Author Archives: Kent

My Sump Pump Backup Saved Us

Have a basement with a sump pump? A sump pump backup, is a cool set-up, where you install a special system in your sump well. If your electricity goes out, or your sump pump system fails, you have a backup. Kind of like wearing suspenders with a belt. Last night, an alarm went off in our basement, indicating our primary system failed, and the backup kicking in.

Last night in Columbus Ohio a large storm system passed through, dumping about 3 inches of rain. If you have a basement, and a sump pump system, it probably kicked on. Ours did all through the night, until the 12 year-old pump failed. It quit pumping, however since in August I installed a backup system, it kicked in, to keep the water flowing out of my basements sump well. Had I not, we would have had a flooded basement.

A backup system consists of a battery-powered pump that you install alongside your current pump. The kit comes with the necessary electrics, aux. pump, float switch, marine battery box, but not the battery. In addition, you have to buy a battery and the acid to fill it (use rubber gloves, wear old clothes, and eye googles). Your shopping list should also include PCV pipe (get same diameter of your current system), check valve, glue and cleaner for the PCV, and buy a Y connector of a few different configurations (return what you don’t need). Talk to the hardware store’s resident plumbing expert, and ask him or her tons of questions- I did. Watch a few Youtube videos is helpful too. The only tools you usually need are a hack saw, and a nut driver for the check valve clamps, and plenty of rags. I recommend you buy the battery from the hardware store and not some other place, since the one’s they have seem to last longer, than the one my brother bought at Interstate Battery, the cost is about the same.

Do not buy the cheapest backup system, but one that matches your house’ size, rainfall in your area, and if a lot of water tends to run towards your home. I spent over $300 on a backup system, yet it saved me thousands of dollars. Years ago we rented an apartment that flooded, and sadly we lost most of our wedding pictures. A local company advertising basement repairs and backup systems would not give me a quote over the phone. Since I installed this at our previous home, and didn’t want a salesperson’s pitch, I decided to do this again myself.

It kind of felt good going to Home Depot today, to buy a new sump pump. Again, I interviewed the expert for the best and right new pump. I tested the old one and it definitely was bad. Although I am $200 poorer for the new pump, at least I don’t have insurance companies to call (we have a sump pump failure and sewage backup rider on our homeowner’s policy), no mess to clean up, and a no flooded-basement$500 deductible to pay. The new one took only 10 minutes to install.

How to Avoid Being Insurance Poor

‘Insurance poor’ was an expression from 30 years ago, that people would say when it seemed like too much of their money was being paid to insurance companies. What are the right kind of policies to buy? Outlined here are the 5 highest priority types, and the 5 other major types people consider.

If there is one general governing approach to one’s insurance portfolio; be smart with the amount and types of insurances that you purchase, you can’t insure against every kind of risk, and don’t spend an inordinate amount of your budget on insurance.

It is easy to feel insurance poor these days, even when you just have the three most common kinds of insurance: health, homeowner’s and auto. The insurance premiums from just these three can add up to thousands of dollars per year. However, if you take the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University, or other financial education classes, you will learn all about other types of insurance too, like disability and cancer insurance. If that isn’t enough, you’ll learn about life, long-term-care and umbrella insurance. It is no wonder that we worry about not having insurance as well as spending too much on it.

From a priority standpoint, your first obligations are to those people who depend upon you because you are their provider earning a paycheck or stay-at-home parent. They usually are you and your spouse, and too employees if you are self-employed. Equal in priority, is the law (requires auto insurance), and responsibility to your community. Community responsibility is the risk you take to bodily injury and death every time you drive your car, you could cause hundreds of thousands, to millions of dollars of damage to people or property. The lack of insurance or under insurance, forces the debt to fall to society (government, non-profits and other social service organizations like church). A similar example is if you do not have enough life insurance, and you and/or your spouse die, then the cost of caring and raising them falls to society.

Starting with your family, the law and property, since they are intrinsically related, are the needs of health, home, auto, disability and life insurance. Therefore, these are top on financial planner’s recommend list. Medical bills (health insurance), income replacement if you are sick or injured or die (disability and life insurance), and vital personal belongings (homeowners or renters, and auto insurance). Lastly, insurance for big lawsuits (called umbrella or personal catastrophe liability insurance), or when you are old or severely disabled an unable to care for yourself (long-term-care insurance LTCi), are probably the next things in line to consider.

The following list is probably the best prioritization of the types of insurances that you need, based on what you can afford. The more you make, have to protect, the more you have at risk, and can afford them. Keep in mind, this is an article, to help guide you, and start the discussion with a professional insurance agent or planner. This article does not replace professionals, and is not insurance advice.

5 highest priority types of insurances

  1. Health Insurance is usually best if acquired through an employer. If you are self-employed, be sure to purchase the type that is required by law, with an amount you can afford. If you don’t have group health insurance, consider purchasing cost-sharing plans, as an alternative to health insurance, e.g., Medi-share.
  2. Auto Insurance if you own an automobile. My son lives in NYC, and can skip this, gladly. You can too, if you only commute via public transportation, and rent cars (buy the insurance if you do not have it) or take Lyft or Uber when needed. I recommend high limits of liability and around a $500 deductible. Some advisors recommend liability only (no coverage for your car replacement or repair if you are at fault) if you have an old car, but price the cost difference. Usually it is only a very small difference; if so keep ‘comprehensive’ too, if your car is worth a few thousand dollars and you do not have that in savings.
  3. Homeowner’s insurance if you rent or own a home. Make sure that your coverage is for replacement value of the structure if you own a home, and replacement cost of the content of your home too called personal property. This insures that you are protected at current replacement values, not at depreciated valuations. Check with your insurance carrier for other important riders, such as if you have a basement, for sewage backup or sump pump failure. Shoot a video and back up on the cloud, images of your belongings.
  4. Disability Insurance, if you are working, and your employer does not provide long-term disability insurance replacing 60% or more of your income, consider purchasing this. This is usually not cheap; however, your chance of becoming disabled versus dying is greater. This insurance is also more expensive related to the riskiness of your occupation. Insurance experts recommend this coverage before life insurance.
  5. Life insurance if you have dependents such as a spouse or minor children, to replace your income, repay debts, and fund college. Term insurance is usually the most affordable type for the vast majority of people’s budgets.

The following 5, are the optional types of insurance, and would be less important for most people than the 5 preceding types just outlined. These are highly dependent on one’s affordability, financial net worth, need and personal preference.

  1. Umbrella or personal catastrophe liability insurance covers you for extra personal liability above the limits on your homeowner’s and auto insurance. You can purchase several million dollars’ worth of coverage for only a few hundred dollars. Most financial planners recommend people have this, in our litigious world in which we live.
  2. Cancer or named-illness insurance provides lump sum benefits and or income, for specific diseases such as cancer or heart attack. These are usually offered through payroll deduction. Most experts advise against these, because the chance of benefiting from them is very low. However, a co-worker benefited greatly from it, as did my brother, when they both got cancers. In these days of high deductibles, sometimes this insurance is a low-cost substitute or addition to disability insurance. However, it falls short of that in many ways.
  3. Long-term-care insurance (LTCi) covers people if they cannot care for themselves and need to be cared for in a nursing facility, or at home by medical professionals, and caretakers. This usually comes into play in old age, but many times, people get afflicted at younger ages too, prior to age 65. I really struggle to recommend this kind of insurance in the last few years, unless it can be purchased through an employer, or if your family has a history of needing this kind of protection. The reason I hesitate, is that this coverage usually gets very expensive as you age, even if purchased when young. Secondly, many insurance companies are increasingly finding this coverage difficult to estimate claims, thus they do not know how to price it. Many insurance companies even have gotten out of the LTCi market entirely. I recommend that people consult professional advisors and long-term-care professional prior to purchasing it.
  4. Retirement income insurance is how income annuities are being marketed these days. Annuities can guarantee a stream of income, which cannot be outlived (as long as the insurance company remains solvent). Some people in their retirement years fear that a fluctuation in the bond or stock market could wipe out their savings, and since safe bank accounts only pay a few percentage points in interest, income annuities can be attractive. Income annuities are perfect for some people, for a portion of their investable assets, while others they consider their costs to be too high (fees). Consult several annuity, investment and financial advisors before purchasing, and only purchase from well-rated insurance companies. If putting a lot of money in annuities, consider using more than one insurance company.
  5. Extended warranty is insurance offered on cars, furniture, cell phones, electronics and Cell phones. Again, almost every advisor I have ever heard recommends against this kind of coverage. I too recommend against it, however it doesn’t hurt to price it, for things like lap top computers, expensive leather furniture (for example), and Cell phones for children who are prone to breaking things. If the coverage is cheap, and the items could easily be damaged, based on one’s lifestyle and family makeup, then it might be worth considering. I usually do not buy it, but a few times I did, I was glad so, but a few times I regretted it because it was never needed (e.g., from Costco on a TV).

Don’t forget, of vital importance is prayer and self-care!

