The Trendiest Commandment

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30-31.)

I am too young to really remember the days where gardens were all the rage in the church. President Kimball urged members to have gardens for self-sufficiency”We have asked everyone wherever possible to assist with a home garden for the production of food so you may enjoy the efforts of your labors and help provide for your needs.” (Ensign, Nov. 1978) I can recall many stories of people who cultivated any spot of land they could find. President Kimball, after seeing the frenzied response of the saints further strengthened his call, “We commend you to the garden fever.”

Growing up, emergency preparedness was the popular commandment. When my friends started to marry it was common practice for ward members to skip the Z.C.M.I registry gifts for a seventy-two hour survival basket. In their small, crowded apartments they made way for stackable boxes of rice and powdered milk, just enough for newlyweds to consume. Prepardness almost became a standard on which to judge your neighbor. Should the Relief Society President really be in that position when clearly she could only survive for a month on her weak supply of canned salsa?

Today it is all about avoiding debt.

Being in-debt is a horrible feeling. Just out of high school I applied for my first Banana Republic credit card which allowed me a sweet, little $500 limit. It took me only three months until I was at max. The whole endeavor shocked me, how easy and fast I had indebted myself for two pant suits and a couple of cotton t-shirts.

Of course their are allowances for debt.”Reasonable debt for the purchase of an affordable home and perhaps for a few other necessary things is acceptable. But from where I sit, I see in a very vivid way the terrible tragedies of many who have unwisely borrowed for things they really do not need.” (Ensign, Aug. 1992)

Culturally-like preparedness before-avoiding debt has become almost more important than any other commandment. Perhaps a bit trendy? I wonder if we sometimes disregard promptings of the promised Holy Ghost guidance at the risk of following the most popular commandment of the day. A letter of the law lifestyle can dwarf our spirit of the law practices. It is easy to base our “needs” on what is culturally acceptable rather than personally requisite. Can “wants” really be “needs?”

For example, families that chose avoiding debt over vacationing together. I cannot say if it is cause-and-effect, but while the parents are debt-free, their family lacks a solid cohesiveness that maybe a vacation could provide. Maybe they are debt-free but what if their children find “adventures” elsewhere?Could a simple yearly family vacation fall under what President Hinckley called “necessary?”

Pride in following counsel can overcome personal revelation as given to us by our Heavenly Father by the Holy Ghost. We definitely should listen to and heed what our leaders say. But we also have a gift that teaches us how it is applicable in our lives. Our use of agency in living the commandments is a matter of personal revelation, just as Adam and Eve.

After all, our first parents gave up their “garden fever” to multiply and replenish the earth.

It was a necessary choice . . . to say the least.

61 thoughts on “The Trendiest Commandment

  1. It seems, perhaps, that the worst thing is seeing consuption as an either/or (that is, either don’t consume or go into debt).

    To use your example, if an annual vacation is important to family harmony, most families are capable of saving some amount (which may require foregoing consumption in another area) to spend on a vacation. However, insisting on a Parisian vacation, in light of rising flight costs and the declining dollar, may not work. If the family were to decide this year to take a trip to the Jersey shore, and next year try to save up for Paris, they could vacation, get family togetherness, and not go into debt. If, however, the choices are only overconsumption and zero consumption, well, my point is awkwardly made.

  2. I’m trying to figure out what other examples you might have besides choosing no vacations to support no debt . . .

    Speaking to that specific application, there are many free or inexpensive things families can do to increase solidarity. If a family is already struggling with cohesiveness, spending money on a family vacation isn’t necessarily going to mend things (if communication is bad or kids feel insignificant or disregarded, a trip to Disneyland sure isn’t going to change that). It’s communication and parenting styles, as well as the day-to-day interactions and moments of fun, purpose, and working together that create greater unity.

    I really believe in family vacations (there is something wonderful about getting away from it all), but I come from a history of debt, having brought $45K of debt into my marriage ($13K visa, $32K student loans). Feeling that intense stress for several years, it was worth it to delay gratification and err on the side of cheap day trips and the like.

    Of course there needs to be balance. I can imagine some families having no fun in the name of staying debt-free, but it seems like there must be some deeper issue going on with something like that.

    My poorest friends (who live on very little and have 6 kids–really, you’d die if you knew their income) still manage an occasional vacation, fairly frequent day trips, tons of “simple fun” and unity, and absolutely stay out of debt. They seem to have both the spirit and the letter of the law down really well.

    So it seems that there is definitely a way to live the letter without losing the spirit. And when it comes to debt, having experienced it to such an extreme, I would definitely want to change other patterns more likely to increase unity before choosing debt to take a vacation.

  3. I just taught a RS lesson on the subject of worshipping false gods and “thou shalt have no other Gods before me”. I wasn’t the best person to teach this lesson if you want someone who teaches by example. I struggle severely with my desire for “pretty things”. My wants and needs become blurred in my mind. Exactly as the adversary would have it. He knows me all too well and I have succumbed to the tempter’s snare and have fallen prey to our modern societies concept of instant gratification and why wait when you can have it NOW with the slide of a little plastic. It’s so easy.

