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Ben Franklin's Guide to Wealth
Being a 21st Century Treatise on What it Takes to Live a Thrifty Life
By ERIN BARRETT, JACK MINGO
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2004 Jack Mingo and Erin Barrett
All rights reserved.
TIME IS MONEY
Doest thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.
How do you spend your time? Despite the cliché, time is not really money. However, in some ways it helps to think of it as being very much like money: You can spend it wisely or foolishly. You have a finite amount of it. And it's likely to slip away unnoticed if you're not careful.
Are you getting the best value from your time? Just as many goods are not worth the money spent on them, many daily activities are not worth the time spent on them. While some may decide that a single-minded pursuit of money is the best use of their time, others will want to invest their time in other ways that they find valuable. To become aware of how you invest your time (or simply let it slip away), experiment with keeping a time and activity log.
Try this exercise: Keep a log in quarter-hour increments to see what you spend your time on during a typical week. At the end of the week, categorize your time spent and add up the total amount of time for each category. How much time do you spend commuting, attending meetings, or doing errands? How much time do you spend watching television, talking on the phone, or surfing the Internet? How much time do you spend feeding your mind, sleeping, developing your talents, organizing, cleaning, preparing meals, or engaged in worthwhile activities with loved ones?
Most people are shocked and chagrined to see many hours they spend on certain unproductive activities, and how little they spend on ones that improve themselves, their financial lives, and their connections with the people they love. Using a time log may help you see how certain times of the day are consistently productive while others are times when you are most likely to get distracted and be unproductive.
Once you've got a clear list of your week's activities, take a good look at your log. Draw three columns next to your entries. In the first column, number the activity from 1 to 10 to reflect how much or little that activity adds to meeting your financial goals. In the second column, put a number that reflects how much or little pleasure that activity adds to your life. Then compare the two columns. In an ideal life, the activities that support your financial goals would also be ones that give you pleasure. At the very least, your time expenditure should have some kind of balance between things you love and things you do to increase your financial freedom.
Finally, in your third column, keeping in mind what you've put in the first two columns, put a plus sign next to things you'd like to invest more time on, and a minus sign next to the things you'd like to spend less time on.
Have you inventoried a week's activities in your time log and found that little looks like something you want to put time into? Are you feeling "lazy" and incapable of spending your time usefully? Have you found that you don't "love life"? If so, then it's time for some self-reflection.
Are you burned out by your job? Finding your hobbies and home responsibilities less than satisfying? Feeling far removed from your dreams? Experiencing alienation in your relationships with people? If so, consider getting checked out by a doctor, physically and psychologically. Common physical conditions (for example, depression or hypothyroidism) can drag you down and make you feel tired and despondent. Drug or alcohol abuse can manifest itself in a variety of sneakily debilitating ways. Perhaps you need to talk with a counselor about some longstanding issues with your work, relationships, sense of helplessness, and so on.
What we want to tell you is that it isn't hopeless. It is possible to change your life, do much of what you want to do, and stop doing much of what you don't want to do. Yes, you may have to take some risks, take a leap, be willing to balance the security of inertia against the risks of making changes. But it's worth thinking about, clarifying, planning, preparing, and recruiting your friends, allies, and loved ones to offer support.
* * *
Leisure is time for doing something useful; this leisure the diligent man will obtain, but the lazy man never; so that a life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things.
Dare we say it? Doing work for yourself is not only good for your pocketbook, but it's good for your soul as well. True, you can pay somebody to prepare your food (either directly or indirectly by using convenience foods). You can pay somebody to do your yard chores, your cleaning, your car maintenance, and so on. You can pay somebody to prepare your taxes, carry your bags, paint and decorate your home, and do the work at your place of business. You can even pay somebody to raise your children, educate them, and teach them how to play sports.
You can do that, and sometimes it makes sense to do so, but let us suggest that, whenever you can, it's best to do it yourself.
You might add up the money you make per hour and compare it with the money you'd spend per hour on an outside worker and decide that since you make more money per hour than a yard worker, you'd be better off working the extra hours at your own job, hiring a lower-paid worker, and pocketing the difference.