In conclusion, carrying the right amounts and types of insurance that you can afford is wise Godly stewardship. In addition, two other areas are very important too. Prayer and personal responsibility. In this fallen world in which we live it, it is important to pray for good health, against accidents, sicknesses, diseases and death, along with praying for protection of our personal property. Lastly, as mature Christian stewards, we have a responsibility to be caring and careful. Caring for our bodies, by controlling our weight, eating, sleeping, working and drinking healthfully. Having manageable levels of stress and activity are as important. Driving safely is important too, being aware at all times (not looking at cell phones), helps to insure safety for everyone. The vast majority of accidents and health problems relate to our behavior. Monogamous faithful marriages eliminates the risk of STDs. Low weight, non-smoking, less stress, and avoiding sugar, lowers the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Exercise helps with strength, balance, and well as mental and emotional health. Lastly, research indicates, that people who attend church are happier and more joy filled. Being in a growing relationship with Jesus helps us in every area of life, from decisions, to life management. All things that will contribute to a better life.

Matters of Financial Disappointment and God

Are you ever disappointed with God?  Do you feel he should have blessed you some way with money, but you didn’t get what you wanted? Can you still remain joyful in disappointment and after failure?

It’s absolutely a test that all Christians will endure. There is one thing I can guarantee you, and that is you will not always get what you want in life. This is especially true for many of the things you want the most. I do believe that God generously provides, sometimes in miraculous ways, and I will always ask for blessings that I think are right. But at the end of the day, can you be happy with what ever happens?

Why do I ask this question? Many Christians are depressed, because of their money expectations. In their minds, they expected certain outcomes for following Jesus. To narrow it down to a financial context, American Jesus followers expect a minimum type of housing, menu of food on their table, car they drive, spouse that cares for their every need with his or her great income and their fulfilling job. If they don’t get it, many become depressed; unhappy because they have difficulty experiencing joy and hope because they think it has to do with money, but it never does.

They look around at the better lives their friends enjoy. Big house in the suburbs, great vacation in the islands. They become discontent with the things God has given them. They wonder why Jesus let them down, or where they failed. Jesus the happy pill never materialized. They take their disappointment out on the highway or their spouse; you know it, either you’ve been that idiot driver, the pointing finger spouse or on their receiving end.

Can you buy happiness, joy and peace? Of course not; you can buy fun, but never those other things. How then do you get it, you might ask? The answer is Jesus.

Walking with Jesus is the only way. Happiness, joy and peace (HJP) is known when we live and walk with him. Not only can’t you buy HJP, nothing can take it from you. Even your failures can’t stick on you long to prevent this. Neither can injustices, failures and disappointment steal it. Do you wonder if there is a decisive Bible verse that promises this? Yup there are several; the most famous ones are Romans 8:31-39.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?  Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Your joy, your peace, your happiness can never be earned, and it can’t be achieved through some great financial payoff. This is a hard one to get, especially for me, a goal driven person, who likes things perfect. Goals and perfection can’t deliver this either, not even a fantastic retirement with every comfort and excitement possible. Nothing can buy or steal these things of love, because according to these verses nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus.

This is good news; no matter how hard you work to earn a living, and you don’t achieve many of your financial goals, you can still be enormously full of HJP. Likewise, you don’t have to continue to hold out hope, working for these blessings, they are already freely available to you. It is even better than that, not even your failures, sin or shortcomings can prevent it. That is good news!

With this knowledge, you can change how approach your money, job, your role as a steward, and even generosity. This is liberating. You can stop trying to earn HJP, but begin to learn to receive it, it is ready for you to plunge in, fall back into the loving arms of Jesus, it’s better than the Nestea plunge. People I know who live like this, tend to be more successful at work, because they are not as tense and anxious at others. They often are better savers and spenders, and more generous too, because they are not trying to buy happiness for themselves today or borrow to get it.

Resources for Saving at the Grocery Store

Great tips and services for saving hundreds of dollars at the grocery store

One of the first things people discover when they start watching their budget closely, is the high percentage of their income going just for food. Grocery costs are very high these days, but it is one of those categories you have some control over, unlike many other fixed expenses. Therefore, the effort and attention is worth it.

There are various methods and tips to save a lot of money at the grocery store, and some people put a lot of time and effort into couponing, and they love it. Many others of us have tried that, but it just isn’t their thing. That’s okay, there are other ways, such as Emeals.com which is a paid service to plan meals matched to local sales. Some people buy all of their groceries once a month and it saves them a lot of money. We often go to discount stores like Aldis. Do you still want to do couponing but don’t have the time it takes? If so, check out the paid online service The Grocery Game that does a lot of the leg work for you.

The Ohio State University is helping people out with this too, with classes and training about meal planning, cooking and other resources; check out Simple Suppers.

If it is free, should you take it?

free foodWe live in a Costco free-sample world, if it is free, we grab it without a second thought, is that good for us?

If something is offered to us and it is entirely free, should we take it? It is amazing to me when I go to Costco on Saturday mornings. Some people will wait in line, or push in front of you, just for a free very small piece of frozen pizza.

However, it’s quite obvious from their (my) waistline there are few people starving, but always in want of more. If you observe the customers at Costco, they appear to be doing okay financially. They have nice clothes, and the parking lots seldom has older junk cars, in fact I notice a lot of really nice cars that cost $50,000 to $75,000 and more. It’s strange to see financially well off people elbowing for scraps of food. How would these people behave if our country went through real food shortages?

The amount of food given away there Saturdays is quite astonishing. You can literally skip lunch and get an adequate 500 calorie meal just passively walking around the store once or twice. I have a pre-determined path I circle. I head towards the meat area after I buy produce. I get a sample of meat, cheese or smoked salmon, and then head towards the dairy section, hoping to grab prepared meal kind of food sample. On a good day I’ll find a drink sample to wash down a little free humus or salsa on a designer cracker or chip. As I head to the biggest refrigerator/freezer section on the planet, there will surely be at least three more things to eat. Sometimes a vendor is giving away samples of perogi, or smoothies, or what ever new product they are pushing. At the end of each freezer/refrigerator is someone cooking a good smelling high calorie or fat, processed yummy blob in an over-sized toaster oven or electric skillet. The ultimate free-food victory is achieved if you pass the frozen pizza as it is being removed from the oven, and no one is in line. If you are out of luck, six people are ahead of you, and they grab extra samples to feed their spouse and kids. Dessert can sometimes by had, in the form of chocolate covered Acai berries or toffee, as you aim for the shortest check-out line. Isn’t this all gross?

In writing this, I am coming to terms with this insane middle-class free-food eating frenzy. It’s like a school of piranha attacking a bleeding carcass of animal that fell into the Amazon, or a gam of sharks, feeding on a deceased floating whale.  I eat these free-food samples, even though I have no intent of ever buying them, just because I am a glutton. I always over-consume free food, like when at a potluck I always over indulge. However, from now on I  am going to stop doing so, unless I am really considering the purchase.

Doesn’t this all tell us about something much bigger in life and in ourselves? Nothing free is really free, except for grace. Even every free thing comes with a cost to someone, like the store I am taking advantage of, to my character for taking something I don’t need or didn’t intend to consider, or to my bulging waistline. Then there’s the cost to the concept of no benefit unless there’s work. Gluttons like me always want more, and this isn’t good character. I don’t want my mind to constantly have a free-so-grab attitude, or to feed my tendency for gluttony when passing the potluck line, or free sample island at the grocery. From the moment I write this sentence, I vow to curb this kind of gluttony: I vow to only try a free sample if considering its purchase, not eat too much at potlucks, not over-order food when someone else is picking up the check. My character is at stake and my work ethic is being compromised. The health of my mind, spirit and body  is infected by my free-grab-more habit. The free for all, without work is not good, and leads to an attitude of entitlement. I vow to resist this, and am asking God for help. If you can relate to this, please comment below.

There is one last thing to consider, and that is the more we sample, the more we buy things off-budget. Meaning, the most economical way to shop is to use a list, and only buy according to your plan. However, studies show that when we sample food, we end up buying them- so there is a cost. For more information about this, read this article in the Atlantic.

Bible references:

  • In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching[a] you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (Thessalonians 3:6-10).
  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15)
  • For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags (Proverbs 23:21)

 

Tackling the greatest budget buster – Emotions!

The biggest budget busters might be eating out and entertainment, but it’s really our emotions that cause us to overspend. You’re over-stressed, tired, or bored.

Did you bark at the bad driver while commuting to and from work today? Did you find a mess at work to deal with?  Did something make you so mad that you wanted to pop.  It’s not Monday noon yet, and anxiety is rising in your chest, like bile from your stomach you can almost taste it. You can’t wait until the day is over, the dishes are put away, the kids are in bed, and you are chilling on the sofa medicating yourself with  some nonsensical TV program or book snacking. On the way home, it would be easy to stop and medicate life with a shopping trip, or an oasis at the restaurant. Maybe a glass of wine in the evening; “Well that was nice, maybe another, or…?

Truth is you are out of control a times, admit it. If you allow your emotions to control you, you are doing life on your own, and it’s not supposed to work that way. It doesn’t work that way. For this post, I’m assuming you have a budget that you follow each month, and track spending. However, if you are like me, life just gets busy and stressful at times. When you are stressed you tend to be more anxious. The more anxious you are, the more you spend on budget-busters.

