PT Barnum’s The Art of Money Getting was written in the 1800s. However, as I noted last week, The Art of Money Getting is as interesting today as it was then. Here’s a very important piece on why young people should avoid debt.
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
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
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.
Like Barnum, I’ve never been a fan of debt. In fact, the only debt I have is for my home, and it’s a small mortgage, in relation to the value of the property. I encourage others to avoid taking on debt. If you’re in debt, considering using consulting to get out of debt — think about a side job.
- The Art of Money Getting by PT Barnum.