Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter Blog Round Up, 7 Great Articles from Other Blogs

Here are some great articles from other Christian personal finance blogs I follow. Check out these articles covering debt lessons, online broker rankings, thrift store shopping, work efficiency, saving on prescriptions, Medi-Share Christian health insurance alternative, and home projects to save money.

  1. 4 debt lessons from the blind side, from One Money Design
  2. Barron’s releases their best online broker ratings for 2013, from Bible Money Matters
  3. Thrift shopping, from The Christian Dollar
  4. How to get more done in a day, from ChristianPF
  5. 5 ways to save on prescription medications, from Faith and Finance
  6. Christian Care Medi-Share review and reflections after 2 years, from Money Help for Christians
  7. 5 home maintenance projects to save you money, from Money Smart Life

“#Occupy the Bible” a Book Review, More of Same: Divide and Fail

The book “#Occupy the Bible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power,” by Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite, Astor+Blue Editions publisher, caught my attention while strolling through my local library. I was especially compelled to check it out, since I am interested in expanding my understanding of what the Bible says about money, in particular what Jesus said. After all, that is why I write this blog.

The book argues for an “Occupy Wall Street” styled presence similar to the Civil rights movement; it doesn’t get much to the heart of what Jesus really says about money and power that would satisfy students of the Bible. Since the book was published, the Occupy Wall Street movement has died out. So I am not sure if she was calling for Christians to join the Occupy Wall Street movement, or for a new liberal Christian styled movement to hit the streets. Either way, she is calling for more social justice to be brought about through the same style as demonstrated by the original Occupy movement–the style of living in tents in public places and in marches to combat economic inequity, or to take back what Wall Street stole through the recession. I think a more scholarly work, and one that would possibly motivate people, would be one that digs much deeper into the issues she is concerned about.

She doesn’t analyse scripture much, and when she does, in my opinion it lacks some depth. She has extensive theology credentials, so I don’t doubt her knowledge. Also lacking is a fair representation of what the first century Christian church really looked like, compared to my understanding of that time period. An example of this is her assertion that the calling of Simon and Andrew in Mark 1:16-20 into ministry, and their moral instruction in other verses, was in actuality Jesus forming a union, and that the organization of labor was part of the establishment of the Kingdom of God. So for students looking for a scholarly work on the issues of money, possessions, power and Jesus, they might be better served to look elsewhere.

The book doesn’t reveal the end game: The main challenge I have in reading Dr. Thistlethwaite’s book is that she doesn’t clarify what the movement should bring about. She attacks capitalism and misuse of power, but she doesn’t provide a set of clear goals. This lack of direction was the main reason why the Occupy movement failed, yet she seems to make the same mistake. She fails to articulate the main problems she wants to solve and what the end result will look like, such as her preferred style of government or economic system.

If she is calling for a movement, shouldn’t she reveal what she wants the mob to try to create? Is it fair to argue that just because Jesus had great concern for certain people groups, they should create a lot of noise without some kind of goals to work towards? It may be she thinks the goals of the movement will arise out of their collective morality, or that leaders, both from political and economic power positions, will conform to the mob’s pressures.

Exclusivity: In her book she reveals opinions held by Christians on the far left, or termed progressive these days, which are in many ways exclusive. They are exclusive since she strongly suggests other Christians with different points of views are wrong, un-Biblical and just aligned with the conservative anti-Christian forces she wants to combat. Christians that hold the wrong point of view are to be left behind, or they should come over to her far better moral point of view. Christians hold many diverse beliefs, and I doubt that anyone is going to create a movement unless he or she is able to come up with a mission that brings together what they have in common to solve the problems of injustice and poverty. Our politicians in Washington fail to make progress because they are so focused on their differences that they are unable to seek common ground and accomplish goals together through give and take. It is pity that Christian thinkers and writers fall into the same trap.

Jesus cares about the poor, justice, and righteousness. He is also very concerned about personal integrity, to a higher level then anyone else ever taught.  He illustrates in many verses his concern about the sick, poor, old, widows, and  wealthy people.  Jesus’ plan and concern for the whole world is spelled out in a simple verse, John 3:16. I think if people want to be concerned about what Jesus cares about, and desire to understand money, power and possessions better, I recommend they study a couple of very balanced works on these subjects “Neither Poverty nor Riches, A Biblical Theology of Possessions” by Craig Blomberg. Mr. Blomberg covers the entire Bible and offers keen insight both from the Old and New Testaments about what Jesus’ thinking might be. Studying the “Theology of…” provides readers a much broader and deeper understanding, a starting point that can challenge Christian readers from all political and economic viewpoints. I reviewed this book recently here too.  The other book I recommend is Money, Possessions and Eternity, 2nd Edition by Randy Alcorn: this is probably the best single book written about Christian personal finances.

The U.S. is in the middle of political deadlock because no one on either side wants to cooperate with the other side. If Christians–progressive and conservative, mainline Protestant, non-denominational, Catholic and Evangelical–came together on many of the things they have in common, they could accomplish so much good in the efforts of justice and poverty, good the world has never seen. If  the focus is more on our differences, as the book argued for, like Washington we will divide and fail. Formulating and backing something like this, with real articulated goals on things that unite us, would be something that could possibly form the basis of a Jesus movement that could bring about real change.

Disclosure: I think it is wise to study the Bible first with non-biased eyes, not from any particular political or economic viewpoint, and then to formulate opinions about those subjects with Biblical insight, no matter how challenging that might be to one’s core political and social beliefs. That said, often but not always, many of my political, social, economic and theological beliefs lean more to the right, although my wife would tell you I teeter between conservative and moderate. Reading #Occupy the Bible, you will find many of its opinions, viewpoints, analysis and conclusions to be much more left leaning than I have described. This was because I reviewed the author’s ideas setting that aside for my reading, so that I could be fair to you and keep the doors open to dialogue about ways for Christians to come together to solve problems of human suffering.

How to Save on Razor Blades

baby shaveMen’s razor blades can be very expensive, easily costing $15 to $35 for a package of replacement cartridge blades. However, I may have found a couple of cheaper solutions: one is an online service called Dollar Shave Club (DSC). I cringe every time a single item at the grocery store costs $15 or more, so I was intrigued when I heard an advertisement on AM radio for DSC. This is a seemingly low-cost way to get razor blades online.

Razor blade coupons? You might not be interested in another ding to your debit or credit card each month for DSC, thinking you will use a coupon instead. However, these are really hard to find–since the only coupons you normally see in your local paper are just for a razor handle and one blade, or for low quality disposables.  A few weeks ago my local grocer accepted a $4.00 off coupon even though it wasn’t for the exact item, but for the correct brand. This is worth a try. I don’t feel like I am cheating the system, figuring the cash register is wired for correct coupon verification. So it is worth it to keep an eye out for your brand’s coupons, whether or not the deal matches exactly what you are buying.

