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What does "A Penny Saved" Mean?

You can count a penny earned when you hold onto it.
The phrase "A penny saved is a penny earned" is attributed to Benjamin Franklin.
Front and back of a US penny.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2014
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A penny saved typically refers to the full quote “a penny saved is a penny earned.” This old adage is a little challenging to understand, since people can’t earn the same penny twice. It does relate to the idea of the difficulty in being thrifty and saving money. Spending a penny, or any other amount, means the person no longer has it in his possession, while saving it means he can still count it as something earned and something held.

Another way of interpreting this maxim is to say that saving is work too. Saving is another form of earning, because it may take effort not spend the penny. In a sense, the person who saves does work twice for the penny, once to initially earn it, and then again to keep from spending it. Alternately, a penny in a savings account may earn money, granted at a very slow rate. This meaning may not have been intended with initial use of the phrase.

Most attribute the penny quote to Benjamin Franklin, and a version of it does appear in the 1737 version of Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, but the exact quote is not Franklin’s. Instead he says that the penny that is saved is “twopence clear.” Versions of this saying occur almost 100 years prior to Franklin’s publication though he may have popularized the sentiment.

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George Herbert, a British cleric, used it in his 1640 book Proverbs, and it was used by another British minister in 1661. In 1695 an additional version of the proverb occurs in Edward Ravenscroft’s play The Canterbury Guests. It is clear that Franklin did not invent the saying, and was merely one of a long line of people who used it. Moreover, each saying is slightly different. Herbert calls the penny saved twice got, Fuller calls it a penny gained, and Ravenscroft calls it a penny got.

The modern saying, where the saved penny becomes an earned penny may not have evolved until the early 20th century. P.G. Wodehouse uses the most familiar form of the adage in his book Inimitable Jeeves. The idea of earning the penny wasn’t necessarily implied in the original phrasing. Most come closer to saying that if a person saves a penny, they still have it, or a “a penny saved, is a penny got” to quote Charles Dickens' early 19th century novel Bleak House.

Given the devaluation of pennies in modern times, may have added a new variation to the old saving. Instead of the penny being earned, “a penny saved is a penny spurned.” It is true people don’t need to look far to find pennies littered on the ground, since single coins of this value possess little purchasing power. On the other hand, collect them all and place them through a coin machine and they may truly represent savings. Many people keep change and penny cans at home to deposit all loose change, and after a while these saved pennies and other currency can add up.

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burcinc
Post 10

I personally think that "a penny saved is a penny gained" means that if you managed to save a penny, then you really deserved it. This can be taken to mean that what we earn isn't deserved unless we're able to save some of it. I have no idea if the people who came up with it thought about it this way but this is what it means to me.

There is another quote that's really similar to this that I don't understand at all. It goes " a penny saved is worth two in the bush." What's that supposed to mean? What does a bush have to do with it?!

SarahGen
Post 9

@anamur-- No, the Poor Richard's Almanac was like the Farmer's Almanac. It had weather information, a calendar, sometimes poetry. The poor part refers to Richard. I think Franklin meant that this was the common man's almanac.

I would imagine that the phrase "a penny saved" was used in a literary work, like a poem that Franklin included in the almanac. I'm sure the purpose was to encourage people to save as much as possible, especially considering how popular the Almanac was. They say that about ten thousand copies were distributed annually during the years it was printed.

serenesurface
Post 8

What's the "Poor Richard’s Almanack?" Did it have information and suggestions for the poor or something?

How was "a penny earned is a penny saved" quote used in it?

cloudel
Post 7

If you save pennies for decades, they can really be worth something. If you pass down your penny collection to your kids or grandkids, they could one day get a lot of money for it. You could be saving to earn them some extra money someday!

Oceana
Post 6

I save all my coins, and my husband does, too. He always pays for things with dollars, and he puts the change in a jar.

I think the only times I've ever seen him spend coins were at vending machines. If you save pennies along with quarters, dimes, and nickels, you can run into some serious money after a year or so.

In fact, my mother-in-law was a waitress for years, and she saved all of the tip money that she received in change over the course of a year. It added up to $300!

kylee07drg
Post 5

@feasting – So technically, you didn't earn those pennies. All you did was bend over to pick them up.

So, you have saved spurned pennies. I get how all the different versions of the phrase work together. This is just one example of that.

feasting
Post 4

A penny is money, even though many people don't treat it as such. I've always been amazed to see people in the checkout line at the supermarket dropping pennies and not even bothering to pick them up!

I definitely get where the “penny spurned” part comes in. I pick up every penny I see, and trust me, that has led to quite a collection. It does take awhile for them to amount to much, but hey, they are money that I didn't have before.

GigaGold
Post 2

Ben Franklin was an early innovative genius in America, and set the stage for the renaissance men of the 20th century. Today, this country is founded upon ideals of invention and the human mind. Saving money and having a prudent ethic of "early to bed" help to foster this kind of brilliant mind.

arod2b42
Post 1

These important sayings of Ben Franklin have become American memes, reinforcing a strong work ethic in the US. Few realize that Franklin was also close friends with the great preacher and evangelist George Whitefield, who had a strong influence on Franklin and on the nation as a whole.

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