Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I hope you dance...

Many of us have forgotten how to dance.  When did that happen?  As children it was almost instinctive - when the music came on we got happy and danced.  Somewhere we got the idea that it was not okay.  Of course there are many who get all dressed up on a Friday night, have a couple drinks, and then feel loose enough to get out and move their feet a little.  I'm not talking about that.  I'm talking about even when one is all alone and especially when one is all alone just feeling and expressing the simple and free joy of life or the happiness of a moment.  For all the ups and downs of life there IS a time to dance.

Ecclesiastes 3  King James Version (KJV)
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

I love this song and hope that if you are not familar with it you will take a moment to listen:

 "I Hope You Dance"

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
GOD forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance....I hope you dance.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin' might mean takin' chances but they're worth takin',
Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth makin',
Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,
When you come close to sellin' out reconsider,
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance....I hope you dance.
I hope you dance....I hope you dance.
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along,
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone.)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

Dance....I hope you dance.
I hope you dance....I hope you dance.
I hope you dance....I hope you dance..
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone)
Life is a dance you know, you learn as you go, sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow, don't worry about what you don't's a dance you learn as you go.  Who can sing it better than John Michael Montgomery?  Another one of my favorites.
Still not dancing?  Get the Shackles off your feet so you can dance.  Mary Mary can help get you going. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What is $100 worth?

This may be one of the most important posts I will write to influence or change the way we think.  The concept is so simple but one that we don't often contemplate.  We have become so accustomed to being led by common thinking and financial "experts" that we often do not consider the math. 

Here is the question:  What is $100 worth?  The answer of course would seem to be $100 but when the subject of savings or investment comes up maximizing our spending habits we realize that the purchasing power can be radically different based on whose hands the $100 is in.  For one person it could be a night on the town and another food for 2 weeks.

When it comes to investing it is even more tricky.  Savings accounts currently pay almost no interest so are not beneficial except as a security and mental motivator for when just starting out keeping the money in a secret spot makes just as much sense.  For other investments few profits are guaranteed and even some with mutual funds took a beating during the ups and downs on Wall Street.

Another alternative is available that most of us skip over feeling we are using a teaspoon to move a mountain so give up before we start.  Today I will throw out the idea and may come back to it in the future.  Yes, at first glance it seems so boring that you might groan but before you do just take a look at the bottom line. 

Years ago when I did residential property management I was introduced to a website called I spent hours running numbers and developing scenarios using their mortgage calculator.  It is an invaluable tool that can save you thousands of dollars and will tell you what most lenders will not.  After all, they do make their money off interest payments.

This is very personal in that as I mentioned I now find myself with a mortgage payment in excess of the position I was once in and have contemplated much where to go from here especially in today's economy.  My goal is debt free and as the years to retirement lessen and the desire to do my own thing increases lately my musings have been almost daily.  Some of the things I had hoped to accomplish by this time was having the house paid off and placed in trust. 

What is $100 worth?

The chart below shows what the monthly payments on a $100,000 loan for 30 years at 6% interest would be.  We will use this as our baseline for comparison purposes only.  To customize this to your own unique situation go to the BANKRATE site and play with it.

Now, what if you could spare or reallocate $100 a month to an extra principle payment?  What would that look like?

The thing most important to notice here is the bottom line.  What is the new pay off date?  9 years have been cut from the payoff date.  So a little more math here:  9 years times 12 months = 108 months.  108 months x $599.55 which was the monthly base payment is a whopping $64,751.40.  Subtract from that our $100 per month that we have now paid for 252 months totaling $25,200 and our saving is $39,551.40.

So we can either say that our $100 a month payment is now worth $64,751.40 or we have made a profit of $39,551.40.  What better or more sure investment is available?  What better reason to make the adjustments needed to get it done.  Yes, it may require some juggling to accomplish it but 9 years less on a mortgage is certainly a noticeable improvement.

So what if after all the number crunching you (I) can't come up with $100?  How would $25 extra a month look? 

The payoff is 3 years earlier.  Again the math: 3 x 12= 36 months.  36 months times $599.55 = $21,583.80.  Subtract from that the 324 months the amount was  paid each month totalling $8,100 and the profit is $13,483.80.

The calculator also offers other options such as annual payments (tax return?) or one time payments.  The site itself has additional calculators that are easy to use and can help with many financial decisions as the computer has done the work for us.

Sometimes the simplest answers are in fact the right answers.  Just like compounded interest can work in the banks favor so can compounded payments work in the favor of the one with the loan.  Although I am not attempting to provide nor should this be construed as professional advice I hope that this tool will assist in your own decision making processes and lead you to seek the advice of your own tax accountant or whatever resource you choose.

