Archives For Stewardship

       Peruse Ramit Sethi’s blog I Will Teach You to Be Rich for just a few minutes and you’ll quickly learn that being frugal is a waste of time. Actually, you’ll learn that it’s impossible to be truly frugal – so why try? You’re much better off just focusing on the “big wins” and then trying to earn more money…all so you can spend “extravagantly” on the things you love. (The quotes are not for sarcasm. Those are the terms Ramit uses. And I’m not just bashing him. There are other “experts” who tell you the same thing. And yes, sarcasm was intended with the quotes that time.)

       Ramit’s stance is that you should only focus on the frugal tips that will save you big money. These “big wins” should save you at least several hundred dollars a year, require very little time on your part, and in no way negatively affect anything you love to spend money on. He calls these things the “big 5″ and with limitations like that you’d be lucky to find five things you should cut back on.

       Now, it’s easy for me to pick on Ramit because Provident Planning is not about spending extravagantly on the things you want and love. (Actually, maybe it is if what you want and love is God.) It’s not about making you feel guilty for spending money on things that aren’t needs either. My goal here is to explore how Christians can glorify God through their financial decisions – to look at how our faith in Jesus is reflected in our budgets. And that means frugality is as good an option as earning more. Here are a few reasons why being frugal is not a waste of time.

Choosing a Simple Life

       Living frugally allows you the freedom to live with less. It gives you the opportunity to focus less on earning money. Yes, you’ll still need some money to live. But frugality can help lower the amount you “need” by quite a bit. The less you need to earn, the more time you have to live frugally.

       This translates into many different options depending on your calling. For some, it allows more time with your family. For others, it’s a chance to volunteer more or work on a personal project that doesn’t provide income. I’ve even read of those who choose to live simply and earn less income to avoid paying taxes because they don’t agree with how the government spends the money – especially on war. For all these people, being frugal is not a waste of time. It’s a tool that helps them achieve their goals.

Conserving Resources

       Frugality is not always about being cheap. It can be a way to use less of the world’s resources. Americans are notorious for wasteful living. And whether we acknowledge it or not, this lifestyle impacts millions of the world’s poor and will affect our future and our children’s future. For those who seek to use less “Stuff”, being frugal is not a waste of time either.

Concern for the Poor

       This aspect of frugality is partly connected to conserving resources. Part of the impact of wasteful living is the injustice that happens in Third World countries. The coffee you drank this morning was probably harvested by somebody who earned only a few dollars for an entire day’s hard work. Those bananas sitting on your counter were likely picked by people who still can’t afford to feed their families despite having a job.

       Being frugal is not just about time and money. Our choices impact someone, somewhere. Frugality can be a choice to avoid supporting those things you don’t agree with. Conscious living is hard in this world, but it can be an example of your values.

Your Take

       Those are just a few reasons why being frugal is not a waste a time. When you stop thinking about time as money, you can start to see that you can’t judge frugal tips merely by their cost savings. What’s your take? What are some other reasons that being frugal is not a waste of time? What do you think of the examples I gave? Or am I just wrong? Let me know in the comments.

       I don’t ask this question in order to set strict guidelines for how all Christians should live out their final years. I ask it to prompt us all to examine how we will live out our faith during retirement. I’ve talked about why I was rethinking my views on retirement and whether or not Christians should even retire. What I want to look at today are the things we should be considering when we’re planning what we’ll do in retirement and how much income we’ll need in retirement. Then, I want your help. (Oh, and this isn’t just for retired people. Young Christians should be thinking about this too because it will affect how much they should be saving for retirement.)

What Should We Do?

       Assuming we agree that God does not call Christians to a leisurely, luxurious retirement where we sit around and do nothing all day, we have to start looking at what we should be doing during retirement. Let’s compare and contrast with typical retirement goals:

  • Pursuing Hobbies – Many people plan to pick up new hobbies or spend more time on their favorite hobbies in retirement. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, Christians must be looking at how much time they’re spending focused on themselves and how much of their money they’re putting toward their own wants. We must look for a balance – and we must look to God to find that balance.
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  • Travel – This is a major goal for many retirees. As Christians, we need to look at recreational travel versus missional travel. I’m not saying vacations are sinful, but we have to consider two things. First, our desires to spend on ourselves while others are in desperate need. And second, we must listen to God’s unique call for our lives. For some Christians, this will mean limiting travel in retirement so they can give more or spend more time volunteering. For other Christians, this may mean allocating more than they would have to travel so they can take or fund mission trips. (This is not to say that you should ignore God’s call for you to be a missionary until retirement. If He’s calling you now, you should go now.)
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  • Volunteering – Volunteering is a great way for both Christians and non-Christians alike to spend their time in retirement. Besides transportation costs, volunteering requires little money but can provide great rewards. The caution here is to avoid volunteering to every cause or postponing volunteer activities until retirement. Seek God’s will for where you should serve now and in retirement.
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  • Entertainment – It’s easy to spend more on entertainment during retirement because you’ve got so much free time. But for Christians, again, we must look at how we’re using the money God has entrusted to us. Some entertainment is fine, but we need to seek God’s guidance for what we should plan on in this category.
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  • Spending Time with Family – Another noble pursuit regardless of whether you’re a follower of Christ or not. However, we still must seek God’s will and be sure to balance this activity against the other things God wants us to be doing. Strong families are encouraged by the Bible, but we must not become so focused on our own families that we ignore God’s family.


