A Penny Saved is NOT a Penny Earned

And other bullshit advice that sounds a lot better than it works

Click here to read this story on Medium.com

When I was a kid, my mother would scare me with viscerally terrifying warnings.

If you make a stupid face, it will freeze that way.

If you swallow that gum it will take seven years to digest.

Accurate? No. Vivid and memorable? Yes.

Stupid advice that has lead to generations of toddler nightmares and school janitors muttering “stupid kids" as they scrape the bottoms of desks. They should be muttering “stupid parents” for repeating advice with no actual evidence.

As an adult now, catchy and flat-out wrong advice hasn’t gone away. For example, have you ever noticed how many popular sayings have an opposite?

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

Great minds think alike. Fools seldom differ.

These sayings, aphorisms, whatever you call them, aren’t sources of universal truth, they’re just a memorable way of saying something. It’s a version of nodding your head and saying “Uh huh, yep.” Conversation filler. Like how “What’s up?” and “How are you?” are both versions of “Hello,” not actual questions. The proper response is “Hey” accompanied by a nod, if you’re building rizz.

Worse than being ambiguous, sayings are often downright misleading. A penny saved results in a literal extra penny tomorrow — thanks Ben Franklin for popularizing the sentiment if not the actual phrasing. But the skills required to earn a penny are far more powerful than the skill required for saving a penny.

You can make a penny over and over. You save a penny once. Earnings have growth and repeatability, savings rarely do.

How about ‘ignorance is bliss?’ — a saying equally treasured by large dumb birds and lazy dumb humans? The full quote is actually, “where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” Yeah, I’ll meet you there after I buy my lottery tickets and forget to vote.

Here are a few more to leave out of your repertoire of advice to pass on to your kids:

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. — No, sometimes it cripples you so badly through emotional or physical trauma that the next comment on your Instagram will kill you. This horrible advice is used by many people to exert their bodies past any reasonable safety margin saying “it didn’t kill me!”

Not yet it didn’t.

Money can’t buy happiness. — This should actually be, “Money can’t guarantee happiness.” Some people just want to be unhappy or have self-limiting beliefs that money won’t cure.

Money on its own is pretty awesome.

Everything happens for a reason. — This gets interpreted as if every reason is a positive one. No, it’s better to think of it as “Everything that happens had a cause and an effect.” If you think about those causes and effects you’ll get some good takeaways and become wiser, because that’s the essence of wisdom — the ability to take knowledge and use it to predict the future.

But the world at large? It is seriously random.

Some catchy advice is dead accurate. I didn’t believe my parents when they told me that friends you make quickly you lose just as quickly. I learned that one the hard way and it’s absolutely true. Money you make quickly you also lose quickly. Catchy and true.

Pay off your credit cards in full. Invest in index funds, not individual stocks. Great advice, not catchy.

Early to bed and early to rise? Bullshit. I’ve been a late sleeper and riser my whole life and I’m healthy, wealthy, and not a complete moron. Getting up early would just make me poor, pissed off, and… petulant.

Next time someone throws a piece of catchy and clichéd advice at you, consider seriously whether it’s just catchy and whether it’s actually true. Good marketing doesn’t make a product any better. As Jeff Bezos has said, “Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service.”

You want some great, catchy advice? Read more of what I have to say. And Do as I Say, Not as I Do.

  1. For some reason, 20,000 people watched my video about Drake on TikTok. Maybe I should write about all the other celebrities I haven’t impressed?

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