Money, money, money . . .
It’s not at all funny when our spending gets out of control. Lisa Philips hears how easy it is to get caught in the debt trap and seeks out good advice
Tope Teniola knows first hand what it’s like to live in the shadow of debt. It started innocently enough. As a 19-year-old student, she racked up a £250 overdraft, but with only a Saturday job to support her, she was unable to repay it. She began receiving weekly letters from the bank, and was charged £15 per letter. The only way to stop it, her bank manager wrongly advised, was to send the overdraft to the debt collectors. Tope was labelled insolvent, affecting her credit record for the next 12 years.
“Later on, I got into more debt as a result of a ‘keeping up with the Jones’’ mindset, and thinking it was the norm to be in debt or even trendy to aspire to have the top quality credit cards,” says Tope. She kept her rising debt secret from everyone around her, feeling both fantastic and guilty every time she spent. “When I was not in denial, I felt despair, guilt, shame, fear, loneliness and depression. I was trapped.”
In 2004, when her debt stood at around £6,000, God spoke directly to Tope about her finances. “Whilst on a women’s Christian retreat, I heard the Lord’s voice saying twice: ‘Get out of debt and do not look back!’. My initial reaction was one of shock. Then my fear of God increased . . . I asked the Lord, ‘how?’ and he led me to some scriptures on tithing, offering, giving and gratitude. My heart was changed. I repented and desired a new start.”
Over the next year, God provided a way for Tope to get out of debt, and she was able to repay every penny. “To come out of debt took about six months,” she says. “To remain debt free is a life-long process. It takes a lot of discipline and guts to dare to be different in a materialistic society.”
The most challenging part of the process, she says, was dying to self and saying no to things that she would have said yes to in the past. Getting out of debt meant a whole new mindset.
“I wrote to my creditors requesting a statement of what was owing. I ensured that any excess money which came in that had not been allocated to current bills was used to pay off my debts. I cut up my extra credit cards and took out of my purse the one I chose to keep. This was put in a secure place where I could only gain access to it if I needed to make a phone or internet order, knowing that I had ready cash in the bank to write a cheque straight away to the credit card provider.
“Now I regularly manage my finances by drafting up a monthly personal budget statement. This way I know when I need to cut down on certain things and how to plan ahead for future spending.
“I avoid going window-shopping as temptation is no respecter of persons. I write a shopping list and stick to it. I plan a menu for meals each week – low cost for most of the week and the odd treat at weekends. And I try and use cash and not the debit card as much as possible. That way I can physically see when I am going over my budget.”
Tope remains debt-free. “I feel like a clean sheet every day,” she says. “I feel light and unburdened. My attitude to debt is that I can see it for what it really is – someone else’s money and living beyond my means. My faith has allowed me to see debt from God’s perspective. Debt was never God’s original intention or idea. However, if we are to go into debt (as most people are unable to avoid today), it pleases God when we diligently seek to repay it as soon as possible. He has charged us, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the debt of loving one another” Romans 13:8.
Tope’s experiences have given her a burning passion and commitment to help others already mired in debt, and to protect young people from falling into materialistic credit traps in the first place. An accountant by profession, she has since qualified as a Generalist Adviser for the Citizens Advice Bureau, and works as a Financial Capability Trainer, which involves going into sixth form schools, colleges and universities to deliver training that will equip young adults with financial skills for life.
As the nation’s debt statistics spiral ever further out of control, Tope is ready for the fight. “My plan is to continue to help others who have been wounded by the deceitfulness of riches, and to prevent the next generation from getting hurt,” says Tope. “My vision is to see money/debt education in every school in the UK as a compulsory subject, and to see a year of debt cancellation for the poor and vulnerable within my lifetime.”
*To find out more about Tope’s work and experiences, visit her website at www.moneytalks.me.uk. You can also buy a copy of her book Debt revelation – Do Not Look Back from www.amazon.co.uk.
How to avoid the debt trap
Chris Tapp, director of Credit Action, identifies some of the spending pitfalls which so often lure us into unnecessary spending.
We don’t read the small print. Fierce competition amongst credit products has led to widespread offers and deals to win us over. Strict conditions in the small print, however, may lock consumers into financial requirements like tying up their money over a set period of time, or keeping balances above a certain level.
We buy on impulse. Supermarket check-outs are a common place where we are vulnerable. Items placed at the check-out counter are usually non-essential items that are highly profitable for the supermarket.
We buy more than we need. It’s important to research some products carefully before we buy to ensure we get the best deal for our personal circumstances. Many of us overspend because we choose an option that offers extra services and features (a want). Whether it’s a more expensive mobile phone contract, a brand new car, or the fastest broadband available, we rarely get the product or service that just meets our need.
When spending turns to addiction
For some, over-spending goes deeper than a basic materialism and lack of self-control. Some people suffer from a spending addiction because they have tied up their value as an individual with how good they look or how stylish and trendy their possessions are.
There is nothing wrong with having nice things, but when someone starts to be defined by their possessions, they are heading down a slippery slope and may end up suffering from a spending addiction. While this is not a term that is recognised in mainstream medicine, anecdotal evidence suggests that some people use shopping to avoid dealing with deeper, hurtful issues.
Shopping is used as a way of numbing the pain felt by focusing the mind on something else, something that feels good. It becomes a way of escaping from a present predicament for a short period of time. During this time, the worries of life are ignored. Personal financial management gets ignored because it is associated with life and responsibility, where the painful issue, whatever it is, resides.
However, there is never, ‘no way out’. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel - and hope. Those in serious debt need to seek free, independent debt advice from charities (details below). Acknowledging that you have a problem is probably the most difficult step. Talk to someone you trust about your situation and make sure you call a debt advice charity. The sooner you take specific remedial action, the sooner you will be able to have more peaceful nights.
FOR FURTHER HELP AND ADVICE
Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS)
Free helpline: 0800 138 1111
Tel: 0207 436 9937
Tel: 0845 226 2627
Citizens Advice Bureau
Find your local branch at www.nacab.org.uk
Christians Against Poverty (CAP)
Find your local branch at www.capuk.org.uk
What the Bible says about debt
“The borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22: 7b) The Bible makes it clear that lenders have a powerful position compared to the borrower. With this in mind, it is important to make sure we only borrow that which we know we can comfortably pay back.
“Then he (Jesus) said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22: 21) Jesus instructs us that we have responsibility to pay those to whom we owe money.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:18-20). Is it wise to put all your effort and time into building up a mansion of possessions when ultimately those possessions will bring no long-lasting joy? Instead, we must spend and live in a way that recognises that our worldview is built on an eternal perspective. We must spend what we need and at all times recognise that all we have has been given to us as stewards. It’s all God’s, and our spending must reflect that.
Supplied by Chris Tapp, director of Credit Action
* UK debt is growing by a staggering £1 million every five minutes.
* Mortgages aside, the average household debt tops £9,000 and interest payments stand at more than £3,700 per household, per year.
* Every four minutes, someone is declared bankrupt or insolvent.