Practical Advice from Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin (1706-1790)

Ben Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, a drafter and signer of the United States Declaration of Independence, and the first United States postmaster general.

Although never president, a high-paid athlete nor a movie star, he truly was one of the most famous Americans. His fame came from his curious nature. I hope you enjoy the following Ben Franklin’s practical advice, as rich today as they were years ago. Taken from Ben Franklin’s Almanac by Yankee Publishing Inc.


“By diligence and patience, the mouse bit in two the cable.”

Diligence: An earnest and persistent application to an undertaking
Patience: Capable of calmly awaiting an outcome or result

Robert J. Flaherty - IMDb

Robert Flaherty (1884-1951) was a young adventurer who traveled Alaska in search of iron ore and fish during the early 1900s. Along the way, he shot thousands of feet of film of the northern wilderness and its people.

Movies were a fairly new technology. A wealthy financier convinced Flaherty that he could salvage something from his travels by making a film out of the footage. Flaherty worked for weeks editing the film. When he finished, he lit a cigarette to celebrate. Unfortunately, he dropped the match on the floor sparking the highly flammable cuttings. A fire erupted destroying the film and almost killed him.

Undaunted, Flaherty returned to Alaska, determined to make an even better film about Eskimo life. The result was Nanook of the North (1922), the first major film documentary, still critically acclaimed today.

When executives from large US companies were asked what made people successful, the top responses were hard work and determination. Robert Flaherty knew that, and now you do, too. When undertaking a project, practice diligence and patience. Sooner or later you will reap the benefits.

Enough, but not too much!

“If you desire many things, many things will seem but a few.”

Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” is a tale of a man who was offered a great opportunity. For 1,000 rubles, he could have as much land as he could pace off from sunrise to sunset. There was just one condition: He had to return to the exact spot where he started before sunset or he would lose his money.

At sunrise, the man set out, marking the edges of his land as he went. The farther he went, the better the land seemed, and he hurried on, growing hot and tired. By the time he headed back to the starting point, the sun was beginning to set. He began running and was soon exhausted and dying of thirst. He pressed on, his heart pounding in his chest, his lungs straining. Finally, just as the sun set, he reached his goal and collapsed, dead. The man’s servant buried him on the spot.

As we strain to acquire more, we would all do well to remember Tolstoy’s conclusion to this story: How much does a man need? Six feet from his head to his heels.

QUESTION: What are you running around for from sunrise to sunset? How much do you really need? Enough, but not too much!

Get Rich Quick

“I have never seen the Philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold,
but I have known that the pursuit of it turns a man’s gold into lead.”

Get-rich-quick schemes are nothing new, but scammers keep coming up with new spins that manage to entrap gullible people. There are plenty of fast talkers willing to sell you on the ability to earn large amounts of money with very little work — easy money through unconventional ways, some legal, some illegal. The selling point is obtaining a high rate of return for a small investment.

Take the swindlers in Hungary who convinced small investors that earthworms were the key to financial success. All the participants had to do was invest their life savings (or borrow money at interest rates of up to 30 percent) and purchase hundreds of thousands of earthworms. According to the promoters, the earthworms would transform ordinary manure into rich soil, which could then be sold overseas at a huge profit. Large numbers of people signed on to the scheme, motivated in part by Hungary’s depressed economy. Unfortunately, the naïve worm investors soon learned that although there was plenty of manure involved in the scheme, there was no profit.

Unless you win the lottery, the phrase get-rich-quick is an oxymoron (like jumbo shrimp or serious joke).
As Ben Franklin said, “Content and riches seldom meet.”


“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

Franklin's Philadelphia: The Library Company

America’s first lending library grew out of Ben Franklin’s devotion to intellectual pursuits. On July 1, 1731, fifty artisans and tradesmen signed the charter to establish a subscription library, paying a membership fee and annual dues. Ben’s creation, the Library Company of Philadelphia, received a shipment of books from England which included books on law, natural science, astronomy, and mathematics; a how-to treatise for tradesmen; Gulliver’s Travels, Homer’s Iliad; and a dictionary of gardening.

