Family & Education

Proverbs to Cherish: ‘A Penny Saved’

The practice of saving whittles away at the thirst for immediate things
BY Angelica Reis TIMEJuly 26, 2022 PRINT

Recently, our family, like many others, has been looking for ways to save. This has led me to think more deeply about the wonderful proverb, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

While some might consider the phrase cliché, it’s actually an excellent guide for many life choices.

The most interesting aspect of it is something I realized only later in life—that a penny saved is actually more than a penny earned. Because of … taxes!

This is something I wish I’d been taught as a kid, so that when I wanted to buy that candy or that ice cream, I had a better idea of what was involved in that. Yes, I knew my parents had worked hard to provide for our (somewhat large) family, and that they set many impressive examples in terms of frugality. But it wasn’t until I was well into my married years that I realized how post-tax dollars work.

Now, we might each think about our own finances and determine exactly how much a penny saved is equal to. And consider teaching this to our kids, depending on their age and the particular circumstances, of course. That penny saved might equal $0.0125 earned, for example. Save 100 pennies, and that’s actually saving $1.25 earned, perhaps.

This could be a great math exercise for homeschoolers, in particular—fun, and practical, too.

The areas of life this can apply to are many. There’s the thirst for technology, the thirst for nice drinks, nice cars, and nice, well, everything.

You could even make a chart with your kids based on the concept that a penny saved is more than a penny earned. Each time you decide not to buy that Starbucks cookie, you could do a little calculation. Write down how much the cookie would have cost, and how much you would have had to earn to buy it, and that will be how much you saved! You could create a little reward system—a reward of watching one movie (borrowed from the library) each time you save $20, for example.

You could also use play money with kids to create a similar activity. Each time you forgo something you don’t need, or buy a somewhat cheaper version of something you do need, you could put that play money into a piggy bank or ziplock bag. Each week, or month, count it up and see how you’re doing, and create more rewards or goals.

Think of the incredible personal finance habits this would impart to kids—if done tactfully and joyfully—which would serve them for life.

Maybe “good enough” is what we should strive for—to be adequately fed, housed, dressed, and cared for. Maybe we can forgo the drinks at the restaurant, or the dessert, or the restaurant meal itself.

What a wonderful process of spiritual development that can be, a process of whittling away another of those deadly sins: gluttony. (See a previous piece of mine for a discussion of pride.) Given the state of society today, it seems about time we reconsider those seven deadly sins and look deeply into our hearts and minds.

So how is it that we received this fine nugget of wisdom from the annals of history?

Most attribute it to the articulate Ben Franklin and his “Poor Richard’s Almanack.”

In his 1737 “Almanack,” Franklin writes, “A penny saved is two pence clear.” Then later, in the 1758 “Almanack,” he writes a version more similar to the one we know, “A penny saved is a penny got.”

But its roots go further back.

Like many proverbs currently in use, this one took a somewhat different form in its early years. And it turns out its early years trace back to the 1600s, as far as we know.

One example of an early version of this phrase appears in “Outlandish Proverbs,” published in 1633 by English poet George Herbert. It reads, “A penny spar’d is twice got.”

But because it appeared in a compilation of proverbs at the time, it’s natural to assume that the proverb was in use well before that.

This takes us to the title of this article series—”Proverbs to Cherish.” The justification for the choice of title is that I believe there must be reasons why we’ve inherited—in some cases—the ancient sayings and proverbs that we have. It tells us that people over the course of history cherished them in some way and felt them worthy of keeping and passing on.

Perhaps someone is trying to tell us something through these. At the very least, they’re little gems of tradition, culture, and good values, which we can hold dear today, keep alive, and pass along once again.

Angelica Reis loves nature, volunteer work, her family, and her faith. She is an English teacher with a background in classical music, and enjoys uncovering hidden gems, shining them up, and sharing them with readers. She makes her home in New York state.
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