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The Way to Wealth (Book Summary & Review)

Book Title:

The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin

A little bit about the author:

Benjamin Franklin, born in 1706 is a Founding Father of the United States. He was a statesman, revolutionary, author, inventor, scientist, firefighter and chess master. 

He co-founded one of the earliest volunteer firefighting companies in America and served as governor of the state of Pennsylvania. Franklin became a fervent abolitionist, freeing his slaves and opposing slavery in the United States and elsewhere. A tireless public servant, Franklin risked his fortune and his life opposing England’s rule over the American colonies. He was a leader of the American Revolution and contributed to the writing of the Declaration of Independence. He was the first Postmaster General of the United States and helped establish its postal service. During the Revolutionary War, Franklin lived in Paris as the American ambassador to France. After the war, he attended the Philadelphia Convention, which produced America’s Constitution. Franklin is a signatory of the US Constitution as well as of the Declaration of Independence.

Key Reading Points:

  • The book was published as preface to Poor Richard’s Almanack, a book of advice.
  • This book showcase Franklin’s insight and thoughts which includes
    1. “Poverty will catch those who move with the slow speed of Laziness.”
    2. If you buy what you don’t need, soon after you will sell what you need the most.
    3. To learn the true worth of money, try to borrow. Be aware that going into debt means giving your creditors power over your life.
    4. Debt saps a person of honor and vitality.
    5. If you don’t pay on time, your creditors can have you thrown into jail or sold as a servant.
    6. Financial gains are fleeting, while necessary expenses endure and seldom diminish.
    7. Telling people how to act won’t change their behavior.
    8. Experience teaches hard lessons, but those are the only lessons “fools” learn.

Summary on some key reading points:

Franklin’s insight on Procrastination

Plough deep, while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and keep.”

Which means turn focus and effort to immediate tasks now because you don’t know what obstacles the future might bring.

As Franklin put it

one today is worth two tomorrows.”

Sitting around and worrying about your problems gives them a chance to grow. Diligent work reduces every difficulty, whether it is spiritual or financial. But tending to your work means doing each task when it should be done and avoiding procrastination.

“Never leave ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.”

You would feel ashamed if your boss caught you doing nothing. In this world, regardless of the task, whether it is menial or important, you are always your own boss. You should feel a similar shame when you are idle, even if you work for yourself.

“Keep thy shop and thy shop will keep thee.”

The job before you may seem hard to do and unending, but if you stick to your tasks every day, you will see “great effects.” The more you slack off, the more work will await you when you finally labor as you should. Make “diligence and patience” your by words.

You know that “little strokes fell great oaks,” but when all those little strokes face you, you might wonder if you could take a small break. No; “since you are not sure of a minute, throw away not an hour.” Leisure comes to those who use time efficiently, and you should spend it doing something useful. Only the diligent worker can attain that kind of leisure. A lazy person will yearn for it always. “Many…would live by their wits only, but they break for lack of stock.

“Want of care does more damage than want of knowledge.”

Franklin’s insight on Trust

Those who spin their cloth without ceasing can wear as many garments as they wish. Being industrious means giving “steady, settled and careful” attention to your work and life, and using discrimination in trusting others.

The best situation is to have your own business, because “he that by the plough would thrive himself must either hold or drive.”

In your daily labors, you can choose to be the plowman (employer) or the mule(employee). And if you are the mule, you will be under someone’s yoke. However if you choose to be the plowman, you must plow every single day. Meaning, entrepreneurship is not as easy as our modern social media shows as it is.

You need to tend to that which is yours, for “want of care does more damage than want of knowledge.” Keep your eye on your workers. Leaving them to do as they please is like leaving your wallet open so they might take whatever they want. Trusting others too much is a sure path to ruin.

If you take care of your own affairs, then you know you have a supervisor you can trust. “If you would have a faithful servant, serve yourself.”

But if you supervise affairs for yourself, make sure you don’t neglect any aspect. “For the want of a nail the shoe was lost; for the want of the shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost.” What might seem like a tiny moment of carelessness or disregard can have profound, far-reaching negative effects.

“Always taking out of the meal tub and never putting in, soon comes to the bottom.”

Franklin’s insight on Frugality

Even if you are industrious and watch your affairs carefully, all will be for naught if you are not frugal. Spending what you earn on fleeting pleasures is deceptively easy, but “a fat kitchen maketh a lean will.”

If you want wealth, you must earn money and save it. Saving is far more difficult than acquiring. You should dispense with “expensive follies,” because “Women and wine, game and deceit / Make the wealth small and the want great.”

Little expenses add up. If you engage in many small indulgences, you will drain your pockets.

“Fools make feasts, and wise men eat them.”

“When the well is dry, they know the worth of water.”