How Should We Spend in Retirement?

       The decisions we make in the “What Should We Do?” category will greatly impact how much income we’ll need in retirement. But there are a few other areas we should consider as well:

  • Housing – Will you stay where you are now, move to a larger place, or choose to downsize? Also, will you buy a second home (vacation home)? Again, I challenge you to pray for God’s will on this matter. Many retirees dream of owning a vacation home in the Bahamas, but Christians must be looking at how such a decision fits in with God’s call to care for the poor. Should we be building a larger house or buying a vacation home while people are starving? Maybe that sounds ascetic, but it’s a legitimate and serious question for those who wish to follow Christ.
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  • Shopping – Shopping for the sake of shopping excites some people. How should we approach this issue? Again, I’m not advocating an ascetic lifestyle where you never buy anything for yourself. But we must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Should we deny some of our wants so we can give more? I feel like that’s a definite yes. But where we draw that line can only be determined through communion with God. He calls some to deny many or all of their wants while others only a few. (Personally, I think that call to deny yourself increases more as our faith and maturity increase.)
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  • Insurance – Overinsurance can indicate that we are placing our trust in money and not God. Underinsurance can be a sign of folly. We must seek God’s will on this matter, as all others, and perhaps help from others. Health insurance is likely a necessity, but what about life insurance, long-term care insurance, homeowner’s/renter’s insurance, etc. There can be legitimate needs for these during retirement, but we can also buy them out of fear or ignorance.
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  • Health Care – While some or most of this may be covered by health insurance, there’s another aspect I want us to think about as Christians. Where do we draw the line between pursuing health within God’s will and pursuing longevity for fear of death? Should we fear death as much as our society does? Indeed, part of the reason health care costs so much is because we try so hard to stay alive. I’m not saying we should kill ourselves, but it is something we should think and pray about (even when we’re young). The world seeks after eternal life but will not find it. We (Christians) already have it promised to us in Heaven – so why do we seek it so much on Earth?


What’s Your Take???

       What did I miss? What did you think about my thoughts? What do you think a Christian retirement should look like? What are your plans? Please, please, please share your thoughts in the comments. I’m hoping we can all help each other think about these issues from a Biblical and eternal viewpoint rather than the American/worldly ideals.

This is a guest post from the Editor of VoucherCodes.co.uk, a site offering voucher codes and printable vouchers to help you save more money.

       In the current climate it is hard for many to get by. All of our budgets seem to have been slashed, and what’s left over for the end of the month for luxuries has all but disappeared. Giving to charity each month can therefore seem a bit of a hardship, but it is ironically at this time that it is needed so much. The recent earthquake in Haiti has provided an all too clear signal of the need for charitable donations. With a few personal finance tips, you can put aside a large part of your monthly budget therefore freeing up more resources for charity.

Budget!

       The first thing to do is to know exactly where you stand. As has already been pointed out on Provident Planning, a site such as Mint offers free financial software that can show you exactly where your money is going each month. This can be an excellent tool, but it can be difficult to work with this as a household tool. In a dual income household, communication is especially important. The whole family will have to sit down together in order to work out their expenditure and to plan for the months ahead. If you have children this can be a great chance to educate them on how to manage money and to set a great example.

Save on Groceries

       To help with the family planning further you can log on to Netmums, a UK community of mothers and download their weekly meal planner – this is just as applicable for a US family. Any shopping trip can then be more focused around what is essential. Supermarkets are designed to bombard you with information encourage you to make impulse purchases. They have become very sophisticated in their marketing (ever noticed how the premium brands are at eye level?). If at all possible, it can be better to leave the kids at home when shopping – they are usually much more persuadable to making unnecessary purchases and are no doubt very adept at persuading you as well!

Cut Back on Your Energy Bills

       It is also essential to cut the amount of energy you are using in your home. With just a few tricks you can save lots of money. Head over to the Energy Savings Trust website and take their free home energy check to ensure you are not frittering away your hard earned cash in wasted energy each month.

