Recovering from the pitfalls of debt
Ellie Kay has been dubbed ÒAmericaÕs Family Financial Expert,Ó based in part on her books including
A WomanÕs Guide to Family Finances, Save Money Every Day and her newest entry, The Debt Diet. Kay, 42, of Palmdale, Calif., also is the founder of Shop, Save and Share Seminars and the mother of five school-age children with her husband of 18 years, Bob. She recently spoke with Evangel news editor John W. Kennedy.
PE: How did you get rid of $40,000 in consumer debt in 2½ years?
KAY: I am a born saver and I married a born spender. When we consolidated all our debt we found out we owed all that money and had nothing to show for it. We realized we werenÕt the best stewards of GodÕs resources. We made a covenant before Him that we would get out of debt, and that commitment involved tithing. When we got any checks we put them toward the debt, despite the temptations to spend them elsewhere. God started providing checks — an insurance premium dividend, a partial reimbursement from a masterÕs program, a birthday check from my great-grandmother.
PE: What is the biggest debt trap?
KAY: In the past year and a half a lot of families have refinanced their houses to pay off consumer debt. A one-time deal to refinance can be a good financial move. ItÕs far better to pay 4 or 5 percent interest than 21 percent interest. However, some families have been leveraging the equity of their home in order to pay off consumer debt and they donÕt take steps to prevent getting back into debt. The average family is back into as much debt as before — or more — within 18 months if they havenÕt made the necessary lifestyle changes. Some people even pull out the equity in a refinancing then go on a dream vacation with the money.
PE: How does debt rob Christians of spiritual blessings?
KAY: Debt prevents us from having the freedom to give as the Holy Spirit moves on our heart to give to missionaries or to victims of a tsunami. When we can buy things ourselves through credit we rob ourselves of the opportunity of seeing GodÕs miraculous and complete provision in our lives. If you need a car, you can go out and get a seven-year loan or you can pray about it. You might have to wait a year or two, but God will provide.
PE: What is the most important lesson a mother can pass on to her children?
KAY: Evangelical parents make a point of teaching their kids to say no to alcohol, to turn down drugs, to abstain from premarital sex, to spend time in the Word, to attend church. But the one area where we could train them that would help the most in their marriages is money. The number one reason cited in divorce is argument over finances. It can put a tremendous strain on the marital relationship, which in turn has an emotionally carcinogenic effect on the children.
Moms can teach their kids about spending money by using fun budgets. For example, when the family goes out to eat, each child could have an $8 limit. Each child can order off the menu from that $8 budget — and within nutritional guidelines — and they can keep what isnÕt spent. So the child orders water instead of soda. The child waits to eat dessert at home instead of in the restaurant. By pocketing $2 to $3, children learn the value of spending less than they make.
PE: What is a practical way a financially strapped family can cut costs?
KAY: One area is to try to turn the downward debt spiral into upward financial freedom. A family can turn around its Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) credit score in as little as six weeks. First, paying only $5 over the minimum due on credit card bills is seen as a way to pay down debt. Second, people need to pay a day early rather than a day late. And I recommend that families have an automatic deduction taken from their checking account by the credit card company that is $5 over the minimum due, drawn the day before itÕs due. Even one day late can make you take a hit on your FICO scores, not to mention being socked with a $35 to $50 late fee. Number three is to redistribute debt on your credit cards to make sure they are all 50 percent or below on the credit ratio. If a card has a limit of $5,000, you want to make sure the debt on the card is less than $2,500 because when credit card ratios improve, FICO scores improve. Once your FICO score improves, call your creditors and ask if they will reduce your annual percentage rate so that you are paying 12 percent instead of 21 percent. That will save a lot of debt in the long haul.
PE: Why isnÕt it wise to reduce church giving when in a bind?
KAY: It can be really hard and a step of faith to continue giving. There were times when we were in debt that we didnÕt have any money to buy groceries for the week — but we paid our tithe. And God provided in the most incredible ways. We had people show up and give us groceries. Malachi 3:10 tells us, ÒBring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my houseÓ (NIV). The storehouse today is the local church that you attend. The Scripture goes on to say you can test God in this.
PE: Getting out of debt can be painful.
KAY: You didnÕt get into debt overnight and youÕre not going to get out overnight. It takes discipline and courage. For some, the only way to get out is to get help from Consumer Credit Counseling Service. IÕm not talking about a for-profit company that charges fees that wind up costing you more. This is a nonprofit that you have to turn over your paycheck and your bills to and they make a payment. But itÕs worth it.
PE: Having a large family doesnÕt necessarily mean we have to live in poverty.
KAY: Larger families actually have a greater opportunity to save more because the children can look for bargains that the parents are too busy to track down. Kids can help search the Internet for the cheapest prices on items. They can cut and organize coupons. They can go to garage sales.
PE: Why do women have to be especially fiscally savvy?
KAY: Women are the emotional hub of the family. They can keep the family emotionally healthy. Moms have an incredible opportunity to teach and to train.
The Debt Diet is available at www.gospelpublishing.com. Order item #381712