In the Old Testament we read of an incident where the Pharaoh had a dream that bothered him but no one could interpret it for him. "Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon [and said] I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it" (Genesis 41:14,15). The interpretation of the dream was there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph's advice to the Pharaoh was that during the years of plenty they store up food so they would have enough to eat during the seven years of famine.
Following this example, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been encouraged by their leaders to store up a year's supply of food during times of plenty so they too will have enough to eat during times of personal famine. As a result, many Latter-day Saints have heeded this advice and have made a concerted effort to stock food for long-term storage, in case, at some point in their life, they find themselves out of work or have fallen on hard economic times. While there is some value in doing this, such an approach to coping with life's downturns has some serious deficiencies.
The first is that in the days when Joseph oversaw the storing of food in Egypt, life was simple and the biggest worry was having enough food to keep from literally starving to death. However, in today's economy, food is just one of many things we have to be concerned about and is far from being the most important. Our biggest worry is employment.
Although life was hard five thousand years ago, most people worked for themselves raising their own food. Today the vast majority of people work for someone else and depend on them to earn a living. Five thousand years ago people lived in tents which they owned outright. Today the vast majority of people live in houses owned by mortgage companies and if they fail to make their mortgage payments on time they will soon find themselves without a place to live. Five thousand years ago there was no such thing as in-door running water, electricity, phone service, or garage pick up. Today everyone makes monthly payments to have these necessities of modern life. Five thousand years ago people traveled either on foot or on one of their own animals. Today everyone travels by some sort of motor vehicle, usually by personal car which most people have to make payments on.
To have all of these things requires money and without money we can lose any or all of them. Since our main source of money comes from being employed, it is obvious that being employed becomes our most important concern.
The purpose of having food stored at home is so that when we are unemployed the money we would have spent on food can be used to help pay our bills. But the deficiency in this kind of thinking is that the amount of money saved from not having to buy food is small compared to the amount of money needed to pay the other bills. And if there is no money coming in at all, having plenty of food on hand doesn't provide money to pay for our mortgage, car, utilities, clothes, and other personal needs.
The average food bill is anywhere between $300-$700 per month. The average rent or mortgage payment is somewhere between $500-$2,000 per month and the average car payment is somewhere between $100-$500. A month. If someone saved $700 a month from not spending money on buying food, in most cases that would still not free up enough money for them to make both a house payment and a car payment, let alone paying for any of their other bills. And having enough to eat in a house that has had its electricity cut off in the middle of winter because of non-payment is not much consolation.
The third deficiency to the home food storage program is that it is subject to being destroyed by floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, fire, or other disasters. A person could have a ten year supply of food in their house but if their home is destroyed then so will all of their stored food. In that case, they would not only be just as destitute as everyone else but would have also lost the money they put into buying all that extra food.
But, having said all this, that doesn't mean we shouldn't store food for emergencies. However, when people depend almost exclusively on their food storage to help them get through tough times they are going to face more difficulties and hardship than they need to.
Food storage is only one leg of a three legged stool and latter-day prophets have emphasized all three with equal zeal. The reason why is because they all work together to provide us with financial stability in our life. When even one of these legs is shorted the entire foundation upon which our finances stand becomes unstable.
If employment is the main source of our money, then it becomes the cornerstone of our financial security.
The concept of working is as much a part of the spiritual doctrine of the LDS Church as anything else. This is reflected in the LDS symbol of the beehive which represents being busily engaged in doing work. Every calling in the Church involves working in some capacity and, in the law of Moses, God commanded that man should work six out of seven days which is a principle that the Church strongly endorses. In many of His parables, Jesus taught the idea of work and condemned those who were lazy and slothful. Therefore, the first step in gaining financial security it to learn the value of work.
However, as much as we might want to work, finding employment does take time and effort. Those who don't properly prepare themselves for employment are not much different than those who don't want to work. This is one of the reasons why the Church leaders place a high importance on getting an education and developing work skills. The more education and skills we have, including cultivating the habit of being a dependable and conscientious worker, the more opportunities we have to find work. Those who depend on the government or the Church to provide for their needs in times of economic hardships are never as well off as those who have learned how to be self-sufficient.
