Are You Being Honest With Yourself?

 

Fifty or sixty years ago, if you had asked someone if they were honest or truthful, they would have looked at you as if you had two heads. At that time, there was no discernable difference between the two.

Our attitudes have changed so much that today people often manipulate their words and actions so they are scrupulously truthful without being absolutely honest.

Society’s acceptance of relative honesty is the opposite of what we learn in Scripture. The Lord requires absolute honesty from all of us at all times in every aspect of our life.

Sooner or later we all have to face the dishonesty within ourselves. And that dishonesty is especially harmful if it is related to our current financial situation.

Let’s dig into those areas where you may be lying to yourself.

Needs are the basics in life—food clothing and shelter. Wants are anything above and beyond basic needs. Things like the newest cell phone, the bigger house, restaurant meals or the latest fashions are all wants. It is really easy to convince yourself that you NEED something when in reality, you really just WANT it.

Don’t confuse yourself by calling the things you WANT a NEED. Because once you start confusing needs and wants it is easy to talk yourself into buying anything that catches your eye. It is not necessarily bad to fulfill your wants. In fact, as humans, we are wired to have goals and dreams, but be totally honest about which is which.

We are also being dishonest with ourselves if we think that the next thing we buy will make us happy. Happiness is a state of mind and while you may get some temporary satisfaction out of a new possession, it will never bring happiness for long. Setting yourself up to be happy based on buying things puts you in a never-ending cycle of “what’s next?” It’s hard to be happy if you never stop and appreciate what God has already given you.

In 1 Timothy 6:8, we read: “If we have food and clothing, we shall be content.”  It is much harder to be content if you have food, clothing, and shelter, plus a long list of unfulfilled “needs” and a never-ending inventory of things to buy which will finally bring you happiness. If you aren’t happy with what you have, you will never be happy when you get what you want.

Another way we may be lying to ourselves is when we justify being in debt because “everybody has debt.” There’s the school loan, the car loan, the mortgage, the second mortgage and all the credit card debt.  If you are using debt to subsidize a lifestyle you can’t afford, you are just being dishonest with yourself.

In order to gain control and spend less than you make, it’s crucial to live within your means. Try writing down everything you spend money on for a few months and organize your spending into categories. (Here is a helpful spreadsheet.) Once you have a few months of spending in a format you can review, it will help you develop a spending plan so you can manage what’s coming in vs what is going out.

If we convince ourselves that we don’t make enough money to save anything it’s another big lie. You may not be able to save a significant amount of money but if you are not saving anything, sooner or later you will be forced to use debt when there a health issue, an accident, an appliance that needs to be replaced or a major repair to the car. Those unexpected expenses hit everyone sooner or later. And if you haven’t saved any money, the only option is the credit cards or a loan.

We can again lie to ourselves by delaying retirement savings because there will be time for that later. The best way to build a retirement savings account is to start early and save on a regular basis. In Proverbs 21:5 we are encouraged to save on a regular basis “Steady plodding brings prosperity…” Every American should be saving for retirement in some way. if your employer offers a 401k match, take advantage of it. A 401k match is a free money from your employer to reward you for something you should be doing anyway.

Getting hoodwinked into investing in something because the returns on your investment are too good to be true means you are believing someone else’s lie. When these “can’t miss” investment opportunities are presented to you, keep your greed in check. Taking big risks out of desperation for a quick gain usually results in losing your original investment. In 1 Timothy 6:9, we read “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and are caught in the trap of many foolish and harmful desires which pull them down to ruin and destruction.”

And considering that everything we have is a gift from God, our biggest lie is thinking that we don’t make enough money to be generous. Or we convince ourselves that we need the money more than the church does. The act of giving starts with what we have, not what we think we need in order to be generous.

When we are tempted to be stingy due to a perceived lack of resources, remember Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Giving is a way for us to honor God and acknowledge him as the source of everything we have.

The best way to get your finances under control is to be honest with yourself.

Get Real About Your Finances

Let’s face it, none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. Some mistakes are big and some are little and many mistakes are a result of bad thinking, because we are not acknowledging reality.

Unrealistic thinking about our current financial situation can result in significant mistakes that harm our financial future. In order to combat these financial mistakes, take a look at your finances realistically and be totally honest about your attitude and how well or badly you handle your money.

Let’s dig into those areas where you may not be entirely truthful with yourself.

It is really easy to say you NEED something when you really just WANT it. But there is a difference between needs and wants. Needs are the basics in life—food clothing and shelter. Wants are anything above and beyond basic needs. Things like the newest cell phone, the bigger house, restaurant meals or the latest fashions are all wants.

It is not necessarily bad to fulfill your wants. In fact, as humans we are wired to have goals and dreams. But don’t confuse yourself by calling the things you WANT a NEED. Because once you start confusing needs and wants it is easy to talk yourself into buying anything that catches your eye.

We can also fool ourselves if we think that the next thing we buy will make us happy. Happiness is a state of mind and while you may get some temporary satisfaction out of a new possession, it will never bring happiness for long. If you set yourself up to be happy based on buying things you will be in a never ending cycle of “what’s next?” It’s hard to be content if you are always looking to buying the next thing instead of appreciating and being grateful for what you already have.

