From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
In 1918 Joseph F. Smith wrote a letter to his son in which he recalled Christmas experiences from his own youth when he was “always penniless.” He said about his early married life: “I owed no man through all those days, and I had to work—I could not be idle.” He said that he and his family labored “tugging away with all our mights to keep soul and body together.” It was under these conditions that he went out just before Christmas with the intent of doing something special for his children. He said, “I wanted something to please them, and to mark the Christmas day from all other days—but not a cent to do it with! I walked up and down Main Street, looking into the shop windows … and then slunk out of sight of humanity and sat down and wept like a child, until my poured-out grief relieved my aching heart; and after awhile returned home, as empty as when I left, and played with my children, grateful and happy only for them. …
“After these trials, my pathway became more smooth. I began to pick up; by hard work, rigid economy, self-denial, and the love of God, I prospered.”1
Bishop Charles W. Nibley, who worked closely with President Smith, said: “He was always careful with his expenditures. … He abhorred debt, and no man have I ever known who was so prompt to pay an obligation to the last penny. … He resolutely set his face against debt; and would not, under any conditions or circumstances, involve the Church in that way. Neither would he himself become involved in debt in his own individual affairs, but he stuck persistently to the old motto, ‘Pay as you go.’”2
President Smith emphasized the practicality of the gospel when he taught, “It has always been a cardinal teaching with the Latter-day Saints, that a religion which has not the power to save people temporally and make them prosperous and happy here, cannot be depended upon to save them spiritually, to exalt them in the life to come.”3
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
Avoid debt and you will be financially as well as spiritually free.
Now, I believe sincerely that one of the principal causes of the distress that exists among us—and I believe the same thing will apply almost universally throughout the land—is that people have gone beyond their means. They have borrowed largely, mortgaged their homes, their farms, and nearly everything they possess, to keep pace with their neighbors, competing one with another in putting on appearances and in carrying on their business on the credit basis that is so much in vogue in the world. …
… Many of us that have borrowed means … that we might put on an appearance at least equal to that of our neighbor, if we had not done so, but had lived within our means, and in addition had laid a little aside for a rainy day, today we would be the most independent people upon this continent. … So far as I am concerned, I would like to see … that whenever we buy a dollar’s worth of goods we either pay a dollar for it or something that represents a dollar, and that we do it without crippling ourselves at home or placing a mortgage upon us and upon our children. Every man that lives by credit is placing shackles upon himself and upon his family. …
Did you ever see anybody who went in debt and mortgaged and bonded that which he possessed, as free, as independent, as happy as the man who paid for what he had as he went along? We should live according to our means, and lay a foundation upon which we can build, and upon which our children can build after us, without paying interest on bonded debts incurred by us. I am aware that I am not preaching the financial gospel of the world. I suppose I am laying myself open to the charge of being called a mossback, non-progressive, and so on. All these epithets are hurled at the men that dare to tell the people to live within their means. … Sometimes we are put in a position where it is necessary to go into debt. When it is necessary, so may it be. … But I have never yet been convinced that it was essential for the welfare of the present or future generation that my children should be brought in bondage by my acts.4
What a blessed condition would result in Zion if the evil of going into debt … could be made very clear to every Latter-day Saint, young and old! Well, indeed, would it be if some of the burdens of the mortgage and its accompanying sorrows, could be felt and understood by every man who has in contemplation the pawning of his home and land for money—that he might comprehend its slavery and terror—as thoroughly prior to the deed as he is sure to feel it after.5
In the time of prosperity, … it is highly proper for the Latter-day Saints to get out of debt. … I would say, in connection with this subject, that one of the best ways that I know of to pay my obligations to my brother, my neighbor, or business associate, is for me first to pay my obligations to the Lord. I can pay more of my debts to my neighbors, if I have contracted them, after I have met my honest obligations with the Lord, than I can by neglecting the latter; and you can do the same. If you desire to prosper, and to be free men and women and a free people, first meet your just obligations to God, and then meet your obligations to your fellowmen.6
Now is the time for all the people to study true economy, and to begin to retrench and free themselves from debt, and become a free and independent people. … If we will only do our duty as Latter-day Saints and be wise in the use of our means, circumstances will be overruled for us, our labors will be blessed unto us, the land will be made fruitful, and we will reap bountiful harvests and rejoice in them; for God will bestow His favors upon His faithful children. … Now is the time to curtail expenses. Now is the time to cut down extravagance and to deny ourselves a little worldly pleasure. But let us be charitable. Do not condemn one another. … Do not go and take your fellow-servant, who owes you a few cents and demand that which he owes you, and, if he asks you to wait a little season, you thrust him into prison, figuratively speaking. Remember the parable of the Savior on this subject, and be charitable and merciful one toward another [see Matthew 18:23–35].7