Regular replacement cartridges can cost about $3.00 per cartridge for my old school 3 blade Gillette Mach III, so with a coupon it came to only about $2.50 with tax per cartridge. The 5 blade Gillette Fusion 8 pack of cartridges can be found for $28, or $3.50 per blade, and prices can climb even higher, depending on the number of blades and features. It can be really easy to spend more than this.

Everybody is different: What is the best deal for you really depends on how often you change cartridges, how thick your beard is, and your skin’s sensitivity. I can get about 4 weeks out of my Mach III’s; towards the end, the shaves can be a little rough and not as close. However, if I can stretch them a few extra days, it is worth it to save a few bucks.

Regular annual cost: If I use a new blade every three weeks, probably more typical for the average person, that comes to 13 blades in a year’s time. That seems low, so I’ll round it up to 15 blades a year to be safe. Assuming no coupons or special deals, that comes to $45 dollars per year–not that bad. If you have a thick beard and have to replace blades every week and a half, you would go through about 35 cartridges a year. Using the $3.50 per cartridge example, that comes to more than $120 per year.

dsc

How does Dollar Shave Club work? DSC is a monthly subscription service that sends you a supply of cartridges each month for a set price. When you sign up, you get a free handle. You choose between:

  • The Humble Twin: $1 per month plus shipping and handling: 2 blade head , 5 cartridges per month
  • The 4X, The Lover’s Blade: $6 per month plus S&H: 4 blade head, 4 cartridges per month
  • The Executive: $9 per month plus S&H, 4 cartridges per month

Is Dollar Shave Club a good deal?  For me, I’m pretty sure the Humble Twin wouldn’t provide the type of shave I am used to with the Mach III, but the 4X would probably work fine. $72 plus S&H is pretty good for 48 blades per year. Assuming with shipping and handling $90, that comes to less than $1.90 per cartridge. However, this is way too many cartridges for me. I could easily stop the service after 6 months and have enough for the remainder of the year for about what I now pay. DSC’s higher quantity would allow me to change them a little more often. These are not name brand cartridges, so I am guessing I will have to replace them more often if they get dull more quickly.  If you have a thick beard, the Executive would probably be the way to go, and with shipping you would probably spend something like $120 per year for 48 cartridges, or about $2.50 per cartridge–again, in this example, more blades for about the same cost.

Convenience: There is this factor too–it seems as if I always forget to buy cartridges when I need them. It would be nice to have a ready supply of them whenever needed and save a little on gas from making special trips to the store.

Conclusion: Dollar Shave Club is a great idea; they have a nice web site, and you can stop or start the membership anytime, saving a little money and time. If there is more than one adult male in your home shaving every day, this would probably save you a little money and allow you to change blades more often–pretty nice. What about for the ladies?  They don’t have cartridges specifically designed for females, and DSC is definitely targeted at guys, so ladies would have to gauge their usage to see if this is good for them. Let me know if you try this service: what the cost for shipping and handling is, and if you think the quality is good. If you work for DSC, send me a few samples to try so that I can blog about your product.

Jesus Died in Poverty

soldThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Mark. Jesus died with few possessions, yet he traded what he had for our great gain.

  • Jesus was crucified naked (Matthew 27: 35): When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (also Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24)
  • Jesus was wrapped in donated cloth (Matthew 27:57-59): As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth… (also Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, and John 19:40)
  • Jesus was buried in a new donated tomb (Matthew 27:60): …and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. (also Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 19:41-42)

When people die, their estates have to be settled, unless they die homeless or as prisoners. The property they own has to be distributed to whomever they want it to go. Today we use wills and trusts to bequest our personal property to family and charity, such as furniture and our home. We also direct who will be the beneficiary of our savings, investments and life insurance. Sometimes relatives take our clothes, but they are usually donated and sold at thrift stores. We can’t take anything with us to heaven or hell when we die, as it is put so well in Job 1:21: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Apparently Jesus owned no property other than the clothes on his back, and even that was taken from him. Soldiers are used to taking the spoils of war as part of their compensation, but they had little to take from Jesus–just the humble garments that he was wearing. They didn’t pay him even a little respect as he hung there naked, dying; and they stripped him of his clothes for the little value they had. The soldiers greedily cast lots for his clothes. Someone donated a cloth to wrap his body in and a tomb to bury him in.

What did Jesus have left to give? His friends scattered. His energy, his skin and his blood were stripped from him. He was scourged with a barb-tipped whip. He had nothing. There was no one stepping forward with money to influence the politicians, jailers and soldiers. Where were the thousands he healed, loved and taught? Where were the crowds who welcomed him to town triumphantly by laying down palm leaves and garments in his path?

Strangely the man at center stage, Jesus Christ, who had everything taken from him, still had much to give. The power to do almost everything was taken. Hanging from the cross, hands and feet nailed, he was unable to walk, unable to extend his hand; it was a struggle even to voice his last few words. They defeated him by stopping him from doing anything more. The mob won; they wouldn’t have to listen to him any more. The religious could settle back into their comfortable customs without being challenged.

Jesus still had one thing to do, one thing to give, and one last word to utter painfully (John 19:30):“It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  Jesus gave up his life for us. He exchanged his life for our sin. His blood filled the Grand Canyon sized gap between man and God. Jesus paid the price, and amazingly it was gain for us, all for us.

Why do I worry about anything, especially money and possessions. King Jesus chose a path that wasn’t for money, possessions or earthly power. His path was one of sacrifice and generosity, healing and giving, loving and following God. We serve a great, gracious and generous God!

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the thirty-first post in this series.

Weekending Financial Scorecard

Here’s the most important financial data that you need to know to be fairly well informed. Each Friday evening I post the weekending scorecard of data for 8 financial markets and 10 economic indicators. As of 3/15/2013:

FINANCIALS: The US stock market continues to do well, while other indicators show early signs of inflation. Another Recession Coming?*  A few months ago, it was looking like a double-dip recession was likely for 2013; I’m now thinking this might be avoided, but it is too early to tell since things are still sluggish. I like the slightly good manufacturing output and employment news, a little uptick in consumer spending vs last year, and better sales in real estate and automotive. On the negative side GDP increased only 0.1% last quarter and we still have a high Federal deficit and debt and unproductive Federal government to put forth a balanced budget. Overall this is a very sluggish recovery.