In 1 Timothy 6:8, we read: “If we have food and clothing, we shall be content.”  It is much harder to be content if you have food, clothing and shelter, plus a long list of unfulfilled “needs” and a never ending inventory of things to buy which will finally bring you happiness. If you aren’t happy with what you have, you will never be happy when you get what you want.

We can also fool ourselves by justifying our debt because “everybody has debt.” There’s the school loan, the car loan, the mortgage, the second mortgage and all the credit card debt.  If you are using debt to subsidize a lifestyle you can’t afford, you are just doing bad math. If you spend more than you earn, it always catches up with you.

It doesn’t mean you have to pay for everything with cash; mortgages and student loans are a practical reality for the vast majority of Americans. But if you are digging yourself deeper and deeper into debt each month by fulfilling your WANTS, sooner or later you will find yourself in a hole so deep that you can’t climb out of it.

The debt cycle mistake is most often made when you don’t manage your spending versus your available income. Try writing down everything you spend for a few months and organize your spending into categories. (Here is a helpful spreadsheet.) Once you have a few months of spending in a format you can review, it will help you develop a spending plan so you can manage what’s coming in vs what is going out. In order to gain control and spend less than you make, it’s crucial to live within your means.

If we convince ourselves that we don’t make enough money to save anything it’s another big mistake. You may not be able to save a significant amount of money but if you are not saving anything, sooner or later you will run up debt. You are ignoring the fact that sometime in the future you are going to have a financial emergency. It may be a health issue, an accident, an appliance that needs to be replaced or a major repair to the car. But those unexpected expenses hit everyone. And if you haven’t saved any money, the only option is the credit cards or a loan.

We can again fool ourselves by delaying retirement savings because there will be time for that later. The best way to build a retirement savings account is to start early and save on a regular basis. In Proverbs 21:5 we are encouraged to save on a regular basis “Steady plodding brings prosperity…”Every American should be saving for retirement in some way. if your employer offers a 401k match, take advantage of it. A 401k match is free money from your employer as a reward for something you should be doing anyway.

Getting hoodwinked into investing in something because the returns on your investment are too good to be true can quickly turn into a financial disaster! There are ALWAYS risks with any investment and higher rates of return usually come with higher risks. When these “can’t miss” investment opportunities are presented to you, keep your greed in check. Taking big risks out of desperation for a quick gain usually results in losing your original investment. In 1 Timothy 6:9, we read “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and are caught in the trap of many foolish and harmful desires which pull them down to ruin and destruction.”

And considering that everything we have is a gift from God, our biggest mistake is thinking that we don’t make enough money to be generous. Or we convince ourselves that we need the money more than the church does. There are many ways we can justify not giving. But the act of giving comes from what you have, not what you think you need in order to be generous. No amount is too small.

Giving is not done because God needs the money, it is done as a way for us to honor him and acknowledge him as the source of everything we have. When we are tempted to be stingy due to a perceived lack of resources, remember Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

The best way to get your money straight is to be honest with yourself.

How to Pick a Bank and Avoid Fees

We’ve dealt with quite a few banks over the years, as we’ve moved from one location to another (we are currently living in our 9th house) and we’ve usually picked our bank based on how convenient it was to our house. That is definitely not the best way to make a decision about where to keep your money.

There are lots of options when deciding where to bank. There are regular ‘brick and mortar’ banks, which can range from small local banks to large mega-institutions.  Another option is the Credit Union, which is typically organized as a not-for-profit company, affiliated with a business, branch of the military or educational institution. There are some Savings and Loan institutions which originally started as a mutual association to benefit both depositors and borrowers.  And one of the newer choices in an online bank.

In order to make a decision on which type of bank is right for you, discern why you need a bank in the first place. Are you required to use an automatic deposit by your employer in order to get paid?  Do you need a checking account, savings account or a credit card? Do you want to establish a relationship with a bank in order to secure a home mortgage or a car loan?

Whatever type of institution you are considering be sure your money is insured. The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) is an independent agency of the US government that protects the funds of depositors in banks and savings and loan associations. All federal credit unions are insured by the NCUSIF (National Credit Union Insurance Fund). State-chartered credit unions may be insured by the NCUSIF, or might have their own state insurance or private insurance.

The typical accounts covered by insurance are checking, savings, money market deposit accounts and CD’s. Deposit insurance typically does not cover other types of financial products such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, life insurance policies, annuities or securities.

Look at the bank’s website to determine how closely their services meet your needs. Are their locations and hours convenient for you? Can you access the bank when you are in a different location? Does the bank have 24-hour security monitoring so you are able to report a stolen card or fraud transaction off hours? Will you have access to online banking? Are there requirements for a minimum balance?  Are there limits to electronic transactions?

And one of the most important things you need to know is their fee structure.  Ask what situations result in a fee and what are those fees.  Because not knowing this little tidbit can hit you right in the wallet. According to a CNN Money report from February 2017, in 2016, the “big three” banks earned the following in fees:  $1.1 billion in ATM fees; $2.3 billion in maintenance fees to keep accounts open and $5.4 billion in overdraft fees.

It wasn’t that long ago that if the bank received a check that you had written and you didn’t have enough money in the bank to cover the check, they would send the check back to whomever you wrote the check to marked with a big red NSF stamp, indicating that there were insufficient funds in the account to pay the check.

