From time to time, I like reading quotes.
There's something magical about collecting a powerful idea in a handful of words. In a way, it's like any other art form. Something simple, like a few notes or a few strokes of a brush, that can elicit emotion from someone experiencing it. At its core, quotes are very much the same.
When it comes to money, so much of it is shrouded in emotion. While it seems like it's mostly math, it's really not. Money may include numbers but it's life wrapped up in emotions and biases with your lizard brain at the wheel.
I think quotes are great because they can give you a bit of a reset.
And when it comes to money, sometimes we need something like a New Year to help us jumpstart that reset process.
So today, I want to share you eight of my favorite money quotes and why I love them:
(if you want to use the images, you're free to use them just save them to your device before sharing)
Epictetus (55–135) – Stoic Philosopher
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” – Epictetus
There are quite a few quotes in this list about possessions but this one captures the core of the core. It is the simplest form of this powerful idea about wealth.
Wealth isn't about money. It isn't even about time.
It's about what's in your head. It's about what you want for yourself, what you want for your future, and what you want to surround yourself with.
Ask someone who really wants children and can't have them if they'd rather have a million dollars or a baby. You can't watch a million dollars take his first steps or get dumped for the first time. You are never proud when a million dollars brings back straight A's or loses in the first round of a spelling bee. Wealth and happiness is about your wants, not your haves.
You can make the argument that a million dollars can fill a lot of that emptiness but it'll never fill it completely. And that's why this quote is powerful.
Manage your wants as best you can and you will be wealthier than even the richest person.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) – Founding Father
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin
The best investments are when you invest in yourself. It can be hard to do because there is no immediate financial payoff but Ben Franklin knew it back in the 18th century.
We have modern-day revisiting of this courtesy of Mask Suster, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist at Upfront Ventures, when he wrote his blog post “Is it Time for You to Earn or the Learn?” When picking which startups to join, you have to assess where you are in your career. Are you at a point where you should be taking less compensation in return for “learning” a tremendous amount… or is it time to take more compensation and fewer learning opportunities so that you can finally “earn.”
You have to learn before you earn.
(Ben Franklin also wrote a book I consider a timeless money classic – the Poor Richard's Almanack)
Thomas Jefferson (1793-1826) – President
“Never spend your money before you have earned it.” – Thomas Jefferson
I love this quote because it's so simple and it's really a more stately version of “Don't count your chickens until they've hatched.”
It's very easy to start spending money you don't have only because you expect to have it sometime in the future. Maybe it's something concrete, like a contractual year-end bonus on the horizon, but sometimes it's something more nebulous like an expected bonus because of a good year. That bonus may be smaller than you think or get delayed or even canceled. You could have a good year personally but the company, unbeknownst to you, may not.
You also don't want to mentally spend it either, earmarking it on things you'll get when the money arrives. You can start getting in your own head about things and if things don't go according to plan, you'll be sorely disappointed.
Thomas Edison (1847-1931) – Inventor
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison
One of my favorite podcasts is How I Built This with Guy Raz and he ends those interviews asking the guest, who is always a successful entrepreneur, whether their success was because of hard work or luck. Nearly all the guests say it's a mix of both and while I haven't listened to each episode completely, I've never heard their answer expressed in the way I would (for my own successes).
You need both hard work and luck to succeed in nearly everything in life. The key is to develop a habit of hard work because without hard work, you'll never be able to take advantage of any luck that does come your way. You can't see luck and then try to work hard to take advantage, the hard work has to already be there or it'll pass you by.
Every success I've hard is the result of me being on the hard work path and running into luck. Sometimes I was on the hard work path and luck never appeared. Those ventures sputtered out and I moved on. I don't blame the hard work, it was just that luck wasn't on my side that time.
There are endless opportunities out there but they all require hard work.
(another quote from Edison that I really enjoy is this one – “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”)
Will Rogers (1879-1935) – Actor Entertainer
“Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people that they don't like.” – Will Rogers
You've probably heard this gem before but I absolutely love this quote because it really speaks to human motivation. Human beings are social creatures and sometimes we look towards others for guidance on what to do. And sometimes those people are people we don't even like! Yet our biological imperative seems to push us towards seeking their approval.
This is something that wanes as you get older because you gain confidence from years of achievement. Buying expensive things is merely a signal of success and achievement. As you age, you earn your own money, you get your own place, you support yourself and your family, and the accumulation of those achievements replaces the need to show off with the accumulation of things. It doesn't completely replace them but it helps.
So while you're young, and with less money, avoid blowing it on things to signal success because it'll get in the way of actual success.
Before you leave this quote, I want to give you another that pairs nicely with this one:
“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
So perhaps it's not in the buying or the having of things but in the earning of money that happiness lies.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) – British Prime Minister
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill
When we think about “making a living,” we are always talking about how we earn money for ourselves and our family. It's easy to get your identity wrapped up in your job. When it comes time to retire, it's hard for people to adjust to a post-work life because so much of that identity is tied to a job they no longer do.
While this isn't the original intent of the quote, which is itself a great message, I expand on it by making sure that you don't confuse a living and a life.
What you do and who you are should not be conflated.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) – Irish Statesman
“If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.” – Edmund Burke
There are so many levels to this quote, which is probably why I enjoy it so much.
The pursuit of wealth on its own is very dangerous because it never ends.
This brings up a great story retold in a poem by Kurt Vonnegut (seen on Brain Pickings) about a conversation he had with Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22:
True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22’
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!
If you didn't know this quote, you may know Edmund Burke's most famous quote (which doesn't have to do with money): “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Naval Ravikant (1974-) – Entrepreneur
Trade money for time, not time for money. You’re going to run out of time first.
— Naval (@naval) October 10, 2018
You may not know Naval Ravikant but he's the CEO and co-founder of AngelList and has invested in many of the startups that you have heard of like Uber, Twitter, etc. He's prolific on Twitter and writes frequently on many platforms.
I love this quote because it captures a mental model I've believed about money and time.
And with that, I won't take up any more of your time other than to ask – what's your favorite money quote and why?
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Too bad Jefferson didn’t live by his own words. He died beyond broke because in his later years he had many people sponging off of him at Monticello. As a UVa grad he has a special place in my heart, but he definitely struggled with his finances in his last years.
John Bogle wrote a pretty good book called ‘Enough’ based on the Joseph Heller quote. It’s definitely worth a read.
Any Mouse says
Those who understand compound interest earn it; those who don’t, pay it.