The Spiritual Impact of Debt

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In all the parishes we have visited all over the world, there have only been two or three times when the priest gave a homily on responsible spending and the benefits of avoiding debt. But when he did preach on that subject, he had the full, rapt attention of the congregation.

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After all, money is something we deal with every day. We are either working to earn money, spending money, planning how to spend money, or using something on which we have spent money. Money is a big part of our daily life, and too often a large part of how we handle money includes debt.

Many churches don’t talk about personal finances unless there is a need for increased giving. Yet the spiritual impact of debt is clear:

  • Financial challenges can ruin marriages, leading to divorce.
  • A family wants to send the kids to Catholic school, but can’t afford the tuition because there are other places where their money is committed.
  • Vocations get postponed because many religious orders or diocesan vocations offices will not accept candidates who have student loan debt.
  • People feel like they can’t be generous givers because their debt is overwhelming. 

In the seemingly affluent United States, out-of-control debt is sort of a quiet monster. We are discovering something that Sirach talked about around the time of 200 B.C. Sirach lived in Jerusalem with all of its trade and travelers. He realized that “a man may buy much for little, but pay for it seven times over” (Sirach 20:11).

And paying seven times over is what happens to us when we buy stuff using credit cards that never get completely paid off. Debt that just keeps growing is first of all a money problem, but it can become a spiritual problem too, as debt drags us into slavery.

Overwhelming debt can make people feel isolated, embarrassed, and alone. When creditors call day after day, stress will eat away at peace of mind. Debt can make people feel depressed and powerless. 

One of the most amazing things about America’s growing difficulty with debt is what kind of people fall into the pit. Without paying attention to where the money is going, it could easily happen to anyone. There is no common thread among those who get into financial trouble. People with six-figure incomes can get into debt trouble as easily as someone whose income is much less.

People run up their credit cards month by month. In the short term, there really isn’t much pain. Minimum payments are easy to make. Then the balance balloons out of control and the interest rates and late fees hammer them, and suddenly the monthly payments don’t even touch the principal.

Spiritual questions about overspending include why people do it, and if they ever reach a point where they feel like they have enough. If we keep spending and spending and if we can’t afford it, it’s a huge spiritual issue. It means we don’t trust God to provide what we need and we are looking elsewhere for fulfillment.

Pope John Paul II, in a 1998 homily, described consumerism as a false antidote to spiritual emptiness. “Christ alone can free [us] from what enslaves [us] to evil and selfishness: from the frantic search for material possessions, from the thirst for power and control over others and over things, from the illusion of easy success, from the frenzy of consumerism and hedonism which ultimately destroy the human being,” the late pope said.

Consumerism can be an addiction. Your consumerism can consume you just as much as other pursuits can, and that’s not helpful to your pocketbook much less your soul.

The way we spend our money is an expression of our faith. We spend our money, time and thoughts on the things which are most important to us. Stop and think for a minute—what are your priorities? Over the last month, where did you spend your time, money and thoughts? Those are your priorities.

How you spend your money is an indication of how you integrate your faith into every aspect of your life. Getting out of debt means intentionally deciding not to define yourself based on what you own.

That’s not to say that spending is inherently wrong, or that treating yourself to some nice things is bad. But how much you buy depends on how much you can afford, and that is a reflection of your values.

It’s amazing how content we can be living a very simple life if we would only make the effort to do it. 

There is a parable about a man who had an abundant harvest and didn’t have enough space in his barn to store all his grain. He decides to tear down the barn and build a larger one. That same evening the man dies, showing the futility of putting our faith into material possessions.

People who have dragged their way out of debt say not owing money gives them a sense of joy, freedom and gratitude to God. They live out their understanding that everything they have is a  GIFT from God.  With that understanding comes thankfulness and peace, along with a sense that God will provide for them in good times and bad.

Everything that we have, including our money and possessions ultimately comes from God, not our own efforts. As Paul reiterated in Acts 17:25,  “it is [God] who gives to everyone life and breath and everything.” When you realize this, it suddenly became a lot easier to escape from the grasp of consumerism and quit trying to fill the void by accumulating more stuff. 

“To be full of things is to be empty of God.  To be empty of things is to be full of God.” (Meister Eckhart) 

The Compass Catholic podcast shares more about the spiritual impact of debt.

Master Your Money

In our culture, our faith is disconnected from the more secular aspects of life. We spend one hour a week in church and worship the gods of consumerism and materialism the rest of the week.

When we step away from the consumerism and materialism, we can ask ourselves this question: “Is what I am doing with my life helping me be the person God wants me to be?” The purpose of our lives should be to live in a way that pleases God in all areas.

Once we put God in first place everything else seems to fall into place.  This is the basic premise of being a good steward–God first in all ways.

Too often when we hear the word Stewardship, it’s related to giving. There is a need for an offertory increase in the parish. There is a capital campaign. It’s time for the yearly giving pledge, or the bishop’s annual appeal. But real stewardship is NOT about giving it’s about living in all areas of our life.

Applying Stewardship to our life and living a stewardship lifestyle on a daily basis can be difficult. It means analyzing our actions and their motivation. Am I greedy?  Do I make hasty decisions and later regret them? Am I generous? Am I overrun with debt? Do I gave money a place of importance it does not deserve?

Once we have deeply examined our habits, including how we give, save and spend, managing money becomes simply an administrative matter. We can escape from the pressure society puts on us by telling us that we must have lots of money and lots of stuff in order to be important or worthwhile.

