Some years ago a lady by the name of Viv Nicholson hit the
headlines when she scooped the football pool winning thousands of pounds. When
the interviewer asked what she would be doing with the windfall, she
enthusiastically replied, "I'm going to spend,spend, spend", and she did!
It would be a great temptation for all of us, if we were in
the same situation. At that point people need serious advice on how to handle
It is surprising to learn however, even in the routine
handling of domestic income how many young married couples have little idea how
to manage it. It is noted that the media has picked up on this and TV
programmes are giving practical advice. This could be extended to include
something on the schools' curricular, so that the youngsters get at least an
elementary grasp of finance, relative not only to their own future domestic
circumstances, but also for their immediate help. In these affluent times
parents are very liberal with spending money, and together with some casual
employment the children are not exactly poor. They should early learn
responsibility in this area.
I have actually conducted seminars on Finance with a Church
congregation as it is important enough to be a matter of pastoral concern.
In Charles Dicken's novel David Copperfield, Mr. Micawber
makes a very simple yet profound economic statement. He propounded as follows:
Annual Income £20. Annual expenditure £19.19.6d (pre-decimal
currency) Result: Happiness. Annual Income £20, Annual expenditure
£20 and 6d. Result: Misery!
One way to avoid Mr. Micawber's 'misery' is to work out a
budget which will anticipate roughly what one's expenses are likely to be in
relation to what the income will be for a given period. This can be done by
checking the expenditure of the previous year, or arriving at an estimate if
all the receipts and bank statements are not available. This will include such
regular payments as mortgage or rent, food, transport, insurances, heat and
lighting etc. not forgetting clothes and holidays and other regular
incidentals. If that total figure is divided by twelve, the monthly commitment
will emerge. That figure is the minimum to be reserved for necessities. The
balance (if any!) will be available surplus for optional use.
What about our 'Flexible friend'?
This refers to the ubiquitous credit card. It is now mega
business. Profitable for the operators, convenient for the customers and
readily acceptable by the retailers, so who's complaining?
In the last fifty years there has been a change of attitude
to the subject of credit. It used to be called debt, and hire-purchase was
derisively dubbed the never-never. Most people paid cash for their purchases
and were proud to do so. There was something not quite nice about owing money,
and buying before paying was regarded as a wrong priority. But now that's all
changed, American Express? That'll do nicely sir!
Of course the commercial world has always extended credit to
customers if only on a short-term 28 day period to settle accounts, and most of
us enjoy an even longer time to settle gas, electricity and telephone bills as
they are for services already provided
When is a debt not a debt?
The Bible does say Owe no man anything(15), but it could
be argued that if a loan is agreed on the conditions of re-payment at certain
periods and the contract is honoured then debt as such is not incurred. The
Bible also recognises that there will always be poor people who will need to
borrow, and in Israel's legislation it was forbidden to charge interest when
loaning to a fellow Israelite. In such cases of poverty the caution was not so
much on the side of the borrower but on the lender to not exploit the
situation. The general method of charging interest in the commercial world does
not appear to have been condemned by Jesus according to the parable of the
talents where the lazy servant was berated for not at least putting his money
to the Exchangers to gain usury(16).
It would appear that Christmas-time there is a lot of
irresponsibility with spending on the credit cards. Folk go on a spending spree
literally involving billions of pounds. The crunch comes about a month or so
later when payment becomes due. The plastic has to be laid aside and real money
found. In some places Advice centres have been opened to help people cope with
the crisis, and even suicides have been known. One man was cited as obtaining
eight credit cards, borrowing off each card to pay the others; he ended up
The card can give an illusion of grandeur. You can pretend
to be affluent, because it is painless to just sign on the dotted line, but it
is not so painless when you must shell out real banknotes from your wallet! And
if you miss the deadline for re-payment then the interest kicks in, and
sometimes at an exorbitant rate.
Temperance or self-control is a Christian virtue and here
lies the key to the problem - care and responsibility. Thousands of folk have
wandered irresponsibly or perhaps even innocently into the credit minefield and
have become casualties. There's little doubt of course that the credit card
will become more and more the general method of purchase, eliminating the need
to carry large sums of money on the person, and thereby also reduce the
possibility of theft. We might even be encouraged to have our own personal
identity tatooed on the forehead or wrist, and if grandma thought that the old
Co-op check number savoured of the mark of the beast, what would she have been