Archives For Stewardship

       I’ve written in the past about the problems with the “prosperity gospel”. But something I haven’t done is discuss God’s purpose for Christian prosperity. God does want to bless us, but it’s not so we can waste that wealth on lavishly pampering ourselves. He has a specific purpose for prospering Christians and we can find that purpose in His Word.

God Prospers Us To Meet Our Needs

       God blesses us to meet our physical needs. Christ promised us that God knows what we need and He is happy to provide it, but we should seek His Kingdom first instead of worrying ourselves to death about those needs.

       31 “Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:31-33 (WEB)

       We should have faith that God will provide for our needs as we seek His kingdom. This is something I struggle with myself, for Jesus’ words here are difficult to follow despite the freedom they offer. Our weak flesh leads us to worry even though Jesus has promised that God will meet our needs. We must remember that God desires and has the power to meet our needs. He has given us eternal life in Christ, and He will not withhold what we need when we seek Him.

       My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (WEB)

God Prospers Us So We Can Give Generously

       God also blesses us to meet our spiritual needs and the physical and spiritual needs of others. We see another purpose for prosperity clearly illustrated in the Bible – namely the purpose of generous giving.

       In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul is asking the Corinthian church to complete their desire to give to the poor Christians in Jerusalem who were suffering from a famine. He provides wonderful counsel for the Christians in Corinth about God’s ability to bless them so they can be a blessing:

       7 Let each man give according as he has determined in his heart; not grudgingly, or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that you, always having all sufficiency in everything, may abound to every good work. 9 As it is written, “He has scattered abroad, he has given to the poor. His righteousness remains forever.”

       10 Now may he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness; 11 you being enriched in everything to all liberality, which works through us thanksgiving to God. 12 For this service of giving that you perform not only makes up for lack among the saints, but abounds also through many givings of thanks to God; 13 seeing that through the proof given by this service, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the Good News of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all; 14 while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, yearn for you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you. 15 Now thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!

2 Corinthians 9:7-15 (WEB)

       Paul explains to the Corinthians that God is able to meet all our needs so that we may focus on being generous and doing good things in His name. God prospers us so that we will have the opportunity to give generously. It is up to us to use that opportunity to honor Him instead of following the Worldly path of honoring ourselves.

       Even though the “prosperity gospel” is false, there are small nuggets of truth in it that get warped into something ungodly. God desires to bless us so He can meet our needs – both physical and spiritual. But wealthy Christians are called not to merely go through life enjoying the wealth God has blessed them with but to use that wealth to honor God and help others.

       When God makes Christians rich, it isn’t for our own benefit only – it’s so we can glorify His name by being obedient to our confession of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our response to that Good News should be unending thankfulness and amazing generosity. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Not for Itching Ears

Corey —  December 31, 2009

       If you want to hear how the Bible can make you a millionaire, you’re in the wrong place. If you want to hear that you can give 10% and you’ve done your duty to God, you’re in the wrong place. If you want to hear how easy life is going to be as a Christian, you should go do another Google search because you’re not going to find that here.

       Provident Planning is not a place for people with itching ears.

       But if you want to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you’ve come to the right place. If you want to know what the Bible – not man – teaches about money, you’ve come to the right place. If you desire to be a lover of God rather than a lover of money, then I invite you to join me as I seek God’s Truth for personal finances.

       3 For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine, but, having itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside to fables.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 (WEB)

       A lot of the most popular teaching about personal finance for Christians emphasizes how Biblical financial principles can make you rich. This naturally appeals to many people because the love of money is so prevalent in our society. Those who teach how the Bible can make you rich while putting little emphasis on God’s true purpose for those riches are doing nothing but scratching the itching ears.

       God’s Word is not a guide on how to get rich and enjoy all the fine things of the World. God doesn’t want rich Christians to splurge on luxuries while their brothers and sisters die from hunger and thirst. The Gospel is not about how you can prosper in this life. Jesus didn’t die on the cross so you can retire early.

