There’s a Catfish on the Sidewalk!

We’ve spent a lot of time this month preparing for then dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

For you non-Floridians, hurricane preparation means securing anything in the yard or patio that could be picked up by the wind and become a projectile. Laundry must to be done because we all need clean underwear in case of prolonged power outages. A visit to the ATM is a must because if there is no electricity, credit and debit cards don’t work. Of course, if all the stores are closed due to electrical outages, there isn’t much shopping going on anyway. We have to check the pantry for non-perishable food because once the electricity is out, things spoil pretty fast in the Florida heat if we can’t make or buy ice and the fridge doesn’t have any power. We need to be sure clean drinking water is available as there is always the possibility of contamination in the local water supply. The car has to be filled with gas because the gas stations are closed when the electricity is out (or when they run out of gas.) Sandbags must be acquired, filled and stacked to protect low lying areas from flooding.

Then after all the preparation, we spend endless hours sitting around waiting and waiting and waiting for the inevitable wind, rain and damage.

After the hurricane, the first thing is a prayer of thanksgiving that we survived. Then comes the damage assessment. Are our families and neighbors safe? Do we still have a roof? Are there any broken windows? Any leaks? Is the electricity on? Who needs immediate help? Do we have enough food and water for the next few days till the roads are cleared and the grocery stores restocked? How much of our landscaping is now trash strewn around the neighborhood?

When it’s safe, we walk around the yard and neighborhood trying to figure out what to do first.

As we were doing damage assessment, one of our weird post-hurricane experiences this year was finding a catfish on the sidewalk in front of our house. It was a fairly large fish—over twelve inches long and it was VERY determined to stay in the teeny-tiny puddle on the sidewalk. We tried picking it up with a yard rake—it flopped off. Then we scooped it into a bucket, and it jumped out. We finally got it into the bucket and put a lid on the bucket for the trip to the pond. We never did figure out how the catfish got in front of our house which is a half-block away from the pond at the end of the street.

Thinking about this catfish reminded me of how a crisis can impact our life. We suddenly find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, with our whole world turned upside down. Like the catfish, we can find ourselves in a place that is out of our comfort zone in the aftermath of a hurricane or other unplanned crisis situations.

In talking to people and reading social media since the hurricane, I have come to believe that people fall into one of two categories in these types of situations. There are the whiners and the winners.

I want to be clear, that these two categories are referring to people who have experienced minor irritations and disruptions due to the storm, not people who have lost everything.

The whiners look on the hardship and inconvenience as a personal attack by some cosmic force. Their attitude is a “Why me?” cry of frustration and dissatisfaction until their world returns to normal. There were six million people in the state of Florida without power and most of the electrical grid in the state had to be rebuilt. Yet the whiners were complaining that their power was not turned on within a day of the storm. They acted as if Armageddon was upon them, even though they were going through a minor inconvenience compared to how the rest of the world lives on a daily basis and how so many other Floridians fared in the storm.

Again, I want to be clear that the whiners were safe, there was no damage to their homes and they were simply experiencing the lack of electricity and internet connection. Yet they acted as if it were the end of the world.

The other type of person, the winner had an “It is what it is” attitude. Yes, they were uncomfortably hot with no air conditioning and they would have appreciated the internet or TV as a distraction from the chaos. But they knew there were much higher priorities than their comfort and they were satisfied to wait out the return to normal.

Several of my friends actually used the past week as a way to be in mental communion with the poor and empathize with the way many people around the world live every day. How many people in other countries suffer through each day without a safe dry home, without enough food to eat or clean water to drink? How many people lack access to the things we take for granted–electricity, running water, air conditioning, refrigeration, dishwasher, TV, internet service?

I find myself being grateful for the return to normal and I also find myself aware of how much in life we expect, how spoiled we are with minor irritations and how selfish we are in putting our wants above the needs of others.

As Americans, we are pampered by the great abundance in this country and we expect it to continue indefinitely. Maybe the whiners all need a lesson in what is really important in life. Maybe our hurricanes are providing that lesson, at least to some of us.

