Most people have at least one family member who seems to know it all. They’ve got a snazzy saying for everything, an endless stream of cheesy advice, and a few catchphrases they roll out when the time is right.
Perhaps they learned their old adages from a wise family member in their own lives, or maybe they read their oft-repeated advice in a good book and really took it to heart. Either way, it can be both funny and annoying, and often at the same time.
After a while, you may just stop listening. But tuning out can be a costly mistake.
While it’s easy to brush off campy advice that’s been around a while on the premise that it’s outdated or inaccurate, you might want to think again about some pearls of folk wisdom. A lot of times there’s a reason advice gets repeated over and over again — because it has some element of truth to it.
That’s especially true when it comes to advice and clichés about money, since many of the financial principles that existed centuries ago still apply today – just in a different way. So if you’re aching for money advice that is old but absolutely true, here are some tried-and-true money clichés to apply to your real-life finances.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Whether it’s an email from a Nigerian prince or consistent 15% investment returns, these are words by which to judge almost any offer. Taylor Schulte of Define Financial says his father shared this gem with him at a young age, and it has always stuck with him. And now that he has his own financial practice, he advises his clients to apply it to their own investing strategies.
“Whether you’re questioning a new investment opportunity or considering making a large purchase, get in the habit of asking yourself if it sounds too good to be true,” says Schulte. “You might even ask others around you what they think if you have been known to fall into this trap before.”
If you dig around a little and find that something seems “off,” think long and hard before you pull the trigger. If it sounds outrageously beneficial and “too good to be true,” it very well might be a scam.
“Money doesn’t grow on trees.”
Oh, isn’t this the truth. While our parents echoed this sentiment throughout our lives, many of us only truly grew to understand it once we had children of our own.
“I hated hearing this growing up and always rolled my eyes,” says Rosemarie Groner of Busy Budgeter. “Then I grew up and had to handle my own finances and realized how limited my income really was.”
If money grew on trees, we would all be rich. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, and we all have to earn our money the hard way.
“You have to spend money to make money.”
Here’s something all small business owners already know: When you’re starting a business or building a side gig from scratch, there are times when you have to invest some money up front.
Money Coach Amanda Abella heard this a lot growing up, but didn’t really know what it meant until she began building a business of her own. But now that she’s a business owner, she’s come to terms with the idea of “investing in herself.”
However, it’s not enough to just spend money – you have to do it wisely. “I’m learning how to make smart investments over time instead of just spending all my money at once in an attempt to make more of it,” says Abella.
“The best things in life are free.”
No matter where your family falls on the income spectrum, you probably went through a “materialistic” phase. Maybe you only wore designer clothing, insisted on carrying only name-brand purses, or craved only exotic and expensive cuisine.
At a certain point though, you might have realized that the things that matter most don’t cost anything at all. A day spent laughing at the park with your children, a hug when you’re having a bad day, or a compliment from someone you love can turn you inside out with happiness without costing anyone a single cent.
That’s exactly how it happened for Jessica Garbarino of Every Single Dollar. “I got so caught up in in my 20s spending and keeping up with what everyone else had that I wasn’t taking the time to figure out if it all really made me happy,” she says. “After going through the painful process of paying off my debt, I now find that a lot of the most satisfying experiences don’t cost a thing.”
While you can buy things that bring temporary joy, real happiness has to come from within. It can take some time to learn this one, but it becomes more true as you age. It’s true that money can make life easier, but it can’t make you happy on its own.
- Related: Finding Happiness for Free
“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
This is one saying my mother repeated all throughout my life. Every dollar you’re able to save is a dollar you won’t have to earn later, she would say. But, what did that mean?
I didn’t have a clue until I grew old enough to start investing and saving for retirement myself. Only then did I understand what it meant to sacrifice now to have a little more stashed away in the future. And as I watched my nest egg grow, I suddenly “got it.”
Joseph Hogue of My Work from Home Money says he thought this idiom was confusing gibberish until he got out on his own and started earning. Now that he’s an adult, he sees the value in being mindful of his spending so he can boost his savings rate while he’s still fairly young.
“The money you save is just as important as the money spent and can mean more money earned down the road,” he says. And when you’re less wasteful in your younger years, it’s much easier to become wealthy down the line. So, save your pennies, he says. They really do add up.