       Jesus warned us of the dangers of greed. He taught us to give generously to anyone in need. He taught us to seek God’s Kingdom first – to make it our top priority in life. All of God’s Word testifies to the fact that our best life will be an eternal life in Heaven – not here on Earth. He has warned us that this life will be full of trials, tribulations, hard times, and difficulties. But He has promised us the most wonderful blessing – eternal life with Him for anyone who believes in His Son, Jesus Christ.

       3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine, and doesn’t consent to sound words, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, 4 he is conceited, knowing nothing, but obsessed with arguments, disputes, and word battles, from which come envy, strife, insulting, evil suspicions, 5 constant friction of people of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. Withdraw yourself from such.

1 Timothy 6:3-5 (WEB)

       Many false teachers talk about how God will bless you if you’re a Christian. Or they tell you to send them a love gift or plant a seed and God will pour out miraculous financial blessings for you. These people do not teach the whole Word of God! We are to have nothing to do with those who twist the Scriptures for their own financial gain or teach a gospel different from the one Jesus taught.

       As Christians, we are rich – but you can’t measure our wealth in dollars. We have eternal life with God as our promised reward for faith in Jesus. That reward outweighs anything you can imagine for yourself in this life – and that reward is why contentment and giving should be our primary concerns when it comes to money. Reflect on these words from the Bible:

       6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. 8 But having food and clothing, we will be content with that.

       9 But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

       11 But you, man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you confessed the good confession in the sight of many witnesses. 13 I command you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate testified the good confession, 14 that you keep the commandment without spot, blameless, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; 15 which in its own times he will show, who is the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16 who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and eternal power. Amen.

       17 Charge those who are rich in this present world that they not be haughty, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on the living God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy; 18 that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate; 19 laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold of eternal life.

1 Timothy 6:6-19 (WEB)

       So if you want to learn what God says about money and what the Bible teaches about personal finance, then please sign up for free updates to Provident Planning. And if you ever find me teaching anything contrary to the Scripture or the Gospel of Jesus Christ, please contact me and let me know.

       But if you just want someone to tell you the things you want to hear, you’ll have to go somewhere else to get your ears scratched.

Antique German W48 Phone by Qole Pejorian on Flickr       If you’ve decided to hire a financial planner, you should consider your choices very carefully. You’ll be sharing your financial information with this person, so you want to make sure you can trust him to provide quality advice and look out for your interests first. Unless you meet the financial planner at a seminar or some social event, your first contact is likely to be over the phone. Read on to see what you should expect from this first conversation.

The Greeting

       Your call should be answered promptly and by a friendly, professional person. If you’re calling a small, solo financial planning firm, the person who answers may actually be the financial planner. For larger firms, you’re likely to speak with a secretary or assistant first. Let them know you’re interested in learning more about their financial planning services. Depending on the firm’s procedures, you may be transferred directly to a financial planner, a business development/marketing person, or you may be asked for some basic information first. Understand that the firm operates in this way for a specific reason and be willing to work with their requests unless they’re unreasonable.

The Screening

       Early in this initial phone call, the planner or other representative of the firm should ask you if you have a few minutes so they can describe their services. This description should include a summary of the services they offer, their typical client, and the associated fees.

       If they do not tell you what the fees are up front, don’t be afraid to ask them now. This process helps you get an understanding of what the planner can do for you and whether or not you will need the services they offer.

       Some planners may mention a minimum account size or net worth so that you can screen yourself out of their services. If you are far from reaching their minimums, politely say so and move on to the next planner. Trying to work with a financial planner focused on wealthier clients is likely to cost you much more money and may not provide you with the essential services you need.

       If they do not take the time to discuss their services and fees with you but instead rush to set up your first meeting, be very wary. Anyone who is not willing to take the time initially to teach you about what they can offer you is likely a pure salesman. You should be on your guard when hiring a financial planner as there are many out there who will not put your interests first. But be especially careful when the planner moves quickly to set up your appointment without first taking the time to let you know what they do.

The Question

       After describing the services they offer, the financial planner should ask you if you have any specific needs or services they did not mention. They may also ask you, “Do you feel like these services will be helpful to you?” Be up front and clear. If you are looking for a planner who will manage your investments and do your tax returns, say so. This will avoid any misunderstandings or disappointments and keep you from wasting your time in a meeting to find out the planner will not suit your needs. On the other hand, set your expectations carefully. Though it can be nice to get everything done at a “one-stop shop”, you may be forsaking quality or integrity for convenience.