What are you anxious about? You think it’s life, external things that make you feel this way, but you are wrong if you think like this. Anxiety is an internally derived emotion, and like many of our emotions, it’s our natural response to errors in our thinking or reacting to the world around us. Busy people face this and so do lazy folks who need something just to do.

Anxiety is caused by the sense of separation from God, and our lack of focusing on him throughout our day. It is when you are carrying your loads not only for today but for tomorrow too, and all on your own shoulders without help. Why are you separated from God? It’s probably because the busier you are, the less time you have for him in your life! If your day is full of activities, commuting, working, and trying to keep your home sane, you push God to the margins. With more extra activities we put on top of normal things like doing laundry, preparing meals, running errands and relaxing during down times, we have less time for God.

Life is so busy, the average church goer only attends worship services about once a month, fewer read and pray regularly. I think this is because we associate spiritual activities with work, which we try to offset by things for one’s self like exercise, fun and relaxation. Who has time for devotions, small group, and worship services every day, or every week? There just isn’t enough time for work and for one’s self, is there? How’s that working for you?

Please see this vicious, terrible cycle. You are stressed, tired and want an escape. You want more time for yourself. You fill up your margin time with things for you, busy fun things that are good, that God intended for us to enjoy. However, they don’t satisfy us enough, and our anxiety is only mildly reduced. In an effort to have space between things that make us anxious, we leave little focused time for God. Without this we are more stressed. The next day, it repeats itself all over; more stress, more time for self, less time for God.

Let’s look in the Good Book for some insight:

  • Don’t be anxious: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt 6:34 ESV).
  • Each day has new good things from God: “Because of the LORD’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!” (Lam. 3:23-24 HCSB).
  • Jesus lightens our load and give us peace and rest: “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28 NLT).
  • Life with Jesus is a life of ‘More’ and not ‘Less:’ “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:10 KJV).
  • He invites us to receive from him: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost (Isa 55:1 NIV).
  • Life with Jesus is one of all kinds of material, emotional, and spiritual food: Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35 NIV) .
  • We ask and he provides today’s needs: “Give us today our daily bread (Matt. 6:11 NIV)”
  • We have help: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you ” (John 14:16-17).
  • Jesus is with us: Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23).

You were not designed by the creator, to do life without the him. In the garden the Creator, Adam and Eve worked together. It isn’t any different for you and me. We are to begin each day with him in Bible reading and prayer. At the end of the day, our final thoughts should go out to him in prayer too. In between those hours, when we work and go about, we can be mindful of him in even mundane activities, and look for him even in the most stressed of times.

We don’t carry tomorrow’s worries. We ask and get help from God along the way. We think of him, and in our hearts talk to and spend time Jesus and the Holy Spirit throughout or day. He is near to us. This is the abundant life of less stress and anxiety he intends for us. When we have less stress and anxiety, we spend less on things we don’t need. God centered people are more generous towards others and God with money and time, desire to spend less on themselves accumulating more and more unnecessary material possessions. Happy people are those who are enjoying him and the things he intended for us to have. These are the people that are daily walking with Jesus, and spending quiet time with him and worshiping him during weekend services and with friends in Bible studies and small groups.

Doing life, just one day at a time. Each day is a gift all by itself. We only get one at a time. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is unknown. Seek Jesus for what he has in store for you for today. For now, that’s enough.

How to Budget Using Mint.com: Spend, Click, Track

mintHow to Use Mint To Create and Follow a Budget

Preface: There are four ways design a budget and to track spending: 1. paper  2. Excel  3. YNAB and 4. Mint.com. You can use paper and pencil along with cash and envelopes. The Dave Ramsey way, you could say, and that works great. Often that’s the best way to start out. We did it by hand for several years, but now we use an app.  Free apps like Mint, or one you purchase like YouNeedaBudget.com, also known as YNAB, are easy ways to do it. Many people ask me should if they should use Mint for free or YNAB for a one-time fee? I think its personal preference.  Mint is free  but they sell your information to Big Data firms and for marketing you things. Like my son says, if it’s free, it is you that are being sold. YNAB on the other hand is private. Both offer downloads from your financial institution and have mobile applications.  Dave Ramsey’s organization has a new app, called Every Dollar. It’s advertised as free, but the only free version is free-standing, meaning without data downloads from your bank. If you want that, you’ll pay $99 each year (YNAB is $60 once). In this article I will describe how to use Mint. In later articles I’ll review YNAB and Every Dollar.

There are 5 things to do get up and running to use Mint.com:

  1. Design your budget first, but do not worry about the Mint.com app yet, that’s down the road
  2. After your budget is designed, then sign up for Mint.com
  3. Then familiarize yourself with the app on a laptop or desktop computer
  4. Customize your Mint.com account
  5. Use the app to track spending

The following are step-by-step instructions on to easily do this, along with a spreadsheet for first designing your budget:

Step 1: Cash Flow Plan – Design a Budget

Designing a budget before signing up to Mint is the first thing you need to do. If you sign up for Mint, like over 50% of people, you will not use it. That is because you didn’t first design a balanced budget. This means you have to account for almost every dollar and expense in an organized manner first. After you have done this then you are ready to create and modify a new account at Mint. To make this as easy as possible I’ve created an Excel spread sheet for you, it mirrors exactly the flow of Mint. I call it the Mint Designer, so download it, and design your budget before doing anything else. Then follow these next steps to do two things, first it will familiarize yourself how Mint is set up, and secondly to learn how to set yours up.

Step 2: Sign up for Mint (see image below)

  1. Go to Mint.com and register for a new account
  2. Use a desk top/laptop computer since a phone screen may be too small 
  3. If you have an old Mint account, that you have not used for quite some time, delete it and then in 24 – 48 hours create a new one
  4. Add all bank accounts that you use for spending to the app
  5. If you’re married and your doing this together and share accounts, add your spouse’s email to the settings, this way, both will be notified when spending goes over budget

mint1

Step 3: Familiarize yourself with Mint’s Budget section

  1. Select ‘Budget’ at the top of the page (#1)
  2. Find the ‘Create a Budget’, but don’t click it yet (#2)
  3. Find Spending section (#3)
  4. Find and click the Everything else section, this is where Mint puts expenses that don’t have a ‘Budget’ yet (#4)

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Step 4: Familiarize yourself with Spending section of Mint

  1. Each section has a Category and Sub-category:  in this example ‘Auto & Transport’ is the main category, and ‘Gas & Fuel’ is the subcategory
  2. When you highlight a category, you will now see a little magnifying glass (#1) and a green ‘EDIT DETAILS’ (#2)

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Step 5: Familiarize yourself with the Transactions section (magnifying glass) within a category

  1. This takes you to a list of all transactions (below) in a month for that category and subcategory (#1 arrow above), this is where you change/move an expense to the correct category
  2. You can even split between categories (Y)

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Step 6: Familiarize yourself with ‘Edit Details’ of listed budget items

  1. Click the little green ‘Edit Details’ (#1)
  2. Enter the dollar amount for this expense number (#2)
  3. If the expenses is every month, check the first ‘Every Month’ (#3)
  4. If you want the expense to be cumulative, meaning some months you may have $0 expense, this will be an average (#4)
  5. If the expense is something like quarterly, select ‘Every few Months’ (#5)
  6. If you want to Delete the expense (#6), which starting out you might do for all categories if you want to have a clean page to start from scratch

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Step 7: Familiarize yourself with the “Create a Budget’ section

  1. Select ‘Create a Budget’ (#1)
  2. Choose a Category with the up/down next to the blank (#2)
  3. A list of Categories and Sub-categories will come up, select one (#3)
  4. Complete the amount of the budget and click Save (#4)

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Step 8: Familiarize yourself with the “Add or Edit  (sub) Categories’

  1. Select ’Create a Budget’ (#1)
  2. ‘Choose a Category’ with the up/down next to the blank (#2)
  3. A list of Categories and Sub-categories will come up, select the Main Category that you want the new Sub-Category to appear
  4. List of Sub-Categories appears already, if you don’t see one you want like a Motorcycle Payment, go to next step
  5. Click ‘Add/Edit Categories’ (#3), then ‘Manage your Categories’ comes up (#4), click ‘Add a Category’ (#5) , type ‘Motorcycle Payment’ or something from your budget (#6), click ‘Save it’. The list of your custom categories will appear under ‘Your Categories’

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Step 9: Change the current budget: you are now familiar with the Mint’s set up, you will now input your new budget you will be following

  1. Gather your Mint designer budget spread sheet
  2. Login to Mint.com
  3. Compare your Mint designer budget to the budget items Mint already created for you, change the monthly amount to the amount in your new budget, by clicking the green ‘Edit Details’ (#1)
  4. If the expense is the same each month, you are done, click ‘Save’
  5. If the expense is every now and then see #3 and #4, if it is something like quarterly, see #5

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Step 10: Add New Budget Items

  1. Click (#1) ‘Create a Budget’ the ‘Create a Budget’ screen will come up, select from the list of Categories AND Sub-categories that will come up (#2), select the one (#2) that you have in your Mint designer
  2. Enter the correct dollar amount (#3)
  3. If you don’t see the Subcategory that you want, go to the next page step

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Step 11: Create New Custom Sub-categories

  1. Select create a budget (#1)
  2. Choose a Category with the up/down (#2) that you want the Subcategory to be in
  3. Click the little green, ‘Add/Edit Categories (#3)
  4. Click ‘Add a category’ (#5) blue box appears, type ‘Motorcycle Payment’ or something from your budget (#6), click ‘Save it,’ the list of your custom categories will appear under ‘Your Categories’
  5. Enter the dollar amount for that new budget item (#7)

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Step 12: Clean Up unassigned expenses

  1. Go the bottom of your ‘Budget’
  2. Click ‘Everything Else’ (#1)
  3. This is a list of every expense that your bank has imported, but doesn’t have a Category assigned to this expense, this is because Mint didn’t intuitively know where to put it  –or–  you didn’t include this expense in your original Mint designer or ‘Create a Budget’
  4. Click one of the categories, such as ‘Fees & Charges’
  5. Assign that expense to the appropriate ‘Budget’ category IF you already have a budget for that item, if you don’t go back to ‘Create a Budget’ and create one. Then go back to everything else and choose the Category for the new budget amount. If it was cash (ATM) choose the correct category for it.