Money is simply a medium of exchange. It is not a statement on how valuable we are. Yet so many times, we give money an influence over us that is unhealthy. The purpose of our lives is to know, love and serve the Lord. If the way we are handling our money hinders our ability to do that, then how we manage money needs to be changed!

Acknowledging that God made and owns everything (Deuteronomy 10:14) is a practical first step in handling money properly. Managing our money wisely is our way of showing God that He reigns in our hearts.  And knowing that we possess material things to help fulfill our calling as a Christian helps us to differentiate between how the world tells us to live and what will please God.

Think about the story of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21). He had become so wealthy that he wanted to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. It never occurred to him that he could have built an additional barn. He also never thought about sharing his wealth with others. The rich man was unwilling to give up his material things because they had the number one place in his heart.

Jesus never condemned the rich man for being rich. But Jesus was sad that the rich man was not willing to walk away from his wealth. His money took priority even over Jesus Himself.

The issue of money is as difficult now as it was when Jesus began His public ministry.

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

Do we give money first place in our hearts—a place where God should be? A prideful heart is an obstacle to the pure heart that God wants from us.  All too often, financial issues have their root in spiritual issues. What is in our hearts becomes evident through outward signs.  When we give money an importance it does not deserve, when we use money to find personal fulfillment, when we are greedy or stingy with the money God has blessed us with, when we are overrun by debt and buy things we don’t need, then we may be giving money an importance it does not deserve. Recognizing these problems can be difficult.

The parable of the talents teaches us that God is looking for faithfulness in the little things. The talents were a form of money. The man who entrusted money to his servants expected a return. Two of the servants managed their money well and were rewarded with more of their master’s goods. The third servant managed the money poorly. When the master returned he punished the one servant for the mismanagement of his goods. He told the servant that if he could not even handle this little task, then he could never manage or enjoy the fruits of greater responsibility.

So mastery over money is mastery over ourselves. Mastery over money provides the ability to know, love and serve the Lord. As we better know, love and serve the Lord we become more obedient in all areas of our lives. As we become more obedient we are showing that we can be trustworthy. As we become more trustworthy the Lord bestows greater blessings on us.

We are not saying that if we are generous we will get more money. We are saying that when we submit ourselves to the Lord many blessings come to us in the form of peace, joy, gratitude, and contentment

The foundation of mastery over money is serving the Lord as our number one priority and knowing what God wants us to do with our lives.

Odd as it may sound, spending decisions need to be thought of in terms of our faith. Asking yourself how this purchase helps you be a better steward prior to making the purchase is much more beneficial than beating yourself up after the credit card purchases stack up.

If your attitude toward money needs adjustment, take time to sit in front of the tabernacle and listen to the Lord. It takes a conscious effort to change your mindset and adjust your attitude. But once you master your money, nothing is the same.

And that’s a good thing!

Checkout the Manage Your Money God’s way podcast for more.

Learning to be Content

There was a recent article in our newspaper titled “Despite Having Nothing I am Happy.”

It was about a couple who experienced Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and moved to the panhandle area of Florida. When they got to Florida they had nothing. In fact, they tell a story about scavenging in a dumpster and finding a few notebooks and art supplies which they cleaned up and gave to their granddaughter as a present for Three Kings Day.

The few possessions they were able to accumulate disappeared when Hurricane Michael hit the panhandle area in October of 2018. Hurricane Michael was the third major hurricane they endured in about 18 months. The husband of this couple said “Despite having nothing I am happy.”

What a blessing to hear.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all discover the contentment this family feels so we could all say that we are happy with what we have. Being content with what you have—whether it’s a little or a lot—is a real gift.

Contentment is in pretty short supply in our country and in our culture because the advertising industry creates discontent in our lives.

Just look at the Smarter Image website to find lots of stuff intended to make you discontent, starting with the name of the business. You will buy their products if you are SMARTER and want a better IMAGE.

They offer a hover helmet—it’s a big metal C-shaped device where you put a major league batting helmet between the two ends of the C and the helmet hovers there. It’s $120. How about a heated fog free shower mirror for $130? Or the World’s First At-Home Professional LED Lip Therapy Device to get rid of lip wrinkles for $120.

None of these things will add any significant value to your life. Yet if we believe the advertising, we really need to buy them in order to be happy. The ads are telling us we are not good enough—we need a SMARTER IMAGE! Which they provide if only we buy what they are selling.

And there lies the problem.

All too often discontent leads us to use debt to buy things we don’t really need and things that will never really satisfy us. Maybe it’s something as useless as the items mentioned above or something BIG that’s easy to justify like a new car. Or it’s something that’s just NEW like the latest version of a smart phone

Any time you buy something in an effort to be happy, it will not make you happy for more than a few days. After a few days, the happiness wears off and you are on a quest for the next best thing to buy. Have you ever felt that “if only” you had more whatever it is you are craving, then you’d finally be content? But if you’re not content with what you have today, you’ll never be content when you get that nicer home, that newer car, the upgraded smart phone or more money.

As stewards of God’s blessings and the talents we’ve been given, we should always seek to improve our circumstances. But improving our circumstances does not mean accumulating things and buying stuff. A never ending quest for more and more can be very dangerous spiritually because if you’re not content with what you have, you’ll never be content when you get what you want.

Paul wrote Philippians 4:11-13 from a prison cell. This is what he said:

“I have learned to be content in whatever my circumstances. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Paul learned to be content, it’s not an instinct we’re born with, we must learn it. And the foundation of contentment is being grateful for what we do have.

As Americans we live in one of the richest countries that ever existed. Even if you are barely making ends meet, you are still among the richest people on earth when compared to the standard of living in most other countries.