  • Mortgage Rates INCREASE: 30-year last/this week: 3.64%/3.72%, 15-year 2.89%/2.92%
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average INCREASE from 14,379 to 14,514
  • S&P 500 INCREASE from 1551 to 1560
  • US Treasury’s MIXED: 2-Year Note from .261% to .265%, 10-Year Note from 2.046% to 1.996%
  • Crude Oil Futures INCREASE from $91.95 to $93.45
  • Gold prices INCREASE from $1,578 to $1591 (High $1,895 9/6/11) per ounce
  • Euro INCREASE from 1.3003 to 1.3075 (all time 1.59 7/2008)
  • US Dollar Index DECREASE from $82.71 to $82.13

RECESSION WATCH SCORECARD: *

FINANCIALS:* 4 NEGATIVE vs 3 POSITIVE 🙁

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – Negative, real GDP had a small increase of  0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2012. The economy grew 2.2% in 2012 up from 1.8% in 2012. We really need to see GDP in the 4% – 6% range to fuel an economic recovery. From 1947 – 2012 it has averaged 3.23.
  • Manufacturing output – Positive, for the first time since the first part of last year, we are starting to see some positive change in US manufacturing output. This is a good indication of how industry is doing; it was modestly increasing a year ago, leading to some guarded optimism, but for the balance of 2012 it decreased.
  • US Consumer Spending – Positive, is currently at 89 compared to 69 one year ago. Overall the past 12 months has not been strong, holiday spending was down; however, this year we are starting to see an uptrend. Economists watch consumers’ spending trends to try to track their confidence in the economy. The more confidence consumers have, the more willing they are to spend money.
  • US Household Debt Service – Positive, as a percentage of people’s disposable income is at 10.69% (June) and has been steadily decreasing from its 10 year high of about 14% in the 3rd quarter of 2008. We are keeping a watchful eye on this number, since early indicators are showing an uptick in consumer debt.
  • The Federal Deficit – Negative, is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to be $1.1 trillion for 2013; this will make 5 years in a row it has exceeded $1 trillion, and this doesn’t include all the money our Federal government borrows.
  • The US National debt – Negative, exceeds $16.5 trillion.
  • Consumer Price Index – Negative, U.S. consumer prices jumped by 0.7 percent in February, the largest increase since June 2009 due to the increase in gasoline costs last month. Annualized growth rate through December for the CPI in 2012 was 1.70%, compared to 3.0% in 2011. The long-term average annualized rate of 3.63%. The CPI is the most common indicator of inflation.

JOBS: 3 POSITIVE, 0 NEGATIVE 🙂

  • Monthly change in non-farm payrolls – Positive: 236,000 new jobs were added in January, compared to 157,000 in January, and 155,000 added in December.
  • Unemployment – Positive: February’s rate of 7.7% fell from December’s 7.9%, the lowest it has been since 12/2008. This is better than some months in 2012 of over 8% – showing a little improvement. However, keep in mind this ‘Official Unemployment’ rate only tracks those who are without jobs and have actively sought work within the past 4 weeks. Since this statistic does not track all people who are not working, some websites report that the ‘Real Unemployment’ rate is about 15% when all able-bodied people of working age are considered. For a historical perspective: The unemployment rate during the Great Recession peaked at 10.10% in October 2010. In 2012 it has varied in the range of 8.10% – 8.30%, so we are not seeing a lot of change this year. It could be worse when you consider that during the Great Depression it peaked at about 25% in 1933.
  • Initial Jobless Claims for Unemployment Insurance – Positive: The four week average has been hovering around 350,000 for several weeks, this is a little improvement. Looking back 52 weeks it averaged about 371,000,  we are seeing a slight improvement on that number too. This number is much better than it was in 2009 when it peaked at over 650,000, better than 2010 when it went from nearly 500,000 to the the low 400,000′s and for 2011 when claims were in the low to mid 400,000′s. The lowest we have seen this rate in 10 years is 282,000 in January of 2006, and the earlier part of the last decade we saw the average similar to what we are seeing now. During the Great Depression from 1929 – 1941 there was not the same level of unemployment insurance that we have today, although unions may have had some. It wasn’t until the Social Security act encouraged it in 1935. Today we have the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax to fund state agencies.

*For an overview of GDP, Unemployment and Recession indicators, see previous article A primer on recession indicators, Gross Domestic Product and Unemployment.

8 Great Articles from Other Personal Finance Blogs

Here are some great articles from various personal finance blogs I follow, from insurance to good coffee makers, and from cheap nutrition to entrepreneurial success.

  1. 7 Inexpensive Powerhouse Foods to Add to Your Diet for National Nutrition Month, from PT Money
  2. Why Frugality Matters, from the Simple Dollar
  3. Insurance: An easier way to comparison shop, from Get Rich Slowly
  4. The Five Best Coffee Makers, from Wise Bread
  5. Pay Off Mortgage Early vs. Save More For Retirement?, from Digging Deep Into The Details
  6. Should You Itemize or Take the Standard Deduction?, from Smart Tax Tips
  7. Christian Care Medi-Share Review and Reflections After 2 Years, from Money help for Christians
  8. 5 Reasons Entreprenuers succeed, from Good Financial Cents

Perseverance, Encouragement and Testimonies Help You Achieve Financial Goals

Perseverance is key in personal finances, but sometimes it’s hard to do, when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. A few people sent me these emails about how the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Class has helped them. I am posting them to be an encouragement to you: whether you’re taking a class, reading personal finance books, and trying to implement good personal finances- all the hard work is worth it.
  • The Financial Peace University gave me the confidence that I could be strong in my financial planning. Before the class I had only about $500 in my savings account. Now I have $3,000. I have paid off several bills and I am having success in getting the others paid off. I have started a savings account for my new grand daughter which I am excited about. Also, I have become more involved with non- profit organizations. I can help out on a volunteer basis and a little financially as well. The non-profit donations are not large, but I feel like it is a start. I have also been able to increase my contributions to the Vineyard -which I am most excited about. I God has rewarded me ten fold for my financial focus. -M.K.
  • My greatest success after applying the principals of Dave Ramsey was that I was able to pay for graduate school without any school loans.  I switched my spending habits to cash only and all of a sudden I had excess cash available each month.  I used this extra money to pay for my tuition. I couldn’t have done this without Dave Ramsey’s help. -L.B.
  • Just want to thank you again for offering this course.  It’s so important!!  After taking the session last summer and meeting with you, we were motivated to pay off his old student loans that had been lurking around forever, and are currently debt-free (except for our mortgage), and have about $13,000 (above our 6-month emergency fund) in the bank so far, being saved toward a 20% down payment on a future home, or whatever the Lord leads us to!  Best of all, we are more at peace about any lay-off or job change concerns that might pop up.  So thankful for this ministry!!!  -M.L

Jesus Proclaiming Good News to the Poor, Luke 4:16-21

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 4:16-21 and 16:19-25. Jesus is proclaiming good news for the poor, and is warning the rich.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21

The scripture was not fully fulfilled that day. This is an example of the ‘already not yet’ theology. The work that laid the foundation for this to fully come into being was completed in Christ’s life and death, yet the coming perfect kingdom that Christ will bring has yet to arrive. In the meantime, is the work of the saints, in part, to be about bringing good news to the poor in terms of spiritual and physical blessing?