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Summary: Key to any financial plan, whether just starting out, or retiring tomorrow is to have a cash flow plan and a way to track spending so that you stay within your spending limits. Your action plan is to design a budget and track spending. Next, if you don’t have a financial plan to help you track everything else, sign up for eFinPLAN.com, it’s an easy to use, comprehensive approach to reaching your financial goals.

7 Lies Christians Believe About Fun During Financial Recovery

The key to financial success is learning how to enjoy life, and budgeting for fun even during financial struggles

This is for you, if you are living on a very strict budget, either because things are just very tight, or you are digging yourself out of a bad financial situation. This is also for those that have difficulty spending any money on themselves or their family, for anything other than the normal necessities.

Personal finances can be a heavy and difficult subject. Money management, at least from a Christian perspective can be laden with a lot of worry or fear. This is especially true if we have financial problems, since it carries a lot of emotion. You might be taking financial class, receiving financial counseling and doing everything you can to improve. It’s hard work, and during these lean times, all of your money is going for things like food, housing and debt, and you are not spending anything on fun. You are enjoying little entertainment and it’s been forever since you’ve been on vacation. You wonder if it is going to be forever before you can enjoy life again, or if you can have fun in the meantime.

One thing I’ve come to realize is that if you are not having some fun and enjoying life along the way, then more than likely you will fail in this. Life is just too stressful and besides we have been created by God to enjoy life. So if you don’t know how to enjoy life, financial management is always going to be associated with drudgery and withholding things that make life fun.

For me writing this fun, I do this sometimes late into the evening and on days off. This was especially fun to write, because it reminded me about all of the reasons I have to be joyful and experience fun things that I can soon do.

A warning though should be given to those of us, who don’t have any difficulty saying no to themselves, when it comes to over indulging in as many pleasurable things as possible. Hedonism is a word that we don’t use very often and it means that pleasure is the proper aim of human life. Hedonism is the triplet brother to materialism and greed. The Declaration of Independence drafted in 1776 says that one of the foundational “self-evident truths” of our country are three unalienable rights, “The pursuit of happiness,” for all Americans is right up there with life and liberty. God did give man the ability to enjoy pleasure, but contrary to the Declaration, it’s not the reason we live. Therefore, limiting our diet to it, as Jesus disciples us in stewardship is a good thing. However, pleasure and fun is not a bad thing, and since we are made to have it, a good financial plan should include it.

Lie 1:  Christians aren’t supposed to have fun

Some Christians can’t have fun or enjoyment, because they just don’t think Christians are supposed to. If they do, some feel guilty, for enjoying earthly pleasures. Somehow they think good things can only be experienced within the confines of the church building, or doing religious activities. Many Christians attach negative attitudes towards marital sex, entertainment, and just having simple fun.

Truth 1: God designed up to enjoy pleasure. God thoughtfully desired to bless us with 5 senses to enjoy his creation: taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing. He created sex, thought, imagination, love and a full range of emotions and feelings. All of these mysteries that we can experience in our body, most fully in moral boundaries that he erected to give us pleasure, and a lot of times without spending much money. God is truly amazing.

Put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Tim 6:17b)

Truth 2: God created everything for our enjoyment. God provided creation for us to enjoy, that is why there is nothing better than to be outside in a woods, walking through a park or strolling down the fairway at the golf course, staring up at the sky during a warm summer evening, and sledding down a hill on a frosty day. Being in nature is one of the most nurturing things we can do for our souls, especially if we’ve left things behind like Smartphones.

Truth 3: Jesus is the abundant life and not things. Jesus indicates the “abundant life” is (John 10:10) through life with him and not stuff. He talked about the fruit of life, with him:  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).” Examples of the fruit we get to enjoy are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These rich blessings are available to anyone regardless of the amount of money they have, also come with eternal life (John 3:16), the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), and all that he brings. Jesus even promised that he will provide for our needs (Matthew 6:33). Focusing on these things, helps us to let go of anxiety and worries, giving us a joyful light heart.

Lie 2: You can’t have fun unless you have a lot of money

While writing this section, I checked my Facebook status, and front and center was a picture of a friend from high school and brother in the faith. He and his bikini clad wife are staring back at me from a boat in Cancun. Next to him, I believe are his daughters, all tanned, with 14 Amberjack fish they just caught in the foreground. They are smiling, and holding beverages. Meanwhile I sit in Columbus Ohio, during a late day in March with temperatures in the 40’s and rain. It’s pictures like this that people envision when they think of having real fun. This is a lie, life can be good everyday.

One day when I was about 16 years old I had a conversation with a fairly wealthy man, the father of a high school acquaintance. This was a good family, and we had a lot of fun together snow skiing in Aspen and water skiing on lakes. As I recall the conversation, he me that having an enjoyable life involved making good money, and being able to have a lot of fun. 35 years ago I still recall this conversation, because over time I have struggled with what he said, what I thought, and how I think now. I wasn’t a believer in Christ then, but I knew at the time something didn’t ring true about this. Many people believe this way that they have to endure less than enjoyable work, in order to have fun on the weekend. Christians often fall into this same trap of equating enjoyment to money, and more enjoyment to more money.

Truth 4: Simple pleasures have the best memories. Another truth is that when you look back at your life and the wonderful experiences you’ve had, great vacations, trips to Disneyland, and flying down the reservoir in a boat, the best memories are nothing like that at all. My best memories of growing up were simple times, requiring very little money, having home-made Chef Boyardee pizza at a birthday party, laughing so hard milk came out of my nose. Simple get togethers around my daughter and son-in-law’s backyard fire, acting silly, with my wife as she rolls her eyes as I howl at the moon. Fun is a state of mind, and you can have fun driving down the road, just laughing at the silliness of crazy drivers. I think Jesus in part wants us to be more childlike enjoying simple pleasures when he told us “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3)

Truth 5: There are a lot of things, to do that cost little to no money. In almost every community there are plenty of free concerts, libraries full of books, music and movies to borrow. TV has proven to decrease people’s happiness. We fool ourselves thinking that it is relaxing, but it really drains people more than it gives life. My wife and I reduced our viewing to a few hours per week, and replaced it with listening to free internet radio through our low-cost home internet radio audio system. Our attitudes have remarkably improved. We can listen to endless legal free music, something we really enjoy doing as we read. Music, the arts, museums, zoos and discount movie theaters provide us with a lot of low-cost entertainment options.

Truth 6: Include in your budget items for fun and enjoyment. Even if your finances are really tight, make sure that you plan some money for simple things, within reason. This might include eating out, movies, inexpensive concerts, and nice food that you buy for a really nice home cooked meal. However, when you add up your entertainment expenses for the month include cable TV, as well as monthly costs for Smartphones. When we go to a restaurant to eat, or spend money on a vacation that we have budgeted for, it’s so much more enjoyable. In the past we might charge it, and have no idea what’s going on in our budget, so something intended for fun didn’t feel as enjoyable. Now when we spend on these budgeted fun things, it seems more enjoyable.

Truth 7: Community is one of the greatest sources of joy. Some of the happiest people on the planet are those that live in poor crowded communities, research has proven this. God has created us as relational beings, who are most happy when in we live in community with friends. Americans isolate themselves in their homes filled with toys, and man caves. Our personal castles, that become shrines unto ourselves. We hide behind curtains; confine outdoor activities to backyard decks with perfect ‘don’t step on the grass’ moats out front.

So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun (Ecclesiastes 8:15 NLT).

The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes tells us that one of the most enjoyable things humans can do, is to have a great meal and beverages, with your friends. This is one of simple but potentially most fun thing humans can do. Make it a goal to have a least one really great meal at home each week, and invite people over to enjoy it with you. Stay up late playing games, snack on things you don’t normally eat, and celebrate life.