Since the birth of the library system, we have enjoyed the benefits of reading a variety of books without having to establish a personal storage system. Managing a home library is a major organizational issue. Problems develop when you have the need to acquire new books on a regular basis especially if you do not have the space for an expanding home library. Books, magazines and catalogs begin to spread throughout the house creating piles of read and unread materials.

The love of books and the pleasure of reading can become an acquisition trap. It is easy to let a book collection get out of hand. You know you are in trouble when the books start taking over the house and pushing other activities out of the way. Face the dilemma of too many books. When is it time to let them go? Make the decision which books are keepers and which ones could be passed on. Routinely look through your collection and donate to your local library, senior center or nursing home.

Share the joy of reading. It is an investment in knowledge and it pays huge dividends.

Money & Contentment

“Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.”

Ben Franklin, along with many other notable people, frequently offered words of wisdom about money and contentment. England’s King George III offered advice to a stable boy who lamented on working for only food and clothing. The king responded, “Be content. I have no more.”

It has been written that during an 1899 expedition to Alaska, John Muir, the champion for Yosemite’s natural beauty, stated that he was richer than his friend E. H. Harriman, the railroad magnate. When asked why he felt that was true, Muir responded, ”I have all the money I want, he hasn’t.”

Thomas Jefferson penned, “Never spend your money before you have earned it.” Even Thomas understood the correlation between contentment and financial responsibility.

So, do you think that more money would make you happier? Researchers have shown that there is a very weak correlation between income and personal happiness. Statistics revealed that between 1957 and 1998, personal wealth in the US more than doubled. Yet, the percentage of people reporting themselves as “very happy” declined. Even for the very rich, more stuff does not equal more happiness.

As Ben Franklin wrote in 1757, “Happiness depends more on the inward disposition of mind than on outward circumstances.”


“Since thou art not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour.”

Ben Franklin encouraged making the most of every minute and it would seem logical that he might promote multitasking to get more done in less time. But, he did not. Studies have shown that attempting to multitask is not an efficient strategy. Researchers at the University of Michigan discovered that people who switched back and forth from one task to another, took longer to complete each task than those who stuck to one task at a time.

There is a cost to multitasking and that cost can be summed up as inefficiency and ineffectiveness. It is impossible to focus on more than one thing at a time. Our brain cells just cannot do that. Therefore, tasks are either incomplete or completed poorly. Note, the keyword is FOCUS.

In some situations attempting to focus on more than one item at a time can be deadly. A moment’s inattention while driving, such as dialing a telephone number on your cell phone, changing radio stations, or looking at a CD, can result in an accident if you did not see the car in front of you stop or change lanes.

Multitasking can be counterproductive. So, take some advice from Ben Franklin and pay attention to that minute. To be most productive and complete a project, schedule time to focus. Ben would be in favor of planning your successes.

Perception of Time

Does thou love life? Then do not squander time,
for that’s the stuff life is made of.

Are you amongst the crowd of people that keep reiterating that you need more time? Do you moan and groan about not having enough time to get things done? Could it be that you have squandered time–maybe even a little? (Squander means to spend extravagantly, thoughtlessly, or wastefully.) Hum… Check how many minutes each day you squander and I bet it is an eye-opener!

The cost of mismanaging moments is steep–lost information, duplication, excess spending, vanished opportunities, stress, health issues (both physically and mentally), deteriorating relationships, and on and on. It all boils down to the choices you make moment by moment. Think about just a minute of time. You may say, “Heck a minute is not a very long period of time.” Or, you might add, “You can’t accomplish much in a minute.” Well you may be right, but, what if you had to sit on a hot stove for one minute? It would seem like ten minutes or more, wouldn’t it? Very painful, indeed. Now think about relaxing in a deep, comforting bubble bath. Ten minutes just is not long enough! It would seem like only one minute yet a pleasurable minute.

Perception of time is directly related to whether you are enjoying yourself or experiencing pain. Time is generally viewed in a more positive light when you are having fun. However, time squandered—one lost minute— has a negative impact that just might last for a lifetime.

To learn how to combat squandered time, read the TipSheet


“Procrastination is the thief of time.”