    The blessings that come from what Sam described as the proper way to obtain those things we “need” have eluded me because of choices I have made. His point was well stated and I appreciated it. What I can testify to is that debt is purely BONDAGE and that my constant need to consume is in fact a form of idol worshipping and that worshipping a God other than our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ brings only empty promises of happiness. Even though I do get enjoyment from what the debt has bought, it cannot fulfill my spritual needs and provide that lasting peace and hope that worshipping a true and living God can. It isn’t really happiness at all, more like pleasure. I think that this need to consume falls under more than one of the seven deadly sins. All these “things” we have accumlated with plastic are very controlling and tell us how we have to spend our time, in order to repay the debt we accumulated in that process and to maintain those possessions. In the years we have accumulated the debt we have in fact built a prison, a beautifully appointed prison, but no less a prison around ourselves. Now the heavy task is to seperate our hearts from all this “stuff”. We had plenty of warning in the scriptures and by the prophets but chose not to follow that council. Once one starts consuming it is like being a shark in blood filled waters, it is as if you begin to react instinctively from your natural man rather than rationally from your spirit. It is very difficult to make a course correction, but as with everything all things are possible through our Savior Jesus Christ. Time will tell how we do in this process. I can honestly say my teaching example is to NOT do what I did. I hope my experience will keep others from making the same mistakes I have made.

  4. I am SO BAD about credit cards because I like STUFF! But recently, I have really made an effort to not buy things I don’t need, especially since I’m about to move and will need a lot of things. Yesterday, I had a huge victory. I broke my phone. I mean…I dropped my phone, and now I have blank pixels on the screen. Otherwise, the phone functions normally. However, this really bothers me to no end. So yesterday, I very nearly purchased the new BlackBerry Curve because of all its curvy deliciousness. But then, I would have a nearly $80/month bill to pay, and again…I don’t need that. Also…the phone would cost me something like $299. SO…I went to ebay to buy a much cheaper, less flashy phone because I really can’t do the missing pixels thing.

  5. I think the commenters are on to something. Fun times don’t always have to cost a lot and I am pretty sure that a family vacation of any kind is not going to “fix” problems in the family and keep kids out of “other things”.

    Planning and saving for something for the family can provide an activity in and of itself that can bring family unity. I think sometimes the anticipation and preparing for something big is even more fun than the actual doing. When everyone is working toward a goal and providing even a small portion of the cost of the vacation or jet ski or whatever, it helps bring everyone together with a common goal and gives everyone ownership. It is of course much “easier” to use debt to get what you want, but then you do end up as another commenter said “in bondage”. I am sure these days there is great pressure out there to keep up with the Jones so to speak, and kids will compare their life to other kids, that is inevitable in age in time, but being a parent is doing what is BEST for your children, not what the world thinks is best. I am pretty sure that debt isn’t what is best. As a commenter before said that debt decides what they do with their time. A parent who is having to work all the time to pay for their kids things and entertainment isn’t giving their children what is best. The parent’s time is what is the best thing to give kids. Even if it is tossing around a ball in the backyard or going for a bike ride. Time doesn’t cost a thing, but it may mean giving up other things.

  6. Also, I’m struggling with wanting to go to San Diego at the end of September for the Street Scene music festival, but the ticket is expensive and so is the gas to get there. In addition to that, I’m totally purchasing the Platinum VIP Package to attend the Tori Amos concert in SLC at the end of November. I’m such a spendy person.

  7. Dad always added “tires” on the end of the “debt-approved” list. Though my parents were often in the midst of serious financial struggles, the seatbelts in our car always worked and we always had decent tires. I still cringe each time I see a family flying down the road in a car with bald tires.

    I also found it interesting that, in the new preparedness pamphlets the Church published, the phrase used is, “…Avoid debt, with the exception of buying a modest home…” (emphasis mine). How do you define a “modest” home? Obviously, depending on where you live, you may need to go into a great deal of debt to purchase a shack, but what if you can more easily afford a more cushy space? Is this a call for self-restraint?

  8. But some guy on the radio told me that I DESERVED new granite countertops…

    And Matt, I absolutely think the size of your house is a moral issue.

  9. I’m not advocating going in to debt. I just think we need to be open to what a “necessity” is in our own lives. I am saying that necessities are personal and can be realized through spiritual means. For example, I didn’t have to go into debt for my college degree, but I took out a loan to spend sometime in Europe.

    I believe that cultural “wants” can be a spiritual “needs” as realized through personal revelation. “Wants” and “needs” need to be spiritual defined rather than cultural.

  10. Matt, I am left wondering what matters most the size of your house or what you do with the space. Could a clean big house be more acceptable to the Lord than a dirty modest house?

    Also, bald tires. Good point.

  11. There is a lot to be said about the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law. In both examples used above, there is a joint theme of self reliance. Can you truly be self reliant and still be $10,000, 20,000,… in debt [due to wants ,not needs]? Having a garden, or food storage, and not beeing a slave to an interest rate, go hand in hand. They both require hard work. There aren’t any slackers in the Kingdom.

  12. c jane,
    I’m actually totally with you. I need high-speed internet, both for work and personal reasons. (I can live without cable, and wish I could function without a cell phone.) And I take your point about “debt” being the trendy commandment (although it could be, too, that the availability of credit has pushed this to the forefront, where before, you couldn’t as easily mortgage your future earnings).