At the door of the auction house, Father Abraham reminds the members of the crowd that they have gathered to buy things they do not need. “You call them goods, but if you do not take care, they will prove evils to some of you.”

If you repeatedly buy things you do not need, before long you will have to sell that which you need. And I thought Warren Buffet was the one whom came up with this quote.

Vanity is a great source of foolish spending. Many people go about looking quite fine and fashionable, but with their stomachs crying out for food. “Silks and satins, scarlets and velvets, put out the kitchen fire.” Fine clothes and wares are not necessities; they’re not even “conveniences.”

By such indulgences the genteel (characterized by exaggerated or affected politeness, refinement, or respectability) sink to being beggared, and then must borrow from those they would not ordinarily bother to greet on the street. If you are industrious and frugal, then you need never borrow, since borrowing is the ruin of honor.

“A ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees.”

Franklin’s insight on Pride and Debt

To learn the true value of money, “go and try to borrow some.”

Someone who tries to find a loan will meet only anguish. Pride can push you past any reasonable sense of expenditure. If you acquire one lovely item, you will want 10 more. Squelching the first urge to buy is far easier than fulfilling all the desires that your first purchase will trigger. Keep to your station. Dressing above your status makes your peers envy you and your betters think you foolish.

What good is being proud of fancy clothes when they bring suffering to your family?

Pride won’t make you healthy, “ease your pain” or make you a better person.

“Fond pride of dress is sure a very curse Ere fancy you consult, consult your purse.”

Going into debt means giving away your freedom, dignity and power.

“The second vice is lying, the first vice is running into debt.”

You might like the idea of buying now and paying over a six-month span, but during those six months and likely beyond, your creditor has the true control of your life and affairs. If you must pay late, you will be too embarrassed to see the person you owe, and will sneak about, making excuses and sacrificing your honor for pennies. If you are free, you shouldn’t be fearful or mortified to encounter any other individual. But being in debt robs you of your character and your moral fiber.

“It is hard for an empty bag to stand upright.”

“A small leak will sink a great ship.”

What if the government issued a law saying you could not “dress like a gentleman or gentlewoman,” or eat a fine meal? You would argue strenuously that you should be able to wear what you please and dine as you like. Yet when you put yourself in debt, you subject yourself to an identical “tyranny.” All authority over your life resides with your creditor, who can put you in prison for debt or sell you as a servant to earn back what you owe.

You may think you have a bargain when you sign your debtor’s contract, and, with all the time the terms of your debt provide, you’ll have no problems paying. But when you owe money, time seems to move faster than usual, and money accrues more slowly.

Remember, too, “Creditors have better memories than debtors.”

Creditors pay close attention to the calendar and are ever mindful of the date. You may hope your creditors will forget the day your note comes due, but they never will. The term of your debt will inevitably feel and then prove to be much shorter than you would like it to be.

“Those have a short Lent who owe money to be paid at Easter.”

“For age and want save while you may, No morning sun lasts a whole day.”

Acquiring funds will always be difficult, but expense is perpetual – the only certainty you will face aside from death.

“It is easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel.”

You are far better off going to bed hungry than waking up owing anything to anyone.

“Get what you can, and what you get, hold.”

“In the affairs of this world, men are saved not by faith, but by their want of it.”

Franklin’s insight on Knowledge and Good Advice

“Reason and wisdom” should form the basis of the “doctrine” you follow. Even if you practice being thrifty, practical and conscientious, you still need “the blessing of heaven.” Ask for this blessing with humility, and do not neglect those who clearly lack that blessing.

Act with modesty, be charitable and aid the less fortunate.

Experience “keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.” You can offer wise counsel, but “they that cannot be counseled cannot be helped.”

Just because someone hears your advice does not mean that he or she is going to change. At this point, Father Abraham ceases talking and goes on his way. The people gathered had listened to him with great attention and nodded their approval at much of what he had to say.

“If you will not hear Reason, she will surely rap your knuckles.”

The minute the old man leaves their company, however, everyone who has so enjoyed his speech immediately does the opposite of everything he had advised. The doors to the auction open, the crowd rushes in and everyone begins to bid and spend.

Some spend money they possess, and others spend money that belongs to them only for a day or a month or six months, depending on the terms they could negotiate.

Richard Saunders, the author of Poor Richard’s Almanack, considers buying cloth for a new coat, after some reflection, he decides thriftily to keep wearing his old one. He leaves the auction, telling those who would read his thoughts, “I am, as ever, thine to serve thee.”

Rating & Should you read the book:

I would rate the book 10/10 for all the wonderful lessons learnt. But for language I would rate it at 7/10, the language is quite similar to the first published version of The Richest Man in Babylon. Quite difficult for speed reading but the book was awesome nonetheless.

The book full of timeless wisdom, hence, I would greatly recommend this book for everyone who want the riches the world has to offer.

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