10 financial proverbs that are still true today

When I was a kid, every time I left the house my father would tell me to have a good day and advise me against taking any wooden nickels. Because I was an intensely well-behaved child, I tried my best to have a good day and steeled myself against the inevitable temptation of faux wooden currency.

Unfortunately, my dreams of facing down some ill-intentioned cashier (most likely dressed in a black cape and top hat, with an impeccably oiled handlebar mustache) slyly attempting to slip a few wanton wooden five cent pieces into my pile of change never came to be.

Because people don’t actually try to give you wooden nickels. At least not since the Great Depression.

Only later did I realize that “don’t take any wooden nickels” isn’t really something to take literally. It just means that you should be cautious in your dealings, particularly those involving money. Which is a very valid piece of advice, whether you mean it to be or not.

We have quite a few old sayings, proverbs and adages that we’ve all been saying and hearing for years (if not centuries). After a while we stop really hearing them, though, and start to take their meaning for granted. But most wisdom is timeless – and smart money advice is worth hearing in any century. So here are a few great financial proverbs that are just as true today as when they were first uttered:

Never spend money before you have it. – Unknown

Spending money you don’t have is the first step on the slippery slope of debt. Of course, it’s pretty impossible to buy everything you need with cash these days, so some debt (mortgage, car loan, student loans, etc.) is a given. It’s the non-essentials that will get you, so when it comes to credit purchases be careful.

Spending is quick; earning is slow. – Russian

Spending is quick, alright. Thanks to modern technology, the “convenience” of buying has never been greater – we can spend hundreds of dollars in the swipe of a card, the click of a mouse and the tap of a smartphone. Just remember, no matter how easy it is to spend your money, it’s not getting any easier to make that money.

A fool and his money are soon parted. – Dr. John Bridges

Don’t take this one the wrong way. Smart people and money are parted all the time, too. It just means that all money decisions are important and you can’t take it for granted that your money will always be there. The more you do to educate yourself about finances, the better equipped you’ll be to take your money in line.

Creditors have better memories than debtors. – Ben Franklin

As much as we’d like to be able to forget our bad money decisions and let our old debts drift away into obscurity, that just isn’t happening. And just because you can’t remember who you owe and how much, trust me – they know. So keep good records and don’t lose track of your debts.

Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt. – Ben Franklin

Don’t take Mr. Franklin too literally here. If using credit is your only option, that’s far better than starving. The real point here is that some wants may feel like needs, but you should never forget that borrowed money is still borrowed money and in the (figurative) morning it will be due.

If you buy what you don’t need, you steal from yourself. – Swedish

This is a great saying that you don’t hear enough, because it’s absolutely true. When you buy something you don’t need today, it’s the future you that will suffer. Or, to put it another way, spending money on today’s wants means you might not be able to afford tomorrow’s needs. Even if you feel financially secure right now, that might not last forever, so you should still be cautious with your money.

Save for a rainy day. – Aesop

Never take the value of savings for granted, because (to use another popular old adage) when it rains, it pours. We’re hardly ever as prepared as we need to be for major financial setbacks, so it’s important to remember that disaster can strike at any time. The more you save today, the faster your recovery will be.

A penny saved is a penny earned. – George Herbert (original)

This saying used to make no sense to me. In my mind, a penny saved is a penny saved and a penny earned is a penny earned. They’re two totally different things! (Unless you’ve got a savings account with 100% interest, which would be awesome.) However, it turns out I was misinterpreting the proverb. It really means that the money you save is just as valuable as the money you earn – so don’t discount the importance of saving. And that I totally agree with.

Interest on debt grows without rain. – Yiddish

Crops, trees, flowers, grass – all organic plant life needs the right conditions to grow and thrive. Debt, on the other hand, can grow in a vacuum. So just remember, it doesn’t matter what happens to the house you buy, or the degree you finance, or the new business you invest in – the interest on your debt will accumulate no matter what.

Lend your money and lose your friend. –William Caxton

Borrow money from the bank. Seriously. You’re very unlikely to have a super tense, passive aggressive Thanksgiving meal with the bank. In all seriousness, it is possible to lend to or borrow money from friends or family, but it’s difficult and, more often than not, it puts an unnecessary strain on your most important relationships. So stick with the bank. The bank doesn’t care if you say nasty things behind its back. It’s probably used to it.

What are some of your favorite old sayings that still hold true today? And, more importantly, where are all the wooden nickels??

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI. All typos are a stylistic choice, honest.