    Even still, I think we (meaning *I*, because I don’t have any pull over anyone else) can and should evaluate and make the trade-offs so that we can afford our needs (even if others don’t have the same needs we do). I guess that’s the danger in comparing yourself to others: I can easily condemn a person who’s overextended to pay for a videogame system, because I don’t care for it, but that doesn’t automatically make it a want rather than a need.

  13. Courtney: I think one thing to consider is temporary debt vs. life-long debt. If you feel your family needs a vacation together and you have no choice but to break out the credit cards to make it happen, do you have any hope of paying it off in this lifetime? Or, with a few steady monthly payments and a temporary tightening of the purse-strings, will the debt be paid off soon? The former has no place in my life, but I am okay with the latter for some things.

    This coming from the girl who stays at home with two kids while her husband is in law school. If it wasn’t for student loans, we would all be homeless, naked, and hungry. Debt is my friend right now. Hopefully, it will not turn into my enemy.

  14. I think Sam B is right about the stay-out-of-debt advice being “trendy” right now because this issue is in the forefront. The statistics regarding debt among young people in this country are pretty scary — how do these people think they’re ever going to be able to retire? I hope no one is assuming social security is going to bail them out. Do I sound like anyone’s father?

    I totally agree that we need to be prayerful in determining our own “wants” versus “needs” but can I point out that I think people sometimes use the “spirit of the law” argument to justify disobedience? This is a perfect example of a commandment/advice from the prophet which is given to us to protect us, not to limit our freedom.

    To put all of my ranting in perspective, cjane, I think it was totally reasonable for you to take out a loan to pay for your European travels. I always advise young adults who are single/don’t have children to go to Europe! It’s one thing I didn’t get to do and still wish I had. I also think going into debt for tires, or say, a decent mattress, isn’t so bad. The question is, is it a reasonable amount of debt for you and do you have a plan to pay it off?

    I’ll get off my soapbox now, but one more thing: I think no matter where you fall on this issue, those of us with children need to be careful what we are teaching them about money. Whether we’re showing them by example that all things can be had by credit card, or whether we’re making them feel deprived all the time, we are shaping their attitudes about money in the future.

  15. Love this “Debt is my friend right now. Hopefully, it will not turn into my enemy.” Thanks Susan.

    Love this too “Whether we’re showing them by example that all things can be had by credit card, or whether we’re making them feel deprived all the time, we are shaping their attitudes about money in the future.” Thanks Liz.

  16. It’s interesting that you say that being debt-free is the trendy commandment to keep. I’m happy to hear it, but I don’t know that that memo made it down here to us saints in Arizona.

    We commenters might be taking your post in a new direction by jumping on your example, cjane, but I can’t resist a conversation about debt. Money has become such a taboo subject to discuss with our friends and it is taught to us, uh. . .never (unless we have extraordinarily diligent parents) that so many people have no idea what to do with it. My little contribution to this discussion is to recommend this book or its author’s talk radio show to anyone who wants to follow the current fashionable commandment.

  17. I’m trying to figure out who I know that finds this counsel trendy. . . because most people In my life with don’t seem to be following it. Utah leads the nation in bancrupcies, and the last figure I read said that something like under twenty percent of LDS families actually have food storage. I think we hear alot about provident living from the brethren because as a Church we need the counsel, not because as a Church we are already going overboard in following it.

    That said, I do believe it is possible to go overboard. Sometimes I do. But I’ve never claimed to be trendy.

  18. So does the trendiness of a commandment make it less of a commandment? What exactly is the hierarchy here? I say this knowing none of us are perfect. Most commandments really are just good advice, none moreso than avoiding self righteous hypocrisy. ;)

  19. Ange,I mean trendy as in it seems like getting out of debt is more popular than gardening, preparedness, backbiting or even keeping the sabbath day holy. It’s like “the” commandment to keep right now, perhaps at the risk of the other commandments. It’s just a matter of balanced righteous living.

    My question is: is it trendy to continually comment on your own post?

  20. cj:I’m not advocating going in to debt. I just think we need to be open to what a “necessity” is in our own lives.

    Yes. Sometimes, a marriage, or a family, can’t afford to NOT take a vacation. Or date night.

  21. It’s weird to me that we are talking about a trendy commandment. It makes it sound like people are going around judging each other over their obedience to that commandment. That’s weird. But, it probably happens.

    I think I get the point here, though. Because it’s apparently the “trendy” commandment, you are pointing out that perhaps some people are being fanatical in their choices to follow that commandment and in effect, perhaps neglecting another commandment or responsibility?

    This is good fodder for thought. I have come across some people that, in their attempts to get out of debt, have cashed out their retirement plans, thus incurring the need to pay taxes on that amount, as well as penalties for early withdrawal. To them, they’re obeying the commandment to get out of debt; to me, they’re not being wise with their resources. I guess it’s just a personal choice that we need to make, but I like that you pointed out that by being fanatical towards obedience of one commandment, sometimes we’re not paying attention to something that would actually make more sense. In other words, we shouldn’t be fanatical about obedience to commandments; rather, we should be continually wise.

    I have also been asked before about my opinion if one should pay tithing on the amount of scholarships that they receive. Of course, I’m not going to tell someone to pay or not: it’s up to them; however, there are some scholarships to really pricy institutions of higher education that I imagine would require the person to go into debt just to pay their tithing. To me, that just doesn’t sound wise. I hesitate to think that God would want us to go into debt for the payment of tithing for an amount that we never actually saw in our own pocketbook.

