“Counsels of the Aged to the Young” – VI. Finances


6. Manage your FINANCIAL concerns with economy and discretion. Avoid the inconvenience, embarrassment, and vexation of being in debt. Conduct your business with attention and diligence; and have your accounts in such a condition, that you will be at no loss to ascertain the true state of your affairs. Men often become unjust, and injurious to others, without having intended any such thing, merely by a confused and careless manner of transacting their business. Such a man, after a while, feels an unconquerable aversion to a scrutiny into his affairs. He shuts his eyes against the ruin which he is bringing on himself, and heedlessly rushes forward in the path which habit or fashion has rendered agreeable. When, at length, an exigence arrives which constrains him to adopt some measure to extricate himself from his difficulties, he is placed under strong temptation to resort to a course which is not strictly honorable. He persuades himself that, if he can save his credit for the present, he will be able to rectify everything by diligence and good fortune, and to preserve his friends from suffering on his account. But these efforts to recover lost ground commonly prove ineffectual, and render the situation of the person more involved than before. He finds, at length, that he is sinking; and this discovery often produces a desperate recklessness. He plunges deeper and deeper into debt, and often drags to ruin, not only his own family, but some of his friends who confided too implicitly in his truth and integrity.

It is also too common for men who have failed in trade, to resort to means for the support of a helpless family, which a sound moral faculty never can approve. The temptation arising from the tender love of wife and children is indeed very strong, but not invincible. In the commercial world, there are many illustrious examples of merit, honor, and the strictest honesty in men who had it in their power to defraud their creditors, or deeply to involve their confiding friends; but who chose rather to look haggard poverty in the face, and to see their beloved families descending from affluence into the valley of obscurity, than to be guilty of a dishonorable act. And in the long run this turns out more to the benefit of those people, than any advantage obtained by a resort to shifts and evasions not entirely consistent with the highest integrity.

He who sacrifices reputation for present comfort buys it at too dear a rate. The merchant who, when he fails, loses his reputation for truth and integrity, will meet with but little favor from the world, and will have very little chance of rising again. But he who has been unfortunate, and yet maintains his integrity and preserves his character unsullied, is often able to enter again into business under favorable auspices; and is encouraged and aided in his attempts to gain a living, by men of wealth and standing. Such a man is often successful to such a degree, that he has it in his power to compensate those from whom benefit was derived in the day of his calamity.

Beware of being governed by ambition in your commercial enterprises. The pride of doing a large business, and of being considered as at the head of the profession, seduces many aspiring young merchants: and ‘greediness of gain’ tempts still more to engage in hazardous speculations, and to trade to an extent not authorized by the capital which they have at command. In this way bankruptcies become so common, that the event ceases to excite much surprise. Families delicately raised, and long accustomed to the luxuries as well as the comforts of life, are reduced to poverty.

Multitudes of such families are found in our large commercial cities, who are really more properly the objects of charity, than is the common beggar who clamorously solicits your charity. The real privations and sufferings of such are not fully known; for, from the desire of avoiding the contempt and the pity of vulgar minds, such people spread a decent veil over their indigence, and prefer to pine secretly in poverty, rather than to seek relief by a public disclosure of their necessities. The Christian philanthropist will, however, seek out such sufferers, and will contrive methods of bestowing relief upon them in a way consistent with the delicacy of their feelings.

The above remarks are particularly adapted to those who engage in commerce; but they are not inapplicable to others. It is true, integrity is the soul of a merchant; but it is a sterling quality which every man ought to possess; and all men are liable to be reduced to a state of indigence by a long series of adverse events. My counsel then is, that you commence and pursue business with prudence; and when unfortunate, that you so act as to preserve your integrity and your reputation, by resorting to no equivocal means of relief; but resolve to act in conformity with the strictest rules of justice and honor.

– Archibald Alexander; Counsels of the Aged to the Young (See here for more info)

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