Six financial lessons from Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed led a life full of important financial lessons. Here are six.

John Nordell / The Christian Science Monitor / File
This sign for Johnny Appleseed Lane in Leominster, Mass., leads to his birthplace. Here are six financial lessons from his life.

Johnny Appleseed was born John Chapman on September 26, 1774. He was an American pioneer nurseryman and missionary who became an American legend while still living, not only because of his great leadership in conservation, but also because of his kind and generous ways.

Johnny, of course, gained fame because of his penchant for growing apple trees. His life and the legend that surrounds it make interesting reading-and some great financial lessons.

1. Johnny pursued his dreams.

Growing up on a small farm in Massachusetts, Johnny’s favorite place was his father’s apple orchard. Not surprisingly, he loved the apples. When settlers passed by with tales of fertile soils, he became inspired to plant apple seeds throughout the frontier. At 18, Johnny went west to pursue his dream.

How about you? What is your dream? Are you actively pursuing it? If not, what is holding you back?

2. Johnny had a plan.

Whereas the popular perception of Johnny Appleseed is a man who strolled along broadcasting appleseeds willy nilly, he was actually quite organized. Having been apprenticed as an orchardist, Johnny planted nurseries, built fences around them to protect them from livestock and left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares. Johnny would then return every year or two to tend the nursery and settle up with the nursery caretaker. Appleseed would often barter, accepting corn meal, cash or used clothing as means of payment.

Do you have a plan that will allow you to monetize your dreams? If so, how is your plan progressing? If not, why not? Hint: offer to buy lunch for someone who is already doing what you dream of doing. Ask this person to share how he built his business. Learn and keep notes. Of course if you might be competing directly with this person, find someone who lives outside of the competition radius.

3. Johnny used ingenuity

Johnny shrewdly realized that more apple trees would bring more business to the cider mills, so he negotiated with them for free apple seeds.

Do you think outside the box? Samuel Brannon became California’s first millionaire during the gold rush of the late 1840s, but not by panning for gold. Brannon sold shovels, picks and supplies to the wide eyed miners. Is it possible that an ingenious solution for your dilemma is right in front of you?

4. Johnny was generous

Life is not all about getting. It is also about giving. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Johnny Appleseed may have been generous to a fault . . . he wore the most ragged of the clothing he received in barter, giving the best to others. He seldom wore shoes. Because he had no home to maintain, he had more to give.

Are you generous? Where does “giving” rate in your budget? Here is a thought: put giving first then learn to live on what is left after you give. God will help you do so.

5. Johnny lived on less than he made.

He might not have made much, but with his frugal life style he needed little. Appleseed managed his money well, generally keeping enough with him to pay his way and give to all he deemed needy.

Do you live on less than you make? If not, have you cut your lifestyle to the bare bones? I am not recommending that you go without shoes, but eating out, driving new cars and paying for satellite TV don’t fit when you are spending more than you make.

6. Johnny stuck with it.

Appleseed began planting apple trees when he was 18 years old; he was still doing so at the time of his death at age 70.

Do you stick with it? When pursuing your passion, have you given up prematurely? There is no such thing as an overnight success . . . Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” shares his research that very few people achieve excellence without putting in at least 10,000 hours of preparation.


Johnny Appleseed is not your typical entrepreneur, but he was nevertheless very successful. He was a man of his own mind; he did what he loved, he was ingenious, generous and loved by all. His life made a difference as he changed his world. If you follow those same life principles, you too will make a difference in your world.

What specific attributes of Johnny Appleseed would you like to further develop in your own life?

Joe Plemon, a retired engineer, financial counselor and blogger, lives in Southern Illinois with Janice, his wife of 39 years.

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