The bank would charge you a small fee (@$10) and you would also have to pay a small fee to the business which tried to cash the check. Today most banks will cash the check, even if you don’t have money in your account and charge you an overdraft fee, sometimes as much as $35 per check.  The legal amount for NSF fees varies by state.

A Pew Charitable Trusts report from December 2016 said that, at that time, more than 40 percent of banks in the U.S. shuffle transactions to maximize overdraft fees.  For example, if you have $100 in your account and have the following charges in this order: $75; $25 and $115, the bank may reorder your transactions so the $115 is deducted first so both the $75 and $25 charges result in overdrafts, thus the bank can charge you twice for two overdrafts, rather than the one which would have occurred if the transactions had been processed in the time sequence order.

Here are some tips that will help you avoid paying ANY bank fees. The first step is to have a clear understanding of the fees and go with the bank that has the lowest fee structure, based on your requirements.

Keep your check register up-to-date and record all transactions (checks; ATM and debit cards) every day. Also, be sure to keep track of related fees for using an out of network ATMs or monthly fees for your checking or savings accounts.

Balance your checkbook and savings accounts every month. If you have any questions or find any errors visit the bank and ask questions until you understand. It’s your money and you have every right to understand what the bank is doing.

Have an EMERGENCY FUND! Overdrawing your checking account by even a few pennies can trigger some hefty fees. Protect yourself by adding a small cash cushion to your account and don’t let your account go below that cushion.

In order to keep track of your cash cushion, sign up for online alerts with your bank or credit union. They will send you an email when your checking account balance dips below a certain limit, say $50 or $100.

Steer clear of “bounced check coverage” or “courtesy overdraft protection.”

Many banks and credit unions enroll customers into courtesy overdraft programs when they open their checking accounts. But you are supposed to agree with this option so be careful when opening an account at the bank. If you aren’t sure that your bank did you the ‘courtesy’ of enrolling you in a super-expensive protection program, check the fine print of your account agreement or call your bank and ask. If you are enrolled, ask to opt-out of the program and be sure to follow up in writing.

If you feel you need overdraft protection, signup for a program linked to a savings account, line of credit, or credit card. You might pay an annual fee for this service and a small fee for each overdraft, but you will be guaranteed protection if you overdraw your account. Be sure to read the fine print when signing up for one of these services.

If you prefer to use debit cards rather than cash, be careful. Merchants can place holds or blocks on your checking account when you pay by debit card. These blocks can be more than the purchase amount, especially for gasoline, rental car and hotel purchases. They do not actually take the money out of your account, but the block does affect your available account balance for a day or two.

Remember that debit cards don’t have the same protections against fraud as credit cards. If someone obtains your debit card number and pin, they can clean out your checking and savings accounts and you don’t have any protection. If someone steals your credit card, your loss is typically limited to only $50 and most times not even that.

If you pay attention to how your bank operates then you can eliminate having to pay bank fees.  You want the money to remain in your account and not pad the bank’s bottom line. Remember the adage from Sirach 20:12. “A man may make a good bargain, but pay for it seven times over.

Finding a Financial Planner (part 2)

Last week’s blog was about the background work you need to do when you are looking for a financial planner. This week’s blog is about interviewing a potential financial planner. As a reminder, be sure to interview at least 3 people before determining which financial planner is right for you.

The first thing you want to discover relates to their practice in general terms, such as their investment and client philosophy and previous work experience. Most financial planners have a typical type of client and financial situation they like to work with, so it is important for you to understand how their preferences relate to you. You want to be sure the services they offer to match your needs.

After you learn the basics, find out more about their qualifications. Anyone can call themselves a financial planner, so be sure and ask if they are recognized as a certified financial planner. A CFP designation means they have passed a rigorous test administered by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. The CFP designation also means they must commit to continuing education on financial matters and ethics to maintain their designation. The CFP credential is a good sign that a prospective planner will give sound financial advice.

Ask for the code of ethics they follow. Certified Financial Planners are held to the CFP Board’s Code of Ethics, which requires them to act as a “fiduciary.” In short, this means the planner has pledged to act in a client’s best interests at all times. This point is critical and should be a deal breaker if a prospective planner is not a fiduciary.

If an investment professional is not a fiduciary anything they sell you merely has to be suitable for you, not necessarily ideal or in your best interest. The difference between ‘best interest’ and ‘suitable’ is an important fine line for you to consider.

Request a copy of the ADV form which is used by investment advisers to register with both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and state securities authorities. These forms are available to the public on the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD) website at http://www.adviserinfo.sec.gov/.

There are two parts to the form. Part 1 requires information about the business, such as ownership, clients, employees, business practices, affiliations, and any disciplinary events of the adviser or its employees.

Part 2 contains information such as the types of advisory services offered, the adviser’s fee schedule, disciplinary information, conflicts of interest, and the educational and business background of management and key advisory personnel.

After you have checked out their credentials, the next important fact to understand is how they get paid. Financial advisors deserve to get paid for managing your money and since you are paying the bill, you need to understand how it works.

There are several pay structures they may use. They may be paid based on commission for certain products. In this case, they could have an incentive for steering you to certain financial products in order to maximize their commission, which may not be in your best interest. They may not be the most unbiased source of advice if they profit from steering you into particular products.