Ben Franklin was not the first person to utter this quote. The honor goes to Edward Young, an English poet. But, Ben did write quite a bit about the destructive habit of putting things off until a later time. Even, today, this quote is still applicable as we seek a higher level of productivity.

Procrastination is a delay tactic that halts your dreams and strangles intentions. Resolve to learn techniques to overcome procrastination which will allow you to:

  • Discover what you can do and how far you can stretch
  • Get out of a rut
  • Uncover hidden talents
  • Influence other people
  • Complete unfinished projects and add them to your list of accomplishments
  • Move on to other areas of interest
  • Develop fresh ideas
  • Free up time
  • Clear clutter
  • Conquer fears

For some people a daily schedule, a to-do list, and a simple record-keeping system will keep them moving forward. Other individuals may resist these methods and require different tools of life management skills. Procrastinators need to confront reality concerning their self-defeating behavior. Resolve not to let procrastination tendencies rob you of your time, money and energy.

Men’s basketball coach, Bobby Knight stated, “Discipline is… Do what has to be done, when it has to be done, as well as it can be done every time.”


“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Moaning and groaning over taxes is nothing new. Every school child learns about the Boston Tea Party, said to be the catalyst of the American Revolution on December 16, 1773. Thanks to a group of angry colonists dressed as Indians, Americans now have the ability to tax ourselves.

After all these years, we are still looking for ways to get out of paying taxes. Most of us resent the annual tax preparations, but we recognize that we live better lives with tax-funded programs. Starting in January to mid April, we are cognizant of the need to prepare the documents as the filing date for income tax is looming.

Consider what you can do to organize a system that will ensure an easier preparation every year. Setting up an effective file system can save time, energy and money.  I am sure that Ben has more to say about saving time!

True Value

“Don’t judge a man’s wealth or piety by his Sunday appearances.”

We have all heard the proverb, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” In other words, what is inside truly matters the most.

>> A farmer had a successful apple orchard, but one tree was sadly misshapen. A friend mentioned that he should remove that tree as it was disrupting the neat, orderly appearance of the orchard. “That is the most productive tree I have.“ the farmer explained.

>> “He dresses in plain clothes and drives an old car. Who would know he is the richest man in town?”

>> Think about this: A man in shabby construction clothes came into the Old National Bank in Spokane, Washington, and asked to cash a check for $100. Upon receiving his cash, he asked the cashier to validate his parking ticket, which was worth 60 cents. The cashier refused, saying the man hadn’t conducted a transaction. The man explained that he was a depositor, but the cashier still refused to validate the parking ticket. He then insisted on seeing the manager, who also turned down his request. The man said he would withdraw all his money unless someone apologized for the incident. No one ever called, so he did just that—all $2 million of it.

The value of something is not always obvious, so take Ben’s advice and withhold judgment until you look deep inside. This advice can also apply to so many things in your life. It is not what you have or how it looks that is important; what truly matters is whether it works for you.

Want vs. Need

“Buy what thou hast no need of, and e’er long thou shalt sell thy necessaries.”

The distinction between a need and a want seems lost in the Madison Avenue advertising society. Their ads assure us that we will be happier, more handsome, and fulfilled as soon as we acquire a new car, anti-wrinkle cream, or a digital entertainment system.

Materialism is nothing new. The Greek philosopher Sophocles, well-known for his simple lifestyle, was at the market one day, closely examining the many goods for sale. A friend asked him why he came to the market at all, since he never purchased anything. Sophocles explained, “I am always amazed to see how many things there are that I don’t need.”

Don’t get caught in the monkey trap!

It is said that the way to catch a monkey is to drill a hole in a dried coconut and put rice or fruit inside, something the monkey can’t resist. Upon finding the coconut, the monkey will stick its hand into the hole and grab the prize, essentially making a fist. Unable to remove its hand through the small holeand unwilling to let go of the item inside, the monkey will hang on, trapped.

Sometimes we are similarly ensnared by material things, unable and unwilling to let go. Watch out that wants don’t monopolize the desire for instant gratification.

Needs are necessary for life. Make sure you fill those needs first!