Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Smart Woman’s Guide To Planning For Retirement

maryAccording to a 2012 survey, 92 percent of women in the United States admitted that they aren’t financially prepared for retirement because they haven’t planned and saved for it. Many women may be procrastinators when they think about planning for retirement, while others may not want to think about it because they’re afraid to face the fact that they don’t know how to prepare for it. However, in today’s unpredictable economy, a woman must be smart about her finances. For today’s smart woman, it’s never too late to take steps now in order to face retirement with confidence and hope for the future.

In “The Smart Woman’s Guide To Planning For Retirement,” author Mary Hunt of nearly 20 books on personal finances, and Debt Proof Living, advises today’s smart woman to take charge of her financial life so that she will be financially prepared for retirement. Mary’s book is based on her own personal learning experiences of making financial mistakes that she regrets from her past. However, Mary believes that financial mistakes in the past can always be turned around to use as learning opportunities for the future. By following the steps in her book, every woman can start today to take steps to be ready for retirement. Even though the content of this book contains general advice for both men and women, Mary’s target reading market is directed toward women.

Mary lists six specific strategies that women can take now in order to create a retirement savings plan: (1) Develop a money management system using a checking and savings account; (2) Build an emergency fund; (3) Get out of debt; (4) Maximize retirement accounts; (5) Own a home outright; and (6) Build up a personal investment portfolio. Each of these six strategies is discussed in detail, with practical illustrations and application woven throughout.

Often women say they don’t know how much money they need to retire. Mary addresses this issue by listing specific ways to calculate the amount through the educated guess approach, the rule of thumb approach, the rough estimate approach, and the focus on expenses approach. Any one or a combination of these methods will give the reader a target or goal for her six strategies.

In Chapter 14, Mary lists specific action plans for women by age groups — in their twenties, in their thirties, in their forties, in their fifties, and in their sixties. For example, women in their thirties who may be married and starting a family should start putting more serious effort into planning for their retirement. Mary recommends that they should be funding their 401(k) and Roth IRA, saying no to debt except for mortgage debt, saving for their children’s education, purchasing life insurance, and building their contingency fund to get out of debt. A reader can review this information and see where she is and what more she should be doing as she progresses toward retirement.

In the process of planning for retirement, a woman may need the services of a competent, unbiased financial planner for advice and guidance. Mary explains what a financial planner is, what a financial planner does, the benefits of using a financial planner, and how a financial planner is paid; she then lists six questions to ask a potential financial planner. Mary gives her personal advice as to what type of financial professional she uses and the reason for her choice.

Mary’s advice relating to managing money responsibly is based on her fundamental seven money rules for life, as described in detail in her recent book “7 Money Rules For Life.” These include: (1) Spend less than you earn; (2) Save for the future; (3) Give some away to others who are in need; (4) Anticipate irregular expenses; (5) Tell your money where to go; (6) Manage your credit; and (7) Borrow only what you know that you can repay. When a woman follows these money rules, she will be building a solid foundation for personal money management in order to be able to prepare financially for retirement.

As a Christian believer, Mary believes that the Bible is the guidebook for all financial advice. In Scripture, principles have been given to help a woman learn to get out of debt, how to stay out of debt, how to become financially stable, how to save, how to invest, how to spend, how to prosper, how not to waste money, and how to make the most out of money. Without obedience to His laws, human efforts to manage money will be in vain. Since God is the source of everything (including money), everything that a woman owns has been given to her by God. God expects her to use and invest her money responsibly, as the Biblical parable of the three servants clearly illustrates. God desires that every woman be a wise steward of the money that He has entrusted to her in order to honor Him with her finances.

Mary appeals to every smart woman to become financially independent. A woman can do this by: (1) Maintaining good financial records; (2) Having her name on all joint bank accounts; (3) Managing her own credit in her name by having her own credit card; (4) Assessing her insurance needs and buying enough to protect herself from risk; (5) Creating wills for both herself and her spouse, if married; and (6) Saving by putting money in her own personal savings account and Individual Retirement Account.

In the final chapter, Mary urges all women to heed the wake-up call and to start preparing for retirement today. Smart women are doers and can face the future with confidence. Three steps that should be taken immediately are: (1) Have a talk with a spouse or close friend about the need to plan for retirement in order to establish accountability; (2) Make a list of the things that you would like to do in the future if you had more time to do them, and then start to prepare for the transition into retirement; and (3) Create a plan using the six planning strategies, and use a projected timetable for achieving the plan.

This book can be highly recommended to women of all ages. Mary’s warm, humorous, and personalized writing style makes this book easy to read and enjoyable. Once the reader starts reading it, she’ll find that she can’t put the book down but will find herself highlighting specific information and taking notes on action items to pursue. Mary’s advice is practical, relevant, and timely for today’s busy woman. Her message is powerful and urgent — it’s not too late to take action to start planning for your retirement today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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