivers of young children and/or other family members: I know.) The point is, if you consciously spend even a fraction of that time on an invigorating activity, you can feel better about your entire life.

If my typical man wishes to live fully and completely he must, in his mind, arrange a day within a day. And this inner day, a Chinese box in a larger Chinese box, must begin at 6 p.m. and end at 10 a.m. It is a day of sixteen hours; and during all these sixteen hours he has nothing whatever to do but cultivate his body and his soul and his fellow men. During those sixteen hours he is free; he is not a wage-earner; he is not preoccupied with monetary cares; he is just as good as a man with a private income.

If a man makes two-thirds of his existence subservient to one-third, for which admittedly he has no absolutely feverish zest, how can he hope to live fully and completely? He cannot.

Spend 30 minutes each weekday morning doing meditation and/or mindfulness training. Either wake up a bit earlier, or use your commute. Training your mind is a worthwhile activity and strengthens it like a muscle. You will be more patient and focused with your co-workers, your kids, and yourself.

People say: “One can’t help one’s thoughts.” But one can. The control of the thinking machine is perfectly possible. And since nothing whatever happens to us outside our own brain; since nothing hurts us or gives us” pleasure except within the brain, the supreme importance of being able to control what goes on in that mysterious brain is patent. Hence, it seems to me, the first business of the day should be to put the mind through its paces […]

When you leave your house, concentrate your mind on a subject (no matter what, to begin with). You will not have gone ten yards before your mind has skipped away under your very eyes and is larking round the corner with another subject. Bring it back by the scruff of the neck. Ere you have reached the station you will have brought it back about forty times. Do not despair. Continue. Keep it up. You will succeed. […]

I do not care what you concentrate on, so long as you concentrate. It is the mere disciplining of the thinking machine that counts. But still, you may as well kill two birds with one stone, and concentrate on something useful. I suggest—it is only a suggestion—a little chapter of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus.

Set aside 90 minutes per evening, three weeknights a week. During this time, you must find something that challenges your curiosity and makes you excited! If you pick the right activity, it will give you energy, not make you more tired. You might learn to rock climb, play tennis, rehearse for a community theater role, ballroom dance, read poetry, anything. You must consciously choose this activity and persevere with it for 3 months. It’s hard to break old habits, so that is why it is only for every other day.

But remember, at the start, those ninety nocturnal minutes thrice a week must be the most important minutes in the ten thousand and eighty. They must be sacred, quite as sacred as a dramatic rehearsal or a tennis match. Instead of saying, “Sorry I can’t see you, old chap, but I have to run off to the tennis club,” you must say, “…but I have to work.” This, I admit, is intensely difficult to say. Tennis is so much more urgent than the immortal soul.

On your commute home, spend some time reflecting. What are the principles that you chose to live by? Are your actions aligned with those principles? If not, how can we fix that?

What leads to the permanent sorrowfulness of burglars is that their principles are contrary to burglary. If they genuinely believed in the moral excellence of burglary, penal servitude would simply mean so many happy years for them; all martyrs are happy, because their conduct and their principles agree.

We do not reflect. I mean that we do not reflect upon genuinely important things; upon the problem of our happiness, upon the main direction in which we are going, upon what life is giving to us, upon the share which reason has (or has not) in determining our actions, and upon the relation between our principles and our conduct.

Bottom line. Give it some modern edits, a snazzy book cover, and a powerful media blitz, and the 1908 short book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett could be a modern bestseller. Don’t wait until retirement to scratch those itches. By carefully changing how you spend specifically selected hours a week and consciously choosing activities that excite, strengthen, and invigorate you, you can improve your entire life today. (The book doesn’t touch your weekends.) As the copyright has expired, you can read it for free via Project Gutenberg (or search on Libby). A final spicy quote:

If you are not prepared for discouragements and disillusions; if you will not be content with a small result for a big effort, then do not begin. Lie down again and resume the uneasy doze which you call your existence.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

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  1. Hah, I went to get this on Kindle and Amazon tells me I got it (free) back in 2013. Looks like I only read four pages (out of 25) back then.

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