I pray that each and every person who is suffering the devastating effects of losing their loved ones, homes and businesses through hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters will find peace and comfort in the Lord. My heart goes out to those who have lost everything and I encourage you to join me in donating to their relief.

I suggest sending a donation to Catholic Charities in the Dioceses of Galveston/Houston; Corpus Christi; Venice: St. Augustine and Miami.

I also pray that each and every whiner will face a wake-up call and learn the difference between needs and wants, between conveniences and necessities, between being a whiner and a winner.

To save or Not to Save – That is the Question

piggy-bank-1595992_1280Today’s blog title is a take off on a scene from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. In this scene, Prince Hamlet was contemplating the meaning of life.

Today’s blog contemplates the reason for saving.

The savings rate of the average American has hovered around 5% for the last several years. The personal saving rate is the net amount of money saved as a percentage of your disposable personal income (gross income minus deductions and, in our opinion, also minus giving.)

But according to Nerd Wallet, a savings rate of 5% is far too low. Most financial planners advise their clients to save between 10% to 15% of their disposable income for emergencies, retirement and other needs.

Saving takes a conscious effort, dedication and hard work. But having an emergency fund or fully funding your retirement is well worth the effort.

Proverbs 21:20 tells us, “Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise, but the fool consumes it.” Saving can be hard work, but spending every penny you make is simply foolish. Too many people think they will get to a point sometime in the future when saving will be possible. They live each day looking to an uncertain future without making a concerted effort to make saving a priority.

Every little bit you save will help build your nest egg, so start with whatever you can do, even if it is a very small amount. There can be a huge difference between saving small steady amounts on a regular basis versus waiting until you have one big lump sum to save.

One of the exercises we do in the Compass workshops is to make a deal with the attendees. We ask “Which would you prefer, a lump sum of $1,000 right now or a penny a day doubled every day for a month?” Most people look at $0.01 and compare it to $1,000 and take the thousand dollars. The interesting thing is that a penny a day doubled every day for 31 days will net over $10,000,000!

While the penny exercise may be unrealistic, it is a good way to illustrate how a small amount can grow exponentially.

Here’s another example of exponential growth. If a person saves $2.74 per day they will have $1,000 in a year. In 40 years, at 10% interest, the $2.74 per day will grow to over $500,000. If they wait just one year and only save for 39 years, the difference is over $50,000 less!

Compounding your savings makes a huge difference and is based on three variables: the amount you save, the interest rate you earn, and the length of time you save.

1. The amount you save depends on your income and spending. Learning God’s way of handling money will help you focus on being a conscious spender so you can find ways to save.

2. The interest rate you earn has a huge impact on how quickly your savings will grow. An interesting fact about savings is how long it takes your money to double. It’s called the rule of 72. Take the number 72 and divide it by the amount of interest you are earning, and the result is how long it will take your money to double. If you are earning 3%, your money will double every 24 years. If you are earning 6%, your money will double every 12 years.

3. Time is the third factor. Answer this: Who would accumulate more by age 65: Danielle who started saving $1,000 a year at age 21, saved for eight years, and then completely stopped; or Matt who saved $1,000 a year for 37 years starting at age 29? Both earned 10% interest.

Interestingly, at age 65, Danielle who saved a total of $8,000 has $427,736 while Matt who saved $37,000 has $363,043. Danielle saved $29,000 less and accumulated $64,693 more.

As you can see from this example, since Danielle started earlier, it made a huge difference in the total amount over a long period of time.

1 Timothy: 16-19 gives us good advice about our attitude toward gathering riches:

“Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share,
thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.”

We need to guard against the human tendency to be proud of our wealth. When we accumulate assets we have a tendency to place our confidence in them. Someone once observed, “For every ninety-nine who can be poor and remain close to Christ, only one can become affluent and maintain a close relationship with Him.”

It is human nature to cling to the Lord when it’s obvious that we have no place else to turn. Once people reach financial freedom, however, they often take the Lord for granted because they no longer think they have as much need of him.

When you have financial resources, the tendency is to turn to your money to solve problems, instead of first praying and seeking the Lord. We tend to trust in what we can see with our eyes, rather than in the invisible living God. We need to remind ourselves that wealth is completely uncertain, and can be lost in a heartbeat. The Lord alone can be fully trusted.

