Wisdom from Benjamin Franklin

There’s not a lot new about money. The same tactics, plans and methods have worked for hundreds of years. So, in order to find a bit of money wisdom, it is worth looking at some old stuff, to see what can be applied in the modern world.

Before we get to that, let me tell you about Benjamin Franklin. He was a leading author,
printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor (he invented a lighting rod, bifocal glasses and the Franklin Stove), humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. He founded Philadelphia’s fire department and the University of Pennsylvania. He was also one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and is featured on their $100 note. All in all, a rather successful chap. When someone like that has a few words of advice, it’s generally worthwhile listening.

One way he shared some of this wisdom was through an annual pamphlet called Poor Richard's Almanack. Franklin assumed the name Richard Saunders to bring proverbs and sayings, the “wisdom of many ages and nations”.

These were on all sorts of topics, relationships, friendships, power and there’s a good deal that are relevant for time and money saving- or “Industry and Frugality” as Franklin would say!

I've taken 8 of the best sayings about money and time and put some thought into what they mean today:

“Industry, perseverance and frugality, make fortune yield”

Franklin’s comments here are some of the most important words in money management. Work hard and use your time well (industry), keep going (perseverance) and avoid waste (frugality). Perseverance in particular is an often neglected word in money management. Get rich quick schemes rarely pay off. Making steady, ongoing wise decisions is the key to lasting financial security. How do you do that? A good place to start would be this blog. 

“Content makes poor men rich; Discontent makes rich men poor”

Contentedness is a key attribute for those looking to save money. The nature of society today tells us that we need to accumulate more, bigger house, better car, smarter tv. This discontent makes us spend money on things we do not need, and therefore have less for that which we do need. It also stops us investing in areas which will increase our wealth in the future. If we are content with what we have then there is more surplus to invest and save for the future. 

“Buy what thou hast no need of, and e’er long thou shalt sell thy necessaries”

Buy what you don’t need, and you’ll end up selling what you do. It repeats the message of contentedness but also suggest frugality in spending. We mix up what we need and what we want. There’s a huge difference, and working out what we actually need is fundamental to budgeting.

“He that is rich need not live sparingly, and he that can live sparingly need not be rich”

This is the relationship between income and expenses. You can control what comes in as well as what goes out. It sounds simple but if you can control what you spend then you need to earn less to support your lifestyle. And if you can find ways of making more money, then you can spend less time on controlling your expenses.

“Necessity never made a good bargain”
The key to any significant purchase or negotiation is the ability to walk away or go somewhere else. This prevents us from getting strong armed into making a wasteful purchase. If you absolutely need something, then you have the highest stake and the most to lose. This does not help you get a good deal.

“A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a day is a groat a year. Save and have.”

Here’s a couple rolled into one.  In Franklin’s mind saving a penny meant rescuing the penny from wasted alternatives –like “being saved” from a life of drunkenness. He used this to emphasises hard work. Someone who works for the day earns a penny. Someone who spent the day wasting a penny was actually two pence worse off, the penny he wasted and the penny he didn’t earn. See Forbes for more on this.

A pin is money set aside for incidental expenses- a man would give a wife a pin for her clothing for example. Think small change, pocket money. A groat was a larger amount of money. The more you save, the more you have. Starting small builds up in the long run to a significant amount. That saving could start with those regular unnecessary costs, small on their own but building up to a lot of money over time.

“Beware of little expenses, a small leak will sink a great ship”

Pennies turn into pounds which turn into hundreds of pounds. And before you know it expenses are out of control. It’s cancelling that unused gym membership. It’s signing up for fixed energy prices. It's comparing prices for car insurance. It’s using the hints and tips on this site. There’s loads of ways to avoid small expenses, and these add up to hundreds and hundreds of pounds in the long run.

“Prodigality of Time, produces Poverty of Mind as well as of estate”

I had to look this one up. Prodigality means waste or lavishness, like unnecessary extravagance. If you waste your time you end up with a poor mind and a poor wallet. It’s a bit like the above saying about saving a penny. Those with too much time tend to waste more money and earn less. It’s two sides of the same coin- too much time leads to wasted thoughts and wasted money.

“If your riches are yours, why don’t you take them with you t’other world”

A helpful reminder for us all. Money doesn't last forever. Whilst a legacy for future generations is brilliant, ultimately, regardless of your religious persuasion, the money we save and earn it finite. There are other things to enjoy in the world and it cannot be the sole focus. Also, use of “t’other” is to be commended. Proper old school.

I love that the principles of reducing expenses, increasing income, and saving well just do not change with regards to money. There really is very little that’s new. The same principles have been around for generations. You’d think over all these years these sorts of lessons would have sunk in. But yet for so many people these lessons are new. Putting them into practice will save and earn you both time and money.

What is the saying which most resonates with you? Drop a comment below or send me a message. Doing something with the wisdom makes it more likely you’ll follow it up with action.

If you’d like to read more, there’s a little book with many more sayings and proverbs from Poor Richard’s Almanack you can pick up here:

Follow me on twitter, for many more, I love a good quote!