So far reported in the Gospel of Luke about Jesus’ adult life, we witness his being baptized, being tempted in the desert for 40 days, and teaching in the synagogues in Galilee with much praise. On the occasion of this verse, he was teaching in a synagogue, still early in his ministry, in the town where he was brought up, Nazareth. Later in this chapter, verses 22-30, the people were both amazed and shocked, incensed to the point they wanted to kill Jesus by tossing him off a cliff. Jesus was reading from Isaiah 61:1. The people, being well versed in the scriptures, knew that this particular passage referred to the mission of the Messiah. Therefore, they thought Jesus was blaspheming God by claiming to be the Messiah, and the punishment for blasphemy was death.

Good news for the rich. A few days ago, I had free tickets to attend the auto show that is touring the country. I’m a car guy, so a friend and I attended. It is fascinating to see the latest technology and features available to the car-buying public. The well healed can easily find extremely powerfully 300+ horsepower sedans, SUVs and trucks. The latest luxury interiors are beautifully sculpted from finest plastic, carbon fiber, wood and leather. All have the best navigation systems, heated seats, sounds and blue tooth communication systems. The latest safety features are there too, such as early warning systems for accident avoidance if a car gets too close to you or you get too sleepy. It is easy to spend $50,000 – $80,000 to get one of these great cars. Friday in the Wall Street Journal there was an advertisement for the Inspirato American Express Card; for a mere $17,500 initiation fee and $3,000 annually I could have exclusive rights to vacation at some of the most exclusive resorts worldwide. There will always be good news for the rich; the best cars, vacations, health-care, and houses will constantly be created and upgraded for their enjoyment and benefit.

Good news for the poor? Jesus was proclaiming the Lord’s favor for the prisoner, the oppressed and the poor. In contrast, reading Luke 16:19-25 is a warning not to seek comfort and riches in the eternal world to come, where the poor will live in luxury (see also Matthew 20:16 and Mark 9:35): 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

What are we to do to bring about good news for the poor?

  • For some it is giving up things we want for our comfort to be about serving Jesus and the poor. Matthew 19:27-30: 27 Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” 28 And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. 30 “But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.
  • Avoid wearing ourselves out to get rich, Proverbs 23:4. Jesus loves everyone; the poor, the rich and those in between, and he wants the best for everyone; he provides advice and help throughout scripture to help everyone.
  • Helping the poor is not just giving them more entitlements, since that often traps people in poverty. Education, jobs, health-care, and churches help lift people out of poverty more than anything. Providing the spiritual support, skills, intellect, and new or growing business is key to moving people out of poverty. This ‘both-and’ should be a bi-partisan approach: balancing entitlements and opportunity, seldom discussed by politicians, is something we can get behind, both with our own careers and with our political involvement–something to pray about.

 *A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the thirtieth post in this series.

A Balanced Biblical View of Money and Possessions: Book Review–Neither Poverty nor Riches

Obviously your opinions on money and possessions affect the lifestyle you choose to live: all the things you buy, the amount of money you borrow, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, and how much you save and invest. More than that…

Your understanding and view of money and possessions affects career and marriage choices. Your viewpoints on personal finance and material possessions translates into how you parent your children, where you decide to live, and the clubs or fraternities you join. More than that…

What you believe about money, possessions and economics helps form your political opinions–whether you are Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Socialist, or Independent. It heavily influences who you vote for, how you think we should help the poor, what you think we should do about financing entitlement programs and the defense, and whether we should support business start-ups and growth as well as the arts. More than that…

What you believe about money also influences how you think about it throughout the day, how much you are earning for the job you do, where you are going to spend money in the next few days, whether you will have enough to make ends meet. You think about the upcoming car replacements, vacation and retirement, your hopes and dreams for the future; and for your kids–their college and when they start families. Many people think about these things and money a lot, all throughout the day. More than that…

Your beliefs about money and possessions affect your religious viewpoints–the denomination you associate with and the church you decide to attend. Rightly or wrongly, for many it plays into how you view your own success, values, self esteem, worth and place in society. It influences your viewpoints on faith and how you think God is treating you.

If our beliefs about money and possessions affect so much about what we do and think, does it make any sense to ponder where they come from, and whether they are correct? Do we start with what our parents taught us, or are our beliefs formed by this consumer-based society or what we have come to know as “The American Dream”? Are they derived from our political or economic philosophies? Do they come from our religious denomination, from what various Bible teachers have taught us, or from some of the Bible verses we know about money? Maybe our beliefs and opinions come from a mix of all of these things–but how do we know what is really right? I have to say, for myself, that I often rely too much on my own personal experience to form my beliefs.

Where am I going with all of this? Well, let’s go back to the title of this post: “A Balanced Biblical View of Money and Possessions: Book Review–Neither Poverty nor Riches.” I was attracted to this book because a few years ago my pastor wisely reminded me that our beliefs and viewpoints should start not with our political or other bent, but with what the Bible teaches–whether that be about immigration, war, race, politics or even money, possessions and economics.

The Bible has over 2,000 verses about money, so it is difficult to sort them; finding Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions has been very helpful to me. Craig L. Blomberg, a distinguished theologian and seminarian, has put together an excellent book for those who want to rethink their financial beliefs.

I like how the book covers many touchy subjects, such as prosperity, the poor, money, possessions, and wealth–all with balance and limited author bias. I enjoyed reading a fresh look at the marvelous things the Old Testament communicates and, perhaps more importantly, doesn’t communicate. In addition, I also enjoyed reading about the expanded light shown by what Jesus said.

This is a great book to read if you are interested in exploring more deeply what might be God’s thoughts on this important, delicate and far reaching subject. I encourage you readers and thinkers to work through this well researched and written book to help mold your beliefs and opinions, for it may cause you to be better stewards, voters, teachers, leaders, parents and citizens.

Extended Warrantees and Buyer Protection Plans

Is buying extended warranties a good idea? Sometimes they are called buyer protection plans too. The general consensus from almost all financial planners, writers and personal finance personalities like Dave Ramsey and Susan Orman is that they are a rip-off.

Most products come with some sort of warranty, and that is a good thing to compare when considering a purchase. However, automotive dealers and electronics sellers are always trying to get us to buy contracts that extend the normal warranty beyond the store’s or manufacturer’s.  Recently I bought a memory stick for less than $5, and I was offered a warranty by the cashier–come on, that is silly! The cost of the contract, or premium for the insurance, is usually expensive, and the odds are that most people never benefit from the investment.

