Benjamin Franklin’s image is indelibly printed not only within the American psyche, but also on the largest issue of currency printed by the U.S. Treasury – the $100 bill. It would be hard to choose a more appropriate founding father to feature on the $100 bill, seeing as how prior to his tenure as one of the greatest and most famous statesmen of the American Revolution, Franklin was the founder and proprietor of a printing shop.
It’s this entrepreneurial spirit that allowed Franklin to build wealth, serve his community, and create a better world for future generations. But Ben Franklin didn’t just leave the world his myriad of inventions or a fledgling country called the United States of America – he also left a great deal of personal wisdom and advice from his many writings. And some of his best advice is financial.
Here are five of our favorite pearls of wisdom from Franklin, and what you can learn from them.
1. “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Franklin’s most famous personal finance quote isn’t actually quite accurate. Quantitatively, when you consider that most people calculate their earnings prior to taxes, a penny saved is actually worth more than a penny earned. Why? Because taxes reduce your actual take home pay. If you earn $10 an hour, you will likely only see around $7.50 after taxes. Therefore, if you can cut your expenses by $10, it actually results in saving more than 1 hour’s worth of your take home wage.
- The lesson: Saving money is the number one key to building wealth and becoming financially successful.
2. “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Investing in yourself is just as important as saving for the future. In fact, although Franklin is also attributed with the saying, “early to bed, early to rise, keeps a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” Franklin was known to frequently burn the midnight oil studying languages which included French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. This gained knowledge served him and the colonies well in his travels soliciting support from the French during the American revolution, paying dividends he could have never expected. Franklin’s life teaches that success is not only born from hard work, but also from diligent study.
- The lesson: Never stop learning. If you have a chance to take a class, or further your education, go for it. Better yet, study things that interest you on your own time. A library card is free!
3. “Having been poor is no shame, being ashamed of it is.”
Franklin was a self-made man who believed that success was derived through hard work, diligence, and study. His own beginnings were of a humble nature, but he progressed through entrepreneurship and lifelong learning. He never shied away from being honest about who he was or how he came by his success.
- The lesson: Remembering the crushing weight of debt or poverty might be just the motivation you require to sustain your personal frugality and ensure a better future for yourself and your family.
4. “He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.”
An encyclopedia of personal finance could be written on this quote alone. Frugality, savings, and thrift are one thing, but greed is another matter altogether. The financial crisis which began in 2008 is a prime example. Greed drove billions of dollars into risky and speculative investments such as sub-prime adjustable rate mortgages and mortgage-backed securities which promised impossible returns to investors who were well beyond their depth of understanding but blinded by dollar signs.
- The lesson: You should be in charge of your money; it shouldn’t be in charge of you.
5. “Rather go to bed without dinner than to rise in debt.”
Franklin understood the insidious nature of debt, and firmly believed that it’s better to slash expenses to an extreme level rather than to incur debt in order to afford a lifestyle that is well beyond our means. Certainly, cutting back on essential human needs such as food is a choice that we will ideally not be confronted with any time soon, but this quote reinforces the importance of building an emergency fund.
- The lesson: Don’t live beyond your means, and get out of debt as quickly as possible.
Benjamin Franklin’s writings are full of quotes that remain perfectly apt even in the complicated and often confusing economic conditions we face today. With that said, we’ll leave this final word to the master: Ben Franklin himself, who reminds us to keep our ideas about money in perspective.
“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.”