Expenses, And Running In Debt
( Originally Published 1832 )
MY DEAR NEPHEW,
I DO not know exactly what allowance your father has been able to give you, but whatever it may be, I trust that you are resolutely determined to keep within it. This will, of course, require a good deal of care and attention. Many young men, when, upon going to the University, they find in their pockets a much larger sum than they ever possessed before, fancy themselves rich, and at liberty to allow themselves various unnecessary indulgences. The consequence is, that they become entangled in debts, from which they can never extricate themselves during their continuance at Oxford. Be on your guard against getting thus hampered. Take it for granted, that the regular and necessary claims upon your finances will leave but little over for the indulgence of pleasure or fancy.
The expenses of an University education are often most unfairly exaggerated by writers and speakers, who are fond of running down all old institutions. These carpers affect to set down to the score of the University all the money that is spent by the young men who reside in it. They seem to forget that, wherever a young man may be, he must eat and drink, and must purchase clothes suitable to his station in society. I was myself, as you probably know, at Christ Church, where I took my degree, and afterwards became a Fellow of Oriel.
At Oriel, (which may probably be taken as a fair average of the rest of the University,) the necessary annual expenses of a commoner are from 701. to 801., or thereabouts. This includes room-rent, batels, (that is, breakfast, diner, &c. exclusive of tea and sugar), tuition, University and College dues, coals, letters, washing, servants. The University dues are
ess than 11. per annum. There are, perhaps, few places in England, where a gentleman can be comfortably lodged and boarded at a much cheaper rate. Still there will always be many incidental expenses, and you must put in practice a pretty severe economy in order to meet them.
In the manner in which you spend your money, as in every thing else, accustom yourself to a certain degree of self-denial. Do not buy any thing merely because it hits your fancy, and you think you should like to have it, but consider whether you cannot easily do without it. Be as liberal as you can reasonably afford to be in assisting others, especially the poor, but spend as little as you can help upon yourself. Above all, never buy, or order, any thing which you are unable to pay for.
The habit of running in debt is pregnant with evil and misery of every description. It often—perhaps generally—amounts to positive dishonesty. The money which you owe a tradesman is really his property.
The articles, which you have received from him, are hardly your own, until you have paid for them. If you keep them, without paying for them when the seller wishes and asks for payment, you deprive a man of that which belongs to him ; and is not that something approaching to robbery? To a man possessed of proper feeling and a nice sense of honour, it must be very painful to suffer a tradesman to ask twice for what is clearly his right. To affect to be offended with such an application, and to meet it with superciliousness and insolence, is injustice carried to its height.
The manner in which some men, who would be ready to shoot any one who disputed their claims to be considered as gentlemen, treat their creditors, whom they choose to call duns, would, from its contrariety to any thing like reason, be almost ludicrous, if it were not so culpable, so cruel, and so dishonest.
A tradesman, from not being able to recover the money owed to him, sees himself in danger of losing his credit, and, together with his credit, the means of getting a maintenance; he sees his wife and children perhaps upon the very verge of misery, and yet, if he civilly asks for what is his due, he is considered as troublesome and impertinent, perhaps reproached and Insulted !
Upon this subject I shall allow myself to quote the words of Delany, the friend of Dean Swift, one of the most animated and sensible of our sermon writers.
Running in debt with tradesmen, and neglecting to pay them in due time, is utterly ruinous to the whole business of trade and commerce, and absolutely destructive of the very principles upon which it is built, and by which it subsists ; and yet this is a crime every day committed by men of fortune and quality, with as little remorse as they eat and drink ; and if the tradesman demands his money, it is odds but he is either threatened or turned into a jest. The son of Sirach's wise observation is here every day verified, merely substituting the words rich and poor, for the words debtor and creditor. The debtor bath done wrong, and yet he threateneth ; the creditor is wronged, and yet he must entreat also. If threats will not rid these men of their importunate creditors, then are they to be deluded with fair words and plausible excuses, to pay attendance from day to day, to the loss of more time, and neglect of more business, than perhaps the debt is worth ; and so the first injury, instead of being repaired is doubled.
And yet the gentleman debtor, the author of this evil, is so far from repenting of it, that it is odds but he raunts his wit and dexterity in doing it. As a mad man (saith Solomon) who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death: so is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am I not in jest ?
And, indeed, it is scarce to be conceived how any man can deal more destruction and ruin around him, than by deceiving and breaking faith with the fair trader ; for it is well known, his credit, his whole subsistence, depends upon keeping his word, and being strictly punctual in his payments and his promises ; and, if he fail in these, he is undone at once.
And how is it possible he should not fail, if the gentlemen he deals with fail him ? He hath no way of raising money but by sale of his goods ; and if those to whom they are trusted will not pay him, it is impossible he can pay his creditors ; and, if he do not pay them, it is impossible but he must be ruined, and, perhaps, many more with him. For traders are linked and dependent on one another ; and one man's fall throws down many more with him : the shop-keeper is in debt to the maker or the merchant; and these again to the journeyman, the farmer, or the foreign correspondent ; and so the ruin becomes complicated, and extended beyond imagation.
Credit is to a tradesman what honour is to a gentleman : to a man that is truly such, (a gentleman,) his honour is as dear as his life : to the trader, credit is as life itself; for he cannot live without it."
You, my dear nephew, will never, I trust, stoop so low as to be guilty of such dishonesty. But then you must keep a vigilant eve upon your expenses. Paying ready money for every thing may be sometimes inconvenient, and may, perhaps, occasion mistakes ; but never leave Oxford for a vacation without clearing off everything that you owe. Take receipts, and keep them. The most honest and respectable tradesman may sometimes, in the hurry of business, omit to cross a charge out of his book, and will feel a satisfaction in having any doubt as to payment removed. Have such receipts tied up and docketed, so that you may refer to any one of them readily.
Never suffer yourself to be led into needless expense by the example of your companions, and never be ashamed of saying that you cannot afford it.
We sometimes see weak young men vying with each ether in the expensive elegance of their furniture and dress, or in the luxury of their entertainments. A man of large fortune produces at his table a variety of costly wines, abundance of ice, and a splendid dessert. Others, from a silly vanity, affect to do the same, although such expensive luxuries are altogether inconsistent with their finances, and with the general habits of men in their rank of life. The more such expenses and foolish ostentation can be checked by the college authorities the better. At all events, do not you be so weak as to fall into them. There is no disgrace in being poor, but there is disgrace and dishonesty too, in contracting debts which you are unable to discharge.
Some young Oxonians, I am afraid, after spending the larger portion of their allowance upon amusements and self-indulgence, drive off the payment of what they regard as their more creditable debts till they take their degree, under the idea that they will then be paid by their fathers. This is a most unwarrantable,—sometimes a cruel,—drain upon parental kindness.
Poets may well speak of university expenses " pinching parents black and blue," when this is the case.
The majority of parents, as I have already said, do not send their sons to the University without some degree of pecuniary inconvenience to themselves. It is, indeed, hard upon them, when, in addition to an annual allowance, which, probably, they have furnished not without difficulty, they are called upon for a considerable sum, in order to save their sons' credit—perhaps in order to enable him to take his degree. For you are aware that an unpaid tradesman has the power, if he thinks fit to exert it, of stopping the degree of a spendthrift undergraduate. This power, I believe, is seldom, if ever, exercised. But surely the being liable to it, through your own misconduct and extravagance, would be attended with a feeling of painful humiliation.
My dear Nephew,
Your affectionate Uncle.