Great Financial Advice From American Presidents

Much like leading a company, being the president of the United States can be a thankless job. No matter what you do, at least half of the country is going to disagree. It’s no wonder that most presidents look like they age twice as fast while they’re in office.

That’s why today, on Presidents' Day, we’re taking a moment to appreciate some of the wise advice about finances and leadership our past presidents have passed along.

George Washington

"To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones."

George Washington wrote this truth in a letter nearly 220 years ago, but our modern government still doesn’t get it. Of course, the world is a different place now and things have changed, but this one truth about money still stands: You’ll never improve your financial situation by robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Thomas Jefferson

"Never spend your money before you have it.”

This advice came from Thomas Jefferson’s “A Dozen Canons of Conduct in Life.” The irony here is that Thomas Jefferson died with a lot of debt (although much of it was inherited from his father-in-law). However, the advice is solid.

Abraham Lincoln

"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."

If you apply that principle to developing true financial wellness, then it fits perfectly. If you want to succeed, you’ll succeed. If you just kind of, sort of want to succeed, then you’ll never be able to help employees pay off debt, achieve big company goals, or finally write that book.

Ronald Reagan

"A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."

This was one of Reagan’s slogans during his 1980 presidential campaign. Politics aside, it’s pretty funny. But it also points to a greater truth—everyone around us might be in a financial mess, but it doesn’t hit home until it affects us or our company personally.

John F. Kennedy

“No matter how big the lie, repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.”

That’s exactly why our culture has embraced the debt lifestyle. We’ve been sold debt for so long that we’ve come to believe it’s just a way of life. But once you’ve figured out that you can live without debt, then you know the debt lifestyle just doesn’t work out in the long run. JFK wasn’t talking about debt when he made that statement, but the principle still holds true.

Harry Truman

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

The average millionaire reads one nonfiction book a month. The point is that leaders spend time learning and growing as leaders. They don’t sit and wait for the world to come to them. They go out and get it. No matter what you do—whether you’re a corporate CEO, a human resources leader or a benefits decision-maker—reading is an extremely important part of a healthy lifestyle.

Dwight Eisenhower

“The older I get, the more wisdom I find in the ancient rule of taking first things first—a process which often reduces the most complex human problem to a manageable proportion.”

Was Eisenhower talking about laying a solid foundation for financial wellness? Probably not. But the truth in that quote can definitely be applied to your company. By attacking the problems your company is facing in “manageable proportions,” you allow yourself to win small battles that eventually lead to you winning “the war”—in other words, achieving lasting and healthy behavior change throughout your organization.

We can learn something from all of our presidents—whether we like their politics or not.

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