This might be a completely rational decision. However, it also may be a false economy. For example, if your work is one where you sit all day, working outside in the yard pushing a mower (preferably manual, not a gas guzzler) will be great for your health and may save you the cost of a health club membership (or a triple bypass). If your job is complicated and filled with stress, you may find meditative solace in painting, digging, sewing patches on jeans, washing dishes, organizing drawers, or building shelves. And kids? No matter what other jobs you have, you may find that genuinely connecting with kids can be the most rewarding of all.
Frankly, most people have to have down time from their normal labors. What you do with that downtime—use it or waste it—is the difference between leisure and laziness.
* * *
Plough deep, while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep.
How much of your budget do you spend on food? For most Americans food is the third biggest item, taking up about 14 percent of their total income.
Consider becoming a "weekend farmer"—a vegetable gardener. During World War II, Victory Gardens were all the rage. To support the war effort, the government sent out booklets with instructions on how every family could start their own vegetable and herb garden. The campaign took off, and families everywhere were putting their own homegrown vegetables on their dinner tables. It may seem like a lot of work if you've never tried, but it can save you money at the market. How much money? With two-fifths of an acre, a family of four can grow 75 percent of their food, saving $3,000 a year.
But maybe you don't have that much land available. Or worse, you live in an apartment, and have only a patio or balcony. While it's true that you won't be able to produce as much as someone who has a huge backyard, you can still plant your potatoes, squash, tomatoes, peas, beans, peppers, and herbs in pots and bins, on your patio or in a sunny window.
Regardless of the size of their "back forty"—whether forty acres, forty feet square, or forty plants in pots—most people get a great deal of pleasure out of growing at least some of their own food. You may find that you do too.
* * *
Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to gain leisure.
It's one thing to want to work hard for something. However, if you're always busy, if you're always working long hours and feeling dragged down by it, it may be time to reassess some things.
Songwriter Ray Davies once asked that if life is for living, what is living for? One thing we know is that all work and no play is not the goal of living. So what's the problem?
* Perhaps you're not organized enough in your work. If you could procrastinate less and could do more work in less time, you'd have more time left over in the day.
* Perhaps you could use time that normally is dead time. Are you using your commute time wisely? Get out of your car if you can and bicycle for the exercise, for example. Or use carpooling and public transportation so you can use the time for something more productive than driving through rush hour. What about lunch time? Don't just sit at a table in a lunchroom or a restaurant—take a walk and clear your head, take a short nap or meditation break, or read something while you eat.
* Perhaps you need to prioritize your work and give more of your time to finish the activities that are most important. Let other tasks slide, if necessary.
* Perhaps you need an attitude change about your job. Perhaps you're overvaluing it, avoiding it, or living in fear about losing your job and letting yourself be taken advantage of.
* Or, perhaps you need to consider whether you'd be happier in another career, and if so, start making plans to pursue it.
* * *
If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be the greatest prodigality, since lost time is never found again.
What uses up your time without giving much of anything back? Think about turning it all off—the television, computer games, the Internet, the sports obsessions, even the friends and family members who drain your time and energy without nourishing you in return. Life's too short. What would it be like to ruthlessly take your life back so you can fall in love with it again? What would it be like to value your time as the precious thing it is?
* * *
How much more than is necessary do we spend in sleep, forgetting that the sleeping fox catches no poultry, and that there will be sleeping enough in the grave.
Sleep less? To many people, that seems like difficult advice to follow—they already feel sleep deprived. But Ben isn't really advocating less sleep than is healthy. After all, he's famous for coining the phrase, "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." The problem is not completely the issue of when you go to bed and when you wake up, but what you do at night when you're awake. In Franklin's time, staying up late meant wastefully burning expensive candles instead of using the light from the sun. (In fact, Franklin successfully promoted Daylight Saving Time in the United States as a way of saving candles.) It also often meant "wine, women, and song," none of which were necessarily conducive to productive use of time. In our time, the fact that we don't go to sleep when we're tired, but instead stay up and find modern-day amusements, means that we have an awful lot of people who are sleep-deprived. Which, of course, makes it awfully hard to do your best during daylight.
* * *
He that riseth late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night.
This is the crux of Franklin's philosophy of getting up with the sun, using time productively, and then getting welldeserved rest. It's a system that still works—getting to bed early instead of dallying with "wine and women," or modern day distractions of television and the Internet.
