DEBT: What have we been counseled concerning debt and living within our means?

Prophetic Statements

Brigham Young

“Pay your debts, … do not run into debt any more. … Be prompt in everything, and especially to pay your debts.” 1

Wilford Woodruff

We feel led to caution the Latter-day Saints against forming the bad habit of incurring debt and taking upon themselves obligations which frequently burden them heaver than they can bear, and lead to the loss of their homes and other possessions. … Our business should be done, as much as possible, on the principal of paying for that which we purchase, and our needs should be brought within the limit of our resources. 2

Joseph F. Smith

“In the time of prosperity … get out of debt. … If you desire to prosper, and to be … a free people, first meet your obligations to God, and then … to your fellowmen.” 3

Heber J. Grant

“If there is any one thing that will bring peace and contentment into the human heart, and into the family, it is to live within our means. And if there is any one thing that is grinding and discouraging and disheartening, it is to have debts and obligations that one cannot meet” (Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham [1941], 111).

“From my earliest recollections, from the days of Brigham Young until now, I have listened to men standing in the pulpit … urging the people not to run into debt; and I believe that the great majority of all our troubles today is caused through the failure to carry out that counsel.” (Heber J. Grant, In Conference Report, Oct. 1921, 3.)

“Let me warn the Latter-day Saints to buy automobiles and to buy the ordinary necessities of life when they have the money to buy them, and not to mortgage their future.” (Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1941, pp. 60–61, 111.)

George Albert Smith

How on the face of the earth could a man enjoy his religion when he had been told by the Lord how to prepare for a day of famine, when instead of doing so he had fooled away that which would have sustained him and his family. 4

Harold B. Lee

“Not only should we teach men to get out of debt but we should teach them likewise to stay out of debt.” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 315.)

Ezra Taft Benson


Not only should we have strong spiritual homes, but we should have strong temporal homes. We should avoid bondage by getting out of debt as soon as we can, pay as we go, and live within our incomes. There is wisdom in having on hand a year’s supply of food, clothing, fuel (if possible), and in being prepared to defend our families and our possessions and to take care of ourselves. I believe a man should prepare for the worst while working for the best. Some people prepare and don’t work, while others work but don’t prepare. Both are needed if we would be of maximum service to our God, our family, and our country. 5


The Saints have been advised to pay their own way and maintain a cash reserve. Recent history has demonstrated that in difficult days it is reserves with intrinsic value that are of most worth, rather than reserves the value of which may be destroyed through inflation. It is well to remember that continued government deficits cause inflation; inflation is used as an excuse for ineffective price controls; price controls lead to shortages; artificial shortages inevitably are used as an excuse to implement rationing. When will we learn these basic economic principles? 6


For many years the leaders of the Mormon Church have recommended, with instructions, that every family have on hand at least a year’s supply of basic food, clothing, fuel (where possible), and provisions for shelter. This has been most helpful to families suffering temporary reverses. It can and will be useful in many circumstances in the days ahead. We also need to get out of financial bondage, to be debt-free. 7


For over forty years, in a spirit of love, members of the Church have been counseled to be thrifty and self-reliant; to avoid debt; pay tithes and a generous fast offering; be industrious; and have sufficient food, clothing, and fuel on hand to last at least one year. Today there are compelling reasons to re-emphasize this counsel. 8


No man is truly free who is financial bondage. ‘Think what you do when you run in debt,’ said Benjamin Franklin, ‘you give another power over your liberty.’ 9


“’Pay thy debt and live.  How fruitful these words have ever been! What wise counsel they are for us today!  In the words of wise men down through the ages, we find over and over again this great insistence upon the wisdom of being debt free. . . . Many people do not believe that serious recession will ever come again. Feeling secure in their expectations of continuing employment and a steady flow of wages and salaries, they obligate their future income without thought of what they would do if they should lose their jobs or if their incomes were stopped for some other reason. But the best authorities have repeatedly said that we are not yet smart enough to control our economy without downward adjustments. Sooner or later these adjustments will come. . . . Do not leave yourself or your family unprotected against financial storms. … My brothers and sisters, let us heed the counsel of the leadership of the Church. Get out of debt! Let us pay first our obligations to our Heavenly Father. Then we will more easily pay our debts to our fellowmen. . . . Brothers and sisters, peace and contentment come into our hearts when we live within our means. God grant us the wisdom and the faith to heed the inspired counsel of the priesthood to get out of debt, to live within our means, and to pay as we go—in short, to ‘pay thy debt, and live.’” 10


At the April 1937 general conference of the Church, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., of the First Presidency, asked: “What may we as a people and as individuals do for ourselves to prepare to meet this oncoming disaster, which God in his wisdom may not turn aside from us?” He then set forth these inspired basic principles of the Church welfare program:

First, and above and beyond everything else, let us live righteously. . . .

