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14 Money Lessons from Benjamin Franklin

By , May 15th, 2014 | 6 Comments »

Ben Franklin

Long before the financial gurus with their TV shows and personal finance books to sell were around, Benjamin Franklin was giving down-to-earth, sound money advice to anyone who would listen. The advice was so sound that it’s still relevant and applicable to this day. Here are ten money lessons from Ben Franklin that you would be wise to follow:

“Money Never Made a Man Happy yet, nor Will It. The More a Man Has, the More He Wants”

Money doesn’t provide happiness. It’s a lesson that many people still have a difficult time remembering today. Ben Franklin knew that money was a means to an end, not the end itself. It’s a tool to help you do the things that make you happy, but it can’t bring happiness just by having it. And if you think that it will bring you happiness, you will always be seeking more because it will never fulfill what you hope it would.

“An Investment in Knowledge Pays the Best Interest”

When people think about investments, they usually think about getting the best interest return on their money. But Ben Franklin knew the best overall return you can get on your money is by investing in yourself and improving your knowledge and skills. When you invest in yourself, you widen your opportunity by being able to do more things. As he says, invest in your knowledge will give you the best return on your money.

“Diligence Is the Mother of Good Luck”

When you see someone that you think is financially lucky, chances are that there was a lot of hard work and diligence that went into that luck. “Luck” usually comes about due to a lot of factors most people never see. An overnight success usually took years of hard work to make happen. Benjamin Franklin knew that the “luck” that others seemed to have came about because they had done the work to take advantage of it when it appeared.

“Do Not Fear Mistakes. You Will Know Failure. Continue to Reach Out”

Everyone will fail from time to time, and this is actually important. In order to improve and get better at anything you do, you will make mistakes along the way. If you begin to fear mistakes, you’ll stop doing the important things you need to do because of this fear. Failure is a part of the learning process, including your finances. Don’t fear those mistakes you make, but learn from them.

“A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned”

This is one of Benjamin Franklin’s most famous quotes, and it’s still one of the most useful for modern society. The adage states that saving money is the most important factor in financial stability and building wealth. Benjamin Franklin knew what he was talking about when it came to saving money, as he was able to put enough aside to retire fairly early.

“If You Do Not Exceed in Quantity as You Lessen the times, Half Your Expense in These Articles Will Be Saved”

This lesson goes hand in hand with the first lesson. If saving is the most important way to build financial stability, then it’s equally important to learn how to save. In this quote from “Plan for Saving One Hundred Thousand Pounds,” he suggests splitting monthly expenses in half. One half is allocated toward necessary amenities such as rent or food, and the other half on superfluous things like entertainment or luxuries. He goes on to say that by buying used items, or limiting the amount you spend on entertainment can help you save money.

“Don’t Give Too Much for the Whistle”

This quote comes from a story that happened during Benjamin Franklin’s childhood. When he was seven, he saw another boy blowing a whistle and wanted the toy for himself. He offered the other boy all his money in exchange for the whistle. He later learned that he had paid more than four times what the whistle was actually worth. He learned an important lesson that many people still need to learn: don’t overpay for items.

“Rather Go to Bed without Dinner than to Rise in Debt”

This lesson cautions people against living beyond their means. This is an important thing to learn as many people in today’s society often fall into debt because they spend money they don’t have in order to life a lifestyle they can’t afford. Living with debt severely impacts your lifestyle and you should do everything you can to prevent it. Readjust your lifestyle if it means you won’t succumb to debt.

“Think What You Do When You Run in Debt: You Give to Another Power over Your Liberty”

We all know that debt is an awful, stressful experience. As the previous two items on the list suggest, it’s important to not overspend on items so you don’t go into debt. As Benjamin Franklin says in this quote: when you go into debt, you’re giving up your freedom. When you’re so far in debt, your life choices start revolving around paying off that debt. Your first priority is the debt, and everything else is secondary.

“He That Is of the Opinion Money Will Do Everything May Well Be Suspected of Doing Everything for Money”

Benjamin Franklin cautioned people against letting money control them. Everyone wants to be financially stable and wants to make enough to buy the things they desire, and it’s easy to convince yourself that your life will be better with more money. But be careful that you don’t let your greed for money control your life. Some people will go out of their way and do risky things for money, sometimes ending up in debt or bankruptcy. Don’t let money control your life.

“Buy What Thou Hast No Need of, and before Long Thou Shalt Sell Thy Necessaries”

Because we live in a society that runs on consumerism and capitalism, people tend to over buy. One of Benjamin Franklin’s best money lessons is admonishing people for consistently buying items they don’t need and can’t afford. We’re all guilty of buying items we never end up using. If you’re looking to save money, consider whether or not you actually need the item you’re thinking of purchasing. Are you only buying it because it’s there in front of you, on sale, or convincingly advertised?

“The Eyes of Other People Are the Eyes That Ruin Us. If All but Myself Were Blind I Should Want Neither Fine Clothes, Fine Houses nor Fine Furniture”

A lot of people try to live beyond their means or compare themselves with neighbors, colleagues, friends, or strangers. If someone has a luxury car or designer clothes, they suddenly want it too, even if they can’t afford it. But why worry over these status symbols? If you can afford to buy them – great! If not, stop comparing yourself to other people and focus on buying what you can afford.

“Never Keep Borrowed Money an Hour beyond the Time You Promised”

This is another great lesson on how to avoid debt and save money. The longer you have loans or credit card debt, the more money you’ll end up paying in interest. This lesson is also useful for those times when you borrow money from a friend or family member. Paying it back in a timely manner is not only polite, but it means they’ll be more likely to lend you money again.

“Gain May Be Temporary and Uncertain, but Ever While You Live, Expense Is Constant and Certain”

This quote is especially relevant in today’s economy. Your financial stability might be secure one day and ruined the next. You never know when you could lose a job or suddenly win a million dollar jackpot. No matter what your current financial situation is, you know that you’ll always have expenses to pay and you should factor that into your daily life regardless of your personal wealth.

For more about Benjamin Franklin pick up a copy of The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin. The book has something like 14,000 reviews on Goodreads.com with an overall rating of 4.19 out of 5. Fourteen thousand favorable reviews can’t be wrong. It retails for under $15 bucks so pick up a copy.

(Photo courtesy of Tetsumo)

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  • S. B. says:

    These 14 sentences just about say it all when it comes to earning, saving, spending, and borrowing. Great article.

  • Jay says:

    Thomas Jefferson also had 12 Canons of Conduct, including:

    #3. Never spend your money before you have it.
    #4. Never buy a thing you do not want, because it is cheap, it will be dear to you.
    #5. Take care of your cents: Dollars will take care of themselves.

  • nanda says:

    Great wisdom. So simple but so easily overlooked by to many.

  • Minny says:

    ‘A penny saved is a penny earned’ is an old adage and it very true. The easiest money you have is that you earn from your main job.

  • My top three favorites are:
    “Never Keep Borrowed Money an Hour beyond the Time You Promised”
    “Rather Go to Bed without Dinner than to Rise in Debt”
    “Don’t Give Too Much for the Whistle”

  • I totally believe this one, “Diligence Is the Mother of Good Luck”, if your hard work enough then except for a good result. Usually the result of a diligent of work would be how many years, but if we are consistent enough with our work then everything will be paid off.


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