So if you struggle with being content, meditate on Phil 4:11-13.

The poorest people can be content, while all the money in the world can’t make you content. Look at all the wealthy people who are miserable. Being content has nothing to do with how much stuff you have or how new your stuff is or how much money you have. It has everything to do with being grateful for what you do have.

The families mentioned at the beginning are a great testimony to how you can learn to be content no matter how much or how little you have. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all learned how to be content?
The Compass Podcast has more on learning the virtue of contentment.

Eliminate Holiday Spending Stress

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday have all come and gone and the Christmas buying season is upon us. Before emptying your wallet and racking up credit card debt, take some time to think through WHY it is so easy to overspend at Christmas by reading the stories below.

Maria is a divorced mother of two teens. She overspends on the holidays out of guilt, trying to make up for the emotional disruption in her children’s lives by showering them with gifts. She knows deep down that when the credit card bills arrive in January, she will experience terrible anxiety.

Christmas is all about kids, and it can be a magical time where we make lots of happy memories. However, teens aren’t clueless and they can and do understand that money is not an infinite resource. You are not a bad parent if you can’t buy every single thing your kid likes or sees or wants. More to the point, they won’t stop loving you if you fail to provide an avalanche of presents. Let’s admit it, NOT making kids happy is a deep, dark fear that drives a lot of unhealthy financial behavior at this time of year.

Even little ones know Santa only has so much room on his sleigh. If you’re secretly worried a child will reject you over gifts, remember that they want your love, approval, time, and undivided attention. And if you have taught them to value material possessions over these things, you may want to rethink what you are teaching them. Prioritize your budget to spend more on the children than the adults. But balance this against the knowledge that overspending in the short term can be bad for the whole family in the long term.

Let’s look at Tom and Sue who LOVE the holidays and do everything they can to make the season festive and fun. They use a budget during the year, but it gets tossed out the window at Christmas. They would never want to disappoint their twelve nieces and nephews, six siblings, parents, neighbors, friends and even casual acquaintances.  Every year, they overspend their budget in quest of the PERFECT Christmas. And every January, they pay the price in stress, finance charges, and post-holiday misery.

Our own lives can seem messy when we compare them to our friends and neighbors. Top that with multiple media images of perfect families with perfect homes and armfuls of gifts and you have the textbook recipe for a holiday inferiority complex. We are holding ourselves up for scrutiny against an airbrushed, photo-shopped version of other people. But what you see in the media isn’t REAL. For all you know, the neighbors you envy may be up to their eyeballs in debt and their over-decorated house of cards might come tumbling down at any minute.

Make a conscious effort to stop comparing yourself to others. Who cares what other people think? Take a few moments to write a list of the things you truly care about, that bring you real joy and happiness. Shifting your focus can help you to prioritize what is most important, and is most likely to bring you lasting happiness in a way that material goods cannot. You can’t buy a good Christmas, you can only make one.

Emma and Ben have enough money that overspending during the holidays is not a problem. But what really makes them crazy is to see the holiday focus on elaborate gifts while friends and family miss the real reason for the celebrations. They hate seeing gifts that are broken, discarded, or ignored as soon as the holiday has passed. They struggle with the feeling that their money is not being well spent.

This situation is often linked with having one or more demanding, unreasonable family members who are difficult to stand up to. Don’t be a martyr. You can’t actually make people like that happy, so quit trying. There’s no point exhausting yourself and your bank account. Re-think the situation: what’s affordable and comfortable for you?  State your intentions simply without apologizing, justifying or arguing.

For example, “We’re only buying presents for the kids this year.” Sure, it feels weird the first few times you try acting assertively around certain friends or relatives who aren’t used to it, but it gets easier over time.  You can do it without being nasty or looking like the bad guy. The world won’t end if you say ‘no’ every now and then.

Sam and Suzie would never dream of buying presents at the discount store or doing anything other than over the top gift giving, decorating, party throwing and meal planning. Because they DESERVE the BEST! But, every year they get stressed out and the holidays are less than joyful, especially as the credit card bills start piling up in their mailbox.

Christmas is not really about deserving anything, is it?  Either you can afford something or you can’t, however entitled you or anyone else might feel. Do the math. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. There’s nothing wrong with buying the standard version of something, if that’s what your budget allows.

In mid-December, Josie heads to the store for Christmas gift shopping. She doesn’t have a list—only a vague idea of what to buy and who to buy for. She wanders around aimlessly picking up those gifts that seem like a good idea. But when she gets home the gifts are all wrong and she forgot half the things she wanted to buy in the first place.

One of the biggest risks to our budget is panic buying. Feeling rushed or overwhelmed leads us to make snap decisions. We take the easy way out rather than the smartest option, and it ends up costing far more than we’d planned.

To avoid being in debt for months and months during 2019, avoid panic buying. Take a deep breath, calm down, check your budget and develop a detailed list for each person. Then stick to the list! Keep yourself focused and the panicky feelings will be a lot easier to overcome.

The holidays are rapidly approaching, but there is still time to take these proactive steps to avoid finding yourself in a financially stressful situation come January. If you see yourself in one of these situations, rethink what Christmas is all about.

Once Christmas 2018 is finished, we highly suggest saving 1/12 of your Christmas budget each month. If you say you can’t afford to do that, what makes you think you can pay the credit card bills for Christmas 2018, PLUS interest.

After all, the buying frenzy that occurs every year at Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with the baby in the manger, the gift of God made man. The only one and true gift we need at Christmas.