The second method of payment is a flat rate. You might pay them a flat fee, such as $1,500, for a financial plan or their fees may be calculated on an hourly basis. If you’re young and don’t have a lot of assets, a planner who charges by the hour could be most appropriate as they are usually the best fit when your needs are fairly simple.

The third way financial planners make money is being paid a percentage of your portfolio. This fee may be calculated quarterly or annually. It is often 1-1.5% of all the assets—investment, retirement, college-savings and other accounts—they’re minding for you. This method means the more your money earns for you, the more it earns for them so they have an incentive to keep your portfolio growing.
When talking about fees, you also need to find out how you pay for their services. Are the fees deducted from your account? Are you expected to pay by check? How often?

As you learn more about their practice and qualifications, ask about the types of investments they would recommend to someone in your circumstances. This is a good way to match the list you made earlier (see part 1 of this blog) to what they actually recommend.
If they start bragging about beating market averages, run away – no one can do that on a regular basis. And anyone who’s trying to beat the market may be taking risks that you don’t want to take. Always be wary when you’re being pitched an investment by someone who stands to earn money from that investment. Where is that profit coming from? That’s why it is important to understand how financial professionals are compensated.

Ask how much contact they normally have with their clients. Some planners hold an initial planning meeting and then only meet with clients once a year. Others might have quarterly meetings.

Generally, financial planners cannot sell insurance or securities products such as mutual funds or stocks without the proper licenses. Nor can they give investment advice unless registered with state or federal authorities, so be sure to clarify who your main contact will be. It doesn’t give you much confidence if you interview one person and decide you’d like to work with them only to have another person handle your accounts.

You may want to ask for a sample financial plan. Financial plans will vary based on the planner and the company. You may get overwhelmed with 40 pages of facts and figures or you may think that amount of detail is not enough. Be sure that what they provide will meet your needs.
As the meeting ends there’s one last question you want to ask yourself: Did they seem interested in you or did they do 90% of the talking? If they asked about you, your life and your goals that’s a good sign. If they bragged about their qualifications and expertise, and how much money they can make for you, they may be more interested in getting your business than in helping you reach your goals.

When in doubt, do more homework and make sure that the person you choose to work with is right for you from a lot of different perspectives and angles. Don’t let someone con you into working with them just because they promised to make you rich. Nobody can make that promise and keep it.

While choosing the right financial planner is important, ultimate peace of mind comes from the confidence that all money is God’s money, and that God alone is our true provider and protector.

Faith and Finances

When you think of the link between faith and finances there are several ways to view it.  The most common way is to simply ignore it. After all, we earned our money by our hard work, so what does our money have to do with our faith? 

For most people, money is one part of our life and faith is another part of our life and they are totally separate things.  However, this kind of thinking is the total opposite of what we read in Luke 16:11, “If therefore you have not been faithful in handling worldly wealth, how can you be trusted with true wealth?”  Luke tells us that our action related to worldly things does have an impact on our faith.

The second way to think of the link between faith and finances is the “Prosperity Gospel” viewpoint. This line of thought tells us that we should receive worldly benefits if we are true members of God’s family.  It’s a tit-for-tat relationship with God.  If I am faithful to God, he will give me what I want. The prosperity gospel also teaches that religion and generosity are the keys to worldly riches.

The “Prosperity Gospel” preaching could not be further from the truth. The depth of our faith has absolutely nothing to do with our success according to the world’s standards. The only thing our faith promises is the joys of heaven and life to come. Many passages in the Bible elevate the goodness of the poor and suffering and condemn those people who put importance on material possessions and financial gain.

The Biblical interpretation of prosperity is a spiritual blessing, not necessarily financial wealth.  What can be viewed as prosperity in a spiritual sense can sometimes be viewed as a failure in a worldly sense.

Which brings us to the “Poverty Gospel” mindset.  In this teaching, anyone who is truly faithful must also be poor, as wealth interferes with our spiritual life. This sort of preaching tells us that material possessions are evil and anyone who loves God is poor and disdains material wealth.

Both the poverty and prosperity preaching are in error. Our spiritual health is not connected to our physical circumstances.  Some of the godliest people in the Bible were very wealthy and other very godly people were extremely poor.

Think of the story of Job, a rich man in the material world, and he was also faithful to God. Job had 7 sons and 3 daughters, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 she-donkeys, and a very large household of servants.

One day Job was the topic of a conversation between the Lord and the satan: “The LORD said to the satan, ‘Have you noticed my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil.’

The satan answered the LORD and said, ‘Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing? Have you not surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land. But now put forth your hand and touch all that he has, and surely he will curse you to your face.’ The LORD said to the satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on him.’ So the satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

Poor Job – little did he know how severely he would be tested. In a short period of time, Job lost everything – all his animals, his servants, his home, his family, his possessions, his health and all his wealth. Yet in this midst of this, Job declared “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

Like Job, our faith in God should not be dependent on our wealth or our poverty. Rather we are called to be stewards of what we have, whether much or little.  The foundation of being a steward means living in a way that pleases God in all areas of our lives – even when it comes to our own personal finances. Our possessions are a gift from God and we are called to take care of them responsibly.  Possessions are beneficial if they are used wisely to fulfill our calling as a child of God.

