Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.
The word vanity in this verse means “vapor” and “figuratively refers to that which is unsubstantial, fleeting, or amount to nothing” (NET Bible). The word diminished means to get smaller. The idea seems to be that when we get something easily and don’t have to work for it, we don’t treat that thing the same way as something we have had to work for. It’s “easy come, easy go”. On the other hand, a person who has had to work very hard for everything he has tends to value even the little things.
So we see young people who leave the lights on when exiting a room, or who don’t close the door when it’s cold outside because they don’t grasp the value of money and paying for electric and heat. But it’s not just young people. I used to rent some apartments in which I ,as the landlord, paid for the heat and I would find that the heat was turned up to 80 in the living room but bedroom windows were open. They didn’t care because they didn’t have to pay for the heat. I fixed that situation quickly by installing separate heaters in each apartment and making the tenants pay. That helped for a while, until they realized that they could sign up for some kind of heating assistance program, then they didn’t have to pay and were once again careless about closing doors and windows. Another thing I’ve noticed is the carelessness with which some people treat expensive electonics. “If it breaks” they say “I’ll just buy another one” or “my parents will buy me another one”.
The irony is that while people come by things easily and enjoy a life of relative ease, they often have very little of real value and they live weak to weak, check to check, hand to mouth, always short on money, always complaining that other people have more. They don’t know of the satisfaction and joy there is in having a little but knowing that their own hard labor earned it (Read Ecclesiastes).
This proverb points out that the person who labors and doesn’t get his things for free or easily tends to accumulate wealth little by little. He doesn’t start out rich and he never lives like a rich person, but as the years pass he becomes more comfortable. He lives in a house that is paid for, he drives cars that are paid for, he does not have debt on credit cards, and he has some savings so that when a furnace quits working or the car needs an overhaul, he can pay for it without panic or without troubling other people for help. This is the person who is in a position to help others who are in true need. But why would he want to help a person pay to get their car fixed when the person in need sits around watching cable TV on a giant flat panel while talking on a smart phone and shopping online at Amazon for the latest coolest rags, all paid for with money that they didn’t earn. Don’t laugh, these people are your neighbors. Much more could be said, especially from Ecclesiastes, but I’ll wait to hear your reply.