 What is $100 worth?  A whole lot more than I thought.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Brown Bag Lunch

One of the quickest ways to spend money is also one of the easiest ways to save money.  Each day I look from my window at work and see the well dressed ladies and men coming back from lunch.  I've been there before and it quickly adds up.

In our area the delis and restaurants range in price from around $5 to upwards of $15.  It's really not much, we deserve it and work hard.  What comes as a surprise is the monthly total of $100 to $300.  There are a lot of other things I could do with that money so it is one area it have made a habit of the alternative:  Brown Bagging it.

Our office has a refrigerator, microwave, hot and chilled water from the cooler, and a seating area.  There is plenty of room for those who stay for lunch left by those who have gone out.  Over the course of time I have brought a variety of items and I tend to repeat them until I want a change.  Currently my lunches are typically as follows:

Often I don't eat all that I have brought so have created a stash in the drawer.  Admittedly I am quite squirrelish.  Other items I have taken in the past:
  • Leftovers
  • Frozen meals or pot pies
  • Fruit or vegetables
  • Cup o Noodles
  • Salad
  • Yogurt
  • Instant Oatmeal
  • Bread, peanut butter & jam
  • Cottage cheese
  • Instant or company provided coffee, tea, or other beverages from home
  • Boiled eggs
  • Pack of cookies
  • Homel Compleats

Buying prepared food is NOT the cheapest way to go and even more can be saved through taking a typical brown bag meal of sandwich makings, fruit, and a snack.  I rush so quickly in the morning that if more preparation time is required the temptation arises to skip it and then I end up spending even more.  Having a months worth of soup by my bag and treats at work gives me no excuse.

What do I spend my saved money on?  Anything else that I think more important.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Keys to Financial Success

Headlines like the above attract readers.  They must, for we see them printed over and over in magazines, blogs, info-mercials, and seminar headlines.  People want financial success and investment companies reach the masses through promising to assist and lead people into achieving it.  The advertising works.  Articles are read, businesses thrive, and there are not just a few who make money in the process of peddling their products, services, and ideas.
We all want to SUCCEED.  Who wants to fail?  Who would intentionally invest time, money, and energy if they knew that what they were doing would ultimately lead to failure?

This is the funny thing though but at first reading you may not get it:  what is SUCCESS?  Is your definition of success the same as mine?  Who is the beneficiary of this success?  Is it the attendee at the seminar or investment service or is it the one providing the seminar? 

These seem like such basic questions but do we really take the time to think about and then draw our own conclusions or do we go along with words without consideration?  

Maybe the dictionary will offer some enlightenment:


[suhk-ses] Show IPA
1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.
2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
3. a successful performance or achievement: The play was an instant success.
4. a person or thing that is successful: She was a great success on the talk show.
The question seems so simple that the answer would seem to be self-evident.  If that is truly the case than why would financial issues be listed as one of the top reasons of martial discord.  Why would financial issues split families, friends, and even the nation?  Why do many have to numb the stress of life with alcohol each evening or take perscription anxiety medication?
The fact is that not everyone views success in the same way.  Many mouth the common words yet feel an unexplainable emtiness inside that they don't even understand.
Probably the most common definition of success and therefore the one held by the majority is simply MORE.  More of this, more of that, and more of the other thing. 
Some of the other common definitions of financial success in America are:
  • Owning a home
  • Having a college education
  • Accumulating a retirement fund
  • Expensive car
  • Money in the bank
  • Ability to travel
  • Quality or quantity clothes
  • A wide screen t.v. (the bigger the better)
  • Jewelery
  • Of course boats, four wheelers, and other motorized recreational vehicles
Some of the more basic definitions are:
  • Food on the table
  • A roof over the head
  • Good medical care
Now that the common and widely advertised topics are covered have we defined SUCCESS adequately?  I think not for even in our finances we have the opportunity to show our unique and individual personality and priorities.
Here are some of the more uncommon perceptions of success:
  • Quality education that may include home school or private schools.
  • Generous giving to the poor or worthy cause, this may be in time or money.
  • Achievement of goals in music, arts, athletics, or horses :).
  • Being debt free.
  • Being a stay at home mom.
  • Minimalist financial living to allow more available time during younger years.
  • Ability to pursue interest and talents which may be as unique as the individual.
The point being: before we are able to achieve SUCCESS we must have a clear and personal definition of what that means.  This brings to mind the best seller titled Purpose Driven Life that caused so many to re-evaluate what was really important and what was not. Only after doing so can we make reasonable goals to achieve the success we desire and align ourselves with people and activities that support our objectives.  These may and will change at the different stages of our lives. 
Today - what is your definition of SUCCESS

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Autobiography of George Muller

In a recent post I talked about the finance class I was taking based on the book titled The Road Map to Financial Security.  I spoke of three differences in the way the general population approach finances and what the Biblical view of finances speaks of.  I further mentioned that the Zeb Igeleke's book is an excellent financial basics book.

