Odds are, you admire Benjamin Franklin for all that you know about him -- the kite, electricity, his Almanack, public libraries, odometers, street lights, etc. But I bet you haven't peeked into his personal financial history much. Permit me to shed some light.

Franklin was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was born -- 300 years ago! -- in 1706. His dad was a candle maker, soap maker, and mechanic, supporting a family of 13 children. When Franklin was just 17, with pockets pretty much empty, he ran away to Philadelphia and entered the printing profession. He worked hard, studied his trade enough to become a master printer, and also enjoyed life along the way, traveling, swimming, writing, and entertaining ladies. By age 20, he was publishing his own newspaper.

He was a savvy businessman, signing lucrative deals and forging partnerships with other printers. Now get this -- he retired early. Really early. At age 42, he was able to live off of money generated by his business, which was now being run by others. Not bad, eh? (He went on to live another 42 years after retiring.)

Can you do as well? Most of us won't manage it -- especially those of us who have already left age 42 behind. Still, we can take inspiration from Mr. Franklin, and if we manage to achieve a fraction of what he did, we may better our lives.

Franklin's smarts
Mr. Franklin's thinking made a lot of sense, and we're lucky that he shared so many of his thoughts. Allow me to share one particular anecdote of his that should resonate with those of us who know we need to get our financial houses in order and plan for the future:

When I was a child of 7 years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and, being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one.

I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, and sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.

This however was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don't give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Franklin -- and happy birthday!

Franklin-ize your future
You may not be able to enjoy an income stream from your printing business, but if you invest sensibly and for the long haul, you may be able to enjoy a solid income stream of your own.

The retirement guidance source that I refer to most often is Robert Brokamp's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. You can, and should, try it for free for a whole month. Doing so will allow you to peek at all the past issues, which feature a host of "Success Stories," profiling people who retired early and are willing to share their strategies.

Here's a sampling of some very useful articles from past issues:

  • In the February 2005 issue, Brokamp interviewed former New York Times "Seniority" columnist Fred Brock, who explained how you can retire on less than you think.

  • The October 2005 issue delved into the virtues of dividends, and even recommended some specific dividend-paying stocks. A trial of the newsletter will let you see all the recommendations, but some other companies with current significant dividends include Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), Pitney Bowes (NYSE:PBI), Fifth Third Bancorp (NASDAQ:FITB), and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC).

  • The December 2005 issue covered real estate investment trusts (REITs) in detail, recommending promising investments such as Ventas (NYSE:VTR), AMB Property (NYSE:AMB), and Host Marriott (NYSE:HMT), among others.

So go ahead and grab that free 30-day trial of Rule Your Retirement -- I think you'll like what you see. And if not, you'll have lost nothing.

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Selena Maranjian would love to meet Benjamin Franklin one day, along with Julia Child, Studs Terkel, John Waters, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Annie Lamott. She o wns shares of Pfizer. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Pitney Bowes is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. For more about Selena, viewher bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written:The Motley Fool Money GuideandThe Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.