How we make money, how we save money, how we spend money, and all of our attitudes about money need to be thought of in terms of our faith. At the most basic level, stewardship is a way to live our faith in a daily basis. True stewardship, is a way of life and it’s an important tool in living our faith no matter what circumstances we experience.

Stewardship means we put God in first place and money in some other place in our lives.  But this is NOT how our society thinks or influences us to think.

Applying Stewardship to our daily lives and living these principles on a daily basis can be difficult. It means analyzing our actions and their motivation. Are you lazy; greedy; generous; overrun with debt?

Take some time and reflect on these questions to determine how well you integrate faith and finances:

  • Do you involve God in your finances through prayer?
  • What does it mean to be a steward of your personal finances?
  • How do you balance the demand of the secular world against your personal financial stewardship?
  • What is your biggest challenge in living a stewardship lifestyle?

Asking yourself these questions will help you discern if your attitude toward stewardship needs adjustment. If so, take some time to sit in front of the tabernacle and remember that how you use money is about doing what will please God.

in our lives, the purpose of money is to help us to better know, love and serve the Lord. If the way we are handling our money hinders our ability to do that, then our money management techniques need to change big time!

Being able to walk away from anything and everything for Christ reveals a pure heart.  Money is one of those things from which we should be able to walk away.

What is in our hearts becomes evident through outward signs (like debt). So, in the big scheme of things, money is a small thing. Simply put money is stuff we use to get other stuff. We should be much more concerned about our spiritual life and pleasing God than about how much money and stuff we have. Mastery over money is mastery over ourselves, and from this mastery over money, grows a broader ability to know, love and serve the Lord.

Once you start living a stewardship lifestyle, nothing is the same. And that’s a good thing!

Your Own Personal Groundhog Day

Pugroundhog-1891621_1280nxsutawney Phil is the name of a special groundhog who lives in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. On Groundhog Day (February 2) each year, Phil emerges from his little groundhog home on Gobbler’s Knob. According to the tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, he has predicted six more weeks of winter-like weather. If Phil does not see his shadow, he has predicted an “early spring.”

Groundhog Day has always been a part of my life, as I grew up in Western Pennsylvania (about 80 miles south-east of Punxsutawney) and I was probably prompted to write about this pseudo-holiday as I am currently visiting Pennsylvania.

Punxsutawney Phil became a national celebrity in 1993 because of the movie Groundhog Day. The movie starred Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.  Murray plays an arrogant Pittsburgh TV weatherman (Phil Connors) who is assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney. He considers the assignment a joke and does not hide his contempt for the small town and the “hicks” who live there.

He travels to Punxsutawney on February 1st to spend the night in preparation for Groundhog Day on February 2nd. On February 2nd, Phil awakens in Punxsutawney to Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” on the radio and the cheery announcement, “It’s Groundhog Day!” He tapes a half-hearted report on the groundhog, then gets stranded in Punxsutawney due to a heavy snow storm.

On February 3rd, he is still in Punxsutawney and again awakens to “I Got You Babe” and the same cheerful announcement from the radio, announcing Groundhog Day.  He relives Groundhog Day and returns to bed thinking the whole things was a bad dream. February 4th starts the same way – he awakens to “I Got You Babe” and the same cheerful announcement from the radio, and repeats Groundhog Day. He is trapped in a time loop that no one else is seemingly aware of.

Phil realizes there are no consequences for his actions, so he engages in some outrageous behavior such as binge drinking, one-night stands, and reckless driving. However, Phil soon becomes depressed being stuck in the same day over and over, leading to him to find ways to commit suicide to end the time loop, including electrocuting himself with a toaster in a bathtub, and stealing Punxsutawney Phil and driving off a cliff. Even with his apparent deaths, he still wakes up to “I Got You Babe” and every day is February 2nd— Groundhog Day.

After repeating the same day over and over again, he decides to use his knowledge of the day’s events to try to better himself and the lives of the people who live in Punxsutawney. Over many repeated days, he learns how to play the piano, sculpt ice, and speak French. After witnessing the death of a homeless man which could have been prevented, he plans out his actions during the days to avert this and other accidents and disastrous situations that otherwise would have occurred. Phil turns out to be an upright guy, concerned about the welfare of others and searching for good.

Ultimately, in one-time loop, Phil eagerly attends the Groundhog Day festivities and gives a very eloquent report about the small town he previously disdained. His report causes all of the other news stations to turn their cameras to him, ending the time loop.

As February approaches, many television networks are gearing up to air day-long marathons of the movie Groundhog Day.  It is a fun and funny movie that subtly challenges us to look at our lives and discover those ways we are making the same mistakes over and over again. Unfortunately, in the real world, we are not quite as lucky as Bill Murray’s character and we don’t get a chance to live our days over and over till we get it right.

And too often, we put ourselves in our own personal Groundhog Day by making the same financial mistakes over and over again. Spending more than you make; not saving any money; running up debt; keeping up with the neighbors and not tracking where your money is going are all harmful to your financial health and can put you in a Groundhog Day type of time loop.   

These things drown you in financial stress during every month when you repeat that feeling of being overwhelmed each time there is not quite enough money to get you through to the next paycheck. You get that sinking feeling when the bills arrive in the mail knowing you’ll have to juggle things around and figure out which bill doesn’t get paid this month. There is no money in the saving account when extra funds are needed. You can’t figure where the money is going and how to escape from this cycle of financial turmoil.

