I was born, raised, and educated in Philadelphia...and I still have some traces of the accent to prove it. My hero when growing up was Ben Franklin; he was Philly's main player. Of course, Ben was not born in the City of Brotherly Love. He actually "escaped" from Boston to come to Philadelphia. Escape is the correct word in the event some Bostonians take umbrage here. Ben ran away from home. And, it had nothing to do with the Red Sox.
I bring all this up only because just last month Ben celebrated his 300th birthday--quite an accomplishment. He came to my town penniless as a teenager but retired at age 42 with more money than he knew what to do with.
Now, what does this all have to do with financial planning? More than you might want to realize.
It is pretty much acknowledged that Ben Franklin was an industriousness sort, had superb timing, very good at self-promotion, extraordinary social skills, and perhaps the best part, an unbelievably fine brain. In fact, Michael Zuckerman, a Franklin expert at the University of Pennsylvania, has said that "This guy may have more neurons than any American who's ever lived."
Anybody who's ever taken a smidgen of American history 101 will recognize Franklin's accomplishments. A little sampling of them include "Poor Richard's Almanac," the first public library, the first volunteer fire department, the first learned society, the vertical integration known as franchising, the first insurance policy against losses by fire, inventions such as swim fins, the glass harmonica, bifocals and, of course, his kite experiments which verified the nature of electricity and lightning. Not bad, eh, for just a few years effort? And, let's not forget the Declaration of Independence. Although much of the writing was Thomas Jefferson's, much of the contributions were Franklin's.
If you look at Walter Isaccson's biography of Franklin, you will find that Ben was deemed the best American strategist of his time and the country's "first great publicist." But more important, at least to the financial planners of today, is what was behind all of these accomplishments that Franklin achieved in his short 42 years prior to retirement. (He lived for another 42 years.) As Isaccson says, for all his business success, money was not Franklin's prime goal. He quit with enough to live well, but not ostentatiously, in retirement.
And perhaps that is the name of the game. To be able to enjoy retirement. Franklin did for some 42 years before he died. Comfortably, but not ostentatiously. For as Franklin said in a letter to his mother that has been quoted often enough. "I would rather have it said, He lived usefully, than, He died rich."
Even in 2006, some 300 years after his birth, I wouldn't mind having something similar said about me. To live well, in retirement. Isn't that enough?
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