Setting the First Meeting

       If both you and the planner are in agreement that their services may meet your needs, the next step is to set a date, time, and place for the first meeting. The planner should explain what will happen at this first meeting and let you know if you’ll need to bring any specific documents along. They may also send you a packet of information further describing their services and requesting information from you before the initial meeting. Carefully complete any requested information if you’re comfortable with it and return it promptly so the planner has time to review it prior to your meeting.

       You should go into the first meeting not looking for specific recommendations for your situation but with the understanding that you haven’t yet hired this financial planner. You should prepare a list of questions to ask the planner about what their services entail, how they charge for their services, their qualifications, if they are required to put your interests first (fiduciary duty), and if they meet state and federal regulatory requirements.

Who or What Is Mammon?

Corey —  November 3, 2009

       19 Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon.

Matthew 6:19-24 (WEB)

       Many times “Mammon” is translated simply as money in verse 24. While the idea of serving “money” can help us get the gist of what Jesus was saying here, we can gain a better understanding by looking carefully at the meaning of “Mammon” and its context in these verses.

       The word “Mammon” originally came from the ancient Chaldeans. It has its roots in the word “confidence” but it also signifies wealth. The way Jesus used it here seems to mean the personification of wealth, as if it were a person, thing, or god that can be served. We can gain even more understanding from the fact that it is rooted in the same word for confidence. If we think of it as confidence in wealth, it flows very well to the next passage where Jesus tells us not to worry about food or clothing because God will provide. Our confidence should be in God and our priority should be to serve Him and Him alone.

       The idea of “Mammon” representing wealth also makes sense in the context of the preceding verses. Jesus tells us not to lay up treasures on earth but instead to lay up treasures in Heaven. We’re not to focus our lives on amassing treasure, or wealth, for our own use while we’re here on earth. Making that a priority in our lives is the same as serving wealth. It means that we make becoming rich more important than becoming like Christ – so that we are not serving God.

       This should be an area of extreme concern for all Christians because of the statement Jesus makes here. He says we cannot serve both God and Mammon. We must make a choice. And we must live out that choice. There is no middle ground. We cannot choose to amass wealth and claim to be following Christ at the same time.

       It’s clear why Jesus makes this statement. Mammon’s goals are directly opposed to God’s.

  • God says, “Give me your heart.” Mammon says, “No, give it to me.”

  • God says, “Learn to be content.” Mammon says, “Get as much as you can – anything you want.”

  • God says, “Never lie or rip others off. Be honest and fair in everything you do.” Mammon says, “Cheat anyone you can if you’ll gain something from it.”

  • God says, “Be generous and give to the needy.” Mammon says, “Keep everything for yourself. You deserve it, and you worked for it.”

       In every way the commands of Mammon are inconsistent with the commands of God – to the point where you cannot serve both at the same time. You must choose one or the other.

What Is Wealth?

       Some people have taken these teachings of Jesus to mean that we should not save any money at all for the future. The claim is that saving money, even for needs (not wants, or unnecessary things), demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s provision.

       But what, exactly, is Jesus attacking here? Is he telling us that prudent saving and wise management of our affairs is against God’s will? If so, how does that idea support the numerous Proverbs that encourage saving, wisdom, and preparing for danger and the future? Or how would Paul’s command that Christians should provide for the needs of their own family be following Christ’s instructions?

       The way Jesus describes serving Mammon does not preclude Christians from saving for their needs or the needs of their families. Jesus preached against unbridled greed and materialism. He taught us that if we value being rich and having things more than serving God then we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

       Let’s look specifically at the idea of treasures, riches, and wealth. These words have never meant “any amount of money or possessions”. Who are the rich and the wealthy? Are they the people who have just enough to meet their needs, or are they the people who have far more money than they could ever possibly need to survive?

       Being wealthy or rich signifies that you have an abundance that goes far beyond what is sufficient for your needs. Having enough money saved to cover small emergencies or saving money for a time when you can no longer work does not necessarily make you rich or wealthy. You only come to the point of wealth or storing up treasures when you have more money than necessary to meet your needs.