Let us avoid debt as we would avoid a plague; where we are now in debt, let us get out of debt; if not today, then tomorrow.

Let us straitly and strictly live within our incomes, and save a little.

Let every head of every household see to it that he has on hand enough food and clothing, and, where possible, fuel also, for at least a year ahead. You of small means put your money in foodstuffs and wearing apparel, not in stocks and bonds; you of large means will think you know how to care for yourselves, but I may venture to suggest that you do not speculate. Let every head of every household aim to own his own home, free from mortgage. Let every man who has a garden spot, garden it; every man who owns a farm, farm it. 11


For the righteous, the gospel provides a warning before a calamity, a program for the crises, a refuge for each disaster.

The Lord has said that “the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven. . .” (Mal. 4:1), but he assures us that “he that is tithed shall not be burned. . .” (D&C 64:23). He has warned us of famines, but the righteous will have listened to prophets and stored at least a year’s supply of survival food. 12


The Lord desires his Saints to be free and independent in the critical days ahead. But no man is truly free who is in financial bondage. “Think what you do when you run in debt,” said Benjamin Franklin; “you give to another power over your liberty.” “. . . pay thy debt and live,” said Elisha. (2 Kgs. 4:7.) And in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says, “. . . it is my will that you shall pay all your debts.” (D&C 104:78.) 13

Gordon B. Hinckley

‘And there shall arise after them seven years of famine … And God will shortly bring it to pass.’ Now brethren, I want to make it very clear that I am not prophesying, that I am not predicting years of famine in the future. But, I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order … avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage… There is a portent of stormy weather ahead to which we had better give heed. We are carrying a message of self reliance throughout the Church… I urge you brethren to look to the condition of our finances… No one knows when emergencies will strike…. Set your houses in order. If you have paid your debts, if you have a reserve, even though it be small, then should storms howl about your head, you will have shelter for your wife and children and peace in your hearts. That’s all I have to say about it, but I wish to say it with all the emphasis of which I am capable. 14

I urge you, brethren, to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage. 15

“Many of our people are living on the very edge of their incomes. In fact, some are living on borrowings. …

“… I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “To the Boys and to the Men,” Liahona, Jan. 1999, 65–66; Ensign,Nov. 1998, 53–54.)

Peace is fragile, civilization itself is fragile. The economy is particularly vulnerable. We have been counseled again and again concerning self-reliance, concerning debt, concerning thrift. 16

Thomas S. Monson

Many more people could ride out the storm-tossed waves in their economic lives if they had their . . . supply of food . . . and were debt-free. Today we find that many have followed this counsel in reverse: they have at least a year’s supply of debt and are food-free. 17

We urge all Latter-day Saints to be prudent in their planning, to be conservative in their living, and to avoid excessive or unnecessary debt. 18

Avoid the philosophy that yesterday’s luxuries have become today’s necessities. They aren’t necessities until we make them so. Many enter into long-term debt only to find that changes occur; people become ill or incapacitated, companies fail or downsize, jobs are lost, natural disasters befall us. For many reasons, payments on large amounts of debt can no longer be made. Our debt becomes as a Damocles sword hanging over our heads and threatening to destroy us. 19


Proverbs 21:20

There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.

Supporting Statements

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.


Let us avoid debt as we would avoid a plague…Let every head of every household see to it that he has on hand enough food and clothing, and, where possible, fuel also, for at least a year ahead…Let every head of household aim to own his own home, free from mortgage. Let us again clothe ourselves with these proved and sterling virtues–honesty, truthfulness, chastity, sobriety, temperance, industry, and thrift; let us discard all covetousness and greed. 20


Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you. [1938]

Barbara B. Smith

Life is made up of small daily acts. Savings in food budgets come by pennies, not only by dollars. Clothing budgets are cut by mending stitch by stitch, seam by seam. Houses are kept in good repair nail by nail. Provident homes come not by decree or by broad brush stroke. Provident homes come from small acts performed well day after day. When we see in our minds the great vision, then we discipline ourselves by steady, small steps that make it happen. 21

Joseph B. Wirthlin

All too often a family’s spending is governed more by their yearning than by their earning. They somehow believe that their life will be better if they surround themselves with an abundance of things. All too often all they are left with is avoidable anxiety and distress 22

L. Tom Perry


Just as it is important to prepare ourselves spiritually, we must also prepare ourselves for our temporal needs….We have been instructed for years to follow at least four requirements in preparing for that which is to come.