Lie 3: God will not bless me with good things in the future

This post is titled the lies we believe, why we can’t have fun today, but this lie works in the inverse, thinking we’ll never have fun, so we have to splurge today. I’ve had people tell me they don’t believe God will ever bless them with what they want. Sometimes they joke saying they might die before good things happen, so they have to live for today.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

Picture yourself online getting ready to book a cruise in the Caribbean, and your finger is hovering over the complete purchase button. Maybe you are in the auto dealership getting ready to buy a car that you can barely afford. You’re starting to come to your senses, and you hesitate. Then you hear this voice, “I’m going to do this, if I wait on God he’ll never bless me with this. Who knows what tomorrow holds, I’m going to do this today!” The truth is God has a lot of good in store for you in the future, but don’t make a bad decision today and mess up some future blessings he might have in store for you tomorrow.

Truth 8, you can have fun today, but not at the expense of tomorrow’s. I love the saying of Dave Ramsey: “Live like no one else, so that you can live like no one else.” Essentially this says that we can avoid some stupid financial mistakes today, so that in the future you will have more money and can afford to some things that those who kept living stupidly, won’t then be able to do. This is the truth, and there are a lot of things you can do, for little to no money that have been just covered.

Lie 4:  There’s no fun or joy until all problems are resolved

Do you hope someday that you won’t have any problems so that you can finally enjoy life? I have bad news for you; this side of heaven that day will never come. Good spiritual and mental health requires the ability to enjoy life in the middle of stress and chaotic seasons of life many of us are in. Don’t get caught in the in the ‘if only trap.’  If only I had more money, I could afford to make my problems go away. If only this or that problem went away, then I could enjoy life. America seems to be increasingly full of OCD fanatics. People that are mild or severe Obsessive Compulsive Disordered people who demand perfection, and total order and they can’t relax unless everything is just so.

Life is hard and for many people things just haven’t worked out the way we always dreamed they would. When we were children we imagined the perfect marriage, beautiful house, beautiful spouse and kids, perfect body, sexual satisfaction, great successful spouse, and successful career with a lot of money. Some people never figured they might have challenging marriages, singlehood, bad economy; mismatched career or health challenges would come their way. People never imagined the mistakes they made, and the regrets they now have. Some people think you can’t be happy now that life has worked out the way it has.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me (1 Cor 13:11).

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Adulthood is waking up to the fact that not all of life’s dreams will work out. We will have troubles. Christian maturity is accepting this, and not blaming your spouse, others or God. It is not living in a constant state of being mad and bitter, it is accepting things for what they are today.

Truth 9: Life will never be perfect.  If you peel back the veneer on life, scratch beneath the surface of your perfectly clean house and facade, you are a mess. We all are, so welcome to the club. I’m a mess, you’re a mess, and everyone around you is mess. You can quit pretending everything is okay, on your way to a perfect life. Perfectionists can relax too, there’s always going to be one more mess to clean up, thing to paint, and car that needs its oil changed. I’m not saying to let it all go, and live in squalor, but let it all go your attitude of perfection or absence of problems goal. It’s never going to happen, no matter how hard you try, life sometimes just sucks.

Dr. Leo Buscaglia told an interesting story during a lecture I once attended that really caught my attention, and has spoken to me for years, even though he died in 1998 it continues to inspire me.  I recall this author and motivational speaker telling a story from his childhood, where many of his stories come from. In this particular real life event, his father came home from work, after finding out they were financially destitute, because the business partner took all of the money and bankrupted the business. Leo’s mother’s response was to celebrate life. She cooked up a big meal, and they enjoyed the blessing of the day. There is a clue to happy life imbedded in that story.

I was let go from my dream job 2 days after Christmas 2006. My wife and I stood in the kitchen hugging, crying, repenting and forgiving. Yes, they recruited me from a high paying secure corporate position with great benefits, and after a few days, told me the last ten people they hired for that position didn’t work out either. So we dreamt of the future of what God had in store for us, and we had a great meal together, just like Leo’s family did decades ago. It’s been hard, but we got through it, and I am happier now than ever. Yes life sucks sometimes, but forgive and move on. We don’t appreciate the good times, unless we’ve gone through bad seasons.

Lie 5: The advertising and media messages are right

Culture’s voice can never be silenced, and is always calling out, and interfering with your thoughts about the things money touches. The advertising world is constantly screaming out to us why we aren’t satisfied, or worse how insufficient, ugly and unhappy everyone is. Of course they do that making us want to buy their thirst quenching products. Advertising is everywhere, we are constantly being drowned in it, either on our Smartphone, internet, TV, radio, and on about any kind of property that advertising space can be purchased on. Even the end of the gas pump handle, park bench, car bumper and shopping carts are adorned with some kind of advertisement. Remember truth number 9, you are a mess on the inside. You can buy something that will medicate the truth, or cover it up so that people might not see it, but in the end, you’ll probably be less happy and have less money, so don’t buy into the lies.

Lie 6: You have to earn and deserve enjoyment

Many Christians have difficulty enjoying life. Often they are consumed by worrying about earning God’s blessings, or if they are anxious and worry about being Christian enough to justify receiving good things from God. Many Christians live with a perennial cloud over their head, believing that they just can’t be happy until God blesses them. Some Christians even believe they are under some kind of condemnation, and God doesn’t want them to be happy, because of something that they’ve done, or has been done to them.

Truth 10: You are God’s beloved. You are deeply loved, richly gifted, forgiven, highly favored, and abundantly blessed. You are the righteousness of God: when God looks at us, he sees us through Jesus, and we are completely accepted and clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. These are great things, and can’t be purchased or earned. God may bless us more if we obey him, but at the core, we are loved because of who God is. At the end of the day, the things you buy will never satisfy or fulfill you like Jesus will.

Lie 7: All I do is work, I can only enjoy weekends and look forward to retirement

Going to work everyday for many people is hard, how can you endure it, and not have it eat you alive? You might be wondering how to endure and not be that person that walks around with a cloud around your head every day.  This is a real problem for the Christian in the workplace.

People yearn for relief, and an end to it all. They can’t wait until the weekend, vacation, and ultimately retirement, when they don’t have to work. The time away from work is when we can enjoy life, the rest of it is drudgery. The truth be known though, is that we were created for work in the garden, and we will be working in the eternal kingdom. We have programmed our minds to think that work is that thing we do in between having fun. While writing about this lie, I got up to over one thousand words. There’s just not enough space in this context here to provide a satisfying explanation, so I’ll reserve this for the next blog post, but here are a few things to chew on in the meantime:

Truth 11: We can have joy while enduring. This is perhaps one of the hardest things for us to grasp and learn how to do. Work might not be satisfying, fulfilling and embracing our passions, but we can be joyful in our work. The keys to doing this are: learning to be content during good times and bad. Being thankful for whatever you have, knowing that your blessings are rich in Jesus. It helps me to remember that even minimum standards of living in America are 95% better than the rest of the world. The following Bible verse is a great one to chew on, maybe read before heading off to work everyday.

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve (Col 3:23-24).

Does everyone have a sense of entitlement?

Several discussions I had recently, are leading me to believe that we all have some sense of entitlement, whether we have a lot or not

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke. In Luke 22:35-38, the apostles were looking at their possessions and then looking back to Jesus, wondering if they had all they needed?

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals,did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied.

Chapter 22 of Luke details The Last Supper. It was a poignant time of ministry from Jesus as he washed dirty apostle feet (John 13). He ministered, taught, conversed and they ate together as brothers. I’m sure they shared laughs, and they said dumb things too, like most of us do during social interactions (Luke 22:24). Jesus gave them their first communion and prophesied.  He prepared and warned them by telling them things to come. Since many of them left occupations that put food on their tables, Jesus asked them if they lacked anything during the first time they were separated from him, when the apostles were sent out on their first missionary journey (Luke 9). They answered “Nothing!” This should cause us to pause, to reflect on this scene described in scripture.

Did they lack anything?

Jesus told them he was getting ready to go away from them, and in their hearts they wondered about their own physical needs, didn’t they?  Why else would Jesus have asked them if they: “lacked anything”? he knew what they were thinking. Jesus often did this; he answered questions people around him had on their minds, like he knew. He knows what’s on our mind, doesn’t he?

Examples of entitlement?

The term entitlement has become more popular and is used to describe what was once called welfare benefits. On a national basis, they comprise 70% of our Federal budget for things like Social Security Disability, retirement, unemployment, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, Section 8 housing and Title 20 daycare. Some people are judged for their entitlement dependence.

What got me thinking about this was something that happened several months ago. During a small group discussion following watching a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class video. The members were describing various ways they’ve saved money on groceries. Several commented that they shop at Aldis. For those of you that don’t know, Aldi’s is not an upscale market. It’s a great place to save money on groceries, but it’s not as nice place to shop as regular mainline chains are. The people shopping there don’t look wealthy at all. However, one lady in the circle said, she’s been to college and has a good job, and shouldn’t have to shop a Aldi’s anymore.

The other day I was having a conversation with a young person with a modest income at church. He said that he only drinks beer that’s made in craft breweries. Those golden drops cost 8 – 16 dollars for a six-pack. He said he can’t even think about drinking down market brews like Budweiser. He said young people today have refined tastes for nicer things. This makes me proud of my relative who is happy with Pabst Blue Ribbon.