Sirach states it well, “Use your wealth as the Most High has commanded; this will do you more good than keeping your money for yourself.” (Sirach 29:11, GNT) By saving and investing with a godly attitude, and balancing saving with generosity, we can live the fulfilling life God intends for us now.

Crisis Mode

cross-106416_640It sometimes seems as if there is a new crisis every day. In recent weeks we’ve had the Orlando Pulse shooting deaths; the attack on the Istanbul airport; the hundred year flood in West Virginia and fires raging in California resulting in loss of life and property. Brexit has lead to many questions about the future of the United Kingdom as well as impacts on the European Union and world financial markets. Our politicians seem to be engaged in provocative and outlandish behavior instead of talking about proposed solutions to the problems our country is facing.

In addition to the above we may all be (or know people who are) facing personal crises—job loss, business reversals, serious illness, death of a family member, or military deployment of the breadwinner.

Our world is full of chaos and uncertainty and it may be difficult to remember that God is with us in every crisis—whether it is a personal crisis or a global crisis.

There are several things we can do to prepare for a crisis. The first is to prepare spiritually. Think about some crisis stories in the Bible. In a few hours, Job lost everything—his children, his wife, all of his financial and material resources, even his health and he said: “The Lord gives and takes away, blessed be the Lord.” Mary was an unwed teenager who had to tell her betrothed that she was pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Yet she trusted God enough to say to the angel “May it be done unto me according to thy word.”

It would have been easy for each of them to feel afraid and abandoned by God, yet in each case, their first reaction was to turn to God in total trust and God used their crisis for ultimate good.

In a stressful situation when we are praying for help, we expect God to resolve things in our way, in our time, exactly the way we want it to be resolved. This sets us up for disappointment and frustration, as God does not work according to our demands. It is important for us to trust God and believe in his divine providence without giving him deadlines or directions when we are facing a crisis.

The second step is to prepare yourself financially. So many times, there is a financial impact when a crisis hits—usually through decreased income or increased expenses. If your finances are in good order, and you are prepared to adjust to changing financial circumstances, the crisis can be a little less stressful.

We recommend that everyone develop a crisis budget. Analyze your current budget and cut your expenses by a percentage—like 40 or 50 percent. Or, think about the most likely crisis you will face and cut your budget to meet that situation. For example, if you or your spouse were to lose your job, how would you cut your spending to stay in line with your decreased income? Or, taking a global approach, what would happen to you if there was a world wide financial crisis and the value of the dollar plummeted?

Planning before the crisis occurs makes it easier to make objective decisions, not decisions based on emotion. A crisis plan helps you have a sense of peace that you are ready to face whatever comes.

The third step is to have a support structure so you don’t go through a crisis alone. Seek advice from godly people who have been in the same or similar circumstances, or who want to prepare for a crisis. They can be a great source of blessing and encouragement to you and you to them. It is all about being the body of Christ for each other.

The fourth step is to be a good citizen by keeping up to date with current events. Many of the voters in the UK are regretting the “leave” outcome of their election and their role in supporting it. There are comments all over social media about a re-vote and people regretting the way they voted. Unfortunately, they did not think through the entire voting process enough to understand the how their one little vote impacted the outcome of the election. Nor did they know the implications of a “leave vote,” which they are now experiencing.

As citizens of the United States, we are politically free, and that freedom comes with responsibility. We need to know the candidates, what they stand for what they are opposed to and how our vote can impact the election results.

It does not matter if you are Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, whether you agree with our present government or are adamantly opposed to it, we all need to be conscious informed citizens. And above all, we need to pray for our country and those who serve us as leaders whether we like them or not.

Romans 13:1-2 states “Obey the rulers who have authority over you. Only God can give authority to anyone, and he puts these rulers in their places of power.”

Our country remains free due to the diligence and sacrifice of those original founders. This week we pray that you will spend some time reflecting on the gift of living in a free country, yet realize that you are a pilgrim on earth and really a citizen of heaven. No crisis that we face on earth is everlasting and we are only on this earth for a short period of time.

