13 Things Benjamin Franklin Said about Money that are Still True Today

statue of Ben Franklin

Benjamin Franklin passed away over 225 years ago. Biographer Walter Isaacson has called Franklin “the most accomplished American of his age.” And that’s not hyperbole. Franklin kept busy.

In addition to terms as the first Postmaster General of the United States, Minister to France, Minister to Sweden, and President of Pennsylvania, Franklin was a prolific thinker, inventor, and writer. Franklin made most of his wealth and early notoriety as a writer and publisher, with his Poor Richard’s Almanack selling about 10,000 copies a year (which would be equivalent to selling 3 million copies a year today).

And the man whose portrait currently graces the front of the $100 dollar bill had a lot of thoughts on the subject of money. Many of those thoughts and opinions still ring true today, which isn’t so much a sign that Franklin was ahead of his time, but more a confirmation that when it comes to personal finances, some truths are timeless.

“Remember that credit is money.”

It’s easy to forget that borrowed money is still money. Just because you aren’t paying now, don’t forget that everything you spend will need to be paid back – with interest. And if you don't know the basics of using credit, now's the best time to learn!

“Rather go to bed without dinner than to rise in debt.”

I’m not a big proponent of going hungry, but Franklin’s really trying to say that if you can’t afford something, sometimes it’s better to go without.

Note that he's talking more about those small, passing expenses. You may need to borrow in order to buy a house or go to college, and you shouldn't feel bad about that.

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

There’s a reason lenders want you to show them that you can handle money before they’re willing to lend it to you without all the fees and big interest rates they use to mitigate risk. The more you can prove that you're creditworthy (by consistently paying back what you borrow), the less expensive borrowing money becomes.

“Our necessities never equal our wants.”

It can be hard to tell the difference, but it’s crucial to learn what you really need and what you only want. And don't feel bad about addressing your wants (that's part of life!), just make sure your needs are taken care of first.

“Who is rich? He that rejoices in his portion.”

It’s okay to want more from life, but that shouldn’t stop you from appreciating what you already have. That can be easier said than done, but it's a crucial piece of finding your daily happiness.

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

There’s nothing wrong with having big dreams, but hard work is a better bet when it comes time to pay the bills. Try to balance the two.

“Happiness consists more in small conveniences of pleasures that occur every day...

"...than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a man in the course of his life.”

To (badly) paraphrase another famous saying, “Life is what happens while you’re waiting for your life to happen.” Why wait? Enjoy the day in front of you!

“Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it...

"There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and trebles that want another way.”

There’s no denying that money makes things easier. But money for money’s sake is a road with no end. Saving, creating, and building money to serve a goal is a good idea. Hording money just to have it just leads to constant dissatisfaction.

“If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher's stone.”

The key to any successful budget! It can be hard, though, especially during challenging financial times, or if you're carrying a lot of debt. Be sure to ask for help when you need it.

And remember that budgeting and debt repayment help are available 24/7 from the nonprofit counselors at MMI.

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

In money and in life, you can’t anticipate every possibility, but you can always do something to prepare. Do you have 3-6 months' worth of living expenses saved? Start there!

“Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it is.”

Where we come from and what we’ve experienced are crucial elements of who we are. And we’re constantly evolving. Never feel bad for the places you’ve been and the choices you’ve made. Just learn, and get better.

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

Your money should be a tool that helps you achieve your goals. Beyond that, your money doesn't define you or your value. Don’t be a tool for your money.

“Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it.”

Ultimately, we all aim to live a happy life. Great wealth should never be measured in bank notes, but in our day-to-day joy.

What makes you happy? When you think about money – about how you spend it and how you earn it – try and connect that to the things that truly make you happy. 

Tagged in Advice for families, Goal setting

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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