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Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com

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The Frugal Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin: Insightful Quotations on Thrift, Hard Work, and Money

By Vicki McClure Davidson

 

Benjamin Franklin, one of the most frugal-minded men in our nation's history, said, "A penny saved is a penny earned." As was discussed in an earlier article on Frugal Café, back in Ben's day, a penny was nothing to be trifled with, especially to the thrifty Franklin; squandering a penny or two a day was much like wasting a dollar or two a day now. And while being frugal means spending less and saving more, sometimes our lack of knowledge propels us to make stupid purchasing choices. Hey, we didn't know! But that's where Consumer Reports leaps into action to educate us on these potential rip-offs (click here to read the article).

Benjamin Franklin, one of our wisest founding fathers and the undeniable "King of Frugality" | Photo credit: PublicDomainClip-Art-Blogspot.com
Benjamin Franklin, one of our wisest founding fathers and the undeniable "King of Frugality" | Photo credit: PublicDomainClip-Art-Blogspot.com

Here are some of our favorite Franklin quotations on frugality, hard work, and money. While he made these observations more than 200 years ago, they are all still applicable to our world and economic concerns today:

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A Brief Bio of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was an exemplary man whose achievements were beyond incredible: American statesman, scientist, philosopher, printer (including the first printing of colonial money), writer, and publisher. He was extremely popular and beloved by Americans and Europeans alike.

Franklin was so beloved that, when he died at age 84 in 1790, 20,000 people, the largest crowd of mourners ever in the nation, attended his funeral at Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia. This is a huge attendance number by any reckoning, but taking into account how few people lived in the United States at the time (less than 4 million in the country and just 237,655 in Pennsylvania, per the 1790 census), plus the difficulty of travel and the slow rate that news was communicated back then, it is positively staggering.

And, it's a further testament to the man's far-reaching influence on the people of our young country. He was a legend in his time, a champion for the common man, a man of modest background who became one of the most celebrated men in our country's history. He embodied the American Dream. In fact, the nation was so deeply devastated that it was declared to be in an official state of mourning for the month following Franklin's death.

Franklin was not especially well educated nor was he ever considered a genius. But he was driven by passion and curiosity and ambition and energy and deep philosophical insight. In fact, he was also arrogant, narcissistic, and annoying as a young man, but miraculously turned that around (he was crushed when someone told him that while he was brilliant, no one liked him) and became a man of greater compassion and humility. He began a lifelong journey of continued self-improvement and acquisition of knowledge.

The legacy Franklin left behind defies the accomplishments of most people in all of history. His discoveries and achievements exemplify the American culture of the time, that of courage, tenacity, vision, and creativity. After working with his brother James as a printer and writer for the controversial New England Courant, he bought the Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper in 1729 (he was 23), which he published until his retirement in 1748.

Many of his accomplishments, proposals, and inventions are taken for granted today, but were extremely revolutionary for the time. He invented the Franklin stove (which is still so efficient that the current-day design is very much like what he originally designed), as well as the glass harmonica, bifocals, the library chair, swim fins (he was an avid swimmer and was the only Founding Father in the Swimming Hall of Fame), the long reach device, the catheter, and Daylight Savings Time.

The list continues. Franklin organized a Night Watch and Militia to help keep peace and safety in Philadelphia. He discovered electricity and invented the lightning rod (his papers on his findings were originally laughed at by scientists, but were later embraced and he received many awards). He published his famous "Poor Richard's Almanac". Franklin envisioned and helped establish the nation's first post office (he was America's first Postmaster General), the first circulating library, and the first fire department/fire brigade, as well as setting up the nation's first fire insurance company. He was the impetus behind the funding of a hospital and the organization of a street-sweeping force. Franklin oversaw a board of trustees and the construction of what would soon become the University of Pennsylvania. He also founded the American Philosophical Society, which still exists today.

The Pennsylvania Assembly, in 1756, appointed Franklin as the Commissioner to England. Franklin was a gifted diplomat both at home and abroad: in 1781, it was Franklin who persuaded the French to supply funds to the colonies to fight the British. Franklin developed a funding plan for the armed forces based on loans. After visiting the soldiers stationed at the camp of Colonel Dunbar, he devoted himself to preparing care packages for soldiers so as to increase morale. He participated actively in the creation of the Declaration of Independence. Also, Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay were responsible for establishing peace with Great Britain after the war by signing the Treaty of Versailles. Until his death at age 84, Franklin lobbied against slavery and was dismayed at the treatment of Native Americans.

Benjamin Franklin embraced frugality, hard work, knowledge, saving money and time, moderation, and happiness. He had no patience with self-indulgent wastrels and those who were focused on accumulating wealth, particularly those who were greedy and did not reciprocate by giving a bit of their good fortune to help those who were down on their luck. He had strong opinions on the helping of others—while he felt that charity was important, it was to lend a helping hand to, not be the full, ongoing support of, the downtrodden so that they could then rise up on their own and become self-sufficient and productive. He firmly believed that love of money was mankind's downfall, that the acquisition of happiness was never dependent on wealth; wealth could often rip happiness away.

Franklin eloquently expressed his thoughts in countless axioms and proverbs that appeared in his prolific writings, many of which are still quoted with ease today. While a good-natured cynic, he was steadfastly devoted to his new country and its people and felt it was his obligation to educate them on how to better live life, frugally.

 

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Frugal Café's Savvy 16: 16 Kitchen & Shopping Tricks to Save You Money & Time: Buying Whole Chickens, Storing Mushrooms, Wooden Spoons, Chopped Nuts, Breads, & More
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Sources:
Collazo, Dr. Frank J., Benjamin Franklin's Achievements, (http://www.fjcollazo.com/fjc_publishings/documents/BFranklin.htm).
Popular Mechanics, "Happy 300th Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!" (http://www.popularmechanics.com/blogs/science_news/2212642.html), January 17, 2006.
Spark Notes: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Part Three, First Section,(http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/franklinautobio/section5.rhtml).
The Electric Ben Franklin, Franklin's Philadelphia, History.org website, (http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/philadelphia/grave.htm).
University of Virginia Library website, (http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/histcensus/php/county.php).
U.S. Population website (http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h980.html).