* * *
What we call time enough, always proves little enough. Let us then be up and be doing, and doing to the purpose; so by diligence shall we do more with less perplexity.
Managing your time is a skill that you can learn, no matter how disorganized or prone to procrastination you are. If it's your problem, you've probably already discovered that it's not particularly effective to beat yourself up about it. Instead, take it as something you simply haven't fully learned yet. There are entire books about the subject, but here are some tips to get you started:
* Don't concentrate on how busy you are—concentrate on your results. After all, a frenzy of activity won't get you far if you're trying to shovel gravel with a pitchfork.
* Use a "To Do" list each day to help you prioritize what the most important activities are for the day.
* For each complex goal on your "To Do" list, simplify the tasks by creating an Action Plan, listing the steps you need to do to achieve that goal.
* Next to each entry, put a number from 1 to 5, with the highest priority being 1.
* Redraft your list so that the most important things are first, and the least important are at the bottom. Then do them in order, from most important to least. Anything still left gets put on tomorrow's list.
* * *
Industry pays debts, while despair increaseth them.
In the face of money woes, it is easy to fall into despair. But hopelessness is rarely an accurate reflection of reality. Whatever the condition you find yourself in, there are aspects of it that could be worse. There is plenty of reason for hope, and for counting blessings, even in what seem to be the worst of times.
Not that it's always easy. It's often very difficult to get moving and do what needs to be done when things look bleak. But what we want to get across is that difficulty is not the same as impossibility. When things look dark, it's the time to get moving and do what has to be done.
What needs doing? Make a list of the steps you need to do today, and resolve to do half of them by lunchtime. Stop thinking about it and get to it. Need to find a job? Get your resume together, get out there, make your phone calls, send out your letters. You don't need to "feel like it" to do something—do it anyway!
Don't judge the effort, just do it. Make the activity the substitute for the worry, self-blame, and hopelessness. Are you prone to waking up in the middle of the night with your concerns pressing in on you? When you go to bed, designate a task for such an occurrence. Set a time limit for lying in bed worrying—if you're not asleep again in ten minutes, get up and do the task until you're exhausted enough to sleep again.
* * *
Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy.
Okay, having established the importance of using your time wisely, let's talk about equal time. "Productivity" does not necessarily mean letting your work day slop into the time that is your own. Whether you are working for someone else or for yourself, you need to make boundaries that differentiate your work life from your home life. If you are industrious during your work time, make sure you give the same attention to the rest of your life. What's the point of living if you never stop doing your job?
Balance is important. By being as efficient and productive in your free time as you are in your work time, you can get done what you need and want to do and still have time for starting new projects, learning new skills, and setting new goals to keep life interesting. Learn a new way of looking at the world, dream, find a niche somewhere, or take on a personal challenge that is worth your time, especially one that will make or save some money.
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.... It would be thought a hard government that should tax its people one-tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service, but idleness taxes many of us much more.
This is a recurring theme from the honorable Mr. Franklin: We can complain about external roadblocks and speed bumps—be they the government, unfortunate circumstances, our bosses, the economy and so on—but in reality external problems are a small part of what is holding us back. Most of our difficulties are in fact self-inflicted, and until we declare our independence and make revolution against our own worst impulses, our excuses and scapegoats will be simply empty fulminations. Furthermore, as Franklin observes, our own laziness, pride, and folly costs us more than we think. If we spent as much energy diminishing these unproductive traits as we do trying to reduce our taxes, we'd be richer indeed.
* * *
Sloth, by bringing on diseases, absolutely shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright.
It is true that willful inactivity is bad for body and purse. Get up and get something done, even if you don't feel like it. Having said that, however, we realize that though it's easy to see sloth as mere laziness, there are often deeper reasons why some people live a "slothful" life.
Do you feel like you're firing on three cylinders? Do you just want to rest or veg out in your spare time? It may be a sign that something is terribly wrong. Good hard work that moves you forward in life should be a profoundly satisfying experience. If activity is discouraging and difficult, you might want to look into the reason why. Perhaps you suffer from a physical problem or depression. Perhaps you're in the wrong line of work. Whatever the reason, inactivity will drag you down over time.
Excerpted from Ben Franklin's Guide to Wealth by ERIN BARRETT, JACK MINGO. Copyright © 2004 Jack Mingo and Erin Barrett. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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