No, Benjamin Franklin, You Do Not Earn a Saved Penny

When you learn about Benjamin Franklin in the first grade, it becomes pretty apparent that he was a very important person. I mean, the guy was an author, an inventor, one of the founding fathers. He discovered electricity. He is essentially a history class in himself. It makes sense that we talk about him.

One thing that always comes up, though, is a quote by Benjamin Franklin. A lot of quotes have been attributed to good old Benji, but one has really stood the test of time.

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Now, as an American, I know I’m supposed to honor the founding fathers, respect their words, blah blah blah. I think, though, it is time someone stood up and said something about this. Benjamin Franklin might have been a great man. He might have been one of the greatest minds mankind has ever seen. Hundreds of years from now, people will still be talking about him and his famous phrase.

The issue, though, is it makes no sense. Not one bit. Just read it again slowly.

A penny saved is in no way a penny earned. If you had a penny and, instead of throwing it at that neighbor’s weird dog that always follows you, you kept that penny, you earned nothing. Not one thing. You simply kept what you already had. Your beginning bank balance was one cent and your ending balance was one cent. There is no earning to be found.

A more accurate phrase would be “A penny saved is a penny that you still have for later because you saved it and did not get rid of it.” This, however, does not flow at all. I don’t think that phrase would make it onto a bumper sticker or t-shirt. It definitely would never become part of a person’s legacy.

There is actually one scenario, though, where this phrase makes perfect sense.

Let’s say you are on a cruise ship. I will let you decide the destination of your respective imaginary cruise. Mine departs from Florida and heads all the way to Georgia because even in my imagination I am too cheap to pay for a real cruise.

You are on the deck of your cruise ship when you see someone walking down the deck. He is laughing and carrying on, having a great time on his way to Georgia. You see him reach into his pocket.

“I don’t need this crap!” he says, then hurls a single solitary penny into the Atlantic. You just stare at H.W. Proustwicke IV (Yes, I just named this imaginary cruisemate). He just squandered a penny. You waste no time, throwing your complimentary fruity cocktail and diving into the ocean. You see that penny sinking and propel yourself into the cavernous depths off of the East Florida coast, kicking with all of your might. Finally, when you can’t imagine going any deeper, you reach out and grab that penny, returning to the surface with a huge gasp of air.

In this scenario, you did save a penny from a watery grave. You also earned one penny. If Benjamin Franklin meant “A penny rescued is a penny earned,” then he is 100% correct.

I know this is just nitpicking. There is no denying the importance of Benjamin Franklin. I’m just saying that this quote has been attributed to one of the smartest people in history and I have pointed out a fallacy in it. I’m not saying I’m a genius or anything, but I did outsmart Benjamin Franklin.

I think the facts speak for themselves.

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