A few days after that, I was talking to an older man about some of these discussions, about how I was starting to believe that we’ve all developed some general sense of entitlement. He agreed that we all have some sense of entitlement, admitting that for things like housing, clothes, vehicles, and food, his standards are much higher now, compared to when he was younger and made less money. He said he felt entitled to certain things in his higher station of life. Yet, he confessed since he has worked hard he feels he is entitled to more. He’s re-thinking his point of view, since his belief that he is a temporary manager of God’s money and possessions, shouldn’t necessarily compute to more stuff for himself.

It’s a proven fact for most people, as we move along in our careers and make more money, our standard of living rises to the next level along with our incomes. People tell me that they feel they’re entitled to live a certain way because they’ve worked hard, come from a certain family, or graduated from college. In the world’s economy, this is totally acceptable, but to Jesus, is it?

The more we make, the higher our lifestyle floats up and we spend more money. I’ve always joked that we should be careful not to buy expensive wine, because your tongue will get used to better quality, and the $3.99 bottom shelf variety will leave you feeling discontented. Another common example is our automobiles. If you get used to driving nice cars with a smooth ride with rapid acceleration (for us car-guys) going down-market is almost painfully impossible.

There is a downside to upscale living. The more we spend, the less we save and invest, so we are much more susceptible to financial difficulty if we lose our job or face some other financial difficulty. Even worse, the more the average person spends on themselves, the less we have to be generous in tithing and giving to other charitable organizations.

Do you have enough?

The disciples showed Jesus their belongings, and he said with force; “That’s Enough!” (Luke 22:24). It is a very good question to ask Jesus. In your mind or on a piece of paper list the things you own, and what you spend for fun and leisure; then ask him if that is that enough?  Jesus should I live this lifestyle, or step up a level? Do you want me to scale down?

What God said to Baruch

What God provides is sufficient, he knows our needs and he knows our challenges. God has lately been reminding me of Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary. It appears God warned Baruch “But as for you, you keep seeking great things for yourself. Do not keep on seeking.” We don’t know what they were, perhaps prominence, selfish ambitions, or material prosperity, but Baruch was “worn out with groaning and {could} find no rest.” Jeremiah 45:2-5.

*This Monday blog post is a chronological walk through of the four gospels, examining any verse that involves money and stewardship.  This is the sixty-third post in this series.

Christmas and Stewardship

A quick blog article to help you spend less and focus on Jesus this Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful time of year and it’s only a week away. During this busy season of parties, shopping and eating, it’s easy to throw the budget out of the window. If you are like me at all, once you have made one mistake, then it’s the start of a multiple bad decisions. This especially applies to my eating. For example, I could really be closely watching what I eat, since my pant’s waist is getting pretty tight. However, during the Holidays, I’m surrounded by rich food wherever I go, it seems. So, just this once I’ll toss a goodie in my mouth. “Oh well, why not another one, the first one didn’t hurt, another one can’t matter that much,” and then on it goes, into a steady stream of sweets and rich food, that I don’t refuse myself to eat.

The same thing happens to me when I spend during the Holidays. More gifts, more eating out, I struggle with appearing generous or cheap. If I overspend a little here and there, then the floodgates open wider, and before you know it, I’ve totally blown my budget. What I do to avoid this is to discuss with my wife a budget amount we can afford for gifts, entertaining, fast food in-between busy activities, and any extras we want to gift ourself. We then purchase online to avoid impulse purchases, or go to the store with our lists, and buy only what is on them.

A scripture comes to mind that can give us strength to not over eat or over spend:

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:2-3

A friend of mine in her 70’s who has been serving Christ her whole life in signficant ways, reminded me of this verse. She said it was taught to her by her parent missionary organization early on, to help them manage a modest income. She said the verses’ key points were that our purchases can sometimes be categorized:  our desires to possess, indulge and impress. Modern western society celebrates these things, but God wants us to “live by faith, not by sight.” (Corinthians 5:7). Stewardship is a life based on Jesus, not many of the things we fill life with.

The Holidays can be enjoyed in the richness he blesses us, and giving him rich gratitude of that. Celebrating Jesus’ joy and hope, the wonderful people he has brought into your life, during this time of the extra abundance of his presence, is God’s plan. The verse from James mentioned we quarrel and fight, easy to do at family gatherings, but this year give the gift of joy and hope, faith and forgiveness to those surrounding you. Be generous in your giving of material gifts, celebrate with great food and parties, but stay within your boundaries. Spread the love he places in your heart, unconditionally to those around you, to friends, family, lonely, the poor and immigrant. Get strength from Jesus to resist the desires to possess, indulge and impress, but to bless instead.

Weekend Blog Roll: Informative Articles from Other Sites

This weekend’s blog roll has links to 11 helpful articles covering everything from retirement and financial planning to eyeglass savings and mutual fund guru David Snowball.

On my other blog at eFinPLAN I posted the following articles within the past month. Typically on JesusMoney I post articles about God and Money, but at eFinPLAN I write about financial planning tips. I thought that may be of benefit to some of our readers here.

  • How to start planning for retirement, here we cover the 5 basics that people need to do
  • Hyundai and Kia Fined Again for Nearly $300M For Overstated Gas Mileage, impacting people’s personal finances, read how to obtain more accurate MPG before you buy
  • Expert Tips on Overcoming Financial Planning Barriers, read how to spot and overcome planning barriers
  • Why is the Luxottica Eyeglass Monopoly a Rip Off for Customers? Learn how to save money on this expensive item
  • What are the pros and cons of being rich? Check out the connection to wealth and happiness, and the middle sweet spot

Here are some other interesting articles from around the web that I’ve found that might be helpful to you: Links to full articles

  • Open enrollment for ACA Obamacare 11/15: If you didn’t sign up last time you can soon, already covered: renew/change
  • Retirees and real estate, decisions and planning implications, often overlooked but important
  • Financial planning data worth noting: Social Security benefit increase,
  • People on a tight budget, need to be careful buying upscale cars, this example is for $1,113 to repair bulb in high-tech head light
  • Is college still a good return-on-investment? Article discusses this and some new assessment tools being used
  • Mutual fund guru David Snowball, interviewed about index funds and mutual fund managers

Quote on Living Within Your Means

“There is no dignity quite so impressive and no independence quite so important as living within your means. “

This is quite an unusual quote. Calvin Coolidge our 30th President, served in office right up until 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression, was quoted as saying this. Wow, to hold living within one’s own means in such very high esteem and integrity, is not a character trait most people would place on their top ten list today.

Maybe we need to elevate this concept in modern society. To live with the resources that you have, without borrowing or falling behind on payments, should be a trait all people, business and governments alike, aspire to achieve and maintain throughout one’s life. The Bible clearly states in several verses that we are to work hard sun up to sun down, 6 days and week and rest on the sabbath. To be honest, trustworthy and save for the future. To be generous and have integrity in everything we do. Its a high calling, but you can do it! It’s worth it, and will aid in your success and happiness.

Jesus Talking About Your Greatness

Do You Want to Be Great and Have Financial Greatness?

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke. In Luke 22:24-30, Jesus responded to the dispute that some of the apostles were having. They were arguing about who would be the greatest?

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“I am the greatest,” proclaimed boxer Mohammed Ali, sports fans who lived through the 1970’s can remember. That was nothing new, the apostles did one better, arguing before the king of world Jesus, that one of them would be the greatest in heaven and earth. Society loves to tout and hold up those who are the greatest athletes. People have been holding up King James signs in Cleveland now that LaBron has returned there to play basketball. I live in Columbus Ohio and we hear all of the time about the greatest golfer of all time Jack Nicklaus, and the greatest university being The Ohio State University. It always amuses me to read magazine headlines checking out at the grocery store, touting the sexiest man or woman alive. Our society loves to lift up those who are most popular in sports, movies, books and politics.

Who wants to be seen as a failure, a nobody, unpopular, financially unsuccessful and having a lowly job? If you were to do a little research, some of the biggest fears people have are not spiders and heights. Some individuals fear loneliness, social embarrassment, failure, rejection and inadequacy. People combat these fears all sorts of ways, sometimes striving for greatness, popularity, beauty, acceptance, and wealth. Often we spend beyond our means, and borrow just to look great on the outside.

Jesus said greatness means great service. The apostles had Jesus and eternal salvation, but that wasn’t enough, they wanted greatness too. The 12 apostles of Jesus knew they were on the verge of greatness; I’d bet they could sense that one day they’d probably be well-known and influential. Yet, in the verses above, Jesus said greatness comes from being lowly like servants and like young people who haven’t yet risen in position.

Jesus didn’t arrive on the scene 2,000 years ago to be great in his time. He didn’t come to be glorified in his earthly life. Jesus is the greatest of all time, the most famous man to ever walk the planet.  His messages have been written down, copied and read more than any other words in the civilization of mankind. We set time according to Jesus. All of history hinges on his birth, life and death (e.g., B.C. & A.D.), yet Jesus was a monetarily poor itinerant teacher, and another Roman trouble making religious fanatic.

