Archives For November 2010

       This was a series I ran last year before Christmas. I’m running it again because I think the lessons are a valuable reminder each year. Let me know what you think!

       On Black Friday, I highlighted this video from Advent Conspiracy:

       Over the next four Tuesdays (including today), I’m going to discuss the concepts behind the idea that Christmas can still change the world if we choose to give presence. The four concepts are:

  1. Worship Fully

  3. Spend Less

  5. Give More

  7. Love All

Worship Fully

       It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus.

       A meaningful Christmas is not about gifts, trees, Santa Claus, lights, or fruitcakes (thankfully).

       No, a meaningful Christmas is about celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s about rejoicing in the fact that God loves us so much and so deeply desires to have a relationship with us that He sent His only Son to die for our sins so we can be reconciled to Him and have eternal life.

       If we want a meaningful Christmas – if we want to see Christmas still changing the world – we must begin by worshiping fully. We must start by focusing on Who, what, and why we’re celebrating. We have to choose to make the Christmas season all about Christ and not consumerism.

       When we begin to worship Jesus fully we’ll realize how wonderful and meaningful Christmas can really be. We’ll lay down our burdens and reject the worldly idea of buy, buy, buy – and instead we will rejoice in God and His Son. We’ll celebrate His Love and focus on sharing His Love with others.

       Worshiping Fully is essential if we’re going to understand and use the remaining three concepts of Spending Less, Giving More, and Loving All. Until you stop letting the world and Satan dictate what you should be doing during the Christmas season, you will never have a meaningful Christmas.

       We must choose to find contentment in worshiping Christ instead of things. You must make this choice if you want to honor God during the Christmas season!

       So take some time to remember what Christmas is all about. Stop and worship the Lord. Give thanks to Him for His most precious Gift – the unspeakable riches we have in Christ. Worship Him Fully and make this the most memorable and meaningful Christmas you’ve ever had!

Do You Have Enough or Too Much in Your Piggy Bank Emergency Fund?       I can hear the claims of “Heresy!” ringing out through the personal finance world right now. How can I say the 3 to 6 month emergency fund rule is stupid?! Before you give yourself a heart attack, you need to realize that I’m not saying an emergency fund is stupid. Not by any means! In fact, I’ve written several times already about why you need an emergency fund, where to keep your emergency fund, when you should use your emergency fund, and how to build up your emergency fund. Clearly, I have nothing against emergency funds.

       No, my problem is with the silly rules of thumb that get thrown around with the idea of the emergency fund. Some say you need 3 months of your expenses, some say 6, and some say 9. I’ve even heard 2 years! The problem is that all these simple rules of thumb make the same mistake that other rules of thumb make – they ignore your circumstances.

Base Your Emergency Fund on Your Circumstances

       An emergency fund based on 3 months of your living expenses may work fine if you’re married and both of you have stable jobs with comparable incomes and you have your finances under control. But change just one of those variables (marital status, job stability, income disparity, or financial situation) and you can forget about a 3 month emergency fund doing the job.

       The size of your emergency fund needs to be tailored to your circumstances because the riskiness of your situation is determined by what’s happening in your life – not what some rule of thumb tells you. Now, I’ll grant that a 6 to 12 month emergency fund is going to be in the right zone for most people, but I wouldn’t leave this to a guess. You need to take a few minutes to think about your situation and adjust accordingly.

       For example, if you’re single then you probably only have one source of income. That puts you at a higher risk in case of a job loss than someone who is in a two-income household. The same goes for your job stability. If there’s little risk you’ll lose your job (maybe a government position?), then you’re probably a bit safer than someone in a cyclical industry (car sales, perhaps).

       If you’re socking away 20% of your income, a small emergency might not bother you too much. You can easily divert your money away from saving for a bit and go back after the emergency has been covered. But if you’re struggling to make it from one paycheck to the next, even a small $100 car repair can throw your whole world into a giant mess.