    Still, it’s an individual choice like all of this commandment prioritizing. I do what I believe to be right, and others do what they believe to be right. It’s the essence of agency.

  22. To throw in a serious two cents here…

    I’m with ya cjane. Sometimes, I think I choose my commandments and likewise choose the ones I’m going to brush aside temporarily. I think Elder Oaks called them gospel hobbies.

    He talked, at length, about how our strengths can become our weaknesses because we become so prideful of them. When we jump on a bandwagon of trendiness, we, in effect, choose to boast in our strength.

    “Well, everyone seems to be planting a garden. I’d better do it, too! I’d hate for people to think I’m not being righteous!” It’s not that the nature of the commandment has changed, it’s that our motivation has damaged the promised blessings.

    Dang, if we could all just enjoy the blessings of our strengths and pray for power over our weaknesses and not worry about what everyone else is saying…that’d really be something.

    (and I don’t really think the morality of a big house has much to do with the actual big size of the house, rather the motivation driving you to it).

    kiss. kiss.

  23. i totally have this internal convo all the time. we make just enough to live. and we live fine and frugally and happily. but uh-oh, someone is getting married two states away, or it’s christmas, or we really need a good date, or my hair looks sick and i need a really good haircut, or my sister really needs me to come stay for a bit, or my friend is really having a hard day and i want to take her out to lunch. or our car can’t get from here to there and we need one that can. or we can’t get pregnant and would love to find out our options, but insurance doesn’t cover that. i think that you articulated what i have learned about it. it’s revelation that’s the key. sometimes i feel, you know your friend just needs a hug, or just wait a little longer, a baby will come. and sometimes i feel get out the card and fly to your sisters, this is important it’ll be ok.

    in all commandment following we always have to remember nephi slaying laban. just listen. 9 times out of ten the counsel we have been given is what will work for you. and sometimes the lord will do a little personal over riding for you..

  24. Lots of good comments here. I especially enjoyed yours, k.m. Anything I could add would only be redundant, but I will offer a small personal anecdote of the Laban-slaying variety:

    When my husband and I were newly married, we found out his grandmother back east had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and given not a whole lot of time to live. We were in school, barely squeaking by, and had zero disposable income. Our savings at that point were nuller than nil. We were getting intimately acquainted with rice and beans. Our car was busted. We were definitely of the can’t-afforcd-to-travel variety. But we felt the Spirit urge us to go, go, no matter what it takes—THIS IS IMPORTANT. It wasn’t something we could have foreseen and therefore set aside pennies for. Even if we had, Grandma B. would have dead long before we’d have been able to save up enough to go and be with her. We had one credit card, and our limit was low, because, well, at that point, companies were still discerning about who they floated money to. All our credit would buy us were two round-trip Greyhound tickets. Three solid days and nights on a smelly cramped, hot bus? You’re serious? Yep, said the Spirit, And charge it! Those tickets maxed us out, and we had no idea how we were going to pay later, but we threw caution and all future legume purchases to the wind, and we hopped on the bus without so much as the protection of tattooes and we went to New England. Later when we came home from that special trip, we were anxious about our looming credit bill. I arrived in the mail—but no charge appeared for the tickets. That was great for us, but we decided to be pro-actively honest and call the bus company. We explained the situation. They informed us their computers had been down, but the charge would certainly appear on our next bill. Long story short, we were never ever charged for our travel.

    I know this is not the way things usually happen, but I love to remind myself of this when listening to the Spirit leads me to do something that outwardly seems reckless or scary. The bulk of my spiritual urgings come in the shape of conservative, visionary, preparatory thoughts, and when I’m clever enough to obey those whisperings, the eventual contest between needs and needs isn’t so great. But there are those times when you are invited by a higher power to temporarily go off the grid of reason. You learn to know the voice by practice.

  25. Cjane,

    You know I sing praises to your posts almost daily, but I have to tell you that this one nagged at me all day. I disagreed even to the point of finding your post humorous.

    I had to come back this evening, but it seems as though everyone’s comments have already said what I wanted to.

    I’ve heard of so many people burdened and broken by debt–regretting desperately the money they’ve spent, but never once have I heard of anyone troubled by the fact that they did without or saved instead of spent.

    If it’s trendy to be debt-free, all the better. If a family needs a vacation, which we all do–how about a weekend scrubbing the walls of our houses together, or weeding the garden (a couple of Pres. Hinckley’s suggestions)–some of the best conversations come when we’re all sitting around working. I think our generation is the product of almost daily entertainment, outings and “treats”–it’s scarey to think what our children will come to expect.
    I find it so refreshing to see a family going against the grain by not “having” or “doing” at all costs. It’s amazing how their lives go on without an exotic trip, or a newer car. Thanks for the soapbox.

  26. I must repent and tell you that I suddenly thought of an example that fits what you were saying exactly.

    Years ago, when my parents had five young children, living in New York, my mother’s father died. My dad didn’t allow my mom to fly home to Idaho to attend the funeral because of the cost. One of her nagging and painful regrets is not being at her own father’s funeral, because it was “too expensive.” Would it have been worth it to go into debt in this case? Of course, in my opinion, yes! What a sad regret!