Today I would like to introduce the next level of Biblical finances and the book titled The Autobiography of George Mueller.  I know that those who have already read it are reminded that this may be one of the BEST books they have ever read and it very well may change the lives of the readers.  This book is not merely about money, it is about God, faith, conversion, and what can be done by a persons life who is surrendered wholly to God.

Does God care about our money?  Does He care about us having provision?  When we pray "Give us this day our daily bread..." are we speaking to the wind or is God listening and waiting to answer our prayers?  Is God involved with our daily lives or are we to just wait until the end time judgement and hope that we have understood and done what He wanted?

George Mueller had this to say on the subject:

"I know that the Word of God ought to be enough.  But by giving my brothers visible proof of the unchangeable faithfulness of the Lord, I might strenghten their faith.  I want to be the servant of the Church in the particular point on which I had obtained mercy--in being able to take God at His word and to rely on it.

This seems to me best done by establishing an orphan house--something which could be seen by the natural eye.  If I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith obtained, without asking any individual, the finances for establishing and carrying on an orphan house, this might strengthen the faith of the children of god.  It would also be a testimony to the unconverted of the reality of the things of God.

This is the primary reason for establishing the orphan house.  I certainly desire to be used by God to help the poor children and train them in the ways of God.  but the primary object of the work is that God would be magnified because the orphans under my care will be provided with all they need through prayer and faith.  Everyone will see that God is faithful and hears prayer."

At the time of his life when this undertaking was made George Mueller had already lived his personal life in this manner and was now going to take it to the next level, that of providing food, clothing, and shelter for orphans without every speaking the needs out loud or directly asking for money.

His autobiography flys in the face of all the modern name it and claim it doctrines that have now overrun the church and have been an object of scorn, disgust, and sometimes envy to those who only know about the Bible and what it says through the people they meet who claim to be Christians.

The book is George Mueller's diary.  He speaks of his conversion, joys, fears, failures, doubts, and God's triumphs.  Thoughout the reading one cannot but be amazed at the fraility and yet the overwhelming power that flows though this man who spent hours a day in reading the Bible and prayer.  Those who may have rejected the church and Chistianity may reconsider, those who are "Sunday Christians" may be ashamed, and those who pour out their all will be challenged to dig deeper and pour out more realizing we have so far to go.  It would be almost impossible to read this book and remain the same.

Who then is he?  When did he live?  Why haven't we all heard of him for his impact is right up there with mother Theresa.  Did he receive the noble peace prize?  I'll leave the answers to those questions to the reader. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Don't let DEBT be the end of the story

There are a number of practical reasons for getting and staying out of debt.  Among them are:
1. No more interest paid.
2. Maximize all earned funds.
3. Preparation for living on a retirement income.
4. Etc.

The greatest reason is one that cannot adequately be put into words.  As I pondered it every choice though accurate did not seem complete.  Even the word freedom has been so overworked that we cannot appreciate the extent of it's meaning.  How can one describe something to another that they may have never experienced?  What does being out of debt really mean, especially to one who has been encumbered by it for years?

This is the closest I can come -
I was almost there.  Only $15,000 to go and the home and all debts would have been paid off at age 40.  It was a time I had worked, sacrificed for, planned, and been anxiously awaiting for years.  Once that was done it would only cost me $500 per month for my basic living expenses including property taxes and anything I earned over and above that amount could be saved, used to upgrade the home, given to others, or whatever else seemed important.  So close...

Then through circumstances that are not part of today's post I was thrown backwards with unexpected force and debt was again part of my life.  It was kind of like when you get a home spotlessly clean and the tribe comes home, or the snow off the driveway is cleared only to watch the snow come down.  Yes, but 100 times worse. 

Have you ever seen a real life ant hill?  There used to be a few of them on my grandpa's place.

When we would visit my uncle would run over them with his truck.  My brother and I would jump out and watch with fascination as the masses of ants would scurry out and immediately work on rebuilding.  It was a black mound of activity working to restore that which was overrun. ( I admit in retrospect it was somewhat cruel but in defence of my uncle they would have taken over the whole place.)