Unfortunately, these mistakes can impact you for years to come. 

Sometimes, if you aren’t sure what to do, the easiest thing is to do nothing.  But if you continue to do what you have been doing, you’ll keep getting the same results.  If you aren’t sure where to start, read Your Money Counts, which can be accessed for free from the Compass Catholic website. Click HERE. It’s a simple read which will give you an overview of how to change course.

When you have the foresight to look past the harmful things you are doing and understand God’s call for you to be a financial steward, you can escape from the time loop of making the same mistakes over and over again.  We all make mistakes.  They can provide the stepping stones to a better life or they can keep us embroiled in a constant endless loop of living every day as if it were Groundhog Day.

Christmas is Coming!

This year… Christmas will be in December!decoration-1934889_1280

That is really not news, but too often the Christmas season catches people unprepared financially. Consumer counseling agencies see a 25 percent increase in the number of people seeking help in January and February, mostly due to overspending during the holidays. In an effort to maintain peace in the family and goodwill toward themselves, many people spend more than they should every Christmas, something that becomes painfully obvious when credit card statements arrive in January.

The reason so many people get into debt for Christmas is simple—they haven’t planned ahead and they overspent. They haven’t saved or given thought to how they may be able to creatively reduce the cost of Christmas. Now is the time to establish a budget for how much you’re going spend for Christmas and start putting money aside. Even though we just finished the holiday season and Christmas is out of our minds right now, it’s the best time to start planning for Christmas 2017.

To determine a reasonable budget for Christmas 2017, look at your spending for Christmas 2016. While it is fresh in your mind, in your bank account, and on your credit card statements, calculate the total you spent on Christmas 2016.

Be sure to include everything. if you host a Christmas party, that needs to be included. If the Holiday dinner is at your house and you take care of all the food and beverages, that needs to be included. If you travel to be with family in a different state, travel costs need to be included, along with the cost of presents, decorations, and any other items you bought.

Starting now, there are 12 months to save up for Christmas, so divide your total spending for Christmas 2016 by 12 and that’s what you need to save each month to have a debt free Christmas in 2017.
Saving $25 per month gives you $300 at Christmas; $50 a month results in $600 at Christmas and $100 a month is $1,200 for Christmas spending. Saving something each month will help you avoid a holiday spending hangover. If you can’t afford to save something each month, what makes you think you can pay off the credit cards after Christmas?

Now is the time to have the discussion with other family members and friends about curbing Christmas spending – they will probably be as relieved as you are to simplify things. Suggest drawing names and having each person buy a gift for one other person. But do it now so nobody is surprised in December when you want to cut back on spending. Otherwise, you are into the holiday season and it is too hard to change what you’ve always been doing.

Once infused with the gift-giving spirit, we all may be tempted to include every aunt, uncle, fifth cousin, neighbor and friend on our Christmas list without being able to afford it. Even if you are financially well off, what about friends and family – are they able to keep up with the overspending most families do at Christmas?

Many stores liquidate merchandise at the end of each season so start your holiday shopping early and keep your eyes peeled for bargains year-round. If you shop sales throughout the year you’re almost certain to find great gifts at steep discounts – from toys and games to clothing and electronics.

One reason so many people bust their holiday budgets is waiting until the last minute when the pressure to buy is the highest. Pay attention during the year to ideas for gifts. You may get some great clues as you analyze what interests the people in your life without the pressure of trying to figure out the perfect gift.

If you are a crafty person, make some of the gifts. It’s very personal and often more appreciated than buying something at the store. A handmade gift communicates how much you care for them without costing much, and you have 11 ½ months to finish making the gifts.

Think of something unique and meaningful like a framed picture of the family you took during a special time. Try getting the kids involved in decorating the frame to make it more unusual.

Maybe you make baked goods for gifts. I realize there are no Christmas cookie bags and plastic containers in the stores now – so buy a red one at the Valentines Day or July 4th sales and make it Christmassy with ribbons and tissue paper.

For the non-financial aspects of the holiday, take a long hard look at Christmas 2016. What went well? What was a disaster? The key is to plan Christmas 2017 so you can do MORE of the fun things and LESS of the non-so-fun things.

Remember, Christmas is the time of year that we should be centered on celebrating the birth of Jesus. We encourage you to prayerfully make the commitment not to go one penny in debt this Christmas.

But this doesn’t just pertain to Christmas. Planning and budgeting for birthdays, anniversaries, and any other holiday that involves gifts or spending helps us stay out of debt.

James 1:16-17 reads, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers: all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.”

No matter how much we spend, or how many presents we buy, our gifts are only temporary and the only true gift comes from above.

Evelyn Bean

How to Keep Your New Years Resolutions

fireworks-1827537_640The beginning of the new year is a time when most people make resolutions. One of the most common resolutions is to finally get the family finances in order, whether this means spending less, saving more, being more generous, or just figuring out where the money is going.

In Ephesians 4:22-24 we read: “That you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” Many times our “old self” is the way we are slaves to all the consumerism the world throws at us. 

One of the best ways to get your finances in order is to understand that God plays a role in your finances and one day you will be accountable to him for how you handled what he has given you. He is the Master and Provider.  We are the stewards.  So while many resolutions come and go, if you truly make a resolution that is God-centered and wrapped in prayer, it is much easier to maintain the strength to keep that resolution.