Here’s wishing you an affordable Christmas, and a financially stable New Year.

Join the Compass Catholic podcast for more about eliminating holiday spending stress.

Things Frugal People Never Do

In the many years we have been in this financial ministry, we have discovered some consist things that people who are careful with money never do. 

Try some of these – they will definitely improve your bottom line!

People who are money smart avoid borrowing money. Think about the paradigm of our society—it’s normal to go into debt to buy whatever you want. Of course, most people cannot afford to buy a house with cash, but how many people go into debt for a new car, a flat screen TV, clothes, the latest version of a smartphone and restaurant meals?

Frugal people always pay cash for anything and everything they can. They have learned the secret of saving for what they want and they avoid wasting money paying interest. They pay cash for their cars. They pay cash for the new TV. They don’t use debt to pay for new clothes. Frugal people know that paying interest means throwing money away!

How do they pay cash for so many items? It’s called an escrow account. Chances are if you own a house you already have an escrow account for property taxes and home insurance through your mortgage company. Your monthly mortgage payment consists of PITI (Principle, Interest, Taxes, and Insurance.) Each month when you make your mortgage payment, some money is put into a savings (escrow) account to cover your yearly insurance and tax bills.

In the same way, you can set up your own escrow account to pay for large purchases. If you need to replace your car in a few years, save a little each month—in advance—to pay cash for a good used car. If you plan to take a vacation this summer, save a little each month in advance so you don’t come home from vacation to face a mountain of debt. If you want to avoid the avalanche of Christmas bills in January, start saving now for Christmas 2019.

If you think it’s impossible to save in advance, then ask yourself why you can afford to pay for the item plus interest after you have charged them on your credit card. Paying interest significantly increases the cost of what you’re buying.

An escrow account is different than an Emergency Fund. An Escrow Account is money that you are saving up for future planned expenses. An Emergency fund is for unplanned expenses.

Besides avoiding interest payments and carefully planning future purchases, frugal people avoid window shopping. Why? Because if you are shopping for entertainment you will probably spend money on something that really isn’t necessary! Someone told me that every time they go to the mall just to walk around, they spend money. My response? Don’t go to the mall! If you shop for entertainment, you will eventually find something that you really don’t need but can’t live without.

Frugal people don’t collect stuff. Typically, they will recycle 90% of their stuff to a worthy cause and it works because they don’t buy a lot of stuff to begin with. St. Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Charities, and Parish flea market sales are all good places to donate things you no longer need or use. How many times do you look at all the stuff in your closet, drawers, and garage and see things you don’t need and haven’t used in years?

Frugal people don’t take their monthly bills at face value. They are always on the lookout for ways to cut expenses like cable bills. Cable can run as high as $80 – $150 for 100+ channels. How many of those can you reasonably watch? There are many alternatives that will give you most, if not all, of the normal programs you watch for $10 – $15/month.

A PEW research study shows that 95% of Americans now own a cell phone and 77% of Americans own a smartphone. Frugal people are ditching the landline. And saving even more money, frugal people don’t upgrade their smartphones as soon as a new model comes out. If your current phone works and does everything you need it to do, why spend the money to upgrade? And if most of the calls you make and receive are on your cell phone, why have a landline?

Frugal people don’t ignore their budget. Using a budget means you have a plan for every penny! Unless you know exactly where your money is going, how do you know if you are using it wisely on what is most important?

Frugal people don’t go to restaurants as a regular habit. You can cook for two people for way less than you will spend in a restaurant for just one meal. And frugal people never throw away leftovers. When you put leftovers in the fridge, have a plan. Will they be used for lunch or will you have a potluck dinner from the fridge later in the week?

Frugal people don’t pay fees. Whether it’s overdraft charges, late fees, bank account fees or yearly fees for the privilege of using a specific credit card, frugalistas avoid fees.

The most important thing frugal people don’t do is to try and live someone else’s life. They don’t compare what they have to what other people have. They don’t buy things just because everyone else has one and they understand the psychology of advertising so they don’t fall for all the ways advertisers manipulate us. It may seem like some of your neighbors, friends and relatives have so much more than you do, but you never know how much debt is behind all that stuff.

Social media is causing a lot of people to go into debt because they see perfect lives on social sites. In reality, people only post their best parts of their day. They would never post their credit card bill, how much debt they actually have, or how much money they are wasting in interest payments.

Being frugal is like being content—focusing on what you have instead of being in a constant state of wanting more and more.

In Philippians 4:10-14, Paul says that he learned to be content in all circumstances.  Learning how to be frugal will take you a long way down the road to also learning to be content.

Listen to the Podcast

Financial Infidelity

Today’s topic is something we’ve seen a lot as we have worked with different couples, and that’s financial infidelity. Couples at the altar generally don’t promise to be completely honest about all financial information from this day forward.

Maybe they should.

Because not being honest about finances can wreck a marriage.

Signs of financial infidelity may be:

  • A bank or credit card account concealed from you
  • Missing cash in your bank accounts
  • Late payments on bills because money is not available
  • Financial transactions one spouse is hiding from the other
  • Spending $500 or more on a purchase without telling your spouse

The discussion about how much you can spend without talking to your spouse varies by couple. For some couples, it’s $100. For others, it may be $50 or $200. But the real problem isn’t the amount; the real challenge is both spouses being totally open and honest about all financial transactions

If openness about finances is putting your marriage at risk, a good place to start the conversation is by sharing your goals, because a discussion about goals naturally leads to a discussion about finances. (Check out the goals sheet we have at / Resources / Financial Spreadsheets / Financial Goals.

