Personal Finance For Dummies: It’s as Easy as A-B-C

Most procrastinating high school and college literature students know that when they’ve put off their reading assignments to the point where they no longer have the time to actually read the book, they can always rely on Cliffs Notes.

Some kids are hooked on Cliffs Notes like a bad drug while others use them in a purely “recreational” fashion. In fact, I’ll bet well over half of you reading this have used them at some time or another.

Don’t deny it; I know you did.

As for me, I never experimented with Cliffs Notes in high school.

Okay. Maybe I experimented a few times with them — but only as a study guide after reading the books in their entirety.

I know. I wouldn’t believe me either.

Anyway, for those of you who want a quick and easy read on the basics of good personal finance, I’ve put together a series of quotes and general wisdom regarding money and personal finance that are the official Len Penzo dot Com version of Cliffs Notes.

In fact, you can call this my A-B-Cs of good personal finance.

After reading these little nuggets of financial wisdom you won’t be an expert on the subject but, if you take them to heart, you’ll definitely have enough background material to at least get a passing grade. So if you’re ready, here we go:

Annual income, twenty pounds; annual expenditure, nineteen pounds; result, happiness. Annual income, twenty pounds; annual expenditure, twenty-one pounds; result, misery. — Charles Dickens in his book David Copperfield*

Buy when everyone else is selling and hold until everyone else is buying. That’s not just a catchy slogan. It’s the very essence of successful investing. — J.P. Getty

Content makes poor men rich. Discontent makes rich men poor. — Benjamin Franklin

Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are. — James W. Frick

Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that. — Norman Vincent Peale

For a happy marriage, wise is the husband who understands that what’s hers is hers and what’s yours is hers. — Len Penzo

Good habits result from resisting temptation. — an ancient proverb

He is richest who is content with least. — Socrates

If you owe the bank $100 that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem. — J.P. Getty

Just remember: Any man who has $10,000 left when he dies is a failure. — Errol Flynn

Keep an emergency fund of at least three month’s living expenses. — common financial wisdom

Lend your money and lose your friend.– English proverb

Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. — Benjamin Franklin

Never spend your money before you have it. — Thomas Jefferson

October: This is one of the particularly dangerous months to invest in stocks. Other dangerous months are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August and February. — Mark Twain

Plenty of people despise money, but few know how to give it away. — Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld

Quit using credit cards for making any purchases unless you intend to pay off the balance in full at the end of every month. — common financial wisdom

Rich people plan for four generations. Poor people plan for Saturday night. — Gloria Steinem

Solvency is entirely a matter of temperament and not of income. — Logan Pearsall Smith

The art of living easily as to money is to pitch your scale of living one degree below your means. — Sir Henry Taylor

Understand that there is no dignity quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means. — Calvin Coolidge

Volatility in your retirement portfolio can be minimized via diversification. — common financial wisdom

Wants may be easily satisfied either by producing much or desiring little. — Marshall Sahlins

Xerox stock price on April 17 of selected years (adjusted to account for any splits and/or dividends): 1970 – $14.15; 1999 – $55.13; 2009 – $5.92. The moral of this story is that even buy-and-hold investors need to know when it’s time to sell. — Len Penzo

You’ll be much better off financially if you strive to be anonymously rich rather than deceptively poor. — Len Penzo

Zillow should never be considered an accurate gauge of your home’s value. — Len Penzo

By the way, did you notice the predominant theme among the majority of those quotes? Here’s a hint: It’s the first commandment of my Ten Commandments of Personal Finance.

So there you have it! My version of Personal Finance for Dummies, all wrapped up into a neat little Cliff’s Notes version that I hope you enjoyed. What are some of your favorite words of wisdom or quotes about money?

In the mean time, continue studying these notes — I guarantee that they’re the quickest path to success in Personal Finance 101.

Now go get your A.


* From what I learned after reading Cliffs Notes

(This is an updated version of an article originally written on April 19, 2009.)


  1. 2


    Thanks, Allen, and welcome! I appreciate the kudos. Your check is in the mail. πŸ˜‰

    But seriously, I visited your site and I liked what I saw too.


  2. 5

    Libby says

    My favorite money quote: “The best way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.” Will Rogers

  3. 7


    Nice list, I have a series using the alphabet on success. I never used Cliff Notes as the only source. I once used it to help me on a project as an additional resource.

    • 8

      Len Penzo says

      I used it on a couple of occasions. I believe I used them on The Great Gatsby. I think I used it on a Hemmingway book too — can’t remember which one though.

  4. 9


    I never used Cliff Notes in either high school or college. I didn’t see the point in buying both the full text (required) AND paying for Cliff Notes too. I guess you could say I was too cheap to cheat. :)

    That, and more than one professor promised their tests were designed to be “anti Cliff Note.” That is, they would ask questions on material they knew the Cliff Notes didn’t cover.

    Speaking of Cliff Notes… did you modify the Charles Dickens quote a bit for American readability? I thought it sounded a bit off, did my own quote search, and found this:

    ‘My other piece of advice, Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and – and in short you are for ever floored. As I am!’

    Or in other words, a single shilling – not 2 pounds – can make the difference between happiness and misery.

    • 10

      Len Penzo says

      Good catch, DC. Yes, that Dickens quote was the Cliffs Notes version.

      I purposely shortened it to make it more to the point.

    • 12


      I had forgotten about that; you’re quite right.

      Thomas Jefferson’s wife was the one who managed the books – an unusual arrangement at the time. After she died, that’s when his finances went to pot.

    • 13

      Len Penzo says

      He was a big-time debtor! I read somewhere that it was to the tune of about $2,000,000 in today’s dollars.

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