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My Uncle’s Advice

John Yeigh

I LEARNED A LOT about finance and life from my uncle. He was an early investment advisor and published a book on wealth management. Even though he was not a registered investment advisor or a Certified Financial Planner, our family proudly extolled his ideas when I was growing up.

My family first introduced me to my uncle’s doctrines when I was a child of five or six. I had been given a small piggybank to store my life’s savings. We soon added a couple of mason jars because I had begun collecting wheat pennies with my small allowance.

Production of wheat pennies had ended three years earlier, in 1958, which led me to think they would become collectibles. I even favored older pennies since they might provide greater long-term value. Little did I know that as many as a billion pennies had been minted each year.

My Depression-era parents were quite supportive of my slowly filling penny jars. Along this savings journey, they also introduced my uncle’s advice through both everyday practice and some preaching.

I vividly remember wanting a Yogi Bear gun, hat, holster and badge set, which was on display at our local five-and-dime. Every time we left the store, I begged my parents to buy it. They initially said a simple “no,” and I let it pass. In those days, my family couldn’t afford much of anything on a whim.

One day, my parents relented and agreed that I would be allowed to buy the set, but said I would have to pay the 99 cents from my coin jars. The 99 cents represented perhaps 20% of my life’s savings. I threw a hissy fit as only a young child can. “Not with my own money!” I screamed.

I passed on the set, and we never did buy it. This story has been repeated so often it’s now part of family lore. My parents used the same tactic many times. For example, I remember regularly wanting a 10-cent ice cream cone from the daily summer runs of the Good Humor truck—but again didn’t bite when my parents insisted that I part with some of my own money.

Some time after the Yogi Bear incident, my parents talked to me about the concept that “a penny saved is a penny earned.” They were happy that I didn’t spend my savings on an unneeded toy since, in their view, I had many other things to play with. They also introduced me to the story of our famous “uncle.”

You see, my uncle was Uncle Ben—of Ben Franklin fame. He was indeed a relative, though by marriage, so I’m not a direct blood descendant. Still, my Philadelphia-based family regularly discussed Ben’s history and touted his words of wisdom. Uncle Ben was a founding father and inventor of the lightning rod, bifocals and the Franklin stove, which produced more heat with less smoke. As a teen, I read biographies about him, and he was my go-to subject for history and science papers.

More important, Uncle Ben was a prolific writer who promoted simple, positive philosophical principles about finance and life. In 1758, he wrote one of the earliest books on personal finance called The Way to Wealth. This short booklet was an essay compiling 25 years of maxims from his Poor Richard’s Almanack.

As a lifelong penny-pincher, I have followed his mantra that a penny saved is a penny earned. Actually, Uncle Ben’s original 1737 words were “A penny saved is two pence clear,” which he revised in 1758 to “A penny saved is a penny got,” closer to today’s modified version of his quotation.

Franklin was by no means perfect, especially when judged by today’s standards. Still, Uncle Ben left a legacy of proverbs that are as relevant today as they were when he coined them more than 250 years ago. Many of his more than 700 maxims are familiar and still widely quoted. Here are 16 that are among Uncle Ben’s best:

  • “The way to wealth…depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality: that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both.”
  • “Money is of a prolific generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more.”
  • “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.”
  • “When you run in debt, you give to another power over your liberty.”
  • “If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as of getting.”
  • “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.”
  • “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
  • “Lost time is never found again.”
  • “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
  • “Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”
  • “Stick to it steadily, and you will see great effects.”
  • “There are no gains without pains.”
  • “Haste makes waste.”
  • “Diligence is the mother of good luck.”
  • “Have you somewhat to do tomorrow, do it today.”
  • “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

John Yeigh is an author, speaker, coach, youth sports advocate and businessman with more than 30 years of publishing experience in the sports, finance and scientific fields. His book “Win the Youth Sports Game” was published in 2021. John retired in 2017 from the oil industry, where he negotiated financial details for multi-billion-dollar international projects. Check out his earlier articles.

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