Each of you should separately make a list of ten goals that are truly important to you. What things do you want out of life in the next 5, 10 or 20 years? Don’t worry about what your spouse may be writing, just write down what is most important to you. Then when you each have your list of 10 things, get together and discuss your lists.

Like any couple, you are going to have some shared goals and you’re going to have some personal goals. That’s a good thing—it’s healthy and normal.  What’s not healthy is when you allow your personal goals to overtake your joint goals as a couple. By sharing what is important to each of you, as a couple, you can agree to focus your financial efforts on the items that overlap.

As you work through these goals together, you may each discover things you didn’t know. Maybe your spouse has hidden some financial transactions from you. Let’s be honest. We’re all human. We all do things that we regret, usually because we put a very short-term emotion or desire above a long-term plan or goal. If you do discover secrets in this process, you need to forgive your partner’s mistakes. Jesus tells us we must always forgive. In Matthew 18:21-22 we read: “Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’”  Instead of concentrating on past mistakes, concentrate on how to move forward.

If you and your spouse can’t get through financial differences on your own, you may want to consider marital counseling. It’s a structured system where people can talk about the challenges of their relationship in a non-confrontational environment. For some couples, that can be incredibly helpful as they dig through their challenges. If you’re truly struggling with financial infidelity and the trust in your relationship, counseling will help.

Once you get things back on track, keep them on track by having a weekly “money date.” It may not sound romantic but handling money well as a couple affects every area of your marriage. These weekly money dates are vital because they establish the habit of regular financial conversations when there’s no crisis.

Too many couples don’t even begin a conversation about money unless a problem has surfaced and the panic button has already been pushed. Tension can reach the boiling point in a hurry when blame and defensiveness take over. That’s when it gets personal and hurtful, with a couple in conflict with each other instead of working to resolve the problem.

The weekly money date is something you can do at home by selecting a time to completely focus on your finances.

The first thing to do on a money date is to pray together. Jesus makes this remarkable promise in Matthew 18:19-20, “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” When a couple prays together about their finances they invite the God of the universe to be personally involved with how they earn, spend, save and give. They also learn what is important to their spouse.

After praying, review your income and spending to make sure that you both know where you are financially. Do not use this as an opportunity to argue or nag one another! Instead, use it as a time to discover the facts, because couples simply make better decisions when they are both fully aware of their financial situation. In addition to looking at the past week, look at what is coming in the future. Is there a big expense on the horizon that needs to be planned? For example, your money dates in July are a perfect time to discuss back to school expenses.

Your money date should end by celebrating success, no matter how small those successes are. Celebrating financial progress is important because you are more likely to continue your progress if you celebrate along the way.

Too many times when couples think about money or discuss it, they are dealing with problems. Someone is spending too much or not earning enough. Frequently these discussions end in an argument, and the whole experience feels negative.

Married couples will always face financial challenges, but we should balance problem-solving by intentionally creating a culture of prayer, encouragement, gratitude, and celebration.

Financial infidelity can be a very challenging matter to overcome in a marriage. It’s often a core symptom of two people who aren’t communicating well and have different visions for their future, which results in a damaged relationship. Financial infidelity can be overcome, of course, but it requires honest effort from both parties.

Accusations won’t solve the problem, nor will anger. It takes time, trust, communication, and calmness. And it takes a lot of prayer. Moving forward isn’t about “winning” or “losing,” it’s about finding a new direction that works for both of you. In Mark 10:8, we hear the verse about how two will become one flesh.

And that mindset is absolutely required in a marriage—even when it comes to finances.

May God bless your journey.

Listen to the Compass Catholic podcast for more on this topic.

How do you and your spouse stay on the same page about finances?

Millennial Money Matters

There are about 80 million millennials in the United States. While there is no such thing as precise dates assigned to specific generations of Americans, generally the people born in the late 80’s and 90’s are the millennials – the largest generation in American history. They are called millennials because they were born near the year 2000, which was celebrated as the beginning of the third millennium.

Technology has always been a part of their everyday lives. And compared to past generations, they are the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in U.S. history.

However, they are also facing financial challenges that prior generations did not experience. They have crushing student loan debt, a challenging job market and a healthy fear of credit card debt and the stock market. The income and net worth difference between the rich and the middle class is at its highest level in the past 90 years.

The Great Recession resulted in cutbacks in the job market and although there was an improvement in 2016 and 2017, millennials face a 20-year trend of a decreasing labor market making the job market hard to crack.

That may be the reason their view of employment is much different from the way their parents and grandparents saw theirs. In general, millennials don’t want to work a large corporation and be tied to a 30-year career with the same business. They would rather work for a start-up, create their own independent business or non-profit or find part-time work.  This change from previous generations allows them to have a great work/life balance but puts them at the bottom of the pay scale.

That low pay means many millennials are stressed about their financial future. Some Millennials have decided to postpone working in favor of getting a higher education or additional degrees. And the burden of student loan debt can cause a personal financial crisis.

Millennials are more likely than older generations to have student loans to pay. About 41 percent of them held such debt, according to a 2015 Pew report. That compares with, at their peaks, 26% for Generation X; 13% for Baby Boomers; and 3% for the Silent Generation. And the burden is heavier, too: From 1990 to 2015, student debt for the typical college bachelor’s degree increased about 164%, according to Education Department data.

Low wages and high student loan debt mean less money available for saving, whether that saving is earmarked for major purchases or for retirement.