       What exactly is Jesus condemning here? Clearly, He condemns putting money before God – service to money before service to God. The whole idea is that if you let money rule your decisions and how you live life, then you cannot let God rule your decisions and how you live life. When you make money your idol, your god, you are violating God’s command to never have any other god before Him and to never worship anything other than Him.

       For Jesus to say that it is wrong for His followers to save money, prepare for the future, and properly care for their families would require that He go against the Word God had already spoken. But Jesus isn’t saying those things in this passage – or even in the passage that follows concerning worry.

       What Jesus said is that those who follow Him must never put pursuing money above pursuing God. Indeed, if we make pursuing and serving God our top priority, we will not even become consumed with getting rich or having more money than we need (to cover our necessities). How can I say that? Because Jesus Himself said you cannot serve both God and Mammon (the greedy pursuit of wealth). So if you choose to serve God, His love will cause you to reject greed, materialism, and amassing wealth beyond your needs.

How Then Should We Live?

       Even though this teaching does not prohibit Christians from saving for the future, it should still convict us when it comes to materialism. When we choose to spend our money on things we don’t need we are deciding that our wants are more important than our poor brother’s needs. That is why John says:

       16 By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does the love of God remain in him? 18 My little children, let’s not love in word only, neither with the tongue only, but in deed and truth. 19 And by this we know that we are of the truth, and persuade our hearts before him, 20 because if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we have boldness toward God; 22 and whatever we ask, we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. 23 This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he commanded. 24 He who keeps his commandments remains in him, and he in him. By this we know that he remains in us, by the Spirit which he gave us.

1 John 3:16-24 (WEB)
(emphasis mine)

       When we selfishly use the abundance God has blessed us with and close our hearts against the needs of the poor, we do not have God’s love in us. God’s love teaches us to lay down our lives for the needs of others. If we have some extra that we don’t really need and we see a brother in need, God’s love compels us to give generously to that brother – despite any claim or right we have to spend that money on our own wants. By choosing to follow Christ, we are saying we will lay down our rights just as He did so that others might be helped. If we do not follow God’s leading in that situation, then God’s love does not dwell within us. We must not only say we love our neighbors – we must prove it in our actions.

       Brothers and sisters, if you’re reading this right now and your heart is condemning you because you have chosen to place your wants above the needs of the poor, know this: God is bigger than the feeling of condemnation you have right now. He knows all things, and He knows that you want to do the things that please Him. His love can persuade your heart and give you compassion, so that you can testify to His power and love by laying down your life (setting aside your wants) for your brothers. Repent and pray to God for a change in your heart, that you might start serving Him and stop serving Mammon.

       Choose this day whom you will serve – God or Mammon. You must choose!

       The financial services industry is great at making you feel good while ripping you off. They’re also great at confusing you so much that you can’t even figure out how badly you’re getting ripped off. To make smart financial decisions, you need to realize how your “advisors” are getting paid and how their pay structure may affect the advice they give you.

       These advisors can include stock brokers, bankers, realtors, financial planners, insurance agents, lawyers, and accountants. Different compensation methods can create various conflicts of interest—situations where your best interests are not the same as your advisor’s best interests. This is a long article, but what you’ll read here can save you many problems and oceans of money.

Commission-based Advisors

       These advisors get paid a commission when you buy a product. The products they sell can include stocks, bonds, mutual funds, insurance policies, annuities, real estate, mortgages, other loans, and much more. (When you take out a loan, you’re essentially buying a product and the banker typically gets a commission or bonus.)

Chris Gardener by dbking on Flickr       The problem with this compensation structure is that the advisors are influenced to sell you products that give them a higher commission. This could mean selling you inappropriate or sub par products with high fees, telling you that you need permanent life insurance coverage, convincing you to buy the most house you can afford, or encouraging you to take out the biggest loan the bank will let you. You often don’t realize the cost of these decisions because the commissions are rarely disclosed in an honest, upfront, and easy to understand manner. It may seem like you’re getting cheap or free advice, but you end up paying much more in the end because of the commissions that are built into the products you buy.