On one hand, he taught and blessed many people. He healed and loved thousands. But on the other hand, he was spit upon, beaten, ridiculed, cursed, tortured, and slowly murdered in public, hanging naked on a cross. Jesus was financially poor, lonely through suffering (Matthew 26:40), misunderstood, falsely judged, physically embarrassed (Matthew 27:35), not approved by others  and falsely condemned (Matthew 27:11-26); all of the things people fear.

Jesus came to serve, not to be held up as great in that day; he came to serve us, through his life and his death. He wants us not to strive for our greatness, but to serve others. It’s okay to accumulate wealth and strive for success in any line of work that we are in. But that will not give us peace in our hearts and joy in our lives, nor greatness where it really matters.

“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” wrote Khalil Gibran many years ago. Service may not make us great in this age, but it matters to God, and matters for eternity.

What does this matter to personal finances and stewardship? That is for you answer. Look at your spending, your lifestyle, the things that make you feel good. Look within, search your heart; where does your motivation come from, what makes you click? Is it Jesus, is it service?  Is it being a good steward, managing time, talents and treasures for God? Is it living with full integrity, no matter if no one is watching. Is it in service to the poor, the immigrant (Leviticus 19:33-34) , the disabled, the person struggling in life?

Do you sometimes wonder about your connection to God? Isaiah 58:10-11 is interesting:

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.

This verse seems to connect how we spend ourselves, and the strength of our connection to God. It causes me to self-examine the extent I’ve given Jesus lordship of my life;  how well do I hear his leading, have faith in his providing what I really need, and feel the infilling of his joyful delight.

*This Monday blog post is a chronological walk through of the four gospels, examining any verse that involves money and stewardship.  This is the sixty-second post in this series.

Giving Thanks is at the Core of Stewardship

What does it mean to ‘Give Thanks’ and why is this important to stewardship?

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke. In Luke 22:14 – 19, when  Jesus served the wine and broke the bread, and gave thanks.

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

When most Christians eat dinner, they offer a prayer over their food, and thank God for it.  If we’re in a restaurant, we usually pray before we dig in to the appetizer or salad. My wife is funny, when the main course arrives, she giggles a little and says we should pray again, because it looks so good. She says the same thing when the dessert arrives.

Giving thanks,  sounds like a strange way to describe it

To give something usually means material possessions not words, doesn’t it? Our society doesn’t place much value on words today. Words are freely thrown around. If you watch news programs, it seems as if words are used with so much poison, designed to ridicule and put down political opponents. We casually select words we say in emails, particularly when we are under a lot of pressure or are anxious.

Jesus talked about the tongue:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:33-37 ESV

Thankful words reveal where our treasure is

 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. According to Luke 6:21. If your treasure is in heavenly things, if you have a grateful heart, you’ll automatically say thanks a lot. 

Grateful people aren’t bitter and constantly in want of more

The evil person places more value on non-heavnely treasures. When they face injustice, disappointment, and life doesn’t go their way, they become bitter and lack gratitude. The person putting up treasures in heaven, is thankful for all of the good things they have, as well as everything else too. Everyone faces difficulty and most of us have a long wish list, but the good people Jesus is talking about, are able to be thankful for nearly everything, whether good or not so good (see Genesis 50:20 and Romans 8:28).

Giving thanks is huge – it’s a very meaningful and valuable gift

The verse from Matthew above shows that by our mere words, we are justified; that shows there is tremendous power in the things we say. Therefore when we give God thanks and praise, we are offering a valuable gift. We are showing him our appreciation. We are pointing our hearts to the gift giver. God loves these gifts of praise, and it makes him smile.

Good stewards are generous with their thanks

They are constantly giving away nice words. They generously tell others and God of their appreciation. These kind of people are happier. They know that everything they have is a gift from God, and they manage it for him and not for themselves. They cheerfully and generously give the valuable gift of thanks all day long.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver 2 Corinthians 9:7.

Call to action

List the things you are grateful for, it’s a fun liberating exercise, something good to do every day. If this was helpful, list your comment below about what you thought of this, and maybe some of the things you are grateful for.  A helpful book to me about this subject is 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp, check it out!

*This Monday blog post is a chronological walk through of the four gospels, examining any verse that involves money and stewardship.  This is the sixty-first post in this series.

A Story of Life Changes, Faith, Risk, Tithe and Blessings

Life can be interesting for many of us. It seems as if only a small percentage of people work for the same company until retirement, and then are set financially for the last chapter of life, living on a good company sponsored retirement plan. While many others of us, our careers and life is more like a winding road. Change is rapid to our economy, businesses, and even the best employees can get left behind in the wake of corporate buy-outs and re-organizations. Here is a great story of life change, faith, trust, giving and subsequent blessings.

I worked for a company for twenty years and had a well-paying job with good benefits. I was a shift supervisor but was getting increasingly frustrated with my job. My company was in the process of downsizing. I always made an effort to keep a good attitude because I knew I was blessed to have a job. I began to ask the Lord for direction in seeking a new job or a different career.

About 11 years ago, my wife and I went on a short vacation to have some quiet time to specifically seek the Lord for direction. I read through the whole book of Proverbs one afternoon on vacation. It felt as though the Lord was showing me numerous scriptures pertaining to finance and prosperity. I underlined and numbered these scriptures, stood on God’s word and continued to pray and seek the Holy Spirit’s direction. The Sunday we were on vacation, we went to church and the guest speaker was speaking on stepping out, which I took as a word from God. Another day on vacation, the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that my employer had been bought out. The following Sunday we went to our home church, in Columbus, and the minister was preaching the same sermon.

Monday, I went back to work and was told that more cutbacks had been made while I was on vacation. Several people were laid off and given severance packages. I was told we weren’t going to have a supervisor on day shift any longer and I could move to second shift as the supervisor, or remain on day shift and give up my shift supervisor job. I called my wife and told her I was going to ask my employer if they would offer me a severance package. My employer agreed to give me a severance package good though which gave me thirty years in the union and will be beneficial to me when I retire. I thanked my employer for all that he had done for me and left on good terms. My children had graduated from high school, so I felt now was the time to step out and take a chance. There was only one problem, I didn’t have a job.

Several years before I quit my job, I helped my son start a summer painting business which I thought we could grow. I tried painting for a few weeks and had problems with carpel tunnel from working with computers for so many years. The Lord was directing me out of the painting business and into another business.

I continued to pray for direction from the Lord. I decided to go to school for my real estate license. I hadn’t been in school for many years, but was able to pass the real estate exam. While attending school, I herniated a disc in my back. I was in a lot of pain and my medical insurance was close to expiring. I prayed, got therapy for my back, and it eventually healed. Even when you are in God’s will there are plenty of obstacles.

I started in real estate about 10 years ago and tried to figure out how many closings I would need per month to survive. I called expired listings everyday and “For Sale by Owner” ads once a week. When I saw a ” For Sale by Owner” yard sign I would stop at the home, take a deep breath, knock on their door, and try to persuade them to list their home with me.

My severance package was running out and I had a few thousand dollars in the bank but I never quite tithing. TITHING WORKS. Finally after several months I had my first listing appointment and I was scared to death. I walked into the listing appointment with my listing presentation and started to talk to the owners. I didn’t even get through the presentation and they said “do you want the keys to our house to put in the lock-box”? God had it all worked out before I arrived at the Seller’s home. To this day I continue to see God’s favor in business.

The Lord’s business, because it is His business, continued to grow. At the end of my first year in real estate my income exceeded the income from the last year of my previous job. God was so faithful. Was it easy? No. Sales are a lot of work and a lot of disappointments. In the subsequent years, the Lord has continued to bless and the business has continued to grow.    

I would encourage you to not give up, pray, stand on God’s word and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. God wants to bless and prosper you. Lastly, don’t stop giving and tithing.

God Chooses to Bless Others Through You and Me

A few months ago, I asked people to email me testimonies about how God blessed them, or blessed others through them. Here is a great story, of something that happened during just a normal activity of life.

I have been so blessed by God throughout my whole life, it  would take a book to tell it all. Instead I will let His Book tell of  the blessings we have in Jesus Christ. But one of my responses to His goodness to me is to ask Him to show me someone to help everyday. Well let me tell you that includes the gas station at Costco! I was getting gas recently and noticed a young women with a frantic look approaching the gas station on foot with a baby in one arm and a toddler in another! Having had four children myself I could relate,  let me tell you! I asked her if she needed help and she pointed to her stranded out of gas vehicle sitting in a lane clear on the other side of Gemini Parkway.

Yes, it was rush hour and cold! Why make this simple? We have a Mighty God, no problem! Anyway, neither of us had a gas can but the gas attendant found one, sanctioned it for unofficial use, filled it with gas using my card and offered to briefly leave his post, risking his job I’m sure, took the can and went and put the gas in her car! I drove the mother and children to their car and shielded a lane of rush hour traffic with my car’s emergency lights flashing so hopefully they could get into their car and on their way in one piece, which they did! I was able to say “God Bless You” when she was leaving, which of course He already had! Her gas tank was filled and so was my grateful heart!