They do provide some peace of mind, knowing that you won’t have to spend money in the future if the item breaks within a reasonable time period. I think there are several ways to make sure product failure doesn’t set you back financially:

  • Compare customer product reviews and ratings online before purchasing.
  • Research products in Consumer Reports. This costs a little money, but our library provides it online for free.
  • Probably the best thing people can do is to make sure they have plenty of money in their emergency savings in case a product needs repair or replacement.
  • We often buy the extended warranty ONLY for laptop computers and cell phones, especially for the one’s our children own. Laptops, tablets, cell phones and really nice iPods can be prone to break in the early years, so sometimes it is worth it to buy warranty extensions for these things.
  • Purchase things from a good retailer that you trust. Often sellers will go to bat for you to fight or recover from the manufacturer, especially if they see a lot of similar problems. Sometimes local retailers will eat the cost of the replacement or repair if they want to keep you as a customer, especially if the product failure wasn’t reasonable at all.
  • Purchase items with a credit card that automatically offers extended warranties- Is this a good idea?  This definitely goes against Dave Ramsey’s advice to always use cash and avoid using credit cards since that often causes us to overspend and build up a balance- so I don’t recommend this either. However a small percentage of credit card users are excellent at staying under budget, pay off the balance every month, and are good at non-cash negotiation, then using a credit card to provide extended warranties at no cost may be a good idea for these few people.  This is not a good option for most especially if you are trying to pay off your credit cards, and trying to break the credit card habit. If own something that you purchased with a credit card in the past, and it breaks be sure to contact your credit card company to see if there is protection.
  • Pray for your possessions. Recorded in Deuteronomy 8:4 “For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out…” Even though the Israelites were walking across the desert for 40 years, God maintained their clothing. That is why we pray for our cars, home and appliances to not break or wear out. We have a sedan with over 290,000 and a van with over 170,000 miles, with less than normal repairs. We had a set of tires with decent tread go over 100,000 miles, and hot water heaters last several years beyond our neighbhor’s whose houses were built before ours. We prayed for them and continue to do so, and are thankful for the blessing.
  • Maintain your possessions. It is excellent stewardship to not misuse possessions, as well as do regular maintenance. Simple things like car fluid changes, furnace and air conditioning (HVAC) regular service and filter replacements can extend the life of many things you own. Check your appliance’s, car’s, HVAC’s and other owners manuals for recommended maintenance schedules.

Conclusion: Extended warranties are usually expensive and seldom used, so for the most part avoid them.  If your car dealer offers you one, be sure to read the contract cover to cover a couple of times, to ensure that what you are considering buying covers those really expensive repairs that could really set you back. However, at the end of the day, praying for your possessions is one of the best things you can do.

Dealing with Financial Sins, Mark 14:38

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about Jesus telling us to pray so that we don’t fall into temptation (Mark 14:38), and Jesus’ forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-5). This article applies these verses to our finances.

One of the last things Jesus taught his Apostles before his crucifixion was to “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38  Jesus wasn’t specific about which sins he didn’t want to them succumb to, but when you read the 10 Commandments, Proverbs, and hundreds of other verses throughout the Bible, it seems many temptations involve money and possessions.

You probably don’t read or think much about financial sins every day; most people don’t. They are not talked about that much in Christian circles, yet the Bible provides tons of references. The Bible clearly tells us which financial sins we are to avoid:

  1. Gluttony, Proverbs 23:20
  2. Coveting, Exodus 20:17
  3. Idolatry, Galatians 15:19-21
  4. Co-signing, Proverbs 11:15, Proverbs 17:18
  5. Not re-paying debt, Psalm 37:21
  6. Not paying taxes, Matthew 22:21
  7. Not aiding the poor, Deuteronomy 15:7-10, James 2:14-17
  8. Not working, Proverbs 15:19
  9. Stealing, Exodus 20:15
  10. Being honest and fair in financial dealings, Proverbs 19:1
  11. Not giving, or giving with the wrong attitude
  12. Greed, Ephesians 5:3-5, Luke 12:15

There are probably many more types of sins that involve finances; the sheer number and weight of them as I was compiling this was surely a wakeup call for me. I pray regularly about having integrity and being a good steward, yet this compels me to really heed Jesus’ word to more closely watch myself and pray that I am not tempted to commit these sins.

It is really good news that Jesus wants me to pray so that I can get heavenly help. It is even better news that Jesus can not only heal my body, but he can forgive my sins, as he did for the paralyzed man:

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:1-5

When Jesus was ministering to people and forgave their sins, he usually wasn’t very specific about which sin had been committed. I don’t know if this paralyzed guy had committed any financial sins, but just looking at the sheer number of financial sins there are, chances are he committed a few of them. This tells me that I can come before the Lord and he can forgive me of all of my sins, including the financial ones. When I sin by not being a good steward, he removes the weight of the sin from me and I feel clean and free to begin again with another fresh start.

 *A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the thirtieth post in this series.

Hedonic Adaptation

Hedonism isn’t a word we use very often. If loosely defined it means happiness achieved through feeling pleasure. Many psychologists say that one of the greatest barriers to happiness is ‘hedonic adaptation.’ When you are getting ready to buy something, you anticipate the pleasure it will bring. However, after you own it for a short while, it gets relegated to the background of your consciousness. You get used to having it, and it doesn’t provide as much joy.

Psychologists say this same principle applies to almost everything, from buying electronics to marriage. They also say that when we think about losing things as a result of unfortunate circumstances, we feel the pleasure again. This negative thinking reverses the adaptation’s effect and shifts it back to where we experience pleasure once again.

I can think of several applications this has to the Christian mind.

  • Fasting from things that bring pleasure can making us appreciate them more, and giving us time to think about Holy things.
  • Hesitating: Knowing that an item I want to buy will soon after ownership deliver less pleasure than I imagined it would may cause me to hesitate before purchasing.
  • Appreciation: When I’m thankful for the things I have, it is okay to think that I could lose them: the opposite of positive thinking can lead to more happiness.
  • Giving: When I let go of money and possessions, for the moment I experience pleasure and pain together: I’m re-living the feelings I had when I originally acquired them, but now I know that it will be gone forever. I can imagine the happiness it may bring others. It forces me to consider that God is the source of my comfort and pleasure. These are perhaps the emotions the rich young ruler had in Matthew 19:16-26.
  • Relationships:  Friendships and marriages in particular require ongoing investment, since our tendency is to relegate them to the background, yet we want more from them as we get older. Doing all of these things is good for my relationship with my wife: focus on her needs, not mine (fasting)–hesitate and think of her first, appreciate her, and give things and myself to her.

Conclusion: To be a good manager of one’s personal finances, it is important to understand the thinking involved when one makes purchases of wants and not essential needs. Marketers of products know what motivates buying decisions. It may be wise to evaluate our emotions when we are getting ready to buy a new car, a new technology gadget, a house, new sporting equipment, and really anything other than basic food, shelter and clothing.

The Pros and Cons of Gambling

Gambling has been more in the news it seems over the last few years, with mega-lotteries, more states legalizing casinos, and ex-mayor of San Diego, Maureen O’Connor, losing over a billion dollars playing video poker. In this era of a rapidly growing gambling industry, we are going to see more stories in the news like this, and more people we know will be affected by its negatives.

In the United States we have casinos (commercial and Indian), sport wagering, horse and dog racing, racinos or a combination of animal betting and casino light (often only slot machines), so-called ‘Internet Cafe’ gambling, private online gambling, charitable (often non-profit bingo) and lotteries–both state and national. According to the Wiki about gambling in the USA, all states have some form of legal gambling with the exception of Hawaii and Utah. I should have covered this subject earlier, because I have met many people damaged by their own gambling or by that of their loved ones.