    Secondly, in college as newlyweds, my own husband, so serious about providing, didn’t attend one of his best friend’s sealing in the temple, because he was scheduled to work and felt we needed the money. Seems ridiculous to us now and is one of our regrets. So, I’m humbled and your point is well taken.

  27. I wish I had the faith of Geo.

    I cannot speak of commandment-keeping or of trends, as I am underqualified in both. Except to say that sometimes I wonder why the way we choose to live the gospel on a personal level isn’t just between us and God.

    But I will admit that I am still paying off our trip to attend the temple open house in Finland last year on a 0% interest credit card. (I might still be paying on that next summer as we prepare to send our first son out on a mission, too. But I hope not.) We paid for well over half of it before we left, but it still a chunk of change. There are days when I wish that debt was paid and forgotten. But there will never be a day I will regret having gone to Finland.

    Did that tiny little fact make me a hypocrite as I shared the counsel on that topic of avoiding debt in a RS lesson just a few weeks ago? I sure hope not.

  28. My husband was the one with the banana debt when we married – ha! we paid that one off fast and cut that card quick!

    Remember that long quote about debt from the prophet? The one part of that quote that rings in my ears still today is “debt never sleeps”. Powerful.

    I am grateful that you make it so clear that it is a matter of prayer though. Geo and Lani have given us great examples of why it should be.

  29. This may be a trendy commandment to keep, but is important nonetheless. Getting out of debt is a long hard uphill battle, and I speak from experience. I am still not quite there, but it feels wonderful to know that I am trying to follow the prophets advice. There are other things that I need to work on as well, but somehow debt feels more dangerous to me than not having a two year supply. Maybe I am just naive.

    I am grateful that I am learning the importance of saving money rather than spending money. Then when “bald tires”, “family vacations”, or a “decent matress” is needed, there will be no need for credit cards.

    Trendy or not, being debt-free is wise.

  30. I have always regretted not going into debt to attend one of my best friend’s wedding in Scotland. It would have cost me $300 for the trip (because who is buying tickets to Scotland in February.) I missed seeing her married in Roslyn chapel and am sad about it to this day.

    I am NOT sad about going into debt so I could take a longer maternity leave. That was a no brainer.

    (Justine, you and I are of the same mind on houses.)

  31. I can buy into the idea that all commandments should be followed in wisdom and order– including getting out of debt.

    But you have still got me going with this issue of trendiness. Are there really lots of people in your world who are going totally overboard with frugality? Because that is so NOT my perception. It seems like many, many of the LDS people I know are looking for bigger, better, fancier . . . houses, neighborhoods, cars, clothes, whatever. And I hate to say this, but I get sorta sad everytime we go to Utah, because it always feels to me like there is a strong cultural pull towards materialism there. Many big houses, fancy cars, and as perhaps a sad consequence, many signs along the freeway advertising help in stopping foreclosures. I don’t see the same thing here in Idaho, or in Oregon or Washington where we often travel.

    Is there really a cultural revolution starting? Wow. That would be so cool! (Ahem, as long as its done in wisdom and order, of course).

  32. I know these commandments are important and we must try as hard as we can to keep them, especially staying out of debt.

    I also think that there are too many people out there who are so afraid of being in debt that they limit their families and cause more stress for them because of it. Constantly telling your children how poor you are and not allowing a penny spent on anything fun or yummy (in my opinion) can be just as bad as going into debt.

    Thanks CJane for reminding us that it is up to us and our personal revelation. It is so true. We will know if we will be ok for spending an extra dollar or an extra hundred for something we need or even desire. It’s ok to buy something we want sometimes. I think it’s wrong to deny ourselves out of fear.

    Listen to the spirit and you will know. Don’t shun it just because you want or need a new pair of shoes. You will know if you can afford it or not.

    Sometimes people make things much too complicated for themselves. You will know when you get out that credit card if it’s right or not.

  33. The amazing Brother C taught us the secret to getting out of debt and staying out of debt. We’ve tried it and we’re well on our way to paying the sucker down. It’s a great feeling!

    As far as vacations go, well, you know my luck with vacations! But, I totally agree with the tires and the need for a family to have some kind of vacation (a break) together. (We are going on a mini-vacation to Draper next month. Not real exciting, but it’ll get us away to spend time together.) As far as going into debt for education…only do it if you are planning on working after your degree (I speak from experience). And I think when the prophet advises us that it’s okay to go into debt for a “modest home” doesn’t necessarily mean small. I think it means to buy a home that you can pay for comfortably. Think of what would happen if you lost your job. Would you be able to make payments if you had to take another job that paid less? That happened to us. Lee was laid off two weeks after buying our first house and he wasn’t able to find a job that paid as well and we struggled (each working two jobs each. It was HELL!) and finally ended up selling. If we wouldn’t have bought a house at the top of our price range, it could have been managable until a better job came along or had some equity in it. Oh, you live and learn!

    Any way you look at it, trendy or not, keeping on top of money and staying away from debt is a good thing.

  34. I totally get what you’re saying C-jane. My in-laws penny pinched their whole lives and have a lovely big nestegg now but their kids went without a lot of stuff growing up that many would say weren’t neccessities but I think were. My husband wasn’t able to participate in the sports he was interested in because it cost money, when he needed additional help with his education he didn’t get it because it cost money, they didn’t travel together and are now quite disjointed as a family. My parents on the other hand ensured that we had lots of experiences and opportunities, even when there wasn’t a great deal of money to go around. Their nestegg isn’t as big now but the gift they have given us is beyond measure. Yes, live within your means, but don’t fear enjoying the money you’ve got now, you can’t take it with you!