       It’s these kinds of factors that should determine how much you need in an emergency fund. I’ve talked about how much you need in an emergency fund, so I’m not going to go over it again. But keep in mind that even my article is just a general guideline. You’ll still need to think critically about your specific needs and situation.

Beware Rules of Thumb

       I’ve written several of these types of articles over the last few months. I talked about the stupidity of the save 10% for retirement rule, the 2.5 or 3 times your income for a mortgage rule, and the 80% or 90% of your income for retirement rule.

       All of these rules are guilty of oversimplification, a complete ignorance of your unique circumstances, or both. Yet some people rely on these rules of thumb for their most important financial decisions. I’m not saying you need a financial planner. But please do yourself a huge favor and take some time to think about your situation and what makes sense for you. Don’t rely on stupid rules of thumb to determine your financial future!

Any Other Rules of Thumb?

       What financial rules of thumb have you heard of that you’d like to learn more about? Are there any you question but aren’t sure why they might be wrong? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll be happy to write an article specifically tailored to answer your questions!

(photo credit: Alan Cleaver on Flickr)

This article was picked as the Editor’s Top Choice in the Best of Money Carnival!

This article was also included in the Carnival of Financial Planning.

Make Christmas Meaningful

November 26, 2010 — 2 Comments

       What if Christmas meant more than shopping in packed malls?

       What if you spent more time with your family than you spent trying to pick out gifts?

       What if you could wake up on December 26th with no debts from the day before?

       What if you could throw out all the stress, traffic, and shopping and just focus on worshiping Jesus, giving to the needy, and loving all people?

       What if we gave up Consumermas and went back to Christmas?

       The folks at Advent Conspiracy have a great little video (2 minutes and 39 seconds) about a meaningful Christmas.

       And here’s the promo video from 2009:

       So why not make Christmas meaningful again? Why not do it this year? If you want to change how you celebrate Christmas, here are some good resources:

       How will you make Christmas meaningful this year? Let me know in the comments!

       Another danger of laziness is dishonor or a bad reputation. If we are the body of Christ, our actions and reputation impact other people’s ideas about Christ. If people know us to be lazy, we weaken our witness as Christians and bring dishonor to God’s name.

The Destruction of Laziness

       Proverbs contains a powerful warning against the destructiveness of laziness. Laziness can affect us and our reputation so strongly that it makes us a brother to the “master of destruction”, or Satan.

       One who is slack in his work is brother to him who is a master of destruction.

Proverbs 18:9 (WEB)

       If laziness makes us a brother to Satan, we can easily see why God has called us to work hard. There is no glory for God in laziness. (Let’s make sure we agree on the definition of laziness. Laziness is refusing to do work when work needs to be done or should be done. It is not the same as recreation, which comes after the necessary work has been finished.)

       We don’t admire lazy people. We don’t look at a lazy person and say, “Now he’s a respectable fellow.” We might envy or covet their rest, but that is only an indication that our heart is not right or that Satan is tempting us. But we do not look up to lazy people as an example to be followed. This is why laziness is warned against so strongly in the Bible, and especially by Paul in the New Testament. Laziness can destroy our reputation and completely undermine any witness we have in Christ. And that’s the most terrible effect of all.

       Not only can laziness ruin our reputation, but it can also ruin our life. Laziness in our work can lose us our job. Laziness in managing our finances can bankrupt us. Laziness in our relationships can hurt others. Only a short-sighted fool would choose laziness over doing the work needed to keep things going smoothly.

       The fool folds his hands together and ruins himself.

Ecclesiastes 4:5 (WEB)

       It’s clear that laziness is extremely destructive in our lives. Whether we’re looking at the spiritual aspects of our lives or the temporal, the devastating effects of laziness are not worth the fleeting pleasure of rest. Even just a little bit of laziness can make things much more difficult than they need to be, and we’ll talk about that a bit more in the next part of this series.

