Saturday, 14 November 2009

Personal Debt Cancellation

I am being constantly getting phone calls telling me how to cancel my debt. I'm afraid i get annoyed and immediately hang up, so that the last call said, "This is a public announcement, so please don't hang up. From April 6th the Government plans to relieve you of your debts..." As soon as the word 'debts' occurred, I hung up once more.

For someone of my generation these calls are an insult, because we were brought up never to be in debt no matter how hard times were for us - and somehow we managed to keep free of debt. One of the most vivid memories I have of growing up in a large family in the North-East of England in a recession is of my mother often having to say "We can always do without what we can't get!" This was always greeted by a loud, disgusted chorus of "Mum!" from her seven children - but it was very good training for us and she was a wizard at coming up with alternatives that were nowhere near as good but clamed us all down. My mother also managed to be a keen supporter of Methodist overseas Women's Work no matter how tough it was for her to make ends meet, because "their situation is much worse than ours".

The result is that throughout my long life I have followed this principle and never been in debt, though sometimes life has been hard and it meant that because I was the fifth child I was the first to, of necessity, be denied College education. (I have never ceased to take every opportunity to keep on learning.)

There is no doubt that this generation has unprecedented debt problems for various reasons and has great distress because of this. My grandchildren incurred huge debts in order to pursue their chosen University courses. While I applaud their academic success, I can't come to terms with the fact that this is a heavy burden to bear at the start of their careers. I can just about accept this kind of debt for the huge benefit that a university degree can bring (and because I had so wanted to take up the place I'd been offered in my youth).

However, it continually distresses me to see the TV adverts which advise viewers to "buy now, pay later. Nothing to pay for the first year." I have great sympathy for young people setting up home for the first time (and I help them when I can) but is there no other way in these days? Is life really harder now than it was for us in the recession of the 1930s? I know that there are some - homeless and immigrants, for example - who are in dire straits through no fault of their own, but, those apart, are families being encouraged to spend above their means? Would they be happier managing 'to do without what they can't get' until they could really afford it. You may say that it's easy enough for me to write like this because my hard times are over. In a sense that is true, because I have a nice house and garden (where I can grow my vegetables) but on a widow's pension I am still having to watch what I spend and leave enough to support tsunami appeals, etc.

Here in Reading, Christian Community Action is doing a wonderful job to give practical help and advice for those in desperate need and I am glad to support them. But I still ask whether so many people ought to be in debt, just by buying what they fancy instead of waiting until they can afford it.

With Christmas approaching some families run themselves into debt because they want to 'put on a good show' of food and presents. Other families stop giving presents to the adults in the family to save money. So I'm repeating what I wrote in an ealier post, in case it helps one or two families to enjoy a happy debt-free Christmas -

My daughter-in-law came up with a suggestion that I think is worth sharing in case it will help your family too. The idea is that all the adult names are put into a hat and each member of the family draws one out and buys a present for the person whose name (s)he has drawn, thus buying only one present - but the children are excepted. Before making the draw, a reasonable price is agreed that each present should cost. This way, every adult receives a good present and no-one knows who has bought which present for whom - and, best of all, no-one has run themselves into debt by trying to buy more presents than they can afford!


Amy said...

You are quite right, Olive. There is so much access and temptation at almost ever turn, and the consequences are not a reflection of the Kingdom. Your wise words are a faithful reminder. Thanks!

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Olive Morgan said...

Amy - I am not usually one who looks back to the past - I am much more likely to be planning for the future, as I am in this case really - but I am so glad that I grew up in the days before TV advertisements.

Jennifer - Thank you for sharing your solution, for anyoner reading this post who is already heavily in debt. Why I wrote this post was to prevent so many people getting into debt in the first place and to ask if it's not too late to change our culture, especially in the context of global poverty.

Sally said...

Thanks for the Christmas tip. We do exactly that with our adult children Olive, we celebrate Christmas and not consumerism, there is a big difference.

I think that what saddens me more than anything else is the guilt that folk feel when they cannot supply the percieved obligatroy gifts etc. I often speak to folk who incurr huge debts every year and spend months getting out of debt only to plunge themselves right back into the same situation or an even worse one.

The buy now pay later deals are fraught with danger, folk incurr huge penalties making their so called bargins anything but.

1-4 Grace said...

A wonderful idea for sure. We did this when I served as a missionary overseas some years ago.
It was great to try and surprise your one person and be surprised by what you got as well.
I have found myself in debt after the holidays before.
We have family who insist upon ouspending one another, but I finally had to stop(going to seminary does impact one's spending).

Anyhow, agreat post and a gret idead

Olive Morgan said...

Good, Sally. My son and his wife have several adult children, like you, and it seems that they used this system last year within their family to help those still paying back University loans. My inclusion this year gives me a wonderful feeling of inclusion in the family! Without it, this year I would have had to buy very cheap presents or go into debt (which I have never done and don't intend to do). Another tip - I have found these last few years that I could buy decent small presents for friends who have given me lifts over the year buy buying them from the Pound Shop!

1-4 Grace - As I travel on the buses to my various medical appointments, I encounter families desperately shopping to outdo the other members of their family and worried sick about the resulting debt. On the other hand there are people at church saying to me 'Oh, we don't give presents to the adults in our family!' This seems a great pity to me, for there might be someone who doesn't ever get many presents.

Not all churches can do this, but my church has a lovely Christmas custom of giving a present from the church to everyone over 80. The house plant I was given last Christmas went on flowering right through the year until a few weeks ago! Wonderful!

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