As Sirach advises, “The sum of a man’s days is great if it reaches a hundred years: Like a drop of sea water, like a grain of sand, so are these few years among the days of eternity.” (Sirach 18:7-8)

Evelyn Bean

Emergency Preparedness

checklist-911840_1280Last week we discussed having a Crisis Budget in place in case of losing spending power, income reduction or job loss.  This week I’d like to draw our attention to a different type of emergency, one that requires more than pen and paper to be done correctly.  I’m talking about Emergency Preparedness.  

Emergency preparedness refers to having ourselves and our homes prepared in the event of a major disaster which would leave us without clean water to drink, power outages which might prevent us from staying warm (or cooled, depending on the season and climate) as well as making sure we are stocked with necessary items, either in a safe place within our home or in a weather-proof backpack should we need to evacuate.  

Preparing your family for a natural disaster requires studying and answering some difficult questions.  For example, if you had to evacuate, what would you take with you?  If you couldn’t evacuate, what would you need to have in your home to survive until help arrived on the scene?  Can you survive without power or will you need the help of a generator for a period of time?  Do you live in an area where it may take a week or more before you get any help?  How do you let friends and family know you are ok? How do you reach out if you need someone to send help?  We need to be prepared on the home front in the event of a natural disaster.  Thankfully, there are numerous websites and resources through our local city government agencies to assist us with these preparations.  

When planning for emergencies, we need to think about having to evacuate our home and making sure we have our bags packed with important survival items that are small and portable enough to take on the road.  On the other hand, we also need to consider what we should have stocked and ready on the home front in case we can’t leave our home and need to stay put for a period of time.

Let’s look at the evacuation scenario first. Initially, make a checklist of the practical things that you will need for survival such as water bottles and a filtering device or tablets to ensure clean water.  Clothing should be practical for your climate, but durable for extended wear and precarious weather conditions.  Food items should be portable, but able to deliver maximum nutrition.  Protein bars, peanut butter, crackers, and various types of energy bars would be excellent in this situation.  Small gadgets such as a pocketknife, a flashlight, matches or a lighter, and a portable radio are all lightweight and necessary to have on hand.  We have found wind-up radios and flashlights, which are ideal since it eliminates the added weight of carrying extra batteries.  Hygiene is equally important and a well-stocked first aid kit should be in someone’s bag at all times.  Baking soda and hydrogen peroxide can serve multiple uses and each person can carry their own supply.  

Along with personal items, it is imperative to have copies of important documents with you and stored in something weatherproof to protect them.  Copies of birth certificates, social security cards, insurance cards, and immunization records are important for medical care and identification.  All medications will need to come along as well as the prescription information.  Banking machines are not likely to be working or might be empty so having cash on hand is equally as important as your documents. The smaller denominations such as singles, fives and a few tens are recommended.  

What if the emergency or natural disaster has us trapped inside our homes?  Our home supply list will look similar to our evacuation supply list, with the exception that we can store more of it because we won’t have to worry about transporting it.  What additional supplies might we need to keep in our homes to keep ourselves safe until help arrives?  

Where we live, flooding is a huge problem.  Due to the lack of rain in the desert, the ground is so hard that, when it does rain, the ground can’t absorb the water fast enough.  During the summer months, monsoons bring on extremely high winds and more rain than at any other time of the year.  Therefore, the fire departments have started offering burlap sacks for free to homeowners, which we can fill with sand in order to build barriers around the foundation and doorways of our home to hopefully prevent the water from seeping into the house.  

The rains also tend to bring out the scorpions for some reason so we also have black lights in our Emergency kit so we can scan for them (scorpions glow under the black light making them easier to find).  The last thing we want is to have someone stung by a scorpion and not have access to medical attention.  If there are special situations like this in your area, make sure to address those and prepare for them appropriately.

Since the potential for disaster to strike in the Southwest is in the hot summer months, it is important for us to have a generator for connecting fans or a portable room air conditioner in order to keep us cool during the storms.  In the northern parts of the country, the debilitating storms tend to happen more often in the winter months when people need to stay warm.  A generator might not be at the top of a northerner’s list, but a wood-burning stove or fireplace along with plenty of wood for fuel should be a top priority as well as heavy blankets and garments to protect one’s extremities from frostbite.

