We opened a bank account in Salt Lake City when we got married. It was a local credit union with no locations outside of Utah, but plenty of branches scattered throughout the valley.
Over the years we used and abused our account. As newlyweds who’d never had a joint account or any real monetary responsibilities (and who had--to our surprise and dismay--exhausted all the incoming supplies of wedding checks), we bounced several checks, received many overage fees, and eventually had a sit-down with one of the bank’s associates. As tears of embarrassment and frustration watered my cheeks, he explained to us how to balance our checkbook and to “reconcile” the balance.
After that, we were more careful and diligent in keeping track of everything, but with both of us going to school full time and working full time... well, sometimes we just lost track again. So our accounts at this bank have always been up and down, back and forth between positive and negative. And one thing that this bank did automatically, was issue an overdraft account of $500. Needless to say, we used it. Over and over again, we used it, repaid it, used it, and on and on.
We were grateful to have that safety net, especially when we started our family. But it wasn’t enough. Since we’d decided, after having Olivia, that I was going to stay home with her, we lost a chunk of our already-low income. We were paying a tiny amount each month for our little apartment in the Avenues, but we still frequently had to ask each set of our parents for monthly help. This really began to wear on us, so we decided to start taking out as much in government student loans as we possibly could. This helped, but we soon exhausted that resource, too.
Magically one day, we got a piece of mail from a private student loan company, letting us know that we could borrow thousands of dollars super easily. Was one of us enrolled in school at least half time? Yes. Did we have a pulse? Yes! POOF! A check was in our hands within a week. Every year we’d apply for more aid and every year, they’d happily give it to us.
However, after Isaac was born, that wasn’t enough either. We received Medicaid and WIC, and, not knowing what else to do, took out loans at every single title loan place we could find in our city. And, since it was a college town, there was a disturbing number of them. Driving down the main street, there was one on every corner (I’m not exaggerating) and we owed money to each one. There were frequent pay days when we’d spend hours driving from place to place, robbing Peter to pay Paul. Each charged up to 400% interest. Yep. 400% interest.
This was our lowest point. A point of no hope whatsoever. We were embarrassed and depressed and desperate. But this was also our turning point. It was the beginning of our long road to financial freedom and self-sufficiency. It’s a road we are still on--but now with great hope instead of the former despair.
After a few years, we were finally able to get out from under the heavy thumb of the title loans, but we have continued to drag the enormous chain, each weighty link forged by desperation, of the student loans. The tiny print at the bottom of the contracts that we waved away in our anxiety to feed our babies and have a warm home told us that the interest would increase and by the time we paid off our loans, we will have paid more than double what we borrowed. The reason this print is so miniscule is because they know you’re so blind with worry and distraction that you won’t see it, and if you do, it will look like all it says is, “Man, you’re lucky we’re here for you! Good luck!” I guess we were lucky, because we did survive those tough years. Yes, we had to get reeeeeeeeally creative sometimes, but we survived.
Elder Wirthlin shared five things we can do to help us gain financial freedom:
First, pay your tithing. Do you want the windows of heaven opened to you? Do you wish to receive blessings so great there is not room enough to receive them? Always pay your tithing and leave the outcome in the hands of the Lord.
Second, spend less than you earn. All too often a family’s spending is governed more by their yearning than by their earning...Those who live safely within their means know how much money comes in each month, and even though it is difficult, they discipline themselves to spend less than that amount.
Third, learn to save. Remember the lesson of Joseph of Egypt. During times of prosperity, save up for a day of want... the preparations you make today may one day be to you as the stored food was to the Egyptians and to Joseph’s father’s family.
Fourth, honor your financial obligations. From time to time, we hear stories of greed and selfishness that strike us with great sorrow. We hear of fraud, defaulting on loan commitments, financial deceptions, and bankruptcies. We hear of fathers who financially neglect their own families. We say to men and women everywhere, if you bring children into the world, it is your solemn obligation to do all within your power to provide for them. No man is fit to be called a man who gathers around himself cars, boats, and other possessions while neglecting the sacred financial obligations he has to his own wife and children.
We are a people of integrity. We believe in honoring our debts and being honest in our dealings with our fellow men.
Fifth, teach your children to follow your example. Too many of our youth get into financial difficulty because they never learned proper principles of financial common sense at home. Teach your children while they are young. Teach them that they cannot have something merely because they want it. Teach them the principles of hard work, frugality, and saving.
We have frequent family councils and discuss what we’re doing to reach our goal of being debt-free. We keep a running balance on the fridge of the current pay-off amount of whichever debt we’re focusing on. This helps us stay motivated, as we see the numbers get lower and lower, and we are all doing everything we can to get those numbers down to zero. Rick’s doing extra stuff at work and I’m substitute teaching, making jewelry, refurbing furniture, taking photographs, and selling bags. Even the kids are pitching in. Ike recently got a tip from his yard work gig and he came right home and gave it to me to put toward our current payoff.
Prophets and other church leaders have been counseling us for years to be debt-free. President Hinckley reminded us that way back in 1941, President Heber J. Grant said:
If there is any one thing that will bring peace and contentment into the human heart, and into the family, it is to live within our means. And if there is any one thing that is grinding and discouraging and disheartening, it is to have debts and obligations that one cannot meet.
I can testify that this is true! As we have made this a priority in our personal lives AND in our family life, we’ve seen a change in our home. One of the side effects of wanting to pay things off as quickly as we can, is that we end up spending less money doing stuff outside the home, and more time playing games around the table, watching a movie together in the basement, or sitting around singing along to Ike’s guitar and Liv’s ukulele. We’ve become closer and more patient with each other.
So, back to the bank account we opened as newlyweds. Because it’s a Utah bank, they haven’t branched out much, and there are only a couple locations here in Boise. Consequently, when we moved here, we opened an account at a different bank that would be more convenient for us. But we still used the account occasionally and still used the overdraft when we needed it. It was the most recent object of our becoming debt free.
Whenever we had a couple extra bucks, we’d drive to the bank’s affiliate branch and make a deposit. Last week, we made the ten-minute drive, filled out the special “This-isn’t-actually-our-bank-but-we-bank-at-your-affiliate” paperwork and deposited 45 cents, the amount needed to pay the overdraft off completely. The little plastic container swooshed through the magic pipes and into the teller’s hands. She looked at the slip of paper and the 45 cents and asked us, “Okay, so what are we doing here today?” We proudly told her we’d like to deposit that into our checking account. I can only imagine what she must have been thinking. And I’m sure that when her mic was off, she was urging the other tellers to “LOOK! But don’t seem like you’re looking!” at the people who made the special trip and filled out the paperwork for 45 WHOLE cents!
But she can snicker all she wants. Because that 45 cents just clipped off one of our heavy links and made us a world lighter.