Keep your possessions free from debt. Get out of debt as fast as you can, and keep out of debt, for that is the way in which the promise of God will be fulfilled to the people of his Church, that they will become the richest of all people in the world. But this will not happen while you mortgage your homes and your farms, or run into debt beyond your ability to meet your obligations; and thus, perhaps, your name and credit be dishonored because you overreached yourselves.8
The Latter-day Saints have often been warned and are now earnestly admonished not to hazard their homes, and with them their wives and children, upon the altar of financial speculations. … If the Latter-day Saints will give heed to the prudent admonitions and lessons of the past, they will hesitate in the presence of the alluring temptations which are now everywhere held out, to mortgage their homes, their places of business, the canals, and the farms, for the means with which to speculate and grow rich. …
The admonitions here given are directed especially to those disposed to mortgage for the purpose of speculation, and not to those who may find it necessary through building societies or otherwise to secure homes by monthly or other periodical payments. The latter practice may lead to economic habits, while speculations too frequently create a spirit of extravagance.9
I am sorry to say that many seem to be indulging in speculation to that extent that their whole souls appear to be wrapt up in the love of the world. … As individuals gather around them riches and become engrossed with the care that naturally attaches to them, they are prone to forget … God upon whom they are quite as dependent when possessed of wealth as when in the most abject poverty.10
If there is any one here intending to go into debt for speculation, … I would advise him to hesitate, pray over it, and carefully consider it before he obligates himself by borrowing money and going into debt. In other words, keep out of debt if you can. Pay your debts as soon as you can.11
Money is something that a man ought to be able to take care of and use wisely if he has it; if he does not know how to take care of it, it will escape from his pockets, it will take the wings of the morning and flee away.12
I again admonish the Latter-day Saints to aim and diligently endeavor to free themselves from debt. Get out of debt and keep out of debt, and then you will be financially as well as spiritually free.13
We should love God more than we love money and pleasure-seeking.
There is a weakness in man—and … it is a powerful weakness—to serve himself, to gratify his own desires, to accomplish his own purposes, no matter what it costs to others. Regardless of the evil consequences that may flow unto others, he seeks to gratify his own ambitions, his desires for his own aggrandizement, and the promotion of his selfish interests. This is one of the errors of the age. It is one of those weaknesses that make man unlike his Master, separating him from God and the truth, and causing him to become a law unto himself. This is wrong.14
The wise man is … going to steer his course away from the living death of pleasure-seeking. He is not going into bondage or debt to buy automobiles and other costly equipages to keep pace with the rush of fashionable pleasure-seeking. …
The result of this hunt for pleasure and excitement and for keeping pace with what only the very wealthy can but ought not to do, is that many are forced to undertake all kinds of illegitimate schemes to obtain money to gratify the tendency. Hence the growth of financial immorality. Many underhanded methods are adopted to obtain means, and even cheating and lying and deceiving friends and neighbors are frequently resorted to in order that money may be obtained to gratify the inordinate desire for pleasure.15
I pity a rich man that loves his money more than he loves God. … Some day we will be weighed in the balance, and it will be known whether we love the world more than we love God. … The Lord has said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. That is not because the man is rich—for the Lord designs that we shall be the richest of all people. Consequently there can be no crime in being rich. The crime is not in possessing the money. We hear it often quoted that “money is the root of all evil.” But this is not so. The scriptures do not say so. They say that it is the love of money which is the root of all evil [see 1 Timothy 6:10].16
The only real danger that I foresee in the path of the Latter-day Saints is in the results which naturally follow the possession of wealth—pride and vanity, self-indulgence and forgetfulness of God, and a disregard of the sacred obligations and duties that we owe to Him and to one another; and this because of the abundance of earthly blessings which He in His goodness has bestowed upon us. It is said that in adversity we are inclined to feel after the Lord, but that in prosperity we remember Him not. It appears to me that in this lies the greatest danger that threatens us to-day.17
It is more blessed to administer comfort and joy to our fellow creatures than to have them administer to ourselves. But under the spirit and influence that the world is under at present, this is not the view that is generally taken. Men of the world are rushing headlong after that which will as they suppose contribute to their own pleasure. They don’t care how they get pleasure so that they get it. As a general thing gold or money is the thing which administers most to their pleasure and joy. In a few years, however, they will be called away from this world, when their wealth and everything else they have cherished will have to be left behind. They cannot take their gold with them, because it belongs to the world. When they get behind the veil that which served to make them happy will be gone beyond their reach. The source of their pleasure will have fled. …
What is there in this world that can give so much joy or so much pleasure as to know that our sins are forgiven; that we stand acceptable to God our Heavenly Father; that we have not injured any of our fellow creatures: that we are free from any indebtedness or incumbrance; that we are not in bondage to the world, nor to our fellow creatures? This gives one far greater pleasure than anything the world can give. Money cannot give it. The wealth of the world cannot bestow this enjoyment upon man.18
Let us use wisdom in our temporal affairs so that we will be better able to build up the kingdom of God.