What does the Bible say about Gambling?

The Bible does not directly address gambling, but primarily it warns us about some of the issues around it, such as greed, covetousness, contentment, love of money, and selfishness–in fact it warns us big time about these things. So primarily for Christians it is a matter of conscience and self evaluation. When Christians consider buying a lottery ticket or walking into a casino to gamble or wager on sports, what is going through their hearts and minds?  Are they doing it for simple entertainment value, expecting to spend only a few dollars? Conversely, it might be their thinking that for a few dollars they have the chance to make a lot of money. Perhaps they consider what good they can do for themselves and their families, and of course for society by being great philanthropists. For major monotheistic religions with sacred scriptures, Judaism and Christianity viewpoints are similar. Islam forbids gambling.

What is really going on in inside me when I gamble?

My emotions tempt me to buy a lottery ticket when the mega lotteries are hitting 100’s of millions. Isn’t it good stewardship, or investing, to wager one dollar for the chance to win a billion dollars? (The record in the U.S. is $1.3 billion 1/2016.) If I am on a business trip in Las Vegas, what is the harm in gambling a little, for I might win big. Looking within, I know that basically I am a sinful man, just like everyone else. I am putting my hope in money and not in God by walking that path. It is saying that I don’t trust God, who owns everything, to bless me the way he intends to, however great or humble that might be. It is walking outside of the way I see God’s plan for my life.

Why I don’t gamble.

  • I don’t do it, for as a director of a financial ministry in a church, it totally goes against what I teach and believe–it would be wrong for me to do so.
  • Secondly, as I said in the prior section, it is walking outside God’s plan for my life.
  • It would be bad stewardship of the money God has entrusted me with to manage according to his purposes, since first God doesn’t want me to do it, and secondly the odds are extremely high that I will not win, that I am wasting that money.
  • It supports an industry that profits mainly on the backs of the poor, often may have organized crime associated with it, but I am contributing to hurting others; the profits they derive from my contribution sustain and grow it, which may end up hurting more people than would be affected if I didn’t give them any money.
  • It is a bad investment, a waste of money, since the odds of losing are very high.
  • Lastly, I am not good at it, I’ve always lost on lotteries, at friendly neighborhood card games, and once when I bet about $50 in Las Vegas.
  • The Casino environment is depressing, false and gross, and I might become addicted to it.
  • Medical science says it produces a drug for our brain, which is probably unhealthy.

Why I am against the proliferation of legalized gambling.

  • Research shows that profiting on false hope, more people become addicted to it; it leads to the breakdown of families in areas where it occurs.
  • As gambling grows, crimes such as human trafficking, domestic violence, and driving under the influence of alcohol, increases.
  • Gambling is also a tax on the poor, since a higher percentage of gamblers are those of modest to very low incomes. In my position of counseling people with financial problems, and looking at research, I have discovered that more than 50% live paycheck to paycheck, have excessive debt, and have no savings–gambling increases the likelihood of personal financial failure to those on modest incomes, and it increases their dependency on social programs. 
  • Gambling destroys self-sufficiency work ethic, causing dependence on chance instead of on hard work. The Twentieth Century Fund research group commented, “Gambling’s get-rich-quick appeal appears to mock capitalism’s core values: disciplined work habits, thrift, prudence, adherence to routine, and the relationship between effort and reward.”
  • I think it invites more corruption in government both at the high levels and locally. It puts more money, and thus power, into the hands of institutions and the powers behind them, to affect all sorts of public policies, some of which may be bad.
  • Elderly people with extra time and access to gambling often deplete reserves needed for their own survival and reduce or does away with funds they might have left as inheritances. I see older and disabled people all the time buying hundreds of dollars in lottery tickets at Kroger, when I’m in the checkout line.
  • Big windfall lottery winnings, more often than not, increase the likelihood of major depression, bankruptcy and divorce. Long-term slow accumulation of wealth develops character traits that aid in the management of large sums of money. Instant wealth often ruins high paid athlete’s and lottery winner’s lives.

Some of the positives or other points of view regarding legalized gambling

To give balance to this article, it is only fair to look at these too.

  • Some people may win big, but there’s a one in over a hundred million chance of losing.
  • People are going to gamble anyway, why not legalize it so that it is controlled and taxed heavily? Some people take this viewpoint, but some say the cost to society both in social services, breakdown of families, and corruption outweighs the benefits.
  • The taxes from gambling or profits from lotteries often go to help schools and other societal needs.  This may be true, but often funds are diverted elsewhere in government budgets, so it’s quite possible there is no real financial benefit. Plus, if the funds come from those in poverty, like research shows, it’s another unfair tax on the poor, something Christians shouldn’t support.
  • It is an innocent form of entertainment and government shouldn’t restrict people’s freedom or mandate laws based on one’s particular religious beliefs. Government has always made laws and regulations, often derived from beliefs based in religion or non-religious beliefs. Vices have always been regulated, restricted, taxed and or prohibited–including alcohol, prostitution, pornography, and gambling. Sometimes it is easier and cheaper to legalize, tax and treat medically. However, we’ve moved way beyond that, with this growing industry.
  • It’s good for the local economy.  Gambling establishments employ a lot of people and pay well. Their construction and growth of business in their areas have often been seen. While on this subject…

Is it okay to have a job working for the legalized gambling industry?

  • Some may say that working in a casino or for a related business as a Christian is an additional opportunity for them to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) to all parts of the world around them. I respect Christians who prayerfully consider working in a gambling institution, or a related industry, such as raising race horses, and decide to do so based on their own discernment and understanding.
  • On the other hand, others may say that it isn’t good for people to expose themselves to an environment that is at the least negative, and at the worst demonic. Somewhere in the middle is the argument that it could even detract them from maturing in their walk with Christ.
  • Whether one decides to seek or accept this kind of employment, it should be a matter of prayer, evaluating various scriptures about money, and seeking counsel from others (Proverbs 15:22).

In Conclusion, how should Christians respond to the proliferation of gambling?

  • Engage people in conversations about faith and money, bringing up key Bible verses like Matthew 6:19 – 24 and Proverbs 23:4.
  • Consider abstaining from it, so you don’t contribute to the industry that is harmful.
  • Perhaps, avoid investing in companies in the gaming industry.
  • Be politically active in movements against legalizing it, vote against it and don’t support politicians that do. Christians often act very un-Christ-like in the political marketplace, so they should be very conscious of their emotions and behaviors so that they don’t cast a bad light on Christianity.
  • Provide various ministry opportunities to those caught in gambling.
  • Provide financial education classes teaching wise personal financial management as a preventative measure.

The Whys and Hows of Budgeting

budgetIn this article I will answer these important cash flow planning questions: Why don’t people budget? Why should people want to budget? What will happen if they do? How to get started easily?