- Related: Higher Earnings or Lower Spending?
“You can’t take it with you.”
People often mutter “you can’t take it with you” as a reason not to save. You can’t take your money with you, so why not spend it while you can?
Still, this money cliché is absolutely true – and can even be used to help you appreciate what you have today. After a year of losing family and friends, Todd Tresidder of Financial Mentor says this common money saying really hit home.
“The legacy you leave behind has little to do with the wealth you amass, and everything to do with what your life stood for and how you made others feel and what memories you created while you were here,” says Tresidder.
When it comes to this thing called life, there are no guarantees. Even if we’re saving steadily for the future, we should still live for today. One day, we might find that today is all we have left.
“Early to bed and early to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
CFP David Waldrop loves this Benjamin Franklin quote because he has found it to be true in his own life. “I love getting an early start to my day and working while others are still hitting the snooze button,” he says.
Getting up early can help people feel better and find more time to be productive. If you find you don’t have enough time to get things done, getting up a couple of hours early is a simple way to solve that problem – provided you put that time to good use, knocking off some key tasks before your day gets away from you.
Time and time again, this is the strategy people turn to when they’re having trouble finding time to exercise. When you can’t find the time to work out in your current schedule, getting up an hour early is one way to solve that problem in a hurry.
- Related: The Secret of the Launchpad
“Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”
Okay, so this isn’t a quote from childhood – it’s the title of a 1997 Notorious B.I.G. song.
Still, “mo’ money, mo’ problems” rings completely true for people who earn more over time but find their lives becoming increasingly complex. The more money you have, the more responsibility you tend to have as well. And sometimes, the extra money you earn can cause as many problems in your life as it solves.
Plus, the exact opposite can be true as well – as in, the less money you have, the fewer problems you might have. Insurance agent Chris Huntley says that’s exactly how he has seen his own life play out, starting with some incredibly simple years he spent living abroad.
“Some of the happiest years of my life were spent when I was penniless and lived in Honduras,” says Huntley. “I had no TV, car, Internet, or cell phone, and had to hand wash my clothes and dump water from a bucket over my head to shower. But life was simple and the time I spent with my Honduran friends and family fed my soul.”
“You get what you pay for.”
While buying the cheapest items you can find can be easier on your wallet up front, it can cost you more over the long haul. Eric J. Nisall of DollarVersity says it’s because you generally get a longer life and better monetary value out of higher quality items.
“Taking a long view, the higher initial price tends to come out less than the total cost of a cheaper version over the same time period,” says Nisall.
Let’s say you buy a $17 coffee maker that dies after six months. If you keep buying the same brand and replacing it over and over, you might end up spending significantly more (and generating a lot more garbage) than if you had paid $100 for a high-quality coffee maker that lasted several years.
The same thing applies when you’re buying clothing, shoes, and electronics as well. If you buy something cheap that will quickly fall apart, you may not be saving any money at all. In fact, it can cost you a lot more in the long run.
- Related: The ‘Buy It for Life’ Compendium
“You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.”
This Chinese proverb is repeated all the time, and mostly by people who hope to help others become self-sufficient. The idea behind it is this: When you give to someone, you satisfy their short-term needs. But when you teach them the skills needed to earn or achieve on their own, you teach them how to help themselves.
Financial planner Hiu-chin Chen relies on the message in this quote when meeting with her clients. “I am not just trying to solve my clients’ money problems, but help them learn to make smart financial decisions in the future,” she says.
“It’s easy to meet expenses – everywhere we go, there they are.”
Paul Moyer of Saving Freak likes this cheesy and sarcastic advice because it’s been absolutely true in his own life. In today’s world, bills often come from every direction – and even from areas of your life you don’t really expect.
Being aware of the financial pitfalls that commonly ail us is probably the best (and only) way to prepare ourselves. When you know what expenses might pop up in your life, you can save for them, budget for them, and plan for them — and establish an emergency fund to cover anything you missed. At the end of the day, that’s our best line of defense against surprise expenses.
The Bottom Line
Cheesy money sayings abound, but they don’t exist just to annoy us. Most of the time, sayings and advice that gets passed down from one generation to the next have quite a bit of truth to them.
Perhaps it’s time we stop rolling our eyes and start listening. Chances are, we could all learn something.
What is your favorite money saying? Do you repeat any money advice to the people in your life?