In addition to the high cost of student debt, millennials are also faced with having to save more for retirement than previous generations.  They cannot count on a pension plan from their employer nor can they count on social security to fund retirement.

The National Institute for Retirement Security reports that the 45% of millennials do not meet the eligibility requirements to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. They either do not work enough hours to meet the minimum requirement or do not have the years of service required to participate in the plan.

Add that to the low wages and student debt and it’s a recipe for retirement disaster. To make matters worse, each year that long-term savings are delayed means less money will be available in retirement. In the Compass Catholic Ministries Bible study, Navigating Your Finances God’s Way, we have a chart showing the impact of compound interest over time.

The chart shows two people: Danielle who started saving $1,000 a year at age 21, saved for eight years, and then completely stopped; and Matt who saved $1,000 a year for 37 years starting at age 29. Both earned 10% interest on their savings. Danielle saved a total of $8,000 and Matt saved $37,000. With compound interest, at age 65, Danielle had accumulated $427,736, and Matt had accumulated $363,043. Incredibly, Danielle’s savings was worth more at age 65 because of the early start and the magic of compound interest.

Saving early in life and making saving a habit is defined in Proverbs 21:20, which says “Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise, but the fool consumes it.”

While the millennial financial future may all look like gloom and doom, there are several bright spots.

The most encouraging one is their aversion for credit card debt. According to a survey, only 1 out of 3 millennials carries a credit card. They will either use cash, a prepaid card or a debit card, thus avoiding the interest payments on credit card balances.

Given their tech-savvy nature, millennials are leveraging social networking platforms, websites, and mobile apps to do everything from following stock-picking tips to finding financial planners.  This knowledge will help them make wise investment choices and become comfortable investing in the stock market.

The stock market, over the long haul, has produced return rates hovering in the 11% range. While the market will increase in some years and decrease in others, staying invested in the stock market will earn more interest over a long period of time than putting investments into what’s considered a safe investment such as bonds or a savings account.

Each generation faces its own challenges and the millennial generation is no different.  Hopefully they have learned a lesson from the Great Recession and the debt pit into which their parents fell so willingly.

For more on this topic, listen to the Compass Catholic podcast on Podbean.

What Does Your 2018 Financial Plan Look Like?

It’s a new year and we hope that you have reviewed your 2017 Financial Plan and updated to be your 2018 plan. If don’t have a financial plan in place for 2018, now is the time to get on track.

Just so you know, creating a plan is definitely Scriptural! “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?”  Luke 14:28. Planning is a good way to be sure you are following God’s principles in managing your finances. Having a plan and managing your wealth and possessions is all about being good Stewards!

If this is the first time that you are doing a financial plan, you may have many questions about how to create the plan and what to include. The first place to start is to figure out where you are and where you want to go. Without those two pieces of information having a plan is meaningless.

Have you ever used a GPS to find your directions to a certain location? The starting point is your current location and your endpoint is where you want to go. Creating your financial plan should be done in just the same way.

If you don’t know where you are, how do you know your starting point? And without having a defined endpoint, you can go anywhere, even in circles, and you will have accomplished your goal.

On the CompassCatholic website, there is a Money Map which shows you the steps you need to take to reach true financial freedom. It covers what you have to do in the short term, mid-term and long-term to become financially free.

Start by reviewing the Money Map and check off the items you have completed, then focus on finishing the first steps that are incomplete.

Once you know what you have to complete, review where your money went in 2017. If you’re using a budgeting app or electronic spreadsheet to track your spending, this should be easy. Review the budget amount and actual amount spent in each category to see how you did for the year.

Did you spend more money than you budgeted in any categories? What about your categories that were underspent? Analyzing each category from an annual perspective will give you great insight into any trouble areas in your spending and a year of spending is the only valid basis for establishing your budget for the new year.

Once you have thoroughly reviewed last year’s budget and financial plan you are ready to begin setting your plan for the new year.

If you don’t have any data from the previous year, now is the time to start. Begin by tracking every penny that you spend–every penny–cash, credit cards, debit cards, and bank drafts so you’ll know where your money is going. And you also need to track every penny that is coming in–your salary, bonus, gifts, income tax refund, social security, childcare payments, part-time work, inheritance, deferred compensation, worker’s compensation, etc.  

As you collect the data, put your expenses into categories: housing; transportation; groceries; medical; clothing; medical, etc. You now have the first stages of a budget for this year! Matching the income to the outgo allows you to see the difference between the two and discover if you are spending money wisely or if there are areas that need to change.

Getting a real look at the income and outgo helps you develop answers to all the financial questions you should be asking yourself:

  • How much liquid money do you need each pay period for daily use?
  • Where are you overspending?
  • Are you spending on what is most important to you?
  • What are your short-term savings goals (1-5 years)
  • What are your mid to long-term savings goals (5+ years-retirement)
  • What life goals do you have (education, starting a business, retirement, moving to a different location).
  • How much money will you need when you retire and are you on track to save it?
  • Do you anticipate that your current monthly expenses will increase or decrease this year?

You may not know each answer exactly, but write something down so that you can go back and refine it as the year progresses. Your answers today may be different than the answers you’ll have in 6 months! But at least now you have a starting point.

The most basic way to monitor your current financial health is to calculate your net worth. To do that, list what you own (house, car, furniture, electronics, clothing, boat, etc.) then define the current value of that item if you had to sell it today and add the current values together to get a total of your assets.

Next list your debts. What do you own on your credit cards, mortgage, second mortgage, car loans, student loans, money your parents loaned to you, etc.? Add the total of all your debts and subtract debts from assets to determine your net worth. You want your net worth to be positive—not negative!