Of one thing I am certain, and that is, that we ought to seek to become acquainted with the principles of economy. We ought to use the best wisdom, judgment and understanding we can obtain in our temporal as well as in our spiritual affairs and concerns. … We are too selfish. It should not be “every man for himself,” but we are many of us covetous. We desire in our hearts to have everything our neighbor has whether we need it or not. In order to be like our neighbor; in order that we may associate with him, and that our daughters may associate with his daughters, and our sons with his sons, we must have as fine a house, as costly furniture, … and as many luxuries whether we can afford it as well as our neighbor can or not. Now, all this is extremely foolish. It is wrong. …
… Every Latter-day Saint ought to learn—and especially every youth in Israel ought to learn—that every one of them should try to make the world a little better for their being in it, if they possibly can. We all ought to try to do some good. If we will do that, then there is some necessity for our living. God will bless us in our labors and efforts; and if we will co-operate together in our temporal affairs and conduct our business on correct principles, the world will be better for us, and we will be better off in the world. We will have more means to build up the kingdom of God; we will have more to use for the gathering of the poor, for the building up of Zion, for the benefit of the Saints, and for our own benefit.19
May we keep the commandments of God, save our means … , pay our debts, be free men and free women, and not bondmen and bondwomen, as many of us are today. Many of us are in the bondage of debt, and it may be difficult for us to get out of it; but if we possibly can get out of it in honor, let us bend all our efforts to that end and do it; that when we are called to go on missions we can say, “Yes I am ready and willing to go,” and what is more, “I do not owe anybody, and I have the means to go with, and to provide for my family.”20
I believe that it is our business to prepare against the day of famine, of pestilence, of tempests and earthquakes, and the time when the sea shall heave itself beyond its bounds. How shall we do it? … By studying and carrying out the principles of true economy in our lives, and by a system of fraternity and love by which each one will help his brother, and all stand united, so that none shall suffer from want when it is within the power of others to alleviate it. One of the great promises that the Lord has made concerning His people, as contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, is that they shall become the richest of all people [see D&C 38:39]. Now, how can this be fulfilled if every day we spend all that we earn, and borrow a little besides of our neighbor? …
… Let us be industrious and economical, and save our means. Not that we build our hopes upon our riches, not that we make that our god; but for what? That we may be able, when perilous times shall come, to meet the necessities of the times and the obligations that may rest upon the people of God to consummate the purposes of the Almighty in the land.21
Suggestions for Study
If we desire to prosper spiritually and temporally, what must we do? How can covetousness destroy prosperity?
What blessings result from avoiding debt? What problems can come to those who unwisely accumulate debt? What rationalizations do people sometimes use for accumulating unwise debt?
What can we do in “the time of prosperity” to free ourselves from debt? What are our financial obligations to the Lord? Why should we meet them first?
Although homes must frequently be purchased through “periodical payments,” what cautions should we observe regarding mortgages? How can the “spirit of extravagance” lead people to jeopardize their homes and financial security? How can we avoid these things?
How do selfishness and pleasure-seeking separate us from God? What are the dangers of loving money more than God?
How can we prepare temporally and spiritually “against the day of famine”?
How can we use our means to “consummate the purposes of the Almighty”? How does financial preparedness enable us to be of service?
How can we teach our children the principles of wise money management?
“Editor’s Table: In Memoriam—Joseph Fielding Smith,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1919, 266–67.
Charles W. Nibley, “Reminiscences,” in Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 519.
“The Truth about Mormonism,” Out West: A Magazine of the Old Pacific and the New, Sept. 1905, 242.
Deseret Weekly, 19 Aug. 1893, 282.
Gospel Doctrine, 307.
Gospel Doctrine, 259–60.
Deseret Weekly, 19 Aug. 1893, 283.
Gospel Doctrine, 299–300.
Gospel Doctrine, 306–7; paragraphing altered.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 1 May 1883, 1.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1911, 128–29.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 8 Aug. 1884, 1.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1903, 5.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 21 Jan. 1896, 1.
Gospel Doctrine, 323–24.
Deseret Weekly, 19 Aug. 1893, 283.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 1 May 1883, 1.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 11 Mar. 1884, 1; paragraphing added.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 8 Aug. 1884, 1.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 20 Nov. 1894, 1.
Deseret Weekly, 19 Aug. 1893, 283.