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I know a barber who had the opportunity of buying one of the oldest and best barbershops in his city. He had worked there for a few years, and knew it was a good investment. So, he made arrangements with the owner, and took the plunge.

However, it wasn't long before he realized he was in serious financial difficulty. Actually, he was in trouble before the purchase of the shop, and the added debt put him in way over his head.

Prior to obtaining the barbershop, this fellow had several bad business ventures. They were all legitimate. Just bad choices! Generally, they all involved selling, in which he was not exactly a shining star. Oh, he did manage to sell a few things such as his house and his car. It was not quite that bad, but almost.

About the same time as the business failures and the purchase of the barbershop, his wife and two daughters were in college. So the debts really began to pile up, as the pressure became intolerable. Also, fatigue set in because of the three jobs he was working so that he could continue to tread water.

The barber/entrepreneur did a couple of things he thought might relieve some immediate pressure. He borrowed on credit cards and from the Internal Revenue Service (by not paying estimated taxes). Eventually everything started to come apart, as the IRS threatened a tax lien.

For lunch one Saturday the barber's family came to his shop after hours, as they often did. He was so overcome with worry and stress that he verbally threw them out. Then he went home, closed his bedroom door and considered how he might end his life without destroying his family or disappointing his God. As it turned out, only thoughts of God and family keep him from doing the unthinkable.

As you might guess, I know the fellow's story so well because I'm the fellow. Today, I'm pleased to say that, because I obtained the help I needed emotionally and financially, I'm well on the way to being completely debt free in few years (except for a home mortgage). And, I lead a happier, fuller life than ever. However, I've been left with some lessons I'll never forget.

The first lesson is: 'Debt robs a man of his self-respect, and makes him almost despise himself.' (P.T. Barnum). Thus, there's a need to use credit wisely. Self-esteem is at stake. And, while you might buy things on credit that you can't afford, because it temporarily lifts your spirits or gives you something to show to others, it's not worth the shame and loathing when debt becomes overwhelming. Learn to live within your means even if it involves doing without!

The second lesson is how a loss of respect due to financial woes affects one's attitude toward others. Sherry can always tell when I'm not happy with myself. That's when I'm unkind to her. I'm the same way with customers. In fact, there's no telling how much business I ran off while I was drowning financially and emotionally. I could easily have lost both my family and my business.

The third lesson I will pass along is that ' - there is more satisfaction in rational saving, than in irrational spending.' (P.T. Barnum). As per the financial advice I received for turning our circumstances around, Sherry and I began a consistent, well-planned investment, retirement program. That, combined with the fact that the barbershop is now paid for, is very satisfying. It's much more satisfying than new, showy things that we don't need or can't afford. I'm no longer interested in a big hat. I want the cattle!

Lesson number four is to learn from others. Experience (the school of hard knocks) is a great teacher, but not the best. That's because much of its value is lost in the time it takes to learn the lessons. Time-tested principles are the best teachers, and they can be discovered in writings, seminars, counseling and advice from those who have been there.

Yet, it still takes time to learn these things. And, as John Wayne said, 'We're burnin' daylight.'

BARBER-OSOPHY: Control your money or it will control you.

Copyright 2004, Sumerlin Enterprises.

Permission is granted for you to copy this article for distribution as long as the above copyright and contact information is included. Please reference or include a link to

About the Author

Terry L. Sumerlin, known as the Barber-osopher, is the author of "Barber-osophy," is a columnist for the San Antonio Business Journal and speaks nationally as a humorist/motivational speaker.


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