       But it’s also important to remember that we do need rest. Proper rest taken at the right time is essential to our health and well-being. After we look at the difficulty laziness brings, we’ll look at our need for rest.

This is the safe in my basement.  :-P       The first question most people have after they get a will is where they should keep it. It’s a good question to ask because you need a place that’s both safe and accessible for your important documents. It needs to be a safe location so they won’t get stolen or destroyed. But it also needs to be accessible so you (or your loved ones) can easily get to the documents when they’re needed.

The Problem with a Safe Deposit Box

       The first place that comes to mind for most people is to get a safe deposit box and keep their important documents there. The problem is that a safe deposit box can be a nightmare to get into after you die. If your box isn’t held jointly with someone who’s still alive after you die (or held in the name of your revocable living trust), then it’ll take a court order to open your safe deposit box and get to your documents. This can mean delays and headaches for your loved ones.

       You can avoid this by adding a joint owner you trust to your safe deposit box. Alternatively, you can make your revocable living trust the owner and your successor trustee will be able to access the box on your behalf. But you’ll want to make sure the trust document isn’t in the box, or your successor won’t be able to prove he has legal access!

The Fireproof and Waterproof Safe

       My personal choice is the fireproof and waterproof safe. They’re affordable and will protect your documents well. I found this SentrySafe Fireproof and Waterproof Safe on Amazon for $39.97:

       It’ll protect your documents from fire for half an hour at temperatures up to 1,550 degrees Fahrenheit and has a waterproof seal as well. (I wonder if it can protect from fire and water at the same time???) However, it’s not theft-proof. The lock could be opened by a thief who really wants it and it’s only 25 pounds. If theft is something you’re worried about, you can bolt your safe to the floor or wall with some hardware and tools. It’ll at least discourage the thief from trying too hard.

       The main caution with this option is to make sure someone else knows where the safe is and how to open it. Obviously, this should be someone you trust. The upside to using your own safe is that it will be easy to access whenever you need it.

At a Minimum…

       If you don’t want to get a safe deposit box or a home safe, you should at least keep your important documents on a high shelf. It won’t protect them from fire, but it may save you from some water damage. Also, make sure you and anyone who cleans around your house knows they’re important. You wouldn’t want to throw them in the trash accidentally!

Have a Financial Question?

       This post was written to answer a reader request. Have a financial question you’d like answered? Contact me and I’ll help you as best I can!

(photo credit: Cliff on Flickr)

This article was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance.

Greed Contained - If only it were that easy!       I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a Christian’s proper relationship to material wealth – especially in terms of what’s appropriate for us to desire and what’s not. The difficulty comes in trying to draw lines. When do our desires become excessive? How do we know when we’re pursuing the things of this world above the kingdom of God? Where does ambition stop and greed begin?

       Greed – that’s what I want to talk about today. But not so much talk about as discuss with you. What I want to know is how you define greed. What is greed? How do you know when you’re being greedy? How can Christians protect themselves from becoming greedy?

       Let’s look at a few definitions of greed, and then I’ll show you why I think it’s such an important concept to understand. The Bible says quite a bit about those who are greedy, and it’s not good…

Definitions of Greed states that greed is “excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions”. In other words, greed is when you’d extort, rip off, and even steal to get more money. Obviously, that would violate Scripture and Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.

       On the other hand, WordNet, a project at Princeton University, defines greed as an “excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves”. That’s a much more difficult definition to wrestle with, isn’t it? Where do we set our level of “need” or of what we “deserve”? And when does a desire to acquire more than that level become “excessive”?

       I’ve talked before about needs versus wants. We act like many things are needs when they’re actually just wants. Our needs are very few: food and water, clothing, and shelter and warmth depending on your local climate. In the strictest sense, that’s all we truly need.

       And within each of those categories there’s a level beyond which the need becomes a want. We only need food that’s edible and enough to keep us going. We only need clean water. We only need enough shelter and warmth to protect us from the elements and provide a place to rest. And even that one is debatable to some extent.

