Money mentoring lessons from Benjamin Franklin
More Americans, especially younger Americans, are practicing more self-reliance and embracing the sharing economy with enthusiasm
While the emphasis is often on helping children and their families better understand money and savings, we believe financial literacy is for people of all ages. We are never too young or too old to learn about money – how to use it, waste it, save it, invest it, or become unwilling slaves to it.
However, the quest for financial savvy can’t be made in a day. Despite our immediate gratification-based, consumer-driven economy, there were very different roots in the American ethos.
Consider the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, one of our nation’s first entrepreneurs, inventors and, of course, one of the country’s Founding Fathers – the living embodiment of the American dream during his time.
What Franklin had to say about financial self-reliance was amazingly foresighted. He was a precocious 26-year-old when he first published Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732 under a pseudonym. For 25 years, it was wildly successful and influential and made Franklin very wealthy.
It’s not easy to choose among the thousands of aphorisms about working diligence and shrewd financial thinking. For example, the Franklin gem – “If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher’s stone” – is as relevant today as it was in the 1700s. It is easy to overlook how fundamental an approach this is, and it is a practice we abide by at our firm on a daily basis.
As a 13-year-old teenager in Beloit, Wisconsin, I learned my first lessons in financial savvy by mowing four neighborhood lawns at $7 a-piece. My father taught responsibility by ensuring there was an understanding of the real cost of doing business: paying the expenses for gas and depreciation for using the family lawn mower was a true education.
It seems that old money lessons are making a comeback in the past few years since the financial crash of 2008. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the personal savings rate in America reached 5.6 percent - a dramatic increase from 0.8 percent in April of 2005, the lowest recorded rate ever.
My younger colleague Casey Snyder gained his first financial awareness in a very different period, when housing prices were bubbling and conspicuous consumption was the national pastime. As a young adult, the housing boom and bust also had a profound impact on Casey as he watched otherwise rational people become increasingly irrational and occasionally insolvent.
Today, household debt has dropped from a record high of 135 percent in 2007 – at the height of the real estate market bubble – to 108 percent by the end of 2014, according to Fitch Ratings.
What does it all mean? We could ask Ben Franklin, who states in Poor Richard’s that “diligence is the mother of good luck” and, “no gains without pains.” In other words, we may be starting to see a shift toward deferred gratification.
More Americans, especially younger Americans, are considering the financial landscape differently than they were a decade or two ago. They are practicing more self-reliance and embracing the sharing economy with enthusiasm. Our collaboration works to foster self-reliant, not entitled, behavior across generations.
We continue to see a desire for cross-generational torch-passing from financially savvy moms and dads to their children. It’s no accident that more young adults are financially “getting it,” and appear to be less seduced by easy credit or the assumption that they actually have savings just because they spend less on their credit card.
Casey and I both practice what we preach with the next generation, team members and colleagues. I didn’t hesitate to tell his daughter when she was barely a teenager how his family earned, saved and invested money. Those kitchen table conversations can come in an infinite variety of ways, and help kids demystify money and create a paradigm of responsibility. It’s not just about how much money you make or how wisely you invest – it’s about living below one’s means and securing what Franklin called the “philosopher’s stone” of financial savvy.
The significance of money and life lessons shared from one generation to the next can’t be overstated. Our practice has observed these financial tutorials in multiple families, including one that boasts four generations of savers and investors. We genuinely enjoy the family meetings that occur in our office or conference room.
But responsibility is a two-way street, and we are strategists, not alchemists.
And, as Poor Richard so eloquently tells us, “industry, perseverance & frugality, make fortune yield.”
Tom Sedoric, managing director-investments of the Sedoric Group of Wells Fargo Advisors in Portsmouth, can be reached at 603-430-8000 or thesedoricgroup.com.