Use Coupons

       Coupons have also become an online phenomenon in 2009 – and if you’re not using them in 2010 you will really be missing out. Ever been prompted when buying online to enter a voucher code (or promo code or something along these lines)? Well a simple Google search for “Coupons” will provide a huge collection of coupon sites where you can find the correct text to enter to get the relevant discount. These can usually knock $20 off the weekly shop. [Paul’s note: I like RetailMeNot for this. I’ve saved a lot with that site.]

Don’t Waste Money When You’re on Vacation

       In the end we all deserve to have to have a break from counting the pennies, but this does not mean we want to be ripped off when going on holiday. If we easily reduce the amount we fritter away, it means we can spare a little more from the holiday fund. A little local knowledge can be found in the online Time Out guides – they provide comprehensive schedules of the events coming up in most of the major world cities. Booking in advance you can usually make huge savings and avoid inflated “at the door” prices. You can also find great advice on non-touristy restaurants to save further. These combined can cut your travel budget by almost half painlessly.

       I hope these tips show that with a small bit of thinking we can be more charitable each month without breaking the bank!

This has been a guest post from the Editor of VoucherCodes.co.uk. Be sure to check out their site if you live in or will be visiting the UK. I’m sure you’ll find some ways to save money!

       A fiduciary is a person in a position of trust who obligates himself to always act in the best interests of those who trust him. For example, the trustee of a trust is considered a fiduciary and must always act in the best interests of the trust’s beneficiaries. Fiduciaries are legally required to act in the best interests of those they’re serving, and they can never put their own interests first.

Why Does It Matter?

       So why should you care what (or who) a fiduciary is? In the financial world, there are two types of advisors:

  1. Those who are fiduciaries.
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  3. Those who are not.



       If you understand what a fiduciary is, you’ll see that advisors who are fiduciaries are required to do what’s best for you. Advisors who are not fiduciaries are not held to such a standard. It’s perfectly legal for them to put their own interests first – to act in a way that might not provide the best benefits to you. Obviously, you want to use a fiduciary advisor whenever possible because of their legal responsibility to you.

       There are very clear guidelines on who is considered a fiduciary in the financial world and who is not. The following people are NOT considered fiduciaries:

  • Stock Brokers
  • Insurance Agents
  • Real Estate Agents acting on the other party’s behalf (This is common when you are buying, as most real estate agents are acting on behalf of the seller.)



       ”Advisors” in this group do not represent you. They represent themselves, their company, or someone else. They have no legal responsibility to act in your best interest. They are simply not permitted to commit fraud or provide you with “unsuitable” recommendations. But the “unsuitable” standard is very broad and difficult to impose.

       On the other hand, people in these groups are considered fiduciaries:

  • Registered Investment Advisers (RIAs) or Investment Adviser Representatives (IARs)
  • Insurance Brokers
  • Real Estate Agents acting on your behalf
  • CPAs
  • Attorneys



       Advisors in this group are legally required to act and advise you only for your benefit and interests. They can never act in a way that is contrary to what is best for you. They must act with undivided loyalty to you. If they fail to do so, you are entitled to legal action against them. It’s not enough for them to just provide “suitable” recommendations. They must try their hardest to provide you with the best advice possible.

       Let’s use a simple example. If you go to a stock broker, the broker can recommend you invest in Fund A (as long as it’s “suitable”) even though Fund B is better for you. Why would he do this? Probably because Fund A will give him a higher commission.

       Now let’s say you go to a Registered Investment Adviser (or an Investment Advisor Representative – someone who works for an RIA). Because RIAs have a fiduciary duty to their clients, they’ll always be required to recommend you invest in Fund B since it’s your best option. RIAs can’t receive commissions or do anything that’s not in their client’s best interests. So who do you want to get your advice from? The stock broker or the RIA?

       It’s quite clear that fiduciaries are held to a much higher standard than non-fiduciaries. Whenever possible, you should seek to obtain advice from people who are held to a fiduciary standard. Ask your advisors if they are fiduciaries. Ask them if they are required to always act in your best interests. They are required to answer truthfully, and you should be wary of those who cannot answer with a confident and resounding “yes”.

       Have you ever heard of the term “fiduciary” before? Is there any aspect of the fiduciary duty/standard you’re not clear on? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions!

       Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.

Proverbs 19:20 (ESV)



       Sound, prudent advice is a valuable tool for those who want to become wise. This admonition in Proverbs counsels us to listen to advice so we can gain wisdom. It’s a good idea to seek the advice of those with knowledge and wisdom. If we fully hear and accept their words, we can learn from them and prepare ourselves for the future.