       Commission-based advisors are also much more likely to persuade you to make many transactions (buying and selling investments many times) because this increases their pay. There are strict rules against “churning” in investment accounts, so be sure to seek help from the government or a lawyer if you believe your account is being churned.

       While there are some commission-based advisors who are trustworthy and do give their clients good advice, you’re best served by steering clear of commission-based advisors whenever possible. If you must work with someone who earns their fees by commissions, make sure you get full disclosure on their compensation and always get a second or third opinion on their advice. Do your homework, and you can avoid getting ripped off by commission-based advisors—but there are often better ways you can get help with your financial decisions.

Fee-based Percentage of Assets Advisors

       Fee-based percentage of assets advisors are paid a percentage of the assets they manage for you. This business model is also called the assets under management (AUM) model. This is generally seen in the investment world, though it can crop up in other areas. The typical fee is about 1% of your assets, but this can vary wildly between advisors. It’s important to keep in mind that this fee is almost always in addition to the fees in the products you purchase.

       The first conflict of interest with fee-based AUM advisors is the fact that they get more money when they manage more of your assets. They’ll often encourage you to transfer more of your assets to them and justify the advice with some compelling reasons. However, it isn’t always best for you to move your assets to an AUM advisor. Additionally, when you take money out of your account the advisor’s fee goes down. If you’re weighing the decision to pay off a loan with money the advisor is managing, how likely do you think it is that he will tell you to pay off the loan? If you pay off the loan, the advisor gets a pay cut.

       The next problem with fee-based AUM advisors is cost. When you pay 1% of your assets in management fees every year, the total cost can really add up. Let’s assume the advisor takes a 1% fee at the beginning of each year and your investment returns are 8%. Over 25 years, you’d pay $62,527 in fees for every $100,000 you had invested at the beginning of the 25 year period. Over a 65 year period, you’d pay $1,104,280 in fees for every $100,000 you initially invested. Most advisors will justify this cost by saying that you wouldn’t have received 8% investment returns if they hadn’t been there to advise you along the way. While this may be true, you can duplicate their results if you educate yourself enough about the long-term history of the markets and learn how to avoid stupid mistakes. You can also look into using an hourly or flat-fee advisor for a better deal without having to learn everything on your own.

       During retirement, these costs can be especially hazardous. Let’s assume a 5% withdrawal rate is probably safe for most people in retirement (assuming 25 years in retirement). If you have to pay an investment advisor a 1% fee to manage your assets, your safe withdrawal rate goes down to 4%. This means a $1,000,000 would only provide you with a $40,000/year income if you’re paying an investment advisor. Alternatively, you could have a $50,000/year income if you didn’t have to pay 1% of your assets to the advisor every year.

       The AUM model also isn’t very fair to the clients. If Bob has $100,000 and Joe has $200,000, Bob only has to pay $1,000/year but Joe has to pay $2,000/year. Why does Joe pay more? It’s only because he has more money. How is this fair for the clients? Having worked in the investment industry, I can personally tell you that not much more work goes into managing Joe’s $200,000 portfolio versus Bob’s $100,000 portfolio. Why should Joe have to pay twice as much for the exact same services? He shouldn’t, and that’s another reason why I am not too fond of the AUM model. Fee-based AUM advisors will try to justify this problem with different arguments, but there’s rarely a legitimate argument that would hold up when viewed by an unbiased party.

       Finally, fee-based AUM advisors are generally restricted to working only with wealthier clients. It’s much more profitable to spend 10 hours working with someone who has $1,000,000 than to spend 10 hours working with someone who has $100,000. This means young people and late starters with little money saved up are going to have a hard time getting a fee-based AUM advisor to work with them.

       Fee-based AUM advisors usually give much more appropriate advice to their clients than commission-based advisors, but there are still many conflicts of interest and problems with this compensation structure. Advisors using the AUM model like to advertise that their compensation structure eliminates many conflicts of interest present in the industry, but you should be aware that it does not eliminate all possible conflicts—no compensation structure can do that.

Fixed-fee Advisors

Good Advice by Gary J. Wood on Flickr       Fixed-fee advisors are paid a flat fee to provide certain services you agree upon. There are few of these advisors around, but their fee structure can eliminate many of the problems with commission-based and fee-based AUM advisors. You may also hear this fee arrangement referred to as a “retainer”.

