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June 22, 2004

While not new, this article about Utah's bankruptcy status really bugs me. Once again, Utah leads the nation in household bankruptcies. I'm pretty tight with my money, and I consider personal responsibility an extremely important personal trait that few seem to have anymore. How can people not understand that credit is not free money? I'd expect some folks to have problems, but not 1 in 36 households. And why Utah? Shoot, those Mormons are supposed to be fiscally conservative and reponsible. I know that Utahns get paid less than in most other states, and they do have bigger families, but yet you still see plenty of big Expeditions and Suburbans, as well as full parking lots at the high schools. I grew up in a household where bankruptcy could easily have solved a lot of problems. We had a big litter of children, and very little money. Throw some hefty medical bills in there and you've got yourself a prime case. But I'm proud of my father, for his integrity in working through debts; for not giving up and letting the taxpayers and financial institutions take the burden through welfare or bankruptcy. But we often did without. We didn't have a lot of what others take for granted. I remember being excited when mom would buy "store-bought" milk (the normal white liquid stuff in a jug), instead of the usual powdered milk she'd buy, or when we had the luxury of cold cereal. I don't mean to revel in self-pity, just show that there are ways to be very frugal when it's necessary. Because of my experience, this subject is close to home and I have little sympathy for people with no self-control and who look for the easiest way out.I'll now jump off my soapbox.

Posted by charr at 9:43 AM
Reader Comments

But you're so fun when you're on your soapbox. Don't jump off it now. Seriously, I think that the main problem overall is responsibility. Our society (US society in general, not Mormon culture specifically) emphasizes irresponsible behavior and demonizes responsible. You mentioned the reason why I think Utah has more bankruptcies than most other states. (Fair warning: Gross generalizations ahead.) In Mormon culture, emphasis is placed on young marrieds having many children. I'm not getting into whether this is right or wrong; but I think that the effects in Utah are magnified compared to the overall irresponsibility problem that's prevalent throughout the US, specifically as it relates to bankruptcy, because of this emphasis. Anyway, I think the problem in Utah is a combination of two things: 1) couples aren’t financially able to have all those babies and 2) they're not willing to scrimp and save to support their lifestyle. These two things cause them to get in over their heads financially. And they're not responsible enough to work through their debt; instead, they fall back on government assistance like bankruptcy and welfare. I wonder if other LDS heavy states, like Idaho and Nevada, have similar high bankruptcy rates. I will duck for cover now. :D

Posted by Jan at June 22, 2004 10:43 AM

Jan: I respectfully disagree. People can afford to have several children (after looking at the tax breaks parents of children get, it could be argued that you can't afford not to have children), if they're willing to budget their money and work at it. It's the lifestyle that people try to maintain with many children that they can't afford.I see entire familes going to see a newly released movie after having eaten at Outback Steakhouse and driving away in their brand new 2004 SUV the size of a house to a huge house.If they can afford all that, more power to them, but if they're already in debt, that's not what I would call Provident Living.

Posted by dan at June 22, 2004 3:12 PM

It's the lifestyle. Some people have it in their head that affluence is due to being favored by God. They do whatever they can to show off their affluence as a token of their "righteousness". If you want to know what's driving Utah culture, open up a magazine called "LDS Living" where you will find page after page of ads for LDS cruises, "exclusive" communities for your new retirement home "or second home" (????) in the foothills. Wedding receptions are very telling. There are nice ones in back yards or cultural halls and then there are ones that rival "gentile" counterparts.One of my best friends who got his undergrad and masters at BYU said Provo was a haven for people wanting to "keep up with the Joneses". This is the culture that fostered Mark Hoffmann, master forger and bomber of the 80s in SLC. Pure greed.It happens out here in the proverbial mission field, too. The most refreshing thing, though, is to know people who live modestly and then find out they make a ridiculously large amount of money. They just don't flaunt it.From the current Heber J. Grant manual, lesson 13:"I believe that nearly all of the hardships of a majority of the people would disappear if they were willing to forego the habit of wearing silk stockings, so to speak, and get back to the ordinary manner of dressing in a rather quiet, unassuming way; stay away from about nine-tenths of the picture shows that they attend; return to the ways of thrift and economy.""Another thing that we want to learn as Latter-day Saints—and I have gone to work to learn it—is to … confine ourselves to the necessities of life, and not to indulge in extravagant habits. If we have a surplus, use it as God desires that we should use it—for the onward advancement of His Kingdom and the spread of the Gospel. …So far as our property is concerned it is of no actual value to us, only as we are ready and willing to use it for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. It is our duty to provide for our families; but it is not our duty to live in extravagance. It is not our duty to labor to gain wealth for the adornment of our persons."These lessons from Grant are not heeded my most of us, honestly. We could all do better. :^/