Why don’t people budget? It is because you (don’t fear, we have tips below to help you overcome your resistance):

  1. Don’t want to: You know it is going to take work to design a plan and track spending, and you would rather spend time doing something else.
  2. Don’t know how: You may be in the camp that just has no idea how to go about it, and has never looked into figuring it out.
  3. Takes too much time:  You have little spare time and the last thing you would rather do is math, when you could spend what extra time you have doing something relaxing, not stressful like managing money.
  4. Don’t want to change: You are afraid of reality, meaning if you really saw your numbers, you might have to change your lifestyle.
  5. They don’t like the word budget: People hear the word, and think it means shackles and chains, and no more freedom.
  6. Don’t want to know what is really going on: Ignorance is bliss. You can pretend that things will just work out magically in the end .

Why people should want to budget? Here are the reasons and motivation for doing it:

  1. Like everything else, money is a limited resource for you (unless you are a politician), and if you don’t have boundaries and limits–no plan–you might spend too much in one area and then be short somewhere else.
  2. You are willing to live like no one else, so that you can live like no one else (this is perhaps Dave Ramsey’s greatest quote), you are willing to do without things in the short run (like most people are not), so that you will have more in the future (most people will not have more).
  3. You are tired of the same old paycheck to paycheck, never have enough lifestyle–running out of money, borrowing, and stressful financial problems–you are going to do it and experience less stress.
  4. Budgeting is a adult behavior: budgeting is a grownup thing, just like getting up everyday, showering, and going to work. You will feel great when you do it.
  5. Budgeting helps you save more for the future: those that have plans for retirement and college can limit their savings today so that they will have money to set aside for future needs. You are going to budget because you have great goals.
  6. The Bible says it is wise to do it and foolish not to: Proverbs 27:23-27, and Luke 14:28-29.

What will happen if people budget? You will:

  • Have less stress: you will know where money is going, and that you will have enough.
  • Be able to cut back in the right areas when you discover you are over spending on some things.
  • Accumulate savings for emergencies and not panic next time.
  • Re-pay all of your debt and save instead of borrowing next time for something you need or want.
  • Accomplish future financial goals: because you are saving the right amount for them now.
  • Be more wise overall with your life because it will start a trend that will spread to other aspects of life.

How to get started easily? Just do it, that is…

  • Don’t call it budgeting, but instead refer to it as cash flow planning–it just sounds and feels better.
  • Do some simple math: 1.)  Add up what you are spending NOW in the categories of giving, housing, food, vacations, transportation, medical, debt, entertainment, miscellaneous, children related expenses, cell phones, eating out.  2.) If you have a deficit (expenses exceed income), go back and change your expenses in groceries, entertainment, cell phones, cable and other non-fixed items, until you have money left over.  3.) If you have debt, use all of your extra money to re-pay all of it.  4.) If you don’t have debt, make your goals for the future and begin saving for them.
  • Start tracking spending: Use paper and pencil to get started, or Excel if you are good at spreadsheets (email me–I have a good one I will give you), or a free one like Mint.com if you don’t mind them selling information about you, or buy YNAB at www.ynab.com if you want to keep your information private. Mint or YNAB will download values from your bank and work with your smart phone to track spending easily.

How To Opt Out of Credit Card Offers

stopDoes your mail box fill up with offers from credit card companies? Sometimes they will mail you checks and pre-approved credit cards. It is annoying, and its also a waste of time to go through them. You must also shred them to be sure no one steals your identity.

Those of you with an ecology or stewardship mindset would no doubt consider it a tremendous waste of our natural resources to make the paper, as well as a waste of energy to print and ship the offers. And 99% of the offers end up in the trash–the right place for them anyway.

Stopping those annoying credit card offers also helps remove the temptation to accept them. Today I went to the Federal Trade Commission website to see their most current instructions, and I cut and pasted the following for you to easily start the process:

  • To opt out for five years: Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit OptOutPrescreen.com. The phone number and website are operated by the major consumer reporting companies.
  • To opt out permanently: You may begin the permanent Opt-Out process online at OptOutPrescreen.com. To complete your request, you must return the signed Permanent Opt-Out Election form, which will be provided after you initiate your online request.

When you call or visit the website, you’ll be asked to provide certain personal information, including your home telephone number, name, Social Security number, and date of birth. The information you provide is confidential and will be used only to process your request to opt out.

March Money Madness, Who Wins?

monAnd you thought March Madness was only about basketball! March is a mad month for money, particularly this March, because the month is full of extra money but also of extra challenges–more than most months. Jon White tweeted last week about #2 below and it got me thinking. Thank you, Jon, financial coach and blogger at J W Financial Coaching for the idea and the encouragement to write this.

March Money Madness is because of the 7 things listed. Will you be the winner of this financial tournament? You have the choice to avoid the traps and gain financial advantages the month holds, or to let yourself be caught in one of the many traps.

  1. Many people get 3 paychecks in March, so your income goes up by 50%. This may not be for you this month, but if you are paid every two weeks you will get two extra paychecks two months each year. If you don’t plan for this extra money, if you don’t closely watch spending, you may spend this money without realizing it.
  2. March has 5 weekends this year. I don’t know about you, but we do more fun things on the weekend such as eating out, and more mundane things like grocery shopping. If you are not careful you may end up spending more than you have budgeted and lose the advantage of the extra paycheck because of weekend spending.
  3. March is Tax Refund month. Many people who really rely on their tax refunds have submitted their tax return already; they may get it this month. Make smart plans now what to do with this money (see below), whether you receive it this month or later.
  4. Are you due a bonus? I never realized it before, but I have spoken to a number of people who have recently received a bonus or will get one this month (see below).
  5. Basketball Tournament Winners:  Okay, this one is a stretch. However, if you enter a basketball bracket contest with a few bucks and win, you might have extra cash to plan for. I’m not advocating gambling as a financial tip, far from it (check back with this blog in several days, for I will post an important article about this).
  6. March is Spring Fever Month.  Have you been cooped up all Winter? As soon as warm weather breaks, if you live in the north you will be outside washing the car in your shorts in 50 degree weather because it will feel warm. Many stores start seeing increased sales. The lawn and garden department at your local hardware store sees a lot of new sales. In addition, automotive dealers and boat and RV sales really get cranked up starting now.
  7. Tax Refund Advertisements start. Everywhere you will see advertisements on how to spend your tax return, everything from vacation planners and cars to furniture. For a small fee, they will even give you a short-term loan until the check arrives in the mail, but the interest on the loan will probably be some crazy figure like 100+% if computed annually.

How to win the March Madness Game? If you are in debt, have no emergency savings, or are always stressed about money, this is what you can do!

What to do with extra money: tax refunds, bonuses and extra paychecks: Here is your great opportunity to get ahead in life. This doesn’t happen often, so take serious advantage of it.