But the main reason we work is to make money so we can buy the things we need and want. Since everything costs money, then it is obvious that when we are working, the most important thing we should store is money. And, in fact, the Church has strongly advised us to do just that. Therefore having a savings plan is the first of the three legs necessary to becoming financially stable. The idea behind this is the same as storing food. During times of prosperity we put away money that will be there for us to use during times of financial hardships.
There are those who think that to begin their food storage program they have to get it all at once, so they spend large amounts of money to buy large quantities of food. However, the Church advises against this sort of planning. What they recommend is to gradually build up a supply of food. The same principle applies to storing money. It can be done a little at a time, putting aside only what a person can afford.
Some people say they don't make enough money to put any of it into savings but, in most cases, everyone can afford to put aside something, however modest it might be. Even if a person saves just one dollar a week, at the end of the year they will have $52.00 more than they would have had. But most people spend at least five dollars a week on things they could easily do without. If that money was put into a savings account, they wouldn't notice any difference in their life style yet, at the end of a year, they will have saved $260.00. While that may not seem like much, it's a lot more than they would have had by spending it on things that didn't add to the quality of their life.
Most people can get by on very little when they have to as is evidenced by young couples just starting out in married life. Because they don't have much money they can't spend very much but, even so, they somehow manage to get by on what they do have. However, as their income increases, so does their spending and in a short time they find themselves unable to live on as little as they once were able to. And the more they make the harder it becomes for them to live on less. Yet it is possible to do because they once were able to do it.
Another example of people spending what they make is seen in those who get a tax refund. All year long they were able to get by without having the money that was deducted from their paycheck in the form of taxes but a large percentage of those who get a tax refund spend all of it within a month's time. Another example is those who win large amounts of money from the lottery. Statistics show that many of those people often find themselves broke within a matter of a few short years.
A more sensible course of action to remedy this problem is for people to have part of their increased earnings put it into savings. For example, if a person gets a fifty-cent an hour raise, that amounts to earning an extra twenty dollars a week. Putting half of that into savings will net $520.00 in a year's time. If they also put in the five dollars a week they had already been saving, they will accumulate $780.00 in a year's time.
An easy way to do this is for a person to have their employer take a certain amount of money out each week from their paycheck as a deduction to a savings account. It's a quirk of human nature that we learn to live on what money we bring home. The more take-home pay we have the more we tend to find things to spend it on. Many times, people spend a little money here and a little more money there and before they realize it, over a week's time, they've spent twenty dollars or more on things they can't even remember buying.
And the converse is just as true. If our paycheck is twenty dollars smaller than what it used to be, we usually don't even miss it and almost automatically adjust our spending so it covers exactly how much we've brought home. Therefore, for many people, the trick to saving money is to have it put into savings before they even see it because, once they see it, they find ways to spend it.
That then highlights the second leg of financial stability which is to live within our means and this has been a constantly recurring theme among the teachings of latter-day prophets. Closely associated with this is getting out and staying out of debt. While many LDS members heed the call to store food, not near as many heed the same counsel to live frugally, and yet that message is preached far more often than is food storage.
There are people who can never save more than a thousand dollars because they keep finding excuses to spend it rather than save it. Even among Latter-day Saints, there are more of them who have stored up debt than have stored up food. But debt is like a ball and chain that always drags us down and never lifts us up. During times of plenty most people either don't notice the weight of debt or ignore it, but during times of financial famine the weight of debt hanging over us can feel like a death sentence.
Debt comes from living beyond our means. It's borrowing money we don't have to pay for things we want now. For too many people in our country, going into debt is a normal way of living and there's very little education to teach people how to live otherwise. In fact, everything in our society encourages us to live in such a way that leads us to go more and more into debt. However, latter-day prophets have continually emphasized the need for us to live frugally. That doesn't mean living a bare-bones kind of existence. Instead, it means using discipline in our buying habits. Rather than buying things that we want just because we want it now, the Church teaches us to wait until we can comfortably afford what we want. And if we are already in debt, the Church strongly recommends paying those debts off as quickly as possible.
