Book Review: The Way To Wealth by Benjamin Franklin

My father once said to me “One of the interesting things about getting older is realizing that the clichés, prejudices, and popular wisdoms that we rejected as young, educated, independent thinkers turn out, in the end, to be true.”

I love this idea, in part, for its double-contrarianism.

The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin reminds me of my father’s world-view, formed as a Depression-era child, delivered in Franklin’s 18th Century style.

Also, these clichés are true.

We know “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” and a few others, but I had not heard most of them.

The Way to Wealth originally formed the preface to Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack.  The book’s conceit is that Franklin’s alter-ego Richard overhears an old man (Father Abraham) quoting his favorite parts from the Almanack to a group gathered together before an auction.  As such, the farmer gives a kind of fast-and-furious greatest hits of aphorisms, tied together by the themes of Industry, Care, Frugality, and Knowledge.

Some of my favorites from this book, which I hadn’t already heard:

On complaints about government taxes:

Friends, the taxes are, indeed, very heavy; and, if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us.  We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly; and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us, by allowing an abatement.

On the urge to buy things that seem cheap, on sale, or a bargain:

Here you are all got together at this sale of fineries and knickknacks.  You call them goods; but, if you do not take care, they will prove evils to some of you.  You expect they will be sold cheap, and, perhaps, they may [be bought] for less than they cost; but, if you have no occasion for them, they must be dear to you…He means, that perhaps the cheapest is apparent only, and not real; or the bargain, by straightening thee in thy business, may do thee more harm than good.  For in another place he says ‘Many have been ruined by buying good penny worths.’

On the relativistic nature of time, if you owe money at the end of the month:

When you have got your bargain, you may, perhaps, think a little of payment; but, as Poor Richard says, ‘Creditors have better memories than debtors; creditors are superstitious sect, great observers of set days and times.’  The day comes round before you are aware, and the demand is made before you are able to satisfy it; or, if you bear your debt in mind, the term which at first seemed so long, will, as it lessens, appear extremely short: Time will seem to have added wings to his heels as well as his shoulders. ‘Those have a short lent, who owe money to be paid at Easter.’

The little book’s scant thirty pages could, with smaller type and larger sheets, condense to about five pages.  So you’re looking at about 10 minutes of dense wisdom from a founding father of the United States.

Please also see related post All Bankers Anonymous book reviews in one place.

It’s all about the Benjamins

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4 Replies to “Book Review: The Way To Wealth by Benjamin Franklin”

  1. Thanks for this review. I had to chuckle because after reading much about the life of Franklin I have come to the conclusion that not only was he a great statesman, scientist, and inventor, he was also a great shameless self promoter. Nevertheless his “words of wisdom” are truly that.

    1. He was a great American all around, including especially his capacity for marketing and self-promotion.
      David McCullough’s biography of John Adams has a portrayal of Franklin (which I assume to be accurate) as a relatively old man drinking and eating and skirt-chasing in Paris, while Adams is desperately trying to raise funds for the Revolutionary cause and young republic. At that point I guess Franklin was beyond worrying about his aphorism that “Women and wine, game and deceit, Make the wealth small and the want great”

      1. Yes, I read McCullough’s book. I think that like others before and since old Ben grew accustmed to fame and fortune and had a vested interest in promoting his brand. I wonder if this is what bothered his son.

  2. My guess is that what “bothered” his son was political in nature. He was a loyal Tory who called his father a traitor. He fled to England at the end of the Revolution and they never reconciled. Franklin left almost none of his wealth to his son, stating that had the British won the war he would have had no wealth to leave at all.

    The fact that Franklin pretty much ignored his family and was a philanderer probably didn’t help either.

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I founded Bankers Anonymous because, as a recovering banker, I believe that the gap between the financial world as I know it and the public discourse about finance is more than just a problem for a family trying to balance their checkbook, or politicians trying to score points over next year’s budget – it is a weakness of our civil society. For reals. It’s also really fun for me.

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