This isn’t something that you want to do every month, but checking it every six months would be a good thing. Hopefully, you will see your assets grow and your debts decrease, meaning that your Net Worth will be increasing!

For the first 10-15 years we were married we didn’t really have a financial plan, we were just flying by the seat of our financial pants. Once we learned God’s way of handling money everything changed. We understood that we are called to be good stewards of God’s blessings and it was up to us to manage what God had given to us in a way that honored him.

We received many blessings from having a financial plan based on God’s word. We have already reviewed our 2017 plan and updated it for 2018. Our current 2018 plan is still based on the original plan we defined 25 years ago which has been updated each year to reflect life changes.

One key to a successful financial plan is a way to reduce or completely eliminate your debt. The average American has $10,000 –  $15,000 of credit card debt; over $30,000 in automobile debt and over $130,000 in mortgage debt. All those debt payments add up to a lot of interest paid to the lenders. The faster you can reduce and eliminate your debt, the better your financial future will look!

If you are married, both spouses need to be involved in developing the yearly financial plan. Both of you will benefit from good planning and suffer the consequences of a bad or nonexistent plan. Money can be one of the leading causes of divorce so don’t let that happen to you.

We have provided you with some ideas that will assist you in developing a sound financial plan so you can obtain True Financial Freedom in the years to come. Having a plan is definitely Scriptural, and if you create your plan keeping the Scriptures as the basis for each step you take, you will ultimately achieve success.

The Lord tells us in Psalm 32:8, “I will teach you the way you should go; I will instruct you and advise you.”

Call us at 844-447-6263 or use the contact form on the Compass Catholic website for more information.

When it Comes to Money, Planning is the Easy Part!

Several weeks ago, we were talking about the difference in the monthly payments between a 15-year mortgage and a 30-year mortgage. The 15-year mortgage has a higher monthly payment than the 30-year mortgage payment, but it allows you to save a ton of money in interest payments. You may be wondering if getting a 30 year mortgage, which has a lower monthly payment, and then adding additional money each payment would accomplish the same thing. Plus paying extra on a 30 year mortgage gives you the option to make the lower payment when you just can’t come up with the extra cash.

And the answer is a big fat probably not.

Yes, you can get a lower monthly payment with a 30-year mortgage. Yes, you can make additional payments on a 30-year mortgage to pay it off in 15 years. Yes, paying off a 30-year mortgage in 15 years will save a significant amount of money in interest.

BUT . . . do you really have the discipline to make that happen? Planning to pay off a 30-year mortgage in 15 years is the easy part. Making it happen is much more difficult.

How many people have had that same plan and had the discipline to stick with the additional payments for 15 years? The answer isn’t 0%. But it’s a lot closer to 0% than it is to 100%! Self-discipline is hard. The mortgage payoff illustration is just one example of how easy it is to make a plan and how hard it is to actually execute the plan.

The keys to personal financial success are very simple. Keep track of your money. Spend less than you earn. Have an emergency fund. Find ways to economize. Save and invest on a regular basis.

Every other life change you may want to make is also very simple.  Want to lose weight? Eat fewer calories than you burn. Want to get more organized? Clean up your junk. Want to get that college degree? Go back to school. Want a deeper faith life? Pray and receive the sacraments on a regular basis.

Planning what you want to do is the simple part. Actually having the discipline to act on that plan is a lot harder. Just because something is simple does not mean it is easy to achieve. This could be said about losing weight, finishing college, getting organized, deepening your faith life or getting your finances in order.

So how exactly do you make a change in your life that seems really simple but is actually really hard to put into practice?

The best way to start is to do one thing each day that moves you one step closer to your goal. If you are trying to get control of your finances, start tracking every penny you spend each day so you have an understanding of exactly what needs to change.  If you don’t have any idea of where your money is going, how can you hope to define any changes you need to make?

It’s fun to dream about being debt free, but that won’t happen for a long time. It’s also fun to dream about a time when you will have your retirement funded. It won’t happen this week or this month or this year.  But if you don’t start with a baby step today it won’t happen at all. Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.

The only way you’re going to make any long term progress is to begin by making short term progress. What can you do today to move in a positive financial direction? If you succeed today you have taken one small step in the right direction. If you add today to all the todays that follow, one small step at a time, you will get to your destination.

Track your spending for 60 days and put it into categories. How much did you spend today on giving, housing, food, transportation, clothes, entertainment, etc.? Tracking 60 days’ worth of spending allows you to have facts and figures so you can decide how to cut or reallocate your spending. It’s called a spending plan (since nobody likes the word budget).  

Tracking against a plan helps you stay focused on those things that are important to you.  Is it important to save for the kid’s college education or to buy a fancy coffee on the way to work every day? In our case, tracking our spending has helped us totally eliminate debt and have a simple lifestyle we enjoy, because we are able to do the things that are most important to us.

Reviewing your budget on a monthly basis allows you to see how much progress you are making on controlling and allocating your money to the important things.  Once you get your day-to-day spending under control, you can tackle bigger picture items like paying off all your debt, paying off the mortgage, or saving for college and retirement. Success begets success and controlling the monthly income and outgo helps you focus on more strategic money goals.

Is your debt lower this month than last month? Do you have more money in your emergency fund this month than last month? Did your net worth increase this year over last year? Is your giving more generous this month than last month?

One things that helps when you are trying to get your finances in order is to hang out with people who have the same goals you do. If you are trying to cut your spending, hang out with your friends who are naturally frugal and not the people who spend money like it’s water trickling through their fingers.