First, gain an adequate education. Learn a trade or a profession to enable you to obtain steady employment that will provide remuneration sufficient to care for yourself and your family….

Second, live strictly within your income and save something for a rainy day. Incorporate in your lives the discipline of budgeting that which the Lord has blessed you with. As regularly as you pay your tithing, set aside an amount needed for future family requirements….

Third, avoid excessive debt. Necessary debt should be incurred only after careful, thoughtful prayer and after obtaining the best possible advice. We need the discipline to stay well within our ability to pay….

Fourth, acquire and store a reserve of food and supplies that will sustain life [if local laws permit such storage]. Obtain clothing and build a savings account on a sensible, well-planned basis that can serve well in times of emergency. As long as I can remember, we have been taught to prepare for the future and to obtain a year’s supply of necessities. I would guess that the years of plenty have almost universally caused us to set aside this counsel. I believe the time to disregard this counsel is over. With events in the world today, it must be considered with all seriousness. 23

Vaughn J. Featherstone


Now you ask where do I get the money for these things. I agree I need them, but I’m having a hard time making ends meet. Here is how you do it: Use one or more of the following suggestions:

Food Storage Christmas: Use 25-50% of money for food storage,

New Clothes: Don’t buy instead make it last a few more months, use that money for food storage,

Vacation/ Holiday: no vacation or holiday until food storage is complete,

Recreation: Cut by 50% use money for food storage, find fun, free things to make lasting memories,

Snowmobiles/campers/boats: sell or trade to get a year’s supply,

Change Diet: eat cheaper foods and use extra money for food storage.

The Lord will make it possible, if we make a firm commitment, for every LDS family to have a year’s supply of food reserves … All we have to do is to decide, commit to do it, and then keep the commitment. Miracles will take place: the way will be opened and we will have our storage areas filled.(1976 General Conference, Vaughn J. Featherstone,

James E. Faust

There is a wise old saying “Eat it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Thrift is a practice of not wasting anything. Some people are able to get by because of the absence of expense. They have their shoes resoled, they patch, they mend, they sew, and they save money. They avoid installment buying, and make purchases only after saving enough to pay cash, thus avoiding interest charges.24

Keith B. McMullin

As men of God, we turn from excess to that which edifies, for “that which doth not edify is not of God.” If dealings or involvements or pursuits or schedules detract from putting God first, we must pare back and unencumber our lives. If we have debts, we pay them and live debt free to the extent possible.25

Heber C. Kimball

A spirit of speculation and extravagance will take possession of the Saints [in the last days], and the results will be financial bondage. Persecution comes next and all true Latter-day Saints will be tested to the limit. 26

  1. Discourses of Brigham Young,  comp. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 303.
  2. “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruf (2004) 232-33.
  3. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, pp. 259–60.
  4. George Albert Smith, Deseret News, Mar. 4, 1868, 26
  5. Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country, p. 405.
  6. Ezra Taft Benson, “Prepare Ye” October Conference, 1973; also Ensign, November 1973
  7. Ezra Taft Benson, “God, Family, Country” p. 331.
  8. Ezra Taft Benson – October Conference, 1980
  9. President Ezra T. Benson, Ensign, January 1974, “Prepare Ye.”
  10. Ezra Taft Benson, “Pay Thy Debt, and Live,” Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year (28 Feb. 1962), 10.
  11. Conference Report, April 1937, p. 26.
  12. Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974], 267.
  13. Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974], 268.
  14. CR, Gordon B. Hinckley, Oct. 1998, 70-72; Ensign, Nov. 1998, 53-54
  15. Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, October 1998, “To the Boys and to the Men.”
  16. Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, October 2001, “The Times in Which we Live.”
  17. President Thomas S. Monson, “That Noble Gift—Love at Home,” Church News, May 12, 2001, 7.
  18. President Thomas S. Monson, October 2008 Priesthood Session, General Conference
  19. President Thomas S. Monson, April 2006 General Conference
  20. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. – April 1937 General Conference – Welfare conference address, October 1, 1966
  21. Barbara B. Smith, former Relief Society general president – Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 86.
  22. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, Conference Report, April 2004, “Earthly Debts, Heavenly Debts”
  23. Elder L. Tom Perry, October 1995 General Conference
  24. James E. Faust, Conference Report, April 1986, “The Responsibility for Welfare Rests with Me and My Family.”
  25. Keith B. McMullin, “Lay Up in Store,” Ensign May 2007.
  26. Heber C. Kimball, Deseret News, May 23, 1931.
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