This is a relatively short list and more emergency preparation tips can be found on the CDC’s website at cdc.gov.

The point is not to sit around wringing your hands because there is a potential disaster looming. The point is to do a reasonable evaluation of the risks that may arise (hurricane, snow storm, earthquake, floods, windstorm, etc.) and plan for it.

Think about some crises in the Bible:

  • His brothers sold Joseph into slavery
  • In a few hours, Job lost everything – his children, all of his financial resources, even his health
  • Moses was caught between the Red Sea and the most powerful army in the world
  • Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den
  • Paul was beaten, stoned and left for dead.

But in each of these cases, the Lord used the situation for ultimate good.

“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” ~James 1:2-3

Financial Crisis

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We regularly talk about managing our money the way God intended. As Catholics, we are called follow Jesus in every area of our lives – even when it comes to our money and possessions. But what happens when we experience a financial crisis? Do we lose faith when our situation seems hopeless? What should we do? Where can we find God in this situation?

To find the answer, let’s explore two Bible passages where people are in a crisis situation that seems hopeless, yet through their faith in God, they are able to find their way to the light.

Our first story comes from the book of Job. Job was considered by God to be one of his most faithful servants. He was extremely wealthy, possessing 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 she-donkeys, and an army of servants. Job was also richly blessed in his personal life as his family consisted of seven sons and three daughters.

One day God and Satan were having a conversation about God’s people, and Satan challenged Job’s devotion to God. God allowed Satan to test Job, as long as he did not harm Job himself. In a series of disasters, Job lost everything – his livestock, servants, family, even his health. Job lost everything in an instant.

Many of us would find it hard to have faith in such an overwhelming tragedy. But instead of losing faith, Job fell to the ground and worshiped God, (Job 1:21) “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job understood that everything was given to him by God, and he had faith that God would deliver him from his trials.

Put your self into the second story … your spouse has recently passed away and left you in debt, and you do have not way to pay it back. As collateral for the debt, your husband’s creditors threaten to take your sons as slaves. This is the story from the second book of Kings, Chapter Four, called ‘The Widow’s Oil.’ The woman in this story looked for the help of Elisha, a godly man, to help her. His first question to her was, “What do you have?” The widow said she only had one small jar of oil. Elisha told her to borrow jars from her neighbors and fill the jars with the oil she had. As she poured oil into each jar, each was filled to the brim and the oil ran out only after all the jars were full. She was able to sell the oil to pay off the creditors and keep her children.

Both of these stories are great examples of having enough faith to see your way through tragedy and challenges that seem impossible. So long as we keep God in our hearts he will step into our lives and do great things for us. It is always important to remember that we are stewards, or managers, of the money God entrusts to us. And sometimes our stewardship is short lived.

These stories hit close to home for us because there was a time in our lives where we were in the middle of financial challenges. It was only when we turned to God and learned his way that we were able to recover financially, but more important, become stronger faithfully.

One of the most amazing gifts of this ministry is the knowledge that we are helping others through the same hard times we went through. And remember both Job and the widow were thrown into circumstances they could not anticipate. Even in you are in good financial shape now, what will happen when you face a crisis? Will you have the faith of Job and the widow to help you through it?

Thanks for reading,
The Beans.

Is a Crisis Coming Your Way?

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There are many possibilities for a financial crisis to occur in each of our lives.

The best way to handle any type of financial crisis is to figure out how to handle it before it occurs.  We recommend creating a “Crisis Budget”. What’s a crisis budget? It’s your budget, which has been revised to take into account a potential major upheaval in your family finances.

Maybe you are a government employee and have been directly affected by the Fiscal Cliff and the resulting Sequester. Or maybe you own your own business and are concerned about falling sales, or maybe you just have a vague feeling that your job is not secure.

When a crisis occurs we are busy reacting to it.  We are also very emotional about whatever happened.  By creating a crisis budget before a crisis occurs you have time to analyze your current spending and make objective decisions about how to handle a loss of income and the resulting impact to your family finances.

