By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1855
The most common error into which young men fall at this era in their lives is to consider the age of freedom from the control of others, as a period of license for self-indulgence. Far too many run into extremes, and either injure their health, or form evil habits that ever after stand in the way of virtuous respectability, or success, as professional or business men. That this is a very serious error, need not here be said. These bad habits are of various kinds. We will notice one of them in this chapter, as the most prevalent.
The habit of spending money too freely in the gratification of a host of imaginary wants, is one into which young men of generous minds are too apt to fall. Limited to a small income previously, and compelled to deny themselves at nearly every point, they find it almost impossible to resist the impulse that prompts to self-gratification, and are thus led to spend, perhaps for years, the entire sum of their earnings, and, more than probable, to run into debt. The folly of this, everyone can see and acknowledge, and yet many have not the resolution to act up to their convictions.
This habit of spending money uselessly has marred the fortunes of more young men than any other cause. It is a weakness that should be firmly and constantly resisted by every one. Money should be considered as a means by which man has power to act usefully in the world — and he ought to endeavor to obtain it with that end in view. The greater a man's wealth, the broader may be, if he but wills it — the sphere of his usefulness. It is true that men do not seek for wealth under the impulse of such high considerations, and, in the present condition of the human mind, from causes just explained, it cannot be expected that they would do so.
But the first thing a man has to do in the work of self-elevation, is to shun what is evil because it is evil. And if a young man, who is constantly tempted to spend his money foolishly, should refrain from doing so from the consideration that it was wrong to waste that by which he might ultimately be useful to his fellows, he will be very apt, in after life, to feel, under all circumstances of expenditure, that he must not be entirely unmindful of the effect of his acts upon others.
One means for the correction of this fault, may be found in a regular account of receipts and expenditures. A young man, whose income was one hundred and fifty pounds a year, was asked by a friend how much money he had saved. He had been receiving this salary about four years, and had no expenses whatever except those that were personal.
"Saved!" returned the young man, in surprise. "I can't save anything out of one hundred and fifty pounds a year."
"I saved money on a salary of one hundred pounds," was the friend's quick reply.
"I would be most happy to know your secret," said the other. "I have tried fifty times to save up something, but its no use."
"What does your boarding cost you?"
"Fifteen shillings a week."
"Or not quite forty pounds a year. Add your washing, and it will make forty-four pounds. Next comes your tailor's bill. How much is that?"
"Generally about twenty-five pounds."
"Fifteen pounds more, I suppose, will pay for your boots, and the various little etceteras of clothing not included in your tailor's bill?"
"O, yes, fully, I should think."
"Very well. Where are the remaining sixty-six pounds?"
"Heaven knows, for I don't," was the young man's reply.
"What does your account book say?"
"Account book! I don't keep an account book. I never dreamed of such a thing."
"That is strange! Why, I keep my own cash account as carefully as I do my employer's."
"I don't know any particular good that does," said the young man. "Keeping an account of your money doesn't make it go any further."
"O, yes it does. Keep an account of every item spent for a month, and read it over carefully on the first of the following one, and my word for it, if you have any disposition to prudence in you, it will cause you to be more careful of your money; for you will see there the haunting ghosts of too many pounds spent in foolish self-indulgence, the pleasures of which endured but for a brief season, and left you a less contented mind than you had previously enjoyed. In a little while, such account keeping, if you adopt it, will show you where your sixty pounds a year have gone.
My reason for asking you the question was this: one of the best opportunities for going into a safe and profitable business that I have yet seen, has just presented itself. To enter into it, will require a capital of four hundred pounds. I have laid aside two hundred, and fully believed you had accumulated as much, and that jointly we might improve so rare an opportunity. But this, I am sorry to find, is not the case. I must seek for someone else who has the sum that is needed."
This lesson the young man laid to heart, and profited by it. From that day, he kept a regular account of his expenses, and soon found that, with the data it afforded, and a little resolution and self-denial, he could save up money — a thing he had before deemed impossible.
A good resolution, perhaps the best a young man can form on this subject, is always to live below his income, let it be whatever it will. It may require, in some cases, a good deal of self-denial to do this; but such self-denial will be well repaid. We know a young man, who, at the age of twenty-two, married, while his income was but two pounds a week. Instead of renting a whole house and going in debt for furniture — he rented a single room in the house of a friend, with the privilege of the kitchen, for about ten pounds a year. His resolution had long before been taken that he would always manage to spend less than he received, and he chose this modest style of living as a means of attaining his end. None of his friends or acquaintances thought the less of him for his prudence, but rather commended him. By living thus economically, he was able to lay aside twenty pounds during the first year, and the same for two or three years longer. Then a good opportunity offered for going into business, which was embraced. Some ten years since that period have elapsed, and he has just retired with a snug little competence of eight hundred to a thousand pounds.