Apparently I am not the only one working on rebuilding or at least has rebuilding to do.  According to US News over 70% of Americans are in debt, 40% of those have monthly obligations greater than half their monthly income.  If that were not bad enough, 60% those over 50 years old in debt.  Wow, not a very desirable position to be in so close to retirement where the years seem to fly by even faster.

To make the reality even more clear the Associated Press have provided some clear visual portrayals with their charts:

Makes one wonder what the real cause of middle age crisis is doesn't it? 

You know, I don't like where this story is going!  I for one am not happy or contented being an AVERAGE AMERICAN.  I have smelled the ocean air and already taken off my shoes and don't want to put them back on.

Let's just purpose to run the story in reverse so we can get back to where we need to be.

It's up to us to write the end of our story.  We should not allow anyone else to do it for us.  Isn't that really what FREEDOM is all about?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What is your house worth? When?

Last week I had the opportunity to reflect on one of the most interesting financial cycles.  In Seattle there is a neighborhood called Leshi.  It was developed in around 1900 by the very wealthy of the city.  The huge Victorian homes have been standing for more than 100 years.  They are three and even four stories high with all the scrolled detailing both inside and out that marked the era.  Clearly the homes of the wealthy.

Time passed and the neighborhood went into disrepair.  The aged homes were vacated for newer more modern homes outside the central area of the city.  They were purchased at lower prices and as the times changed they were often divided into multiple units and rented as apartments.  The neighborhood continued to decline and crime continued to rise making the area not only undesirable but even unsafe to live in.  Those who stayed were limited in funds so the houses stood unchanged except for a coat of paint or a maintained lawn.  Some were even boarded up and left in their standing condition.

The city continued to grow and sprawl for miles while the rhododendrons and roses continued to grow and bloom in Leshi.  Families moved in and families moved out and blocks away gunfire often sounded striking down the lives of those who lived there.

Then a turning point came and the old grand houses became noticed again.  The proximity to the city business was just a short drive or bus ride away.  The homes began to be purchased and restored and renovated to their original grandeur.

The view of Lake Washington and the Bellevue skyline which did not even exist now graced the view from the balconies.  I was told that even a home that had not been renovated except for a coat of paint was now $800,000 and the prices only went up from there.

I had the opportunity to stay at one and I could not help but run my hands down the original 5 panel doors with their crystal doorknobs and walk across the original hardwood floors.  Beautiful!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Road Map to Financial Security

Currently I’m taking a seven week financial class through the church I attend.  The instructor is Zebedee Igeleke who is the author of the book titled The Road Map to FinancialSecurity.  Zeb is a financial analyst with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA in finance and business.  In addition to holding seminars, his business provides accounting services to individuals, businesses, and churches.

What is the difference between Christian finance and generally held financial principles?
The definition of Christian finance should actually be titled Biblical finance and thus point to what should be the basis and standard for anyone professing to practice “Christian Finance”.  In practice the waters have become so muddied that it is often difficult to tell the difference.  There are many who are not Christians who employ some basic Biblical principles successfully and there are those who profess to be Christians who have not studied this specific topic and manage their money without any knowledge of what the Bible says about money.  It is not for the most part that either group is trying to be hypocritical but rather that most of us have received any knowledge we have from a smorgasbord of family example, books, blogs, and magazines, or a trial and error approach to finances.  Zeb’s book attempts and does an excellent job of setting forth the basics of what the Bible actually says about money, attitudes, and practices.  Then we may decide if we will follow it.  I intentionally use the word basics because when my own study and application began this is where I began and then continued to learn more as additional study and experience was gained.

Some of the principles in Road Map to Financial Security are also contained within the pages of In The Trenches but the first book was written specifically for Christians and In The Trenches was written for the general population including Christians.  All this may sound like hair splitting but as some of the topics I will mention below one can see that despite all the muddle and some similarities that apply to both groups there are (or should be) also some major differences.  It is not my intention here to create controversy for each of us is free to choose our own course.  
I will share some key differences and encourage people to get Zeb’s book for a more thorough study. 