       But we must be careful to weigh the advice we receive rather than believing everything. The idea behind this verse is not to necessarily do everything people tell you that you should. Rather, we should hear them and try to learn from their advice. Is it good or bad advice? Why? We’ll only gain wisdom when we examine the quality of that advice and how it applies.

       It’s interesting that this verse says you’ll gain wisdom in the future. The things we learn right now may not be of much help currently, but they may help us have a better understanding in the future. I’ve found this to be true in my life. I enjoy learning about a wide variety of topics – many of which are quite useless to me right now. But what I’ve found is that having a broad knowledge helps me understand the issues I’m dealing with now. I can apply concepts from one field to comprehend ideas in another. So it’s prudent for us to listen to good advice and be learning even when we don’t think it is useful now. A love of learning is a great tool for gaining wisdom.

       I pray that my writing on Provident Planning will help you gain wisdom for your personal finances. But please examine what I say, thoughtfully consider it, and see how it may or may not apply to your own situation. Ask questions. Disagree. Share your advice. In this way, we can all gain wisdom for the future.

Thrift Store Bargains

Corey —  February 5, 2010 — 3 Comments

       Before our trip to Haiti, my wife, Michelle, and I were shopping at Goodwill to buy some work clothes we could use and leave there. But while we were there, Michelle found a great bargain in the shoe section.

       She found a pair of Nike Air Zoom Elite Women’s running shoes for $6.97. Here are a couple pictures:


Michelle's Shoes

Michelle's Shoes - Price Tag


       These shoes are in great condition, very clean, and look like they’ve barely been used at all. The amazing thing is these shoes retail for $65.00 new at shoedeals4u.com. That’s a savings of $58.03! Granted, they’re not worth the brand new price since they’re used, but they’re definitely worth more than $6.97.

       These shoes wouldn’t be a great deal if Michelle didn’t actually need them and wouldn’t actually use them. But she does and will. I think this example can teach us two things:

  1. You need to keep your eyes open to spot deals.
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  3. You shouldn’t ignore thrift stores because of stigmas or misconceptions.



       And believe me, there are more bargains to be found in thrift stores than just the shoes. I saw a suit from Nordstrom, jeans from Gap and Calvin Klein, shirts from Tommy Hilfiger, and nice leather jackets – all in great condition. I’m not saying you should focus on name brands only, but it just goes to show you that you can find quality items at low prices in thrift stores.

Your Best Thrift Store Bargains

       What’s your best thrift store bargain? Let me know in the comments!

       If you spend much time reading personal finance advice for Christians (either on Provident Planning or somewhere else), you’ll probably start to realize that it’s not all that different from other personal finance advice. Most of the good advice for Christians applies equally to non-Christians as well. Stick to a budget, spend less than you earn, avoid excessive debt, keep an emergency fund, minimize your taxes, don’t buy insurance you don’t need, save for the future – none of those things are particularly Christian in nature.

       There may be some points in which Christian personal finance and secular personal finance will differ, but, generally speaking, good personal finance advice is the same regardless of your religion. The difference – and this is a major difference – is in the ultimate purpose, the final goal, of following that good advice.

       As far as the world is concerned, it makes sense to make smart personal finance decisions because that’s what is best for you. Good money management will help you meet your goals, maximize your wealth, and get the most out of the money you’ve earned. And according to the world, that’s what you should do with your money. Use it for the things you want. Use it to meet your goals and fulfill your dreams.

       But for Christians, making smart decisions in our finances is not important just so we can maximize our wealth and meet all our desires. Our purpose is not to find fulfillment in this world and the things it offers. Our purpose is to honor and glorify God – to serve Him with our entire being in everything we do. Our goal is to do His will. And part of God’s will for us is to share His love by caring for those in need through generous giving. We don’t try to maximize our wealth for our own use. We try to maximize our wealth for God’s use.

       I want you to remember this as you read the articles I write. Many times there won’t be a Bible verse in a post. Personal finance in the Bible is more about the principles that should govern our decisions – not specific applications (like how to get out of debt). But it’s very important that we remember the purpose of seeking and following good financial advice.

       When I talk about spending less, it’s so we’ll have more to give. When I talk about earning more money, it’s so we’ll have more to give. When I talk about making smart financial choices, it’s so we’ll have more to give. It all comes back to giving – giving motivated by love that flows out of our response to God’s Gift to us.

       Yes, making good financial decisions will have benefits for you personally. But our focus as Christians is on the benefits those decisions will have for the Kingdom. In our efforts to follow good financial advice, let’s keep our eyes focused on Christ and our minds focused on how we can serve Him fully.

       The advice we follow may not be all that different from non-Christians. But the motivation, goals, and results should be very, very different. And that difference will serve as a witness for the power of God’s love working in our lives.

       What do you think makes Christian personal finance different? Let me know in the comments!