I played Judo for a number of years and have also dabbled in Ju-Jitsu, Aikido, boxing and Karate. I once asked my Judo teacher ‘What is the best form of self-defence?’ His reply – ‘Don’t be there in the first place!’
It seems likely that at some point over the next year interest rates will rise. That may be good news for those with savings but could be extremely bad news for those with mortgages and other forms of debt. The best defence against debt and the costs of debt is not to ‘be there in the first place’.
President Ezra Taft Benson wrote, “The Lord desires his Saints to be free and independent in the critical days ahead. But no man is truly free who is in financial bondage”. President Benson’s 1974 counsel is as timely now as it was then. In the October 1998 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley encouraged Latter-day Saints to get out of debt and live within their means:
‘ So many of our people are living on the very edge of their income. In fact, some are living on borrowings. The economy is a fragile thing. . . . I recognize that it may be necessary to borrow for a home, of course. But let us buy a home that we can afford and thus ease the payments which will constantly hang over our heads without mercy or respite for as long as 30 years. No one knows when emergencies will strike [and we could be] helpless before creditors. We are carrying a message of self-reliance throughout the Church. Self-reliance cannot be obtained when there is serious debt hanging over a household. One has neither independence nor freedom from bondage when he is obligated to others. . . . I urge you to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.’ (Ensign, Nov. 1998, 52–54).
At the end of November 2013 UK household debt stood at nearly £1.5 trillion – that means that on average each adult in the UK owed over £28,000.
If you are in debt – consider why? Is it temporary because you have made some large purchase such as a car? There may be times when you need to go into debt – to buy a home, to finance education – but this should always be a carefully thought out decision coupled with research as to the cheapest finance option. If however, you are financing your lifestyle through loans or credit cards then alarm bells should be ringing – it is time to wake up to your problems.
The debt cycle begins when you spend more than you earn. People get into debt for a number of reasons:
- Lack of knowledge:Some people don’t understand how borrowing and interest work.
- Carelessness:Some people do understand about interest but they think, “If I spend a little more this one time, its okay—it won’t hurt this once.”
- Compulsiveness:Some people lack the self-control to discipline their purchases.
- Pride:Some people want to keep up with their neighbours and friends.
- Necessity: Finally, some people go into debt in order to feed their families and provide for other basic needs.
When you are not living within your means, you must borrow to plug the gap between your income and your standard of living. At first, you borrow a little money or you put a bit on a credit card. It’s not much after all and you know that you can easily pay it back. However, because you have not addressed the gap between your lifestyle and your income you keep spending more than you earn. You dig yourself deeper and deeper into debt each month. Soon you have so much debt on your credit cards that most of your income is going to service the minimum repayments and there is no money left for other important items, such as tithing, fast offerings, food, clothing or housing costs. This debt cycle can continue for only so long. Soon, you can’t get any more credit, and just the interest becomes more than you can pay each month.
So, how do you fight back?
1. Be honest with yourself and recognise the position you are in. (Realise that you are in a place where you shouldn’t be!)
2. Act quickly. (The equivalent of kicking an aggressor in the shins!)
3. Don’t go it alone. (Shout for help). Church members can counsel with priesthood leaders. There are also organisations like Citizens Advice Bureau who can provide expert advice and practical help. They will help you to prioritise the most important debts (Take out the biggest bully first!) to enable you to keep food on the table and a roof over your head. Avoid any debt help or loan consolidation companies that advertise on the TV or in some newspapers. They are not there to help you – they are there to make money from you. They may help to reduce your payments in the short term but will be very expensive in the long term. You will be running from danger straight into another set of bullies.
4. Stop spending! Don’t make the hole bigger! Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught: “All too often a family’s spending is governed more by their yearning than by their earning. They somehow believe that their life will be better if they surround themselves with an abundance of things. All too often all they are left with is avoidable anxiety and distress”
If you really want something, sleep on it for a night. You may find it doesn’t seem as attractive the next day! If you’re tempted by an impulse buy, work out how long it would take you to earn that money in hours worked.
5. Make and keep to a budget. If you have debt problems then doing a budget is central, you have to get a handle on what you spend to future proof your finances. Work out a weekly or monthly budget to see what you need to live on. It’s important to be realistic and honest with yourself. Your budget will show how much money you can afford to commit to paying off your debts. Your budget may also show where you can save money.
Mr Micawber: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
6. Keep in contact with the people you owe money to. If your creditors don’t know you’re having financial difficulties they’ll assume you don’t want to pay and start taking action against you
- Explain why you’re in debt
- Ask them to freeze the interest
- Don’t ignore letters or phone calls
- Work out how much you can afford to pay your creditors
Once you know what you can afford you can talk to your creditors about your situation and what you’re going to do about it. Offer to pay each debt off in a way that you can afford – it’s important not to offer to pay more than you can afford and not to assume that you’ll be able to pay more in the future.
The best form of self defence is not to be there in the first place. If you are in the wrong place – get out. Once you’re out – don’t go back! Once you have successfully overcome your debt problems, make sure that you don’t go back there again.