  35. Interesting point, Sarah. I watched my grandparents do the same thing. And now they (well, she actually, my grandfather passed on) have this significant nest egg and essentially all that is going to happen is that their kids will eventually fight over it after they’re both gone. But their kids have hardly any memories of vacations or fun times together (unless you count that time when my grandfather was too tight to buy a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve because company was coming so he waited till the tree guy (who was too tight to just give him one) literally sliced the tree in two and then he leaned it up in the corner of the house sliced side against the wall and hoped no one would notice).

    My goal is to be wise enough to be sufficient that I’m not a burden to my children, but not leave them enough to fight over. (A bit off topic, but just like all gospel principles, it is all about balance and moderation, you know.)

    And Justine and C jane, regarding houses: I agree about the motivation part, but think also part of it is affordability–whether or not whatever it takes to acquire it is reasonable for your circumstances. But again, that’s a very personal thing.

    Although personally I am opposed to a large house (and the word large is so relative–my house would be considered excessive in some parts of the world) for me, because when in heavens name would I find the time to clean it?

  36. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned here is that in the last days there will be disasters, emergencies, and severe, widespread economic want. We don’t know when that will happen, but our prophets probably do.

    When we go into debt, we are relying on our future ability to pay, an ability which may be wiped out by forces beyond our control when the game is changed by disaster, war, famine, depression, or anything of that nature. When consumer prices rise, the burden of previous debt is even heavier.

    That being said, I appreciate the anecdotes about people who regret missing an important family event over a few silly bucks. Certainly these are personal decisions. Maybe the people involved could re-frame the incident in their minds by saying “I followed the prophet even when it was heartwrenching to do so, and I hope I’ll be blessed”.

  37. I like your reminder of the future ability to pay, texasgal. Besides world events, personal emergencies can also surprise us. My debt began with a don’t-count-your-chickens-before-they’re-hatched mishap, buying a new wardrobe on credit, knowing I’d have money in two weeks to cover it. Then my favorite aunt died. The flight home and missing work took care of the money I would’ve used to pay for the clothing. Of course, the way my credit card debt grew after that was much more complicated and related to my own lack of wisdom. Debt can be such a trap: “I can afford a little bigger payment than this, so it won’t hurt to go on this trip” or what have you. THAT is the trap to avoid, more so than worrying about one trip paid for on credit. It’s too easy to get sucked in.

    The remarks Sarah and Dalene made about penny-pinching parents who now have a great nest egg seem different (there was obviously money to spend) . . . and I so agree with how annoying that is! Some people do get too afraid of the future (or whatever it is) and foolishly refuse to spend money they have on some of life’s luxuries and pleasures. Vacations and some splurging are so good for the soul! What a disservice to live in such fear.

  38. After reading all of the comments and especially the ones about “over frugality”, I have to wonder if this type of frugality is based less upon commandment per se and more upon fear. That being said, cjane is so on point that our lives need to be guided by our faith and personal revelation in ALL matters. Brigham Young said he feared the Saints following his council merely because he said it rather than because they received personal revelation on said matters.

    Commenters have also mentioned judging others and what their choices about what is necessity and what is not. Boy aint that the truth. Pull the mote from thy eye. That might be the next trendy commandment.

  39. My parents raised 11 eleven children, and my dad was self-employed. They usually paid cash for cars, and my dad built all the houses we lived in, keeping mortgages small. My mom sewed a lot of our clothes, and we wore plenty of hand-me-downs. They truly avoided debt. BUT we never missed a big summer vacation. We traveled all over the country (and Canada)….in the station-wagon or borrowed RV, camping, eating cold cereal and sandwiches on the side of the road, only staying in a motel (very squished) on Saturday night in order to get ready for church on Sunday. All of my siblings and I have very fond memories of those trips, and agree that it brought us closer together. My parents never incurred debt for our family vacations. It’s just not necessary. My sister just returned from a cross-country trip with her family of 8, spending thousands of dollars. But she didn’t get in debt to do it. She SAVED up for it. Vacations don’t have to be expensive, and they don’t require debt to be memorable and fun!

  40. This conversation has been so inspiring to me. The stories of people who have regretted decisions or families who skipped vacations is teaching me to consider what is really important.

    Thanks C Jane for always writing about interesting topics like this one.

  41. We just stretched our budget to buy tickets for a vacation to Hawaii, and I almost feel embarrassed talking about it with people here in our ward full of poor student families. The thing is, my husband is from there and we don’t get to visit very often. His mother and sisters still haven’t met our son who is 14 months old (it’s been two years since we last visited). We probably won’t have a good break in the school schedule before our baby turns two and then we’ll have to pay for four plane tickets. So we went ahead and bought the tickets when a great sale came up. Sometime it’s worth it to stretch a little with your budget. At the same time, I do think it’s even better to save in order to plan for those “unexpected” things, because the only sure thing in life is that nothing is sure. Over the last few years I’ve also come to realize that this is why having a good supply of food is important as well. When unexpected things come up, I have some leeway to cut back on food money because I’ve got backup.