       You’ll want to ensure that the flat fee you pay fixed-fee advisors is the sole source of their compensation. If the advisor still receives commissions for any products you may buy, then they will still have a conflict of interest in selling you the highest-paying products.

       You’ll also want to make sure you do not pay for more services than you really need with a fixed-fee advisor. Because these advisors are charging a flat fee, you can end up overpaying if you do not fully utilize the services and time included in the package. This is especially true for those who have a simple situation or for those who have the biggest areas of their financial plan implemented already. Since fixed-fee advisors often charge upwards of $1,500 or $2,000/year, it may not make sense to use them if you do not need much help.

       Since fixed-fee advisors are paid a flat fee, it is to their benefit to spend as little time as possible on any one client as this maximizes their hourly rate. While this is short-sighted, it is still a possible downfall of using fixed-fee advisors. If you feel your fixed-fee advisor is not providing the level of service you agreed upon, you should confront him or her to get an explanation. If you’re not happy with the service, you may want to change advisors.

       The major benefit of fixed-fee advisors is that they will not be tempted to advise that you purchase high-fee products or to put more money under their management. Since their compensation structure is separated from your assets, they are able to focus on your best interests when they provide advice. You’ll still want to make sure you’re not paying for more than you receive, and you should carefully consider any personal finance decision no matter where your advice comes from.

Fee-based Hourly Advisors

Good Advice by rick on Flickr       Fee-based hourly advisors get paid an hourly rate for the time they spend working on your situation. This time could include meetings with you, researching your situation, completing paperwork for you, or meetings with your other advisors. Most accountants and lawyers work under this compensation method, but you will hardly find this fee model in the investment, insurance, banking, or real estate industries. Fee-based hourly advisors eliminate many of the conflicts of interest present in commission-based and fee-based AUM models, but they are not without their issues.

       Because fee-based hourly advisors are paid for their time, they may try to give you complex advice to justify their fees and keep you dependent on meeting with them. If you feel like your fee-based hourly advisor is giving you the runaround, be upfront and let him or her know that you need a better explanation of why the advice is so complicated. If the advisor does not try to educate you, it’s probably time to seek another advisor. Any advisor should be more than willing to educate you about what is going on in your financial situation. If not, they could be hiding something or trying to keep you dependent on their advice.

       You may need to be more involved with your finances if you use a fee-based hourly advisor. Since you are paying the advisor by the hour, your costs will be lower if you can do as much as possible yourself. The fee-based hourly advisor should be willing to provide you with any instructions you need to complete simple tasks on your own. This could include setting up accounts, transferring assets between accounts, placing trades, purchasing products, or meeting with other professionals as needed. If you need help, you can always ask the advisor to assist you but your costs will be much lower if you do most of the grunt work yourself.

       With a fee-based hourly advisor, all clients are treated the same because they all pay the same amount per hour of the advisor’s work. These advisors can work with people who have few assets or people with a high net worth. As long as they only receive their compensation from you, they won’t be tempted to advise that you purchase high fee investments. On the contrary, they are likely to give you the best advice possible for your situation because they know that exceptional advice and education is the only thing that can really keep you coming back for their help.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Good Advice by cornflakegirl on Flickr       You might find an advisor who uses some combination of these fee structures. Proceed with caution! The more complicated the advisor’s compensation the harder it is for you to understand exactly how he is getting paid. With any type of advisor, make sure you get full disclosure of their compensation in writing.

       Never be afraid to get a second opinion on your advisor’s recommendations. You can easily go to a fee-based hourly advisor for a one-time project when you’re making a major decision. For a few hundred dollars, you can get this second opinion and avoid a much more costly mistake. Even better, you could do substantial research on your own so you learn in the process and understand the situation better.

       Always remember that your advisors should be teaching and educating you throughout the process. If the advisor is reluctant to explain his recommendations, I would be very wary of trusting him. By finding an advisor who is a true teacher at heart, you can be more confident that the advisor is honest and trustworthy. The best advisor should be working to make himself completely unnecessary at some point!

