Just Some Patriotic Financial Advice From People Who are on Our Money
Every time you flip a coin, they’re looking back at you. Whenever you handle a crisp new bill, there they are.
Their faces are on our currency. So what can they tell us about money management?
To celebrate Independence Day, here are the financial lessons we’ve learned from the Founding Fathers and American giants whose portraits are on our legal tender.
Next time you pull out a little cash, take a look at the face on it.
Ask yourself, What would they do?
The $1 Bill — George Washington
The father of our country is also on the quarter.
Aside from being a Revolutionary War general and our first president, Washington was a shrewd businessman who diversified his assets.
He owned 35,000 acres of farmland. But when the price of tobacco dropped, he planted wheat instead. He rented out land, had fisheries on the Potomac River, and charged for the use of his docks.
As commander of the Continental Army, he didn’t take a salary. But he kept meticulous records and got reimbursed for all his expenses, including every meal of mutton and potatoes.
The lesson: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Don’t depend on just one thing. An app like Stash will invest your money in a set of portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals. It’ll pull a specific amount from your bank account at regular intervals, so you can grow those investments over time.
The $2 Bill — Thomas Jefferson
He’s also on the nickel, which is way more common than the $2 bill.
The man who drafted the Declaration of Independence wasn’t great with money. Jefferson lived way beyond his means, spent a fortune on wine, and was constantly renovating his plantation, Monticello.
He died in debt.
The lesson: Stick to a budget and save some money. Start a rainy-day fund with a high-yield bank account. Online bank Aspiration’s Summit Checking account has no fees, no minimum balance, and pays up to 100 times more interest than an average checking account.
The $5 Bill — Abraham Lincoln
Honest Abe is also on The Penny Hoarder’s favorite coin. You may have read that somewhere.
Lincoln said a great many quotable things. There’s this: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
And this: “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” And this: “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
Here’s my favorite: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
He was a planner, Lincoln was. Always making plans. That’s how a guy born in a log cabin in the backwoods of Kentucky grows up to become one of our greatest presidents.
The lesson: Make a plan. Sign up with a free service like Credit Sesame. This tool shows your balance on any unpaid bills, credit cards or loans. It offers personalized tips on reducing your debt and raising your credit score.
The $10 Bill — Alexander Hamilton
Man, this guy was fascinating. Somebody should write something like a Broadway rap musical about him.
Just kidding — C’mon, like that would ever happen.
Hamilton was a financial visionary who steered our young nation out of economic turmoil and founded our first national bank and the U.S. Mint. But, like Jefferson, he was not great with money.
After he was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr (and you thought today’s politics were tough), his death left his wife and seven children virtually penniless. Mourners at his funeral had to pass around a hat to pay for his burial.
The lesson: Make sure your family will be taken care of if you die. Consider a life insurance policy, which could be useful for paying off your funeral, mortgage or car loans.
Companies like Haven Life offer streamlined ways to get life insurance. Unlike traditional providers, this online-only platform provides instant decisions on coverage applications. Some qualified, healthy applicants up to the age of 45 may even get to skip the medical exam most providers require.
The $20 Bill — Andrew Jackson/Harriet Tubman
Hmmmmm, here’s a tricky one.
At the moment, Andy Jackson is the face on your $20 bill.
Our seventh president acted as the voice of the common man, speaking in plain language to the people at large. But he was also a slave owner whose Indian resettlement policies drove thousands of Native Americans to their deaths.
So he’s being replaced on the $20 by Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who freed other slaves via the Underground Railroad. She’ll appear on the $20 and Jackson will move to the rear of the bill sometime after 2020.
Harriet Tubman was … well, Harriet Tubman was a badass.
A tiny, 5-foot-tall, gun-toting African American woman who snuck onto slave plantations before the Civil War. Carried scars from being whipped as a child. Served as an unpaid Civil War nurse, treating soldiers dying from smallpox and dysentery. Supported herself by selling pies and root beer, which she made in the evenings. Lived in poverty until she eventually got a small government pension.
I don’t know if we have a nice, neat financial lesson to take from Harriet Tubman, other than maybe this: Know your worth. Never give up.
The $50 Bill — Ulysses S. Grant
Another guy on our money who lost all his money.
After commanding the Union Army during the Civil War, and serving two terms as president, Grant was struck by financial disaster. He became a partner in a financial firm, which went bankrupt and left him penniless.
About then, he also learned he had terminal cancer.
As Grant’s official White House biography says, “He started writing his recollections to pay off his debts and provide for his family, racing against death to produce a memoir that ultimately earned nearly $450,000. Soon after completing the last page, in 1885, he died.”
The lesson: Hustle.
Hustle, hustle, hustle.
Thanks to the growing gig economy, there are other ways to scratch up some extra cash nowadays. Craigslist is an easy place to sell your services under the “Gigs” section. And if you don’t trust Craigslist, check out TaskRabbit or Fiverr — to name just a few.
The $100 Bill — Benjamin Franklin
Hands-down our most quotable Founder, Ben Franklin earned much of his wealth by writing “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” an annual book about being diligent and frugal.
He famously coined the phrase, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
We’re more interested in another famous quote of his: “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
The lesson: Save your pennies. They add up.
Consider trying an app like Acorns. Once you connect it to a debit or credit card, it rounds your purchases up to the nearest dollar and funnels your digital change into a savings or investment account. Because the money comes out in increments of less than $1, you’re less likely to feel an impact in your bank account.
The Dime — Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Why is FDR on the cheap little dime? He was a wealthy man from a wealthy family. Why isn’t his face on the $100 bill or something fancy and swank like that?
Because Roosevelt knew the power of dimes. He was in a wheelchair because he had polio. As president, he encouraged people to donate to find a cure for the disease.
This was during the Great Depression, mind you. People didn’t have a lot to give. But FDR believed that if every American donated just one dime, we could find a cure. This led to the March of Dimes — and to a cure for polio.
The lesson: Every dime counts. Investing even a small amount now can pay off in a big way down the road.
The Half Dollar — John F. Kennedy
Ask not what your bank account can do for you, but what you can do for your bank account!
Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He thinks Teddy Roosevelt is getting a raw deal here.