As you create your “Crisis Budget” think about what circumstances may trigger a crisis and a resulting financial impact. If both you and your spouse work, a crisis may be that one of you loses your job, or maybe you are retired and your savings is not generating the income you had planned. If you are part of a one-income family, possibly it’s a total loss of your normal income.

If any of these things happen you will be scrambling for a new job, trying to deal with the crisis while also trying to earn some part time income. It’s not a good time to be analyzing your spending and making major decisions about how to change your buying habits.

Think about one or two of the most likely financial disasters that could occur in your life then create one or two budgets that will closely match the loss of income. If/ when the crisis arises, you will know exactly what to do. Many times you will have some level of knowledge in advance of a job loss, layoff or reduction in pay. If you have prepared a “Crisis Budget” in advance of a crisis, you will be able to implement the reduced budget as soon as you think that there might be an income issue. Don’t wait until the crisis happens; implement your “crisis budget” at the first sign of trouble!   Implementing your crisis budget immediately will give you peace of mind, help you feel some level of control and deal with your potential loss of income all at the same time

During a time of crisis it is easy to become discouraged, but it is just at these times that we need to turn to God for hope. In Hebrews 13:5-6 we hear “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.”  In a time of crisis, turn to the Lord for your strength. Adversity often gives us the opportunity to grow into the people God wants us to be; it gives us the opportunity to learn things we just could not learn any other way.

If you aren’t sure how to create a crisis budget, and would like to know more about what God says in the Bible about handling money and possessions, take the Compass Catholic nine-week Bible study, Navigating Your Finances God’s Way.

Watch for our next blog on the American culture’s worship of money.

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Will YOU have a Personal Sequester?

Our Congressional representatives seem to lose any budgeting skills they possessed (I’m giving them the benefit of doubt here) as soon as the final ballots have been counted. Our Congress has allowed the Fiscal Cliff and the resulting Sequester to occur because they don’t seem able to create a balanced budget.

Unfortunately, the general public is once again left holding the bag. As these much talked about cuts are actually put in place, many will lose their jobs or have their paychecks cut back. If you have even the slightest inclination that your job or paycheck will be affected by the Fiscal Cliff and resulting Sequester you need to act now.

The best way to approach any type of financial crisis is to have a budget that has been working. Unfortunately, many people don’t even have a budget, in fact, they really don’t know how much money they spend each month!

If you don’t have a budget, what are you going to do? It’s time to start right now—not tomorrow, but right now. Even if you believe that the effects will only last a couple of months, you should cut back spending immediately.  To get started, record every penny that you spend for at least the next sixty days. As you begin to record your spending, start to create meaningful categories that apply to your spending. At the end of the first thirty days, categorize your total spending.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is with their lifestyle. When things get tough and money is tight, they believe that it’s only temporary and in a few weeks everything will be back to normal. As a result, they don’t change their lifestyle. Unfortunately, “temporary” usually lasts a lot longer than we expect and many people get into trouble by using credit cards to subsidize their lifestyle. About 50 percent of Americans carry a balance on their credit cards—they are spending more than they earn

At the end of the first 60 days you should have a pretty good idea of how much you spend in each category. The most obvious thing to do next is to make sure that your spending is less than your income. If the total of your expense categories are greater than your income, you must take a hard look at your spending and cut it back so that it is equal to or less than your income.

It won’t be fun to cut back and scrimp but staying out of debt will be a blessing as you move forward.  Remember the Bible tells us in Proverbs that the “borrower is slave to the lender”. Don’t let the idiocy in Washington drive you to be a slave!

Will the Federal budget crisis, the Fiscal Cliff, or the Sequester affect your life? I hope not. But if it does, be prepared. Make sure that you have a good strong budget and then make sure that you have established a “crisis budget” so that you will be prepared for any financial event.

If you aren’t sure how to create a budget and would like to know more about what God says in the Bible about handling money and possessions, take a Compass Catholic nine-week Bible study, Navigating Your Finances God’s Way.

Watch for our next blog on the “B” Word!!