Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1706, the 10th son of a soap maker. For the next 84 years he lived one of the most remarkable and productive lives of any American ever. Among his many achievements, he gained prominence as an author, an inventor, a political theorist, a scientist, a statesman, and a diplomat. He was one of America’s first truly wealthy citizens, and he is well described as one of our country’s founding fathers. Some have even referred to him as the “First American.” Few in our history have played such a prominent role in the affairs of their day. His intellect was boundless, and his interests were many and varied. He shares his wit and intelligence with us today through his writings and the sayings and witty aphorisms he published in his “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” I think just about everything we need to know to be financially successful today we can learn from a man who lived over 200 years ago. Consider some of Franklin’s sage advice with me, and I think you will agree.
He was a strong proponent of public education: 1) An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. 2) By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
He understood that risk played a role in investing: 3) Nothing ventured, nothing gained. 4) Vessels large may venture more, but little boats should stay near shore.
He understood the role time plays in investing: 5) Time is money. 6) He who can have patience can have what he will.
He was a strong proponent of thrift and the importance of saving: 7) For age and want save while you may; no morning sun lasts a whole day. 8) Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.
He understood the importance of personal responsibility and hard work: 9) Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes. 10) There are two means to increase your wealth. Increase your means or decrease your wants. The best is to do both at the same time. 11) Diligence is the mother of good luck.
He understood the limitations of wealth and the limited role it plays in the life of the truly successful person. 12) 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. 13) Great beauty, great strength, and great riches are really and truly of no great use; a right heart exceeds all. 14) Don’t judge a man’s wealth or godliness by their Sunday appearance. 15) Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it. Success has ruined many a man.
Even in that chauvinistic age, Ben recognized the role of a good woman: 16) A good wife and health is a man’s best wealth!
Ben Franklin made these observations on the potential problems a democracy could face over 200 years ago. His warnings seem eerily loud, clear, and pertinent for us today. 17) When the people find that they can vote themselves money that will herald the end of the republic. 18) The U.S. Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.
These are only a tiny sampling of Franklin’s financial wisdom, but with these few pearls you now know about all you need to know to be financially successful. Franklin says that we should educate ourselves, be willing to take some risk, and have the patience to let time work its magic. We should be willing to work hard; be industrious as he would say, and don’t expect others (or the government) to do for us what we can do for ourselves. He cautioned us to keep money in perspective and recognize that it should not be an end unto itself, but simply a tool for doing good. He warned us that money by itself will never make us happy, and we see the evidence of that all around us.
Benjamin Franklin is one of my favorite historical characters. His genius was well-recognized in his time, and he achieved fame, wealth, and the respect of his peers. We are fortunate that he was there to share his wisdom as our country was being born. We would do well to heed his words today as they are as relevant now as when he first spoke them. I often caution my readers that though far from the most important thing, still, money matters. I believe that Franklin had a similar thought in mind when he observed, “There are three faithful friends in our life: an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.”
Michael Ryan, CFP®, MBA