Money Advice You Should Take from Benjamin Franklin

This is a colorful photo of Benjamin Franklin.
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American history produced a wide array of colorful characters. Among the Founding Fathers, none are quite so colorful, witty and easily quotable as Benjamin Franklin. His story is one of the earliest examples of the American Dream. He came from humble origins and went on to become one of the wealthiest men in the country he helped establish. A lot of Benjamin Franklin-inspired money advice is still applicable today.

He had a gift for words that few could match. And when it came to finance, he definitely knew what he was doing. He started his first business, publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette starting in 1728 at age 23, followed by Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732. Both of them became some of the biggest sellers in the American colonies, making Benjamin Franklin fabulously rich.

Benjamin Franklin-Inspired Money Advice You Should Listen To

His advice helped lead the 13 colonies to revolution. It can also help you revolutionize how you make and save money.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

No harm came from a little extra preparation. Keeping money aside for emergencies or unpredictable events is always a good idea. There are a variety of budgeting strategies to help you keep that in mind. All purpose budget plans are easily researched online, but a few sources like this one from The Penny Hoarder can help you start preparing for an emergency fund should you ever need it. To make use of another Franklin quote, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

“If you would know the value of money, try to borrow some.”

The phrase “neither a borrower nor a lender be” comes to us from the only English writer quoted more in America than Benjamin Franklin — William Shakespeare. The advice is ideal, of course, but unfortunately it may be a little too late for half of us out there. Roughly half of the American population carries credit card debt as of November 2023.

It’s all too easy to fall into a credit card debt trap. Oftentimes, people forget that what you spend on a credit card is still money, just money you’re borrowing from someplace else. Nothing can make you appreciate the value of money when you owe a lot of it. If you are in a debt trap, you can start paying it off effectively right now.

“Our necessities never equal our wants.”

We all have our guilty pleasures and weaknesses. Franklin understood this better than most. When he started working in Philadelphia, he cut himself off from more luxurious trappings and lived a very spartan lifestyle in his early years at work. When he first started his paper the Pennsylvania Gazette, he settled on the most modest accommodations and often made do with nothing more than bread and water for his meals.

By sticking to this, he built his fortune and avoided the perils of what many people today call lifestyle inflation. While he eventually led a much more comfortable lifestyle, he never gave up on many of his frugal habits. That helped create the portrait of the eccentric we know him as today.

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

A phrase near and dear to us at The Penny Hoarder, this is arguably one of the most well-known pieces of Benjamin Franklin-inspired money advice. Interestingly enough, the quote as we remember it isn’t how Franklin said it. The phrase most people use does roll off the tongue quite nicely. However, the quote he actually wrote in the 1737 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack is “a penny saved is two pence clear.”

However he said it, the lesson is straightforward enough. Even the smallest savings add up over time. You may have to get creative, but you can save in almost every aspect of life. Franklin understood this and helped millions do so with one of his most famous inventions, the Franklin Stove. The Franklin Stove was much more efficient at heating homes and helped American families throughout the 18th and 19th centuries save more on fuel.

“Remember that time is money.”

Ah ,the catchphrase of every cartoonishly evil businessman. This phrase is often used in media to show a character is impatient and thinks little of people wasting their time. However, it has a prudent lesson for those of us not looking to live like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Time is a resource for all of us. In a day, there’s only so much time to get what we want done. Time management is a useful skill for anyone, but it is essential for freelancers and entrepreneurs. Franklin knew this all too well, as he started out as a freelancer. He published articles for his brother’s paper under a pseudonym before moving on to setting up his own printing business.

“Beware of little expenses. A small leak can sink a great ship.”

Think of this as a companion or inverse to the lesson of a penny saved is a penny earned. Little problems can become big problems, and even the smallest expenses can add up. Because his schedule wasn’t quite busy enough as a scientist, writer, publisher, diplomat and philosopher, Franklin also served as the colonial Postmaster General from 1753 to 1774, where he put this maxim to work.

He carefully fixed postal rates based on every expense, even installing early odometers on mail carriages to determine the exact time it took to deliver mail. Franklin ran a whistle-clean operation, making the mail fast, efficient and profitable. He eventually set up the model for the United States’ modern day post service.

And while none of us need to install an odometer on a carriage to track our own expenses, there are several tools available to help keep track of expenses that may have gotten away from us. In an age where subscription services are available for everything from Netflix to gym memberships, it’s more important than ever to keep track of where your money is going.

“He that waits upon fortune is never sure of dinner.”

Lots of people have big dreams and ambitions. Goals motivate us, but sometimes people become lost in their dreams. While the big, pie-in-the-sky dreams can seem fantastical, there are ways to take steps to reach your goals.

Managing goals into smaller steps is one way to start building up to bigger things. Many of Franklin’s early ambitions did not work out. He originally wanted to sail, but his father prevented him from doing so. His brother stopped his first venture as a writer. Still, he achieved his goal of financial independence when he moved to Philadelphia.

“He does not possess wealth that allows it to possess him.”

Franklin felt strongly about balancing aspects in your life, and that included the pursuit of wealth. He illustrated this in a story about how he came to a decision about publishing a story he felt was slander.

“To determine whether I should publish it or not, I went home in the evening, purchased a twopenny loaf at the baker’s, and with water from the pump made my supper; I then wrapped myself up in my great-coat, and laid down on the floor and slept till morning, when, on another loaf and a mug of water, I made my breakfast. From this regimen I feel no inconvenience whatever. Finding I can live in this manner, I have formed a determination never to prostitute my press to the purposes of corruption, and abuse of this kind, for the sake of gaining a more comfortable subsistence.”

While the moral lesson of not compromising your principles is invaluable, it’s important to remember that the pursuit of wealth over all else can also encourage reckless behavior. Learning to avoid get-rich-quick schemes and other scams can save you in the long run.

Benjamin Franklin-inspired money advice led to countless American success stories throughout the years. His advice, much like his contributions to American history, have passed the test of time.

William Fewox has worked as a freelance writer since 2017, and his work is featured in literary magazines such as The Aquarian, The Navigator and The Historian. He has also self-published a handful of novels.