Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Sara Williams who blogs about everything to do with debt at Debt Camel, from payday loans to mortgages.
I’m a debt adviser in London. But money and debt problems are universal, so my favourite debt quotations range from the Romans to 21st century America! I’ve put them roughly in date order but, as you will see, not a lot has changed over the centuries.
#1. Debt is the slavery of the free.
Publius Syrius c.50BC
I like this one because so much advertising has the subconscious message that being able to buy something you fancy immediately is freedom. Being a wage slave is bad enough, but if you are working to mostly pay interest to a bank, it’s time to start clearing those debts.
#2. A wise person should have money in their head, not in their heart.
Jonathan Swift c.1730
I’m a debt adviser, so people expect me to focus on money. But it’s surprising how often I say things like “I think helping your daughter get well again is the most important thing you can do at the moment. Your credit card debt can wait for a while, tell them you can only pay them a token payment each month while you aren’t working.”
#3. Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
Going through your bank statements and cancelling old subscriptions isn’t going to repay a mountain of debt – but it’s easy and why waste that money?
This is my favourite of the ten quotations because it doesn’t just apply to money. If you don’t like something in your community, or you are worried about climate change, or you are feeling guilty because you can’t visit your elderly mum very often… this quote’s for you! Start a petition, turn down your thermostat, phone your mum!
#4. That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.
Henry David Thoreau c. 1850
This quotation that makes me question what I do. I like going on holiday, but when I come back, it’s lovely to have proper home cooking and take the dog for walks.
#5. Of all the icy blasts that blow on love, a request for money is the most chilling.
Gustav Flaubert, Madame Bovary, 1859
Every couple has to find their own way of managing their money – earning different amounts, spending different amounts, having different ambitions perhaps. But it’s all made much harder when one person has larger debts. I’ve looked at some of the complications in His and Hers – debt in a relationship.
#6. He who buys what he does not need, steals from himself.
People think credit is borrowing money from the bank. But it’s actually borrowing from your future self, as this saying neatly point outs.
#7. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds, nineteen shillings and six pence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and six pence, result misery.
Charles Dickens, Mr Micawber’s recipe for happiness, from David Copperfield, 1849.
This may be the best known quote on this page. It’s memorable because it shows how small the difference can be between a situation that’s fine and one where the problems are only going to get worse. Of course if you had a rainy day fund, you could get through a few rough months or even years without misery.
#8. A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove you don’t need it.
Sometimes a comedian can sum up what everyone feels. If you are well off, you can borrow money cheaply. The more desperate you are, the more expensive it gets.
#9. Some debts are fun when you are acquiring them; But none are fun when you set about retiring them.
Ogden Nash, Many Long Years Ago, 1945
Another funny one but with an underlying bitterness. I was talking to someone recently who had got a credit card when he left college, as a safety net in case he had an unexpected expense. But nine months later it was maxed out and all he seemed to have bought was pizza.
#10. A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.
Every collection of quotes about debt has to have one from Dave Ramsey. This is my favourite, I think, but sometimes I would choose “Debt is normal, be weird”!