Once we decide to make a change and use the word of God to support our plan, we can be renewed in spirit and it will be much easier to stay on track through the whole year.

With that in mind, here are a few Bible verses that will provide support to help you stick to financial resolutions this year. It’s much easier to make a change if you are increasing your prayer life and time with God at the same time.

GETTING OUT OF DEBT:

Meditate on Proverbs 22:7 if your resolution is getting out of debt: “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”  If you are in debt and don’t think you are a slave, try missing a payment.  You’ll be surprised at how fast your interest rate is increased and the late charges are added to your account. As the borrower, you can not make decisions on where your money goes because it is already committed to debt payments and you are enslaved to the lender’s terms and conditions.

Start paying off debt by tackling your credit cards. We suggest paying off the card with the smallest balance first as a way to gain a quick win. Use the information in your credit card statement to figure out how long it will be until you are debt free with that particular card.

PAYING OFF A SPECIFIC LOAN:

Sirach 20:11 gives you something to think about if paying off a specific loan is on your list of resolutions.  “There is one who buys much for little, but pays for it seven times over.”   

Many people happily put purchases on a credit card, or take out a 30-year mortgage or a 6-year car loan, but rarely figure out the total cost of the purchase when the interest charges are included with the purchase price.  In fact, depending on your interest rate, you can pay more than twice as much for an item by making only the minimum payment on a credit card. And a 30-year mortgage often adds up to more than double the original purchase price of the house.

To motivate yourself, figure out the amount of money you are wasting by paying interest. Are you “paying for something seven times over?”

INCREASING THE AMOUNT YOU SAVE:

If your resolution is to save more money, think about Proverbs 21:20, which tells us: “Precious treasure and oil are in the house of the wise, but the fool consumes them.” Too often we spend everything we make and savings can be an afterthought, rather than a priority. 

Spending first means there will never be enough money to save and unexpected expenses cause you to go further in debt. By building an emergency fund and saving for those unexpected expenses you’ll have a small nest egg to take care of things that come up like needing a new tire or having the dishwasher repaired. The emergency fund keeps you from putting unplanned expenses on those plastic cards and adding to your debt.

STOP OVERSPENDING:

To stop overspending, consider 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evils.” When we overspend it can be due to using money as a form of gratification. The power, fun, fulfillment and short term happiness we get from spending can quickly turn into idolatry if our spending habits overwhelm our financial stability.

All the people we know who are in control of their finances use a spending plan. It helps them understand where the money goes so they have enough facts to decide if they are spending it on what is most important to them. This decision-making part of a spending plan allows them to see if they are wasting money or using it wisely. Create a spending plan to monitor where your money goes.

INCREASE GIVING:

Acts 20:35 tells us “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, who said it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Giving increases around Thanksgiving and Christmas, as it is a natural thing to do at that time of year. The trick is to continue that attitude of generosity the rest of the year.

If you are trying to be more generous, take a long hard look at where you are currently giving:

Church or other organizations

How much?

How often?

It may sound counter-intuitive to give when you are getting finances straightened out but is is a form of discipline to help you consciously recognize that God owns everything and you are his steward. This concept is the foundation of all your financial planning.

Our prayer for you this year is that you eliminate financial burdens in your life and honor God in the way you spend, save and manage your finances.

Evelyn Bean

Turkey Trot at the Daytona Speedway

The day after Thanksgiving, we took the two teenagers in our life to the Turkey Trot which is held each year at the Daytona Speedway on the weekend after Thanksgiving. It is a combination swap meet and car show with lots of people walking around appreciating the refurbished cars, trucks and other assorted vehicles. Other people were wheeling and dealing on spare parts and every imaginable accessory related to cars, trucks, boats and motorcycles.

The boys were having a great time talking about which truck/car they liked the most, which paint color was best and snapping pictures of their favorite vehicles. We were having a good time pointing out the types of cars that our parents had when we were growing up and what we drove when we were first married (ancient history to the 15 and 16-year-olds).

One of the trucks on display was a 1934 Ford pickup. It did not impress the boys. The only way to describe the color is to call it rust (like in real rust, not rust colored). The hood was halfway gone, the seats were threadbare and there were tools all over the inside. I do not think this truck had been washed in at least 50 years and it had probably never seen a spot of car polish.

While the truck was old and falling apart, the owner, however, was amazing. He explained that when he was in high school, his parents encouraged him to save money. And to give him some incentive, they matched what he saved each month. When he graduated from high school he had enough money in the bank to pay cash for a reliable used truck. The matching savings was accompanied by encouragement from his parents on the benefits of driving a vehicle with no car payments.

It was his pride and joy as a teenager and as the years passed, he never saw a need to replace the truck since it remained in relatively good running condition. If it ever needed to be fixed the engine was simple enough that he could fix it himself, even if it was something as complicated as completely removing the engine from the truck.

Then the owner hit our hot button as he started to talk to the boys about the benefits of driving a debt free car for 50 years (from high school to retirement). He explained that he was able to save, enjoy life, travel, and retire based on not making a car payment during his entire adult life.

So what is the impact of driving debt free cars? Today, the average car payment is about $375/month. If a 21-year old drives a debt free car and saves the $375 monthly car payment, by the time they are 65, they will have saved over $1.3Million!! ($375 per month at 7% for 44 years). That got the boys’ attention!

