penny wise, pound foolish

“Penny wise, pound foolish” means being careful with spending of small sums of money but careless and wasteful with larger amounts.

The expression originated in England and was coined by Robert Burton in his work The Anatomy of Melancholy published in 1621. Burton was a scholar at Oxford University, primarily in the field of mathematics.

Someone who is being penny wise and pound foolish may travel to many grocery stores to buy items on sale at each one, but ends up spending more on gas, driving between the stores, than he saves in buying the grocery sale items. I’ve never done this because I regard it as a waste of time as well as of pennies.

The phrase is probably now out of date since Britain has embraced the euro, but the philosophy still holds. Plenty has been said about money and its value, too.

The great Roman orator and philosopher Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) noted that, “Frugality includes all the other virtues.” In the 11th century, the Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet, Omar Khayyam, advised against borrowing with, “Take the Cash, and let the Credit go.”

Alexander Pope wrote in the 1730s, “Get money, money still! And then let Virtue follow if she will.” Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) is credited with penning, “A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart.”

It’s true that if you save your pennies and invest them well, they’ll become pounds. Or dollars, or marks, or whatever currency you use. Just don’t invest the pounds in get-rich-quick schemes or you may end up feeling very foolish.

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  One thought on “penny wise, pound foolish

  1. Leanne Taylor
    February 8, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    Love the quote from Jonathan Swift:
    “A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart.”


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