Money and Career Advice from Benjamin Franklin’s Way to Wealth

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 27, 2009 · 21 comments

in Money & Career


If you’ve been following the blog for awhile, you’ll know that we’re big fans of Benjamin Franklin. He was America’s first self-made man and set the standard for generations to come on how to live a full and prosperous life. Franklin shared many of his “secrets” to success as short maxims under the pen name “Poor Richard” in his yearly almanac of the same name. The adages focused mainly on the virtues of industry and frugality. In 1758, Franklin reflected on all the maxims he wrote during the first 25 years of publication of Poor Richard’s Almanac and wrote The Way to Wealth. In this essay, Franklin took on the role of “Father Abraham” and dispensed knowledge to his readers by quoting heavily from that wise old sage, “Poor Richard.”

Franklin’s adages in The Way to Wealth teach us that success is just the consistent application of hard work and thrift. Despite what late night infomercials claim, the principles to success haven’t changed much in 200 years. Below, I’ve collected all the maxims from The Way to Wealth in one list. Read through them, pick out a few favorites, and memorize them. They’re perfect for keeping you focused on becoming the most successful man you can be. Enjoy!

  1. God helps them that help themselves
  2. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright
  3. Dost thou love life, then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of
  4. The sleeping fox catches no poultry
  5. There will be sleeping enough in the grave
  6. Wasting time must be the greatest prodigality
  7. Lost time is never found again
  8. Time-enough, always proves little enough
  9. Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy
  10. He that riseth late, must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night
  11. Laziness travels so slowly, that poverty soon overtakes him
  12. Drive thy business, let not that drive thee
  13. Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
  14. Industry need not wish
  15. He that lives upon hope will die fasting
  16. There are no gains, without pains
  17. He that hath a trade hath an estate
  18. He that hath a calling hath an office of profit and honor
  19. At the working man’s house hunger looks in, but dares not enter
  20. For industry pays debts, while despair encreaseth them
  21. Diligence is the mother of good luck
  22. Plough deep, while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep
  23. One today is worth two tomorrows
  24. Have you somewhat to do tomorrow, do it today
  25. Be ashamed to catch yourself idle
  26. Let not the sun look down and say, inglorious here he lies
  27. The cat in gloves catches no mice
  28. Constant dropping wears away stones
  29. Diligence and patience the mouse ate in two the cable
  30. Little strokes fell great oaks
  31. Employ thy time well if thou meanest to gain leisure
  32. Since thou art not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour
  33. A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things
  34. Trouble springs from idleness, and grievous toil from needless ease
  35. Many without labor would live by their wits only, but they break for want of stock
  36. Industry gives comfort, and plenty, and respect: fly pleasures, and they’ll follow you
  37. Keep the shop, and thy shop will keep thee
  38. If you would have your business done, go; if not, send
  39. The eye of a master will do more work than both his hands
  40. Want of care does us more damage than want of knowledge
  41. Not to oversee workmen is to leave them your purse open
  42. In the affairs of this world men are saved not by faith, but by the want of it
  43. Learning is to the studious, and riches to the careful
  44. He that by the plough would thrive, Himself must either hold or drive.
  45. If you would have a faithful servant, and one that you like, serve yourself
  46. A little neglect may breed great mischief
  47. For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost, and for want of a horse the rider was lost
  48. A man may, if he knows not how to save as he gets,keep his nose all his life to the grindstone, and die not worth a groat at last
  49. If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as of getting
  50. What maintains one vice, would bring up two children
  51. Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship
  52. Who dainties love, shall beggars prove
  53. Fools make Feasts, and wise men eat them
  54. Buy what thou hast no need of, and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessaries
  55. At a great pennyworth pause a while: he means, that perhaps the cheapness is apparent only, and not real
  56. Many have been ruined by buying good pennyworths
  57. ‘Tis foolish to lay our money in a purchase of repentance
  58. Wise men learn by others’ harms, fools scarcely by their own
  59. Silks and satins, scarlet and velvets put out the kitchen fire
  60. A ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees
  61. Always taking out of the meal-tub, and never putting in, soon comes to the bottom
  62. When the well’s dry, they know the worth of water
  63. If you would know the value of money, go and try to borrow some
  64. He that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing
  65. Pride is as loud a beggar as want, and a great deal more saucy
  66. ‘Tis easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow
  67. Pride that dines on vanity sups on contempt
  68. Pride breakfasted with plenty, dined with poverty, and supped with infam
  69. The second vice is lying, the first is running in debt
  70. But what madness must it be to run in debt for these superfluities!
  71. When you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty
  72. Lying rides upon debt’s back
  73. ‘Tis hard for an empty bag to stand upright
  74. Creditors have better memories than debtors
  75. The borrower is a slave to the lender, and the debtor to the creditor
  76. Disdain the chain, preserve your freedom; and maintain your independency: be industrious and free; be frugal and free.
  77. Poverty often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue: ’tis hard for an empty bag to stand upright
  78. Creditors are a superstitious sect, great observers of set days and times
  79. Those have a short Lent who owe money to be paid at Easter
  80. The borrower is a slave to the lender, and the debtor to the creditor
  81. For age and want, save while you may; No morning sun lasts a whole day
  82. Gain may be temporary and uncertain, but ever while you live, expense is constant and certain
  83. Tis easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel
  84. Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt.
  85. Get what you can, and what you get hold; ’Tis the stone that will turn all your lead into gold

Which of Franklin’s maxims really strike a cord with you? Let us know in the comments!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Oliver Ruehl July 27, 2009 at 6:55 am


That is quite a list!
It might be hard to stick to all the rules (especially in today’s complex world), but this one really strikes a chord with me.