The only reason to own a car is for safe reliable transportation. Yet how many car commercials focus on those aspects of owning a car? Instead, they focus on how sexy the owners are, how luxurious the car is, how other people will envy you if you choose the car they are selling. How wonderful the sound system is. How fast the car goes. In short, most of the car commercials don’t even acknowledge safe and reliable transportation as a reason to buy what they are selling.

Yet, as our new friend shared with the boys on Friday, spending more than you need to on a vehicle can do serious damage to your financial health. And driving a debt free car does amazing things to your financial goals.

After home mortgages, car loans are the largest debts most people have. Unlike a home, which usually appreciates in value, the moment you drive a car off the lot it depreciates in value. It’s worth less than you paid for it by the time you hit the first intersection. The depreciation is especially dangerous because most people never get out of car debt. Just when they get to the point of paying off a car, they trade it in and purchase a newer one with credit.

Everybody likes the new car small – but it comes at a high cost. A new car loses 40% of its value in the first year, and 60% of its value is gone by year four. In other words, a new $28,000 car will lose about $17,000 of value the first four years you own it.

You could get the same results by tossing a $100 bill out the car window once a week for over 3 years! Car debt is one of the biggest roadblocks for people on their journey to financial independence.

In 1 John 2:15 we read “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.” Often times loving the things of this world influences our buying habits too much. Looking at the shiny new cars that are so enticing to a teenager is certainly an example of loving the things of this world.

We may not be able to match monthly savings for our teens, and many of them will not be able to buy a car with cash, but teaching them about the money wasted in paying interest and the money gained by saving is a valuable lesson.

At a minimum, teens should be taught to always buy a used car, never buy a new car. Besides being budget-friendly, today’s vehicles are designed to run for many more miles than the models of years past, although I can’t imagine many cars would last as long as our friend’s 1934 truck. But even driving a car for 10-15 years after it’s paid off is a huge financial benefit if you save the money that would go toward the car payment.

Teach your teens 3 steps to get out of never ending car payments:

  1. Decide to keep the car as long as it is drivable after the loan is paid off.
  2. After the final payment, keep making the same payment to yourself. Put the money into an account that you will use to buy your next car.
  3. When you are ready to replace your car, the trade-in, plus your years of savings should be sufficient to buy a good used car without a loan.

While the boys may have enjoyed looking at the hot rods and all the custom vehicles, we certainly enjoyed the impromptu lecture on car loans. After all, the real reason for owning a car is to get you from point A to point B safely and reliably!

Everyday is Earth Day

On Friday the world celebrated Earth Day. The original idea for Earth Day came from an environmental conference held in 1968. After two years of planning and a federal proclamation from U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, the first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970.

Nelson chose April 22 for the Earth Day celebration as he wanted to maximize participation from college students and April 22 did not conflict with Spring Break, end of year exams, or any religious or federal holidays. It was also late enough in the year to have decent spring-like weather (in most places).

Students from two thousand colleges and universities, about ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities in the US celebrated the first Earth Day. From that beginning Earth Day is now observed every year on April 22 in 192 countries.

Earth Day is a great way for us to sing the praises of the beautiful planet we inhabit and to concentrate on ways we can care for it.

However, I think God instituted the first Earth Day way back in the beginning of time. In the book of Genesis 1:26-30 we hear the story of creation when God created Adam and Eve and gave them dominion over the earth and all that is in it:

Then God said: “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.” God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and God said to them: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.” God also said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food.” And so it happened.
In Genesis, the Bible makes it clear that The Lord himself created everything. And because God created everything, God owns everything.

Psalm 24:1 is very clear about what God owns: “The earth is the LORD’s and all it holds, the world and those who dwell in it.” The same thought is reiterated in 1 Corinthians 10:26, which says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

God even declares himself as the owner of specific things. In Leviticus 25:23 he says: “the land is mine.” In Haggai he tells us, “the silver is mine and the gold is mine” And in Psalm 50 he says “For every animal of the forest is mine, beasts by the thousands on my mountains. I know every bird in the heights; whatever moves in the wild is mine.”

And here’s what we need to understand . . . God never transferred the ownership of his creation to us. We are simply stewards of what God owns. We must care for all that God has entrusted to us and allowed us to use.

Our responsibility is summed up in this verse from 1 Corinthians 4:2 “Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” In order to be trustworthy we must make our decisions based on an eternal perspective. What we do during our time on earth will impact all of eternity.

Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home is the second encyclical issued by Pope Francis. It challenges our throw away culture, which harms the environment and hardens our hearts as we apply that throw away mindset to people. It encourages each of us to examine our hearts and discern where we need to change and what we can do for the greater good.

“All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents” (Francis 1, Encyclical Letter. Laudato SI, Care For Our Common Home, 14)

So while Earth Day may have been officially celebrated on Friday, make every day Earth Day in your life. One way to start is to focus in prayer. The prayer that follows is a beautiful daily meditation. When you pray this prayer, ask the Lord to help you recognize his ownership of all the things he has given to you, his steward.

When you do it changes everything.
Evelyn Bean

“A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.”

(Francis 1, Laudato SI, Care For Our Common Home, 246)