Surrounding yourself with people who want to achieve or who have achieved the same goals you have means you have a natural support system. Their actions will help bolster your actions. Over time, their spending and saving habits will seem more and more natural to you.

It is also important to celebrate your success. When you read Your Money Counts, you’ll see that we are big believers in celebrating success. In a small way. When you pay off that first credit card, celebrate.  For your very next dinner do something special—like lighting a candle on your dinner table and thinking about how much money you are saving by eating at home!

When you accomplish your next financial goal—like paying off that 2nd credit card— celebrate again.  Maybe you can have a sundae at the ice cream store. Once you get all of your credit cards paid off then you can go out to eat at any nice restaurant where you can each get a meal for less than $20!

Celebrating your short term successes and achievement of milestones is a fantastic way to feel great about how things are going, but that celebration should not undo the progress you’ve made. If you’re trying to improve your financial status, don’t celebrate your success by overspending.

Simple doesn’t mean easy. Creating a plan to fix your finances is simple. However, executing the plan is hard. The choices you have to make are hard and they go against the influence of our materialistic society.

Of course, the easy road is usually the one that puts you in a place where you don’t want to be. Perhaps it’s time to try the harder road … the road that Jesus outlined over 2000 years ago … you may just find that the harder road isn’t quite as hard as you thought.

1 John 2:17 we read, “Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.”

Listen to the Compass Catholic podcast on Breadbox Media for more about how to make your plans a success.

Question: What financial goal are you working on today?

Mother’s Day

Sunday is Mother’s Day—a time to honor mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, godmothers, friends who are mothers and anyone in our life who fills the role of mother.

The concept first originated in 1868, when Ann Jarvis established a meeting for mothers whose sons fought or died on opposite sides of the American Civil War. She wanted to expand this into an annual memorial, but she passed away before that happened, so her daughter (Anna) continued the task.

Due to Anna’s work, in 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation establishing the second Sunday in May as a national holiday to honor mothers. Only six years later, by the early 1920’s, Hallmark and other companies had started selling Mother’s Day cards, making the holiday as much about sales as about mothers. Even though Anna Jarvis was successful in making Mother’s Day an annual holiday, she soon became resentful that companies were using the holiday as a profit maker. She even tried to get Mother’s Day rescinded as a holiday.

Unfortunately, Mother’s Day has gone the way of many of our holidays and turned into a commercial enterprise rather than a way to reflect on the gift God gave us when he gave us mothers. The real purpose of this holiday is to show love and appreciation to our mothers by writing a personal letter, rather than buying token gifts or simply signing our names to pre-made cards. The day Anna Jarvis worked so hard to create was supposed to be about sentiment, appreciation, and love, not about profit.

I encourage each of you to return to the original purpose of Mother’s Day and thank your mom in a personal way. Tell her how much she means to you and what influence she has had on your life. Recall funny things that happened when you were young or special family memories.

Pray for her also. Ask that God will bless her and give her strength and good health to continue being his instrument of his love in the world. And if your mom is no longer alive, pray for the repose of her soul and in thanksgiving for the gift she was to you.

As my experience as a mother grew and expanded, it certainly gave me a greater appreciation for my own mother. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to thank my mom for all she taught me when she still had the ability to recognize me and understand what I was saying. I thank God for all the times I took a few minutes to send her a note, or write a letter or call to share a special memory or to tell her how much I appreciated and loved her.

Moms are quiet heroes working day-to-day in many small unnoticed, unappreciated ways that make all the difference in the world to their family.

We moms may never be able to bring about world peace, but we can plant seeds of peace in our family. We may never be able to solve world hunger, but we can feed the hungry by making meals for our own family. We may never make an impact outside of a small group of people, but influencing that small group within our family circle is all God is asking us to do.

When the kids are little it seems that there will be a day far into the future when they will fly from the nest and be on their own and you as a mom will be free. And that does happen (kinda.) But even when your kids are grown adults with children of their own, and they live far away from you, there is always a special bond between mother and child. You never stop being a mother. You never lose that special place in your heart where that child lives. And as a child, there is always a unique relationship with your mother.

Moms may get overwhelmed and they often do not get the appreciation they deserve. After all, who would willingly take an unpaid job that requires them to work 24 hours a day seven days a week with no breaks and no vacations? And even worse, any official holiday means even more work and stress. And mothers who have a job outside the home have twice as much pressure.

But then again, who could give up the sweet faces of trusting children who feel unconditionally loved. Or the macaroni necklaces. Or the handmade misspelled cards, or the sticky-fingered hugs, or the favorite book that has to be read over, and over and over?

For most Catholic children, one of the first prayers we learned is the Hail Mary. It is the most beloved prayer to Our Lady, our Heavenly Mother, and the prayer Catholics say most often. No one can count how many millions of Hail Mary’s rise up to heaven each and every day.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” is the Archangel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1:28). “Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,” is St. Elizabeth’s exclamation of joy when Mary came to visit her (Luke 1:42). These two sentences said together were the whole Hail Mary for over one thousand years.

Sometime in the 13th century, the words “and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” were added. By the 15th century, Catholics had added the last half of the prayer, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Pope St. Pius V formally approved the complete Hail Mary in 1566, and Catholics have been reciting it this way ever since. This prayer developed from both the scripture as well as the lived experience of the Church.

If we want heavenly intercession for our role as a mother or if we want prayers for those mothers who touch our lives, who better to ask than our heavenly Mother, Mary, the Queen of Heaven and the most perfect example of a mother.