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:
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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One of the biggest Ben Franklin fans around is Charlie Munger. His book, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, is his version of Poor Richard’s Almanack. It’s equally as informative. Here are a couple of Charlie quotes:
“Actually, I think it’s pretty simple: There’s integrity, intelligence, experience and dedication. That’s what human enterprises need to run well.”
“I always say the best way to get what you want is to deserve what you want.”
“It’s obvious that delayed gratifiers do better over the long pull than these impulsive children who have to spend money on Rolex watches and other folly.”
Great article, John. The sheer volume—and quality—of Benjamin Franklin quotes is astounding. His wisdom is one of our great national treasures.
Franklin was indeed the champion of thoughtful sayings 250 years before sound bites were invented.
Our good fortune in this country rides on the shoulders of men like Ben. Their sacrifices and foresight made our life of plenty possible and the envy of the world.
In stark contrast to other places where authoritarianism stole the labor, freedom and life of the common man. Examples abound.
I have a jar story, too. But it is not inspiring: As an elementary student, I decided to save every dime that came into my hand. If I got a dime in change, it was destined to go into my jar, an Aunt Jemina syrup bottle. The neck was the right size and would accept no other coin. I wished that I had been saving every dollar bill when I finally filled the damned thing and broke it open. It had something like $19 ….. (but that did nothing to quell my natural frugality; I have been a tightwad since and am still benefiting from that.)
The jar of pennies eventually expanded to nickels and dimes. The penny story lasted a further 55 years; perhaps the subject of a future article.
Franklin also left a legacy of endowment, existing to this day, that still instructs by example:
What a great legacy!
Great morning read! My grandfather had an expression ‘If you watch your pennies, your dollars watch themselves’. It has served me well during my investment career. By the way, you weren’t the only kid who thought wheat pennies were a rarity!
No kid would have thought that the copper in the pennies would someday be worth more than face value of the penny. Yet, they haven’t appreciated much on a numismatic basis.
Ben Franklin is one of my idols. I have read many books about him, but as you say he was far from perfect. His son, NJ Governor, would confirm that. Still, we have much to be thankful for because of him. His rise from runaway to wealth and early retirement is quite amazing along with his sacrifices in the cause of our country.
As a native Philadelphian, Franklin has always been one of my heroes. Any visitor to Philadelphia should make time to visit the Franklin Institute. His list of accomplishments is staggering. Thanks for the great article.
We’ve taken each of our kids to the Franklin Institute despite not living nearby. I concur that his legacy of writings and contributions during the formation of the country were amazing.