Posted by Renee at June 22, 2004 3:47 PM

But Renee, everybody that's somebody has that new A&F T-shirt. And since it's on sale for only $34.99, it's a steal. ;)

Posted by Cameron at June 22, 2004 3:56 PM

Dan, it's not /just/ the children, it's the combination of many children with the extravagant lifestyle. Two people can eat at Outback and see a movie far less expensively than five. But you're right, the core problem is the lifestyle. It's just that the phenomenon of having a bunch of children right away that is common in Utah exacerbates it.(I think this is what Jan was saying in the first place, but Dan didn't seem to understand given the wording of his alleged disagreement, which didn't really disagree at all.)

Posted by Levi at June 22, 2004 4:35 PM

You didn't mention tithing. 10 per cent every month adds up to a big pile of $$. Maybe these Utahns are deducting it from their checkbook but not from their planned budget (if they have one!). I think it is quite easy to get saddled with huge credit card bills. I personally managed to create a little problem for myself by shopping at Target every weekend, always charging it, and then getting laid off from my graphic design job. I thought the point of having credit cards was to be able to take a break from paying for things when you were short on $$ so I only paid the minimums for maybe a year. Well, my "finincial charges" went through the roof! I ended up paying tons of extra $$ for this stuff that I really didn't need in the 1st place. Also, my missionaries told me that their family, if given the choice of paying off either the electric bill or the tithing, would pay the tithing! This was so they didn't miss out on the blessings of tithing. I was really amazed at this. I told them this was basically screwing over the electric company, who had already provided all the juice for their lights and appliances for a month and they just said the electric company is a big company and didn't really need the money! And, yes, he was from Utah, and quite a smart guy but just had been told this was the right way to do things.

Posted by Miss Ellen at June 23, 2004 5:33 AM

Dan, you said that you disagreed with me, but then you agreed with what I said, which is what Levi said. Oy. Maybe I made my original comment too verbose. I'll try to make it clearer. I think Utah's high bankruptcy rate is a combination of two things:
1) lots of children
2) "lavish" lifestyles for which parents refuse to change or budgetWhich is pretty much what you said. I don't think that there's a disagreement here, just miscommunication/misunderstanding. Levi, yes; that was what I was trying to say. I just went around the block to get next door. :D

Posted by Jan at June 23, 2004 6:15 AM

The Utah bankruptcy stat is troubling. I too think that a major reason for this problem is lack of responsibility. In addition to lack of responsibility, I believe that people often are not taught how to manage their money. For example, I know several people who do not know how to balance a checkbook. I also think there are those who do not understand the concept of interest. Another factor may be that young people, at times, expect to have all that their parents have accrued over years of working and living. Overall, an increase in the level of responsibility and education combined with a change in expectations may help the problem of bankruptcy to decrease.

Posted by Karin at June 24, 2004 10:07 PM

Yeah, I think that goes along with the "I want it now!" mentality that is in a lot of the youth. Many of them have been given what they want, that now they want the new house and the new Accord, and credit will let them have it for a season.

Posted by Cameron at June 25, 2004 8:31 AM

I was thinking about this bankruptcy thing again, and the thought occurred to me that perhaps there are many families who do not have health insurance. All it takes is one major health crisis to bury people in debt. Maybe larger families are less likely to have health insurance but more likely to experience a health crisis. Anyway, just a thought...

Posted by Karin at June 29, 2004 10:03 PM

I think that can definitely be a departing point from stability. I've often said my family has kept the hospitals in business, and if it weren't for my dad's health insurance, we'd be in deep doodoo.

Posted by Cameron at June 30, 2004 7:41 AM

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