Creator.  If one believes that God is the Creator and sustainer of all life and that the Bible is His inspired Word then our goal and purpose is to see just what exactly He says and expects in all things.  It if from the position that He is our Creator that we can then choose whether or not He will be Lord.  Those who reject this basic principle will choose another basis for all life decisions and direction.  An atheist then would have no use for any other Biblical instruction but if they did follow any of the principles would receive the benefit of doing so.  Meaning, when one chooses to acknowledge that God is God, what we believe about Him does in no way change Him, it changes us.
Stewardship.  The primary difference between Biblical vs. generally practiced money management is the concept of stewardship. If we acknowledge Him as creator and sustainer of all then all the talents, opportunities, and even the weather are in His control and hands. This leads to a conclusion that all is God's and we are managers and accountable to Him. The second is based on "It's MY money I earned it". 
Tithing.  The principle of tithing, or the giving of 10% off the top of our income seems ridiculous to those who do not acknowledge God as Lord and is highly controversial even among those who do.  The practice was initiated in the Old Testament and many question whether it is still expected or relevant in the New Testament, Road Map to Financial Security speaks on the subject in detail.
Some of the other topics include standards for obtaining money, debt, generosity, greed, etc.  Some will find the book eye opening, some challenging, and some a good refresher in the basics of Biblical Finances.  I hope that this brief review will gender a curiosity to read the book. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Observations from a Country Mouse

Recently Christine from Money Funk blog wrote a post about impulse spending and boy did she hit where people live…. There were many comments from readers who described emotional buying as their biggest challenge in bringing their budget under control. For those who don’t know Christine or her blog I have often enjoyed and praised her work as I have followed it through the blogisphere. (I admit, I sometimes like to make up words and pass them off as real; I learned it from my son when we played boggle.)

Personally, I don’t enjoy going to the mall unless I have $200 cash in my pocket and have some specific items I’m looking for. That right there makes me somewhat unusual. Around the time Christine’s post came out I received an invitation to go to the mall. Normally I would have begged off but decided to go just to see what the fuss was about.

Off we went to a gigantic outlet mall. We wandered and I watched and observed. Having lived in a small town for the last many years it was like country mouse headed into city mouse’s domain. Here are a couple of my impressions:

1. What if I get lost? I kid you not. The place was big and lots of people. I don’t have a cell phone. I spent most of the time trying to stay with the people I came with or looking around the stores to find them. At one point I ventured off by myself and spent the next few minutes noticing how many people were dressed similarly to the people I came with. I really thought that maybe I should hold someone’s hand. I wanted to ask but knew I’d get one of those “Are your crazy?” looks.

2. I noticed lots of people looking at t-shirts. This was surprising to me as I consider t-shirts to be just casual wear around the house clothing so if it’s clean it’s good to go. Sure, logos are cool but why spend more for them? If we are going to advertise for someone shouldn’t they be paying us?

3. Most shoppers had only one bag. I had already noticed that the variety of goods was exceptional with all the best brands, the prices were very good, and the sales were abundant so this could only mean that people were trying to economize on their spending.

4. There were a lot of exclamations of “This is so cute!” then, “Look at the price! I’m going to get this!” I said to myself, “Aha! That’s what Christine’s readers are talking about!” I had just witnessed the impulse purchase! It was a three-step process – 1. Cute. 2. Price. 3. Buy it.

Looking at the picture with all the pieces the country mouse conclusion I arrived at was that most of the people in the mall were shopping as a way to hang out for the afternoon and have something fun and entertaining to do. Some people were by themselves; some were mothers with children, and there were many couples so it must not be football season. The spending seemed secondary to the activity.

In The Trenches – Financial Survival has a chapter called If shopping is your passion then get another hobby. My trip to the mall confirmed for me that shopping was a hobby, a pastime, and a social activity. In and of itself there is nothing wrong with that. But for people who are trying to bring their budget under control it is like a dieter who wanders around a bakery just for fun. At some point they will blow the diet. Or, make themselves miserable looking at all the cookies, cakes and treats that they are not going to eat. Undoubtedly at some point they will wake up with the credit card or checkbook and run back and buy something. And, maybe not even understand why they did it. It was those sugarplums dancing in their dreams. Sorry, but for the same reason dieters don’t hang out in bakeries, and alcoholics don’t hang out in bars, emotional spenders will get themselves in trouble in malls. I know, it just seems so unfair.

The good news is that there are a world of hobbies and activities to choose from. Since it’s summer the first one that comes to mind is making a picnic, grabbing your sweetie and children, and heading to the park. And remember, you don’t have to go cold turkey. Instead of heading to the mall every weekend you could shoot for once a month. Start bringing new enjoyable habits and hobbies into your life and the old ones will fade away.

Here is the link where Money Funk provides six solutions and the discussion that follows. Good job, Christine.
Originally posted June 30, 2010