       Don’t fall for slick marketing, a round of golf, free dinners, or nice gifts! Advisors who spend a lot of money in these types of “client appreciation” or advertising areas are simply using the money you pay them to give you “free” stuff just to make you feel good about getting ripped off. You should remember that the advisor is not going to give you so much “free” stuff that they don’t make a profit. While it may feel good to get that “free” round of golf or gift card to your favorite restaurant, you should never forget that you’ve already paid for it when you paid the advisor’s fee. Don’t fall for the illusion that it feels good to get ripped off! If you really want those things, pay for them yourself and stop paying through the nose to get it from your advisors.

       Think it sounds ridiculous? Bear with me and I’ll explain how I came up with that number. This obviously isn’t the exact cost for every single person, but it probably isn’t far off. I didn’t include the cost of electricity, purchasing and replacing your television, or the cost of lost opportunities due to the hours wasted watching television. I’m also basing the cost on the amount I pay for satellite TV. Your actual costs may be higher or lower (probably higher as I have the most basic package).

The Assumptions

       I assumed a cost of $40/month for the subscription. This is the cost of my basic satellite TV subscription. There’s a good chance most people pay more than this, so my estimate is probably conservative.

       I assumed you started your subscription at age 22 (when most people are out on their own) and you keep it until you die at age 80.

       I assumed an inflation rate of 3.8% and an investment rate of return of 8% (very reasonable over a 59 year time period).

The Results

Television by dailyinvention on Flickr       If you decide to give up your cable or satellite TV subscription and instead invest the money, you’d have over $577,000 at age 80. If we adjust for inflation, that $577,000 would be about $63,900 in today’s dollars (e.g., what costs you $63,900 today will cost you $577,000 in 59 years because of inflation).

       By age 65, you’d have an extra $177,700 because you gave up that cable/satellite TV subscription. This is the same as $34,300 in today’s dollars. That could mean retiring a year earlier! (depending on your income needs in retirement)

What About the Cost of Purchasing a TV?

       If you’re 22 and you decide to save $100 instead of purchasing a TV set, you’ll have an extra $2,955 by age 65—or $570 in today’s dollars. (While the price tag says $100, it’s really costing you $570 because you could have invested that $100.)

       If you save $500, that’s an extra $14,780 by age 65—over $2,850 in today’s dollars.

       If you save $1,000, you’ll have an extra $29,550 by age 65—more than $5,725 in today’s dollars! (That $1,000 big screen TV is really costing you $5,725.)

       And we haven’t even figured in the cost of lost opportunities because you watched so many episodes of Lost…

The $64,000 Question

       If Dish Network, DirectTV, or Comcast told you that subscribing to their service would really cost you $64,000, would you do it? Even with the first month free, I just don’t see how it’s worth it.

       Add in the cost of purchasing a TV (and replacement TVs), the higher medical bills because you sat on your butt so much, and the other reasons you should stop watching TV and you’ll soon find that it’s just not worth it.

TV;        If you’re struggling to get by, TV should be one of the first things you cut. It’s a drain on your finances (a $64,000 drain!), wastes your time, and can get in the way of quality family time. Your time is better spent finding ways to increase your income, cut your expenses, and enjoy your life the way you want (instead of the way the TV tells you to enjoy it).

Disclaimer and Other Stuff

       Even though I know how much television costs, I have not given it up completely. However, I do watch a lot less than I used to and I’m amazed at how much more I can accomplish! Now I tend to only watch a couple shows on Discovery Channel. (I’m a science geek at heart.) I’ll watch in social situations as well, but overall I probably watch less than a couple hours a week on average.

       Not all TV is bad. Like I said, I like to watch Discovery Channel. Educational shows can be a good way to get some entertainment while expanding your mind at the same time. But most TV shows are an absolute waste of time—end of story.

Show Me in the Scriptures…

Corey —  October 27, 2009

       A reader recently left a comment on my post discussing how much you should have in your emergency fund. Frank said:

Could you please show me in Scripture where it says believers are to have an emergency fund?

Thank you.

       I responded to Frank’s question in the comments, but I think this is an important enough issue to address in its own post.