  1. Invest $100 in a financial class: Take a financial class; it will only cost you $100, such as Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University. Go to his website and search by your zip code for a class near you. I promise you, your investment of $100 will return you many thousands of dollars. I am not kidding you: you will get much more back than you will ever receive in tax refunds.
  2. Put the money in a savings account, all of it!  If you need to remove the temptation right away, open up a separate account at a bank where you don’t have any accounts; otherwise, you will spend it, maybe all at once, or slowly transfer it into checking and it will dwindle away.
  3. Plan for needs and not wants: Do not spend it on vacations, large screen TV’s or vacationing if you have debt and no savings. If you have been doing without for quite a while because finances have been tight, this extra money will make you feel a sense of elation. When we feel this way, we end up spending more money. Our emotions tell us that good times are back for good, even though it is a temporary thing.
  4. Make a list of all of your savings and debts.
  5. Make a list of the things you really need:  If your car’s tires are bald, or you need money for upcoming things for medical, children’s needs, savings for Christmas in 9 months–set it aside. Now prioritize your list. Don’t forget to include tithe (10%). If you do all of these things right, you will have more money every month in the future, not just once per year.
  6. Put $1,000 in savings, if you don’t have any. This is to be used if you have a real emergency, for example, the car is on fire or a family member is bleeding. I’m exaggerating of course, but this is not for the emergency pizza. You will have a car repair or other emergency need in the future; this is your ‘rainy day’ savings so that you don’t have to borrow to make it–you see, we are trying to avoid the trap of debt.
  7. Now look at your needs list again and  prioritize the really immediate needs and debts. See how many loan payments you get get rid of by paying off some debt, and use that freed up monthly payment that you don’t have anymore to pay off the other debt each month until you are debt free (this is called debt snowballing).
  8. Put 6 months of expenses in savings for big financial setbacks like job loss. This is if all non-mortgage debt is paid off, and your $1,000 emergency fund is established. Every financial planning book says to do this, and it is really smart.
  9. It is okay to use a small part of the windfall for fun, but instead of blowing $100’s, take a few bucks a buy some steak and a nice bottle of wine and have a home date and watch a video.
  10. If you have done all of these things, you are ready to plan for intermediate things, like car replacements, or long-term needs like retirement and college education.

Just because you got a nice chunk of change, it isn’t time to live big, but by being wise you can make great decisions, and maybe this year you will advance to a stage in life of living smarter with less stress. This is what the wealthy have learned to do, and if you want to accumulate wealth, this is what you will do. Poor people blow it and a few months from now wonder were it all went; they never seem to get ahead. March Money Madness–who wins?  You will if you do these things.

Getting Jesus’ Approval for the Things We Do, Mark 13:1-2

templeThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about getting Jesus to look at the things we build, and to win approval, in Mark 13:1-2. At first glance I skipped over these verses, since I didn’t think they had a lot of application to money and possessions. However, looking a little closer, I discovered they have a lot to say.

Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

I can just picture the apostles walking along the street with Jesus as they left the temple. Wow, what an experience they had hearing Jesus teach (Mark 11 & 12). He taught them about forgiveness, prayer, Jesus’ authority, giving, stewardship, taxes and the resurrection. He taught them the two most important commandments–Mark 12:30-31: 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Yet after all of that, one of them probably nudged Jesus, getting him to look back at the temple. He might have been thinking, That was great, what you did in that marvelous temple we built for for you! Doesn’t that show you how much we esteem you? It’s big, built well, takes care of the official religious duties–didn’t we do a good job for you?  Are not we a good people for the works we do? Doesn’t this show you our devotion and our partnering with you, and your approval of us?

The temple was the center of life for them. They were proud of the nearly 50-year construction process in the center of Jerusalem. Many traveled there from far away for religious holidays. They donated a significant portion of their incomes and bought items for sacrifice.  Their hearts, minds and money were committed to the work, probably much more than 10%. Then what a blow this must have been to the apostles, to not have them hear that they were right on partnering with God on his plan up until the appointed hour.

Jesus must have been very frustrated for their focus on a temple building, of all things, following that. Jesus used that moment to give them tremendous wisdom, wisdom for the ages. He was telling them that all material things, those items that we assign so much value to, will one day be destroyed. Our churches, houses and cars will not be spared. Our investments, bank accounts, and even our 401(k) and IRAs will be gone. The trinket collection, grandma’s antiques–everything will be gone.  (Jesus elaborates more in Mark 13:3-37.)

Jesus wasn’t just being negative or overly focused on end times, but he was putting into perspective the temporal aspects of our lives. He wants us to lay our treasures instead in heaven [use them in doing his work] (Matthew 6:20). He wanted them and us to look more at what is happening on the inside (Matthew 23:23-28), to look beyond the material things into the depths of our souls.

We don’t have to win God’s approval for the things we do. He loves us more than we can ever imagine because of what Jesus did. He sets us free of fruitless lives centered on performance and religious duties, and of serving our own desires (Luke 14:26) so that we can experience carefree living–a life of loving and serving God.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the twenty-ninth post in this series.

Consumers are sometime gullible

headHave you ever bought a product but later discovered it was a piece of junk? Trevor Moore is a comedian that demonstrates how gullible some consumers are. He hocks awful products that he creates that don’t work. His brand Winnovations comes up with all kinds of ridiculous products that people believe in. For example he created a device, the Flava-Pult,  that smacks food against a wall; he tells people that the device will make food better because of what it does to the molecules. Another product, the Blow and Grow,  transfers one’s carbon dioxide to one’s scalp to grow hair. His videos show people actually using the products and they think food tastes better, or hair grows–all for laughs.

PT Barnum said a fool is born every minute, and I think he is right. Everyone has bought products from the Internet, infomercials, or maybe the fair. Last summer we went to the Ohio State Fair; walking through the various buildings we saw all kinds of products being demonstrated and sold. We bought some amazing glue that actually works better and faster than super glue. It was $20 but was worth it. Another product was this little spring action whisk that is supposed to whip things so well it can make whipped cream from skim milk in less than a minute. We didn’t buy it, but later we found the same item at a dollar store for  a few bucks. It works okay, but not quite as well as the demonstration made it look.

My experiences and these Winnovations videos tell me that we need to be careful of miracle product pitches or we may end up spending money on worthless junk. What have you bought that you later regretted?

7 Great Blog Posts from the Blogosphere

There are many great personal finance blogs that publish articles on a vast array of subjects. Check out some of these really informative recent blog posts:

  1. Should you trade in or sell your car? From One Money Design
  2. 4 Investment alternatives to equities, from Money Smart Life
  3. What you should or shouldn’t buy at drug stores, from Money Talks News
  4. Small Business Resources from the IRS, from Smart Tax Tips
  5. 4 Things to make you spend more money at the grocery store, from the Consumerist
  6. Sneaky strategies at your local grocery store, from Get Rich Slowly
  7. A well designed organization system can save you money, from Gather Little by Little