    A good personal example to me of why staying out of debt is important is what happened to my sister-in-law. She and her husband had been married for four years and had a one-year-old when he was suddenly killed in an accident. They had no debt beyond their mortgage and he had good life insurance. Because of their preparedness she was able to keep their house, go back to school for a master’s, and work part-time until their daughter was in school. It was a tragedy, but it could have been much worse if they had not been financially prepared.

  42. We bought a car way what we could really afford once. Why? Because I wanted it. Simple as that. Oh, I offered all kinds of justifications–it would be a while before it needed any kind of work (true), it would run forever (true), and we need a reliable car with kids (true). All of these things could have been purchased about 3 thousand dollars cheaper. I finally understood what the prophet was talking about, and knew that we were making one of those decisions that is, to put it bluntly, stupid.

    But I wanted it. So we bought it.

    The day we finally paid it off, I felt righteous again.

    I saw bring back the garden commandment, baby. Then I would be righteous all the time, and I could flaunt my righteousness by bringing fresh veggies to RS.

  43. I’m trendy and traditional. I love the gardening, emergency preparedness, and debt-free counsel and have had a blast and learned a lot with all three. We do need to keep these commandments ‘in wisdom and order’, not running faster than we have strength, but in general I think the dangers of trying to resist trendy commandments are probably a little greater than the dangers of overcommitting to them.

  44. I meant to say ‘the dangers of resisting the trendiness of certain commandments’

  45. Full disclosure: my perception is colored by the fact that most of the Mormons I know don’t garden, don’t do emergency preparedness, and spend money on frivolous stuff.

    My perception is also covered by the fact that my parents would probably be judged by some as overly frugal. We were denied lots of things growing up that many would see as necessities but I believe we were the better for it. My wife and I are probably also seen as overly frugal.

  46. And I think when the prophet advises us that it’s okay to go into debt for a “modest home” doesn’t necessarily mean small. I think it means to buy a home that you can pay for comfortably.

    Just because you can comfortably afford a home does not mean that its modest. It all depends on how wealthy you are.

  47. Maybe ‘modesty’ in terms of buying a home is how comfortably you would be able to afford it.
    I would have to believe that when referring to a home, modesty would be subjective. For instance, where do you draw the line of what is modest and what is immodest?
    Maybe purchasing a home that maxes out your disposable income is immodest and flamboyant. On the other hand, perhaps purchasing a home which is well within your means but is considered immodest by some, is actually considered a modest purchase. I don’t know, who do I need to check with when purchasing my next home?

  48. Last night my husband and I watched Standards Night Live with John Bytheway. In referring to modesty in clothing/hair styles, he said if it takes your focus away from the eyes, then it’s likely immodest. Perhaps with homes, besides the budgetary limits, immodesty could be defined as if it makes your eyes bug out when you see it! :)

    I read somewhere that somebody asked Stephen Covey how he justifies his luxurious home. He said something to the effect of, “The Lord knows my heart.” I really like that attitude.

  49. I like that Wendy. Although my eyes are on the large side, I try to refrain from or at least conceal their ‘bugging’.
    I just would rather not be the person who believes in their heart that someone, because of the size or luxuries of their home, is immodest, immoral, not following the prophet, or is not Christ-like. I too believe that judgment is best left to the Lord. I’ll just do my best to live ‘modestly’.

  50. As a bankruptcy attorney, it’s my job to help pick up the pieces with this issue. I’ve found that misperceptions and oversimplifications abound in this area.

    The first misperception is that this is a problem of irresponsible young people maxing out their cards on frivolous purchases.

    The fact is that the real growth demographic for crushing debt and bankruptcy is in the age bracket over 55 years of age. I’m seeing a lot of older folks for whom the traditional safety net, frankly, failed miserably. These are responsible people who saved money conscientiously and invested reasonably. You’d find little in their actions to fault them with morally.

    And yet it wasn’t enough. And now they’re in my office, absolutely mortified at what they are doing.

    The highest degree of “discretionary” (or frivolous if you like) credit card use is actually among the wealthier bracket. Groups of people who are actually financially resilient. If there are financial shocks, they have resources to weather it – whether it be the other spouse taking a job, upgrading to a higher paying job, or financing debt via home equity.

    This doesn’t make them immortal by any stretch. But a lot of people with big credit card debt are never going to see things really go pear-shaped.

    Among the lower-income brackets, debt looks a lot different. Among those making 20,000 to 30,000 per year, credit cards are used to pay for NECESSITIES. Groceries, the dentist, the doctor, keeping the heat on at home, etc. These people simply are not making enough money, and they have no realistic way to make more money. No home equity. A spouse going to work is not a good option because daycare expenses will annihilate any gains. After take home pay, these people look at their expenses and it literally comes down to either paying the rent or paying for groceries. That’s where a credit card comes in to pay the rest.

    I’ve filed some of these bankruptcies. The people are hugely grateful. But it’s rather sad, because you know they simply aren’t making enough money and they’re probably going to be filing again in 8 years.

    Once you have a large amount of credit card debt, you’re really a walking time bomb. I’ve seen major lenders like Citibank and Visa DELIBERATELY try to trick their customers into making a late payment so they can nail them with fees and a nice 33% interest rate. Once that penalty interest rate kicks in for a few thousand dollar debt, you can see things spiral out of control insanely fast. I’ve heard of people paying over $10,000 on an originally $1,000 debt. These major lenders are predatory, and they will take every opportunity to defraud you (legally of course).

