November 26, 2018

"Working For A Dead Horse"
P. T. Barnum's Advice
Regarding Debt

Years ago, when I was in the remodeling business, I did some work for Mr. Muldoon and his wife. Mr. Muldoon was an older man with his own tree-cutting business. He was a hands-on hard worker and a smart operator. The business was a profitable one. I am always interested in, and inspired by,  independent-minded people with their own successful small-scale business.

Mr. Muldoon was also an avid hunter. He built a sizable addition on his house as a trophy room. It was like walking into a natural history museum. The centerpiece of the room was a full-size grizzly bear he had shot on Kodiak island. 

Mr. Muldoon loved guns. He had a walk-in gun safe off his trophy room. It was packed full. And his office held the overflow. There were rifles by the dozen leaning against the walls, and handguns were literally piled on top of his desk. It was a sight.

Mr. Muldoon confided to me that he couldn't drive by a gun shop without stopping and buying a gun. I could relate to that.

It was not the buying of guns that I could relate to. In my case I was not able to go past a book store without stopping and buying a book. In those pre-internet days we frequently went to malls and malls always had book stores. Nine times out of ten, the book I bought was a self-help or small business book. 

Such books still interest me, though not to the degree they once did. But yesterday, perusing the internet, one thing led to another and I discovered a 138-year-old "success" book that I never heard of. Old books often interest me more than new ones.

P.T Barnum's 1880 book, The Art of Money Getting (that's a free pdf link) is a great little book. I read it in one sitting. Some of it is outdated, but the fundamental wisdom that P.T. conveys is surprisingly applicable to contemporary Americans.

"Personal responsibility" is part of the stated focus of this blog and The Art of Money Getting is very much about personal responsibility. This is the kind of book that I would be talking about with my sons if they were still home and we were homeschooling them. Hopefully, they will read this blog post!

You can go to the link above and read The Art of Money Getting, but the excerpt below is a good sample. It is about debt. If you have read my writings over the years, you know that I am passionate about not going into debt. But there are times when debt is justified, and PT speaks of them. 

Avoid Debt
By: P.T. Barnum

Young men starting in life should avoid running into debt. There is scarcely anything that drags a person down like debt. It is a slavish position to get in, yet we find many a young man, hardly out of his "teens," running in debt. He meets a chum and says, "Look at this: I have got trusted for a new suit of clothes." He seems to look upon the clothes as so much given to him; well, it frequently is so, but, if he succeeds in paying and then gets trusted again, he is adopting a habit which will keep him in poverty through life. Debt robs a man of his self-respect, and makes him almost despise himself. Grunting and groaning and working for what he has eaten up or worn out, and now when he is called upon to pay up, he has nothing to show for his money; this is properly termed "working for a dead horse." I do not speak of merchants buying and selling on credit, or of those who buy on credit in order to turn the purchase to a profit. The old Quaker said to his farmer son, "John, never get trusted; but if thee gets trusted for anything, let it be for 'manure,' because that will help thee pay it back again."

Mr. Beecher advised young men to get in debt if they could to a small amount in the purchase of land, in the country districts. "If a young man," he says, "will only get in debt for some land and then get married, these two things will keep him straight, or nothing will." This may be safe to a limited extent, but getting in debt for what you eat and drink and wear is to be avoided. Some families have a foolish habit of getting credit at "the stores," and thus frequently purchase many things which might have been dispensed with.

It is all very well to say; "I have got trusted for sixty days, and if I don't have the money the creditor will think nothing about it." There is no class of people in the world, who have such good memories as creditors. When the sixty days run out, you will have to pay. If you do not pay, you will break your promise, and probably resort to a falsehood. You may make some excuse or get in debt elsewhere to pay it, but that only involves you the deeper.

A good-looking, lazy young fellow, was the apprentice boy, Horatio. His employer said, "Horatio, did you ever see a snail?" "I—think—I—have," he drawled out. "You must have met him then, for I am sure you never overtook one," said the "boss." Your creditor will meet you or overtake you and say, "Now, my young friend, you agreed to pay me; you have not done it, you must give me your note." You give the note on interest and it commences working against you; "it is a dead horse." The creditor goes to bed at night and wakes up in the morning better off than when he retired to bed, because his interest has increased during the night, but you grow poorer while you are sleeping, for the interest is accumulating against you.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master. When you have it mastering you; when interest is constantly piling up against you, it will keep you down in the worst kind of slavery. But let money work for you, and you have the most devoted servant in the world. It is no "eye-servant." There is nothing animate or inanimate that will work so faithfully as money when placed at interest, well secured. It works night and day, and in wet or dry weather.

I was born in the blue-law State of Connecticut, where the old Puritans had laws so rigid that it was said, "they fined a man for kissing his wife on Sunday." Yet these rich old Puritans would have thousands of dollars at interest, and on Saturday night would be worth a certain amount; on Sunday they would go to church and perform all the duties of a Christian. On waking up on Monday morning, they would find themselves considerably richer than the Saturday night previous, simply because their money placed at interest had worked faithfully for them all day Sunday, according to law!

Do not let it work against you; if you do there is no chance for success in life so far as money is concerned. John Randolph, the eccentric Virginian, once exclaimed in Congress, "Mr. Speaker, I have discovered the philosopher's stone: pay as you go." This is, indeed, nearer to the philosopher's stone than any alchemist has ever yet arrived.