Then a few months later, this same person emailed me another testimony. This is awesome:

Also, I want to tell you I was at a Saturday evening service early May and after the service there was a call to come forward for people with throat and neck issues. I went forward as I was facing surgery for a golf ball size growth on my right thyroid. I had surgery July 20 and my right thyroid was removed. Praise God there was no cancer and the most amazing thing is that when I awoke from surgery I literally felt no pain!! I never needed any pain medication. The doctors and nurses were amazed! So was I! was back to work and exercising etc in a week, I feel great! Praise God!

God is generous, and he is also aware and responsive to people’s needs of those around us. Many times, maybe most of the time, he desires you and me to be the agents of heavenly blessings. When we are thankful for all of the numerous ways that God blesses us (like the lady who wrote me this email appears to be), and not so much focused on our needs all day long , I think our spiritual ears are more open to God’s appointments, like the example given here. God blesses the giver and receiver, it’s so cool! Imagine the blessings you miss, because you hesitate?

Testimony of Financial Change Following D. Ramsey Class

For today’s Tuesday testimony, a Financial Peace University attendee’s demonstration of the change it brought to her. It sounds to me like she was liberated from money focus, and now wants to bless others. Heart and financial change working together.  The next Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Class starts September 9th at Vineyard Columbus, and you can check it out first by attending the first class free, or the preview class September 2nd at 7 pm. More information is online.

The Financial Peace University Class has been a blessing to me. It has helped me reorganize my priorities with my finances. Since taking the class I have been able to support A child Through the World Vision Organization on a monthly basis; I have doubled my contributions to the Vineyard and have been volunteering my time and some financial support to a non- profit group called A Kid Again that supports children with life threatening illnesses.

I have had more money to carry out random acts of kindness in my neighborhood as well. I have also taken out an insurance policy on my new granddaughter so that when it matures she will have $18,000 a year for four years to help pay for her college; a vehicle or other needs. I would have never been able to do all of the  things listed  had I not received the focus from the class and the faith that God will provide.

After taking the class, I realize how easy it is to lose your financial focus and how much stress it removes from your life when you have a plan. I have encouraged others to enroll in the class as it has been a blessing to me.

The class is just a beginning for many people. It opens people up to a new way of living, and a new perspective on finances. Dave isn’t right about everything; no one has all of the answers. But he helps steer people in the right direction with a ton of information. We provide additional resources and guidance, to not only help you get the most out of class, but to fill in any gaps from a spiritual perspective.

Jesus, Temporary Stuff & Heart Matters

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke. In Luke 21:5-6, Jesus is responding to the disciples asking if he was impressed with the church building that was constructed.

I’ll never forget the first time we walked into the brand new building the church constructed in 1991. Moving out of an old facility, and into freshly minted carpeted floors, and brightly painted walls, we were like children on Christmas morning. We were able to go from 4 services to 2, and the children had ample spaces for church school. Everything was clean and new. Like it was yesterday, I remember John, one of our associate pastors, speaking at the opening service. He said something to the effect that the new building was great, but it is not for worshiping us, but Jesus. And, although we were to take good care of it, we were not going to get upset if someone spilled coffee. These things will happen, and is not important. What John was communicating to me that morning, was that Jesus was to clean up our lives and we were not to worship the building.

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” Luke 21:5-6

Does stewardship involve caring for homes, businesses and church buildings that we construct? It doesn’t seem like Jesus was very impressed at all about the temple in Jerusalem. Reading Matthew 23:27-28, he is more concerned with what is inside the church; you and me.  Furthermore, he cares less about our house and yard, and more about what is going on inside of us; in our minds and hearts. Our first call is to steward these things, not our material possessions. When believers neglect what’s most important, the sad fact is that buildings will eventually be destroyed or re-used for something else. You only have to look at abandoned businesses and churches in the inner city, and the Crystal Cathedral going belly-up, to witness this fact.

Does stewardship of material blessings have eternal ramifications: Many Christians make the assumption that since everything will eventually be destroyed and made new (Revelation 21:1-2), then we don’t have to worry about maintaining buildings or the environment. This is tragically wrong. Matthew 25:23 is one of the concluding sentences of the Parable of the Talents, indicating that how well we steward and work with temporary things, says something about our character and integrity. These two things do last into eternity, and have reward.

Do we worry too much about buildings, especially our homes? If I have a regret as a father, it would to have been more present like Mary and less like Martha (read Luke 10:38-42). If I had less concern about our house’s landscaping, remodeling and cleanliness, I would have had more energy and time for Jesus and my family. We have God’s grace in the messes of life, but we can’t ever get back lost opportunities from days past.

Are you a perfectionist? God is perfect, and loves order, shouldn’t our lives mirror that? Jesus didn’t worry much about appearances (read Isaiah 53:2). The home he grew up in was very modest. During his ministry, he had few belongings and only simple clothes and sandals. He was born during a messy time of civilization of unpaved roads, and lack of modern sanitation. Jesus came and provided grace, during a messy time in human development.

What does this have to do with Christian finances? Believers want to be more generous, and better at managing spending so that they can have less debt and more accumulated wealth. Change is hard. Materialism and perfectionism gets in the way. Worrying about the wrong things get in the way. Invite Jesus in to your finances, your plans and goals, and your priorities. Put your heart into his hands, and let him direct your paths (see Psalm 119:105). Take a moment to talk to Jesus about this.

*This Monday blog post is a chronological walk through of the four gospels, examining any verse that involves money and stewardship.  This is the sixtieth post in this series.

Gifts from Jesus Come in Many Forms

I love this Tuesday testimony, because it simply communicates Jesus’ heart of generosity and his intimate knowledge of us. He loves us, and knows and loves what makes us tick. Likewise, Jesus shows himself in many form to us throughout every day, and often it’s through the generosity of others.

A large part of my life has included music in a huge way. Before I was a Christian I was a professional singer and flutist then as a Christian ministered in worship teams and even helped build and work with contemporary worship programs in Ukraine as a missionary for eight years. Being involved in music has always been important to me. Then, about six years ago, opportunities to serve the Lord and participate in music dried up as I was led in different directions for service and life in general.  A few years back I was particularly disheartened over this but really didn’t share my pain with anyone.  We had just finished putting in a family room at our home Christmastime of 2011. I had hoped to have a piano in that room, but knew there was not room in the budget. Then, on Christmas Eve, the day after the furniture came for the room, a friend showed up at our door with a beautiful new electronic piano. She said the Lord told her to buy it for me. I was so thankful, and knew from that experience – that the Lord meets with me where I am. The obedience and generosity of a friend became Jesus to me at that time.

This is encouraging to me, and likewise reminds me to be more aware of Jesus.

Jesus and the Famous Generous Poor Widow

templeThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke. In Luke 20:46-47 and 21:1 – 4, Jesus makes the central point of two teachings, about poor widows.

Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely. Luke 20:46-47

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.“Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1 – 4

There is a lot to glean from these verses. In the first set, Jesus shows his disdain for religious people walking around looking rich and important, as they stroll about in business, attend dinner parties and synagogue, and who sound spiritual. These same people Jesus said devour widows.

In today’s day-and-age, Jesus would be talking to people in church who have financial abundance, show-off their wealth, and try to be admired in public gatherings. Jesus isn’t against wealthy people, but he is not happy with those who get wealthy at the expense of the poor. Jesus highly favors the needy, and announced his earthly ministry in Luke 4:18-19 as good news to the poor. Throughout scripture, we can see heavenly favor on the poor, widows, orphans, immigrants and prisoners. The gospel isn’t about some redistribution of wealth program, but a plan for the hearts and minds of mankind. He is calling those with wealth to provide for the poor, and to give them opportunity to make a good wage to provide for themselves, even at some expense to their own standard of living.

In Luke 21:1-4, we see Jesus sitting as the Rabbis did. He was sitting close to the offering box and watched it closely. From the description, we can tell that he closely observed each person dropping in their money. The poor widow dropped in two very small copper coins, with a value of 1/8 of one cent. How else could Jesus have seen that small act, if he wasn’t sitting close to it.  He observed the act, and had spiritual insight into each person’s heart. He rejoiced in the heart of the widow giving it all to God out of love and devotion. This unnamed person is one of the few people Jesus praised, and because of her act of faith and small but huge gift, has been famous for about 2,000 years. On the other hand, he saw the wealthy who only gave a small portion comparatively of their overall wealth. Have you ever had the internal conversation go like this, when writing out a check of tithe, or a charitable donation of any amount: “Oh I better not give too much, I do want to be a good steward, and not ding my financial net worth too much.” I don’ t think the poor widow had this conversation, she came to worship, and gave her all.

The take away for these verses is not only that the heart of the Jesus follower is inclined to the poor, but to give with a heart like the poor widow. Jesus is closely watching at our giving actions and into our hearts just like he did those many years ago in the synagogue. I am not saying this, to put our spirituality into some performance formula or anything else but to say that our giving, our helping and our employing others is important to Jesus, something we ought to take seriously. Have a conversation with Jesus about these matters, and see what he might reveal about your heart and where he might lead you.

Interesting side note. This blog post I make most Mondays, are a chronological walk through of the four gospels, examining any verse that involves money and stewardship. Coincidentally, my Pastor Rich Nathan preached on this same story, but from Mark 12:41-44, just yesterday; to watch this great teaching click here. This is the fifty-ninth post in this series.