This bad habit of living up to the income, seems to be the bane of all success. The cause of it is not in a small income — but in unsatisfied desires. The young man who spends his salary of eighty or a hundred pounds, is almost sure to run through everything he receives, when that salary is doubled. The gratification of one desire only makes way for another still more exacting. It is, therefore, of the first importance for a young man to guard himself here; if he does not, he is in danger of forming a habit that will go with him through life, and mar his fairest prospects. The prospects of thousands of young men have been thus marred.
A still worse error than spending the entire income, and one the effects of which are far more blighting to a young man's worldly prospects — is that of living beyond the income — either under the doubtful hope that it will be increased next year equal to the deficit of the present, or from the neglect of keeping a careful eye upon the relation existing between receipts and expenditures.
The most common way in which this going beyond the income occurs, is in making purchases on credit, instead of buying everything for cash. If a want is felt, and the means of satisfying it are not in hand — the true way is to wait until such means are received, rather than anticipate their receipt by running in debt. At the beginning of a quarter, too many make purchases to be paid at its expiration — instead of waiting until its close, and then, with cash in hand, buying just what they need, and no more. Their salaries are received and all paid away, for clothes worn, and board due, and they are left to anticipate another quarter's income, long before it comes into their hands.
Going in debt for clothing is a very common, but a very foolish practice. No one does it, who is not compelled to pay at least from ten to twenty percent more than he would if he always paid the cash down; and he is, besides, tempted to buy more than he otherwise would, and to choose more expensive garments. Then, while his six or twelve months' account is running on toward maturity, he is spending, little by little, foolishly, the money that ought to be saved for its payment; and when the day for payment comes, he often finds it impossible to satisfy the large demand against him, unless by borrowing from a friend, or getting an advance on his salary.
Does all this make him feel any happier? Is the consciousness of being in debt so very pleasant to a sensitive and honest mind? One would think that a young man's natural pride of independence would cause him to shrink from such a position, and use every means in his power to avoid it, instead of going into debt with his eyes open, as so many do.
It is wiser and more honorable for a man to wear his coat three or six months longer, until he has the money with which to buy a new one — than it is to go in debt for the garment, and thus lay a tax upon his future income, or run the risk of not being able to pay for what he has worn, at the time agreed upon.
A common subject of remark among young men, is their tailors' bills, and the difficulty of paying them. For a young man, with a fixed salary, and only himself to support, to have any tailor's bill at all, is no good sign, and speaks badly of his habits and future prospects.
Debt — debt! A young man is mad, we had almost said, to go in debt under any pretext whatever. We remember a bookbinder who from intemperance, got into debt; on reforming, he lived on broken biscuits, at a cent or two a pound, with tea made in his little kettle — he sleeping at night in the shaving-tub. This economical mode of living was continued until he got out of debt! How much better would it have been to have lived thus frugally, in order to have kept out of debt, had the necessity for so doing existed!
Almost any sacrifice of pride, feeling, and comfort, should be made by a young man — rather than run in debt; for, once get behindhand, and it seems next to impossible ever to recover yourself. You may toil early and late, and yet it will seem all in vain; and if you do, at length, get your feet on firm ground — it will be by the severest struggles.
The facility with which young men can get credit, is a great temptation to many, who feel that it is a very pleasant thing to get all they want, even without a shilling in their pockets, and have four, five, or six months given them to pay the bill. How utterly unconscious do they seem of the shortness of the period of six months! They look at it ahead, and it seems afar off, and approaching with but a slow pace. Before they are aware, however, it is upon them, and, they too often find — upon them much too soon.
This taxing the efforts of the future to pay for the expenditures of the present — is a folly so apparent, that one would think even a child must see and avoid it as a great evil. No one knows what is in the future, nor what will be his future ability to meet even his current expenditures — much less to take up the burdens of former times. If in the present we find it hard to provide for all our present wants, surely there should arise a dictate in regard to the future, and a carefulness how we spend next year, not only its own burdens, but a portion of those which belong to this year.
How does a young man know, when he contracts a debt to be paid in six months, that long before that time sickness, or the reduction of his income — may not make it very hard for him to meet even his bare expenses then, much less pay a bill contracted for previous wants — or more probably self-indulgence in something that a wise forethought would have prompted him to do without?
Not the least annoying and mortifying of the inseparable accompaniments of debt — is the liability to have demands made for money owed, at times when it is utterly impossible to satisfy them. How often is the honest intention hurt, the reputation destroyed, or a hopeful confidence in life chilled — by such sudden and imperative demands for payment of debt!