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Friday, July 21, 2006

Discover the money secret

The New Year leaves many households facing more than just the difficulties of stubborn pine needles. For some of us, serious debt causes not merely difficulties, but devastation.

It is entirely appropriate then, that January 2005 saw the launch of Rob Parsons’ new book, The Money Secret. It could be the most widely relevant and timely book that he has ever written.

“Since the beginning of Care for the Family, I have watched as debt has destroyed families,” Rob says. “So many people in broken marriages have told us that financial pressures played a big part. But debt is no respecter of income or age – all kinds of people need help.

How debt affects us
“Devastation aptly sums up what debt often does to people,” says Rob. “It hits them in several areas at once … self-esteem – “How stupid I’ve been”; hope – “I will never get out of this mess”; fear – “What will happen to me? Will we lose the house? Will I go to prison? What will happen to the children?” And especially isolation. Although we know that others go through these issues, when it happens to us it feels like just us.”

Told in story form, ‘The Money Secret’ is immensely readable, full of the practicalities and theory of money management. Why did Rob choose to communicate debt issues in this way? “I wanted to ‘switch lights on’ for people, so that they not only understand the facts but believe that somebody understands how debt feels. Stories are powerful. This tale of a young woman about to take her own life and Lydia, the unusual elderly woman who saves her, enabled me to take readers into very different situations of debt – from the lives of those who are very poor to the seemingly very rich.”

“But ‘The Money Secret’ isn’t just about debt, is it?” I ask. “It’s for all of us who want a wiser and wider grasp of our finances.”

Making wise life choices
“Absolutely,” agrees Rob. “It’s for everybody. It’s not so much about debt as wise life choices and how to understand the way the money system works.”

I admitted to Rob that I personally found some of the research in the book shocking, even when I consider myself fairly switched on to the facts. Rob agreed. “So did I. Particularly the realisation that credit card companies often target those they know have the most difficulty in making repayments, offering cards with very high interest rates. It’s also shocking to discover that some banks and credit card companies love it when they ‘have’ to levy late repayment fees or higher rates of interest because we have gone over our overdraft limit. It boosts profits.”

I add that one of the things that unsettled me the most as I read the book was the apparent irresponsibility of so many large companies and financial institutions which effectively entice borrowers into debt.

“It is an absolute scandal,” says Rob. “And it’s one reason that I don’t subscribe to the view that if we are in debt it’s all our fault. I know that people say, ‘nobody forced you to take that loan’, but the truth is that many providers of credit – some of them very big names – offer finance in an irresponsible way, often on terms that are almost impossible to understand. Just ask a few friends if they really know how much interest they are paying on their credit or store cards and then get them to check with the company. We live in a society where credit is thrown at us from every angle. It is vital to understand how the system works and to spot the dangers.”

Getting out of debt
So how might we use the book to overhaul our own financial world and help those who have lost their way in their own?

“‘The Money Secret’ takes the lid off the way banks, credit card companies and store card providers work,” explains Rob. “But it also shows why many of us get into debt in the first place – why we find it so very hard not to buy. Then it gives a clear system to begin to get out of debt. The main character, Amy – the girl who at the beginning was about to take her own life – is equipped not just to help herself but to get alongside others who are traumatised by debt.”

I ask Rob to have the last word to explain what impact he would like ‘The Money Secret’ to have: “My hope is that millions of people will realise that they are not alone in financial trouble, and I pray with all my heart that ‘The Money Secret’ will genuinely help those who are shackled by debt to become free of it – forever.”

Adapted from Care for the Family magazine – Spring 2005 issue