“Little strokes fell great oaks.”

There is no need to always make BIG steps. The small things also lead to your goal and can make big things happen.

Thanks for this. I’ll try to apply some of it to my work!
Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

2 Heath July 27, 2009 at 9:09 am

“Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt.” Need is a good excuse to get up early and be productive.

3 Another David July 27, 2009 at 9:16 am

21) Diligence is the mother of good luck.

I had always heard that in Boy Scouts as an alternative to the motto “Be Prepared,” but I never realized it was a Franklin. That’s a lesson I’ve carried my entire life. When my friends and I took a road trip to Chicago, I printed off a couple maps even though we had a GPS. They made fun of me for it right up until the GPS died. When they said we got lucky, I said “No, I was prepared.” They don’t make fun of me for stuff like that anymore.

4 Cliff Plymesser July 27, 2009 at 10:54 am

Employ thy time well if thou meanest to gain leisure. – I liken this to the idea of being intentional with every minute I have. Started doing this a few years ago and it has paid dividends, not only in work, but in relationships as well.

Little strokes fell great oaks – I have a motto, build slow, build strong. The idea of not rushing and burning out with poor results, but building slowly and intentionally & the end result produces good results.

5 Rob July 27, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Wonderful list! It makes me feel guilty to be reading it at work, though!

6 Goofy GOOBER July 27, 2009 at 1:41 pm

There are some really fantastic quotes in here. I really enjoyed reading them. What a man Franklin was.

7 Phil July 27, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Good old BF, swell guy.
Whoring his way around Europe and paying his Hellfire club dues to be part of the so called master race.

Just a joke to all the hard cores out there. Being seroius is highly over rated.

My choice for someone who had great wisdom is Epictitus.

8 Kavan Wolfe July 27, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Sounds like ol’ Ben was a workaholic who didn’t have a good relationship with his employees. I like his comment on faith though (#42).

9 SnarkyDoodle July 27, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Poverty often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue: ’tis hard for an empty bag to stand upright

10 Phil July 27, 2009 at 10:37 pm

“Industry pays debts, while despair increaseth them.”

Encouraging words in trying times…

11 Nicholas July 28, 2009 at 10:16 am

“He that riseth late, must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night”

This really strikes a chord with me. I have been working on getting to bed early and rising early to start my day, and it really pays off in a big way. It’s not an easy habit to make, but very worthwhile. This post is an inspiration to keep working at it.

12 Cade H. Walker July 28, 2009 at 1:49 pm

“Diligence is the mother of good luck ”

I sure hope this maxum is true. Being a full time student at law school I can only hope that my diligence brings me good luck. Especially on my finals…:D

13 Bruno R. Oliveira July 29, 2009 at 9:23 pm

“There will be sleeping enough in the grave”

14 Eden Wynter August 31, 2009 at 7:12 am

“Lost time is never found again”

This made me realize how precious everyday is and to use the time wisely.

15 Johnny D September 18, 2009 at 8:34 am

You left out the last piece of wisdom from Ben Franklin’s “The way to wealth (1758)”.

“Do not depend too much upon your own industry, and frugality, and prudence, though excellent things; for they may all be blasted, without the blessing of Heaven; and, therefore, ask that blessing humbly, and be not uncharitable to those that at present seem to want it, but comfort and help them Remember, Job suffered, and was afterwards prosperous.”

16 Ed Hird October 29, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Benjamin Franklin had a remarkable impact in so many ways, including his helpful aphorisms. A Benjamin Franklin article just received the ‘Top 100 Electricity Blogs’ Award

17 Guliya February 4, 2010 at 8:32 am

No gains without pains(#16)

18 david November 30, 2012 at 7:29 pm

#7 Lost time is never found again

19 Sergio Felix January 3, 2013 at 11:09 am

#25 Be ashamed to catch yourself idle…

Damnit, busted!

PS. Great compilation guys.

20 Trish September 25, 2013 at 9:00 am

Yes…I am a woman reading a “manly” post. Actually I was searching google for Benjamin Franklin’s The Way To Wealth. I am a big fan of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin…and many other great men and women throughout history. Concerning all these maxims…I’ll just say that there all good…for men and women alike…whether for the homefront or for business. It would do all women well to be on the same page as their men in the ways of frugality and industry. I appreciate the post.

21 Lisa November 29, 2013 at 2:32 pm

71.When you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty.

Debt is bondage it holds you back

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