       Not all personal finance advice can be backed up with a specific quote from Scripture. Does that mean it is bad or unchristian? Not in the least. If the advice follows the pattern of teaching and wisdom in the Bible, it can still be considered good advice for Christians despite the lack of a specific Biblical reference.

       For example, is there a specific Bible verse telling you that you should create a will? No. But it’s still a wise thing to do. Is there a specific Bible verse that tells us to update our résumés? Again, the answer is no, but that doesn’t change the validity of the advice.

       This concept doesn’t apply just to personal finance. Is there a Bible verse telling us to buckle our seat belts? Nope. But does that mean you’re trusting your seat belt more than God if you buckle it? What about looking both ways before you cross the street? Do you lack faith because you do this?

       The problem with applying the “show me in the Scriptures” test is that there is not specific advice for every single situation we will encounter in life. There are guiding principles and values that, along with God’s Holy Spirit, will help us discern the wise choices. But you’re not going to find Bible verses telling you to brush your teeth, stop eating at McDonald’s, or to take advantage of an HSA if you’re eligible.

       Scripture does contain many verses teaching us the importance of wisdom in handling our affairs. Here are a couple examples:

       The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

Proverbs 14:15 (WEB)

       The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.

Proverbs 21:5 (WEB)

       Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.

Proverbs 21:20 (WEB)

       The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.

Proverbs 22:3 (WEB)

       In fact, the entire book of Proverbs points to the importance of wisdom and its place in the life of those who follow God. But what about all the times Jesus told us not to store up treasures on earth? Or when He taught us not to worry about what we’ll eat and drink and wear?

       Tell me, what did Christ mean when He said do not worry or be anxious? What does it mean to worry or be anxious? Those words mean to be distressed, uneasy, and tormented with care about something (material things in this case). Christ’s solution was for us to “seek first the Kingdom of God”. Instead of being worried about how we’ll meet our material needs, we should be worried about how we’ll meet our spiritual needs – how will we serve God and draw closer to Him.

       You can be worried and anxious about material things whether or not you wisely plan ahead. I can have an emergency fund and still be worried about material things. I can not have one and still be worried about material things. Even if I have an emergency fund, I can stop worrying either because I have that money saved or because I trust in God’s provision. That brings us to the other main teaching of Christ about money.

       When Jesus taught about storing up treasures and serving Money what did He mean? What does it mean to be wealthy or rich or to have treasure? All those words denote an abundance, which means having much more than what is sufficient or needed. Jesus’ warnings about wealth were not to tell us that we should never use money appropriately to meet our needs. Jesus warned us instead of the danger in accumulating more than what we really need. He told us not to become consumed with money and wealth.

       There is a vast difference between being consumed with accumulating an abundance of wealth and planning wisely to have enough to meet our needs. In the same way, there is a huge difference between being occupied with worry and prudently foreseeing needs and dangers and preparing to face those situations. These two teachings that Jesus gave us are so often stretched to mean that we should never save anything at all for the future because that demonstrates a lack of faith. The truth is that Jesus taught us to:

  1. Give God and His Ways priority in our thoughts and lives.

  3. Avoid storing up more money than we will need. (That is, not to let becoming rich be our priority in life.)

       Proverbs commends wisdom and many New Testament verses speak to the importance of providing for your own family. We are not taught to make ourselves a burden to others when it is within our power to care for ourselves. Instead, we are taught that if there are any among us who cannot provide for themselves it is our responsibility as fellow Christians to care and provide for those people. Jesus’ teachings combined with the rest of Scripture in no way preclude us from saving for the future, using insurance, or utilizing money in any other wise manner. What is forbidden is making Money our god – giving priority to accumulating more money than we really need instead of serving God.

       The real issue then becomes finding contentment in Christ and determining our true needs. The danger we face is allowing the world to dictate our needs and success (a bigger house, a fancy car, expensive clothes, etc.) instead of learning to live on enough (our daily bread). That is the bigger issue here and the battle all of us Christians face. Once we have submitted to God in our discontentment and covetousness, we will be able to make Money serve us and God’s Kingdom instead of allowing it to be our master. But these are all topics worthy of their own discussion (contentment, defining needs, and avoiding covetousness).

       Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments. I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you!