To illustrate the value of this advice, most people make monthly payments on their automobiles. During the time when people are employed they may easily be able to make those payments but when they lose their job, each month that goes by, it becomes more difficult for them to meet that financial obligation. Furthermore, the stress and worry about losing a car if the payments aren't made only add to an already difficult situation because without a car it's hard for people to go out on interviews and to convince a prospective employer that they can be at work on time if hired. But if the car was fully paid for, that then becomes one less bill to be concerned about and one less worry to be stressed out over. And the same principle applies to other debts.
One easy way to ease the burden of monthly debt is to pay a little bit extra than what is due. For example, if a person's normal electric bill is $212.76 and they pay $220 or $225 every month, then each succeeding month the amount due becomes smaller and small until at some point the amount due will be less than zero. In other words, they will have a credit on their account rather than a debit. This accomplishes several things. The first is that when their balance is a credit it will allow them to skip making a payment that particular month, thereby freeing up $220 worth of money that can then be used toward paying off other debt. The second thing it does is allows for emergency situations where an unexpected expense comes due.
For example, if the amount due on the electric bill is $97.76 because of overpayments each month, rather than paying $220 as they normally would, a person could pay $100 on their electric bill and use the $120 difference to put towards the unexpected bill. In other words, they were planning on paying $220 on their electric bill anyhow, but now they are in a position where they can divert some of that money toward other expenses and still remain current on their electric bill.
The third thing it does is establishes a good credit rating with the electric company. Because they have a long history of paying their bill in a timely manner, should the time come when they have difficulty making their bill, the company is likely to be more lenient towards them than they would with someone who had a history of making late payments.
Besides paying for utility bills, there are also monthly payments on purchase debt. A purchase debt is one where someone has purchased something on credit and then makes monthly payments until the loan is paid off. Since most people have several such debts, the easiest way to start becoming debt free is by paying off the smallest one first. For example, if the smallest debt a person had was $350, where the monthly payments are $25, then they might send in a monthly payment of $50. That way the bill will be paid off twice as soon. As for the other purchase debts, the person would continue making the same agreed upon price each month. Under this example, the family's budget is only increased by $25.
But, when that bill is paid off then the person would still keep spending the same $50 as before but apply it to the next lowest purchase. For example, if the next lowest bill was for $700 and the monthly payments are $40 then they would start making payments of $90 a month on that bill ($40 plus an additional $50). In that way the family would still be making the same monthly payments as before but would be helping to pay off another debt quicker. Then when that bill is completely paid off, the person would then begin adding $90 to the next lowest bill and keep repeating this process until all their bills are gone. Then when they are no longer in debt, they can take the money they were spending on all their purchase debt and put it into savings.
However, since the objective of this system is to get out of debt, it would be counter-productive for someone to keep buying things on credit. There's no sense of getting rid of one debt only to replace it with another. This is why the principle of living frugally needs to be followed. Without living within our means there is no hope of ever getting out of debt. And, in fact, living beyond our means is the surest way to remain continually in debt.
The third leg of having financial stability is storing food, but the value of doing this comes when it is used in conjunction with the other two legs. When our source of income is greatly reduced or disappears, it is our savings that then becomes our supply of money from which we can pay our bills. By learning how to live frugally our expenses are low and therefore we don't need as much money to maintain our lifestyle. By having our own storehouse of food, we have one less bill to pay, thereby helping make our savings last longer.
More than that, when we store our food a little at a time, we can take advantage of buying things when they are on sale. In that way, it adds only a few extra dollars to our budget during times of plenty but during times of financial scarcity we actually eat food that is less expensive than what it would cost for us to go out and buy it at the current price.
But without any money in reserve and with an abundance of debt, a food storage program by itself has little value to us. In times of natural disaster our entire food supply can be gone in an instant but if we have money stored in a bank's savings account, it will still be there for us after the disaster is over. That is why, if we've stored money and learned how to live frugally, we have a much better chance of surviving any kind of adversity.
It is only when we combine these three programs - save money, live frugally, and store food - that we then have an effective family preparedness program.
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