    But honestly, the big financial issue for people is not the credit cards. The credit cards are usually a marginal debt issue. They tend to be visible, and can sometimes cause a chain reaction of financial distress. But the real debt out there is for two things:

    Home

    Education

    This is where the real financial overload is occurring. People are under crushing amounts of debt, and most of it isn’t for Playstations and Plasma TVs. It’s for things that General Authorities have pretty-much given us permission to be in debt for.

    It is not uncommon to come out of school with over $100,000 in student loans these days. The general rule of thumb is to borrow TOTAL no more than you expect to make your first year on the job.

    An awful lot of college grads with a Bachelors can expect no more than $30,000 upon graduation.

    Some investment huh?

    American debt is incredibly complex, and the good guys and bad guys are not all that clear. The deadbeats probably aren’t who you think they are. The solutions are not always clear either.

    Either way, I’m pretty sure that simplistic moralizing about maxed-out credit cards isn’t helping matters.

  51. Incidentally, major credit card lenders make most of their profit margins from late fees and penalty interest rates. They also bear absolutely none of the costs if you default.

    If you were to file for bankruptcy today and discharge a $1,000 debt with VISA, it wouldn’t hurt VISA at all.

    Why? Because the entire amount is insured for VISA. Major lenders insure their credit lines against default. These insurance packages are then sold on the stock market and funded by investors. You could some shares in one right now, if you’re looking to diversify your investment portfolio…

    This leaves Citibank, Mastercard, Discover, and others with absolutely ZERO incentive to lend responsibly. They bear none of the costs for an unpaid account. Yet they reap big benefits for the penalty interest rates and fees that accompany someone who is paying late and running up big totals.

    Why do you think every single card distributor is in a massive rush to set up kiosks on campus during freshman orientation? Lots of financially ignorant young people with big dreams means a LOT of late payments and penalties. Which means a lot of profits.

    If you’re someone who’s always carried low balances on your cards and paid them in full each month, try a simple experiment sometime if you’re feeling adventurous.

    Carry a sizeable balance from one month to the next month without paying the whole thing off.

    I guarantee you – the credit card solicitations in your mailbox will double.

    The ugly truth is that major commercial lenders LIKE bad credit risks. They actively seek them out.

    I don’t justify poor borrowing practices. But I also know who to feel sympathy for. And it is NOT the major lenders. They represent a lot of the problem.

  52. Adam (49): I’m trendy and traditional”

    I think you’ve found your new tag line.

    And (52)Just because you can comfortably afford a home does not mean that its modest.

    Indeed. I just visited an old roommate who’s living in a 9-bedroom, 6-bath home. 5 kids. Her husband’s a lawyer (ahem). I don’t know if they’re carrying a lot of debt for the home, but let’s just say they aren’t–it’s certainly not what I would call a modest home.

    But Martha is right: “modest” is relative. My 2700-sq-ft home with 9 people in it is a mansion compared to what most of the world’s population lives in. It doesn’t usually feel extravagant to me–in fact, I’m itching to expand my kitchen space so we can all sit down to dinner without bumping into walls, or each other. But when I returned home after visiting another old friend, who lives in a 1200-sq-foot home (4 kids), it felt palatial.

    I think the biggest danger with these questions is how eager I am to judge others, and how reluctant I am to make tough decisions about my own situation. Thanks for the reminder, Martha.

    Seth (56/57)I am very surprised by the info you shared. Thank you.

  53. I’ve been mulling over this post since it went up. Something about the labeling of a commandment as trendy just never quite sat with me, but I guess I understand the reason why the title was chosen.

    To be honest, I also have never really thought about getting out of debt as a “trendy” commandment, at least not any more so than a boatload of other things that are designed to keep us from getting pulled into the harmful habits of our culture. The whole debt management things just makes sense to me.

    I also think that if you look at gardening, or getting out of debt, or emergency preparedness, they all come back to the same root (even if emphases shifted a bit over time): provident living. And I don’t think there is anything trendy about that counsel. These principles really have been around for most of the life of the Latter-day Church. Industry. Thrift. Wisdom, prudence and responsibility in our temporal affairs. (Can’t you hear Brother Brigham talking about these things?) So I think of it as more a way of thinking and a way of life than just a specific commandment to follow during a specific era.

    And, FWIW, I’m with Adam (#51). My husband and I love the challenge of trying to live according to welfare principles, and find it all to be quite freeing (even fun! Cooking with food storage – now that’s a fun challenge!) Finding inexpensive ways to enjoy family time. Watching our mortgage go down each month, and praying that we will have it paid off faster than the paper says we will.

    That said, I also agree that there could occasionally be instances where the concern about debt is held up to be the be-all, end-all commandment is perhaps justifed, but I tend to agree with what Adam said, that “in general I think the dangers of resisting trendy commandments are probably a little greater than the dangers of overcommitting to them.”

    I also totally agree with the general principle that we ought to seek the Spirit’s guidance in responding to any counsel we receive. It’s one of the cool things about the Church and having prophets: we get general counsel and yet we seek the Lord to help us figure out how to make it happen in our own lives. (And now that I’ve read Seth’s comment, it underscores the problems that could come from taking the counsel like “debt is OK for education and/or a home” and not being wise about that. Wow.)

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