Barry the Bartender

by Jeff C. Johnson


Barry was a student in my personal finance class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He was less than enthused about college, it appeared. He showed up for class every day, but usually fell asleep sometime during the first half hour. Finally, I asked him to stick around after class to see if I could help him, or at least learn why he seemed so bored.

Turns out Barry was very interested in personal finance and enjoyed my class, but he worked as a bartender at a local college watering hole and never got to sleep before three a.m. He had some other “odd jobs,” too, that brought in some cash, and the idea of saving and investing appealed to him. He just had trouble staying awake by my three-thirty p.m. class time. 

After we discussed getting him more engaged, he moved to the front of the classroom and, with my approval, regularly brought a tall, steaming coffee to keep him alert and involved. Though not a model student grade-wise, he often discussed financial topics with me after class and sought out some specific suggestions about the money he was accumulating while in college.

For a couple of years, I lost track of what Barry was doing, though we remained distantly in touch via social media.

Then, one day, I got a call from Barry requesting some time to visit with me at my office. I looked forward to seeing him to find out what he was doing and how his wealth-building endeavors were working out.

While he was in my class, Barry had started aggressively saving money, paying off loans, and building cash. All he needed was a little direction. He put the Five Financial Foundations to work immediately and saved much more than the 10 percent of earnings that I suggest as a good starting point. Working as a bartender six nights per week, as a part-time paid intern for a local company, and by mowing lawns and doing snow removal, he had funded a Roth IRA, as well as saved up a down payment for (and subsequent purchase of) the large, five-bedroom house where he had been renting a room. He quickly improved the house with new carpet, paint, etc., and immediately raised the rent to a level that paid his mortgage.

But the reason Barry came to me, now in his late 20s, was to set up an investment account for nearly $100,000 he had saved and could commit to a long-term investment plan.

Fast-forward a few more years, and Barry is not a bartender anymore. He sold his five-bedroom “apartment” house and moved to a family home. Though it took him a few extra years to graduate, he is a full-time employee with a local company, maximizing his savings in his employer-provided retirement account. He has investment accounts and cash in the bank, and he is on his way to being a multimillionaire before his 40th birthday.

Best of all, Barry’s story is only beginning.

The Five Financial Foundations I teach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is based on my book of the same name, available on my website or on Amazon.