       I don’t say these things to make myself or you feel greedy if we want anything beyond the most basic of necessities. I say it to point out how difficult it is to get a grasp on what greed really means. Most Americans would not think me greedy if I wanted a modest 1,000 square foot home. But even the smallest of homes in the U.S. are luxurious by most world standards simply because they don’t have a dirt floor!

       In the same way, it’s easy for me to look at Dave Ramsey’s new house and say “That’s too much!”, but I’m sure my friends in Haiti would consider me quite wealthy to be able to rent the small house I’m in now. I think they’d say the same of Dave Ramsey, but it does cause me to step back and examine myself a bit more closely.

       What do you think? Is greed more of the stop-at-nothing-to-get-more definition, or is it closer to the “excessive”-desire-for-more-than-you-need definition? Let me know what you think in the comments at the bottom of the page, but let’s take a look at greed in the Bible.

Greed in the Bible

       Checking the dictionary is all fine and well, but I think it’s more helpful to see what the Bible says about greed if we’re trying to look at this from a Christian perspective. Most of what I read online tends to point at the Christian definition of greed as the stop-at-nothing-to-get-more style. I certainly think that’s included, but I wonder if we’re not held to that higher standard.

       So I’ve found several verses that discuss greed. Coveting is another way the Bible talks about greed, so I’ve included verses that use either word or concept (like “love of money”). Let’s look at them and see if we can draw a conclusion about the Bible’s definition of greed. I’ll list the verses below and include any additional verses needed to get the context. All verses are from the World English Bible (WEB) version, but if you click the link on the reference you can get just about any version you want.

       You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

Exodus 20:17

       Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife; neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

Deuteronomy 5:21

       You shall burn the engraved images of their gods with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourself, lest you be snared in it; for it is an abomination to Yahweh your God.

Deuteronomy 7:25

       20 Achan answered Joshua, and said, “I have truly sinned against Yahweh, the God of Israel, and this is what I have done. 21 When I saw among the spoil a beautiful Babylonian robe, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and took them. Behold, they are hidden in the ground in the middle of my tent, with the silver under it.”

Joshua 7:20-21

       2 In arrogance, the wicked hunt down the weak. They are caught in the schemes that they devise. 3 For the wicked boasts of his heart’s cravings. He blesses the greedy, and condemns Yahweh.

Psalm 10:2-3

       17 For in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird: 18 but these lay wait for their own blood. They lurk secretly for their own lives. 19 So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain. It takes away the life of its owners.

Proverbs 1:17-19

       He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live.

Proverbs 15:27

       There are those who covet greedily all day long; but the righteous give and don’t withhold.

Proverbs 21:26

       One who is greedy stirs up strife; but one who trusts in Yahweh will prosper.

Proverbs 28:25

       Yes, the dogs are greedy, they can never have enough; and these are shepherds who can’t understand: they have all turned to their own way, each one to his gain, from every quarter.

Isaiah 56:11

       But your eyes and your heart are not but for your covetousness, and for shedding innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it.

Jeremiah 22:17

       In you have they taken bribes to shed blood; you have taken interest and increase, and you have greedily gained of your neighbors by oppression, and have forgotten me, says the Lord Yahweh.

Ezekiel 22:12

       They covet fields, and seize them; and houses, and take them away: and they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage.

Micah 2:2

       21 For from within, out of the hearts of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, sexual sins, murders, thefts, 22 covetings, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness.

Mark 7:21-22

       He said to them, “Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness, for a man’s life doesn’t consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses.”

Luke 12:15

       33 I coveted no one’s silver, or gold, or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands served my necessities, and those who were with me.

Acts 20:33-34

       For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not give false testimony,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Romans 13:9

       9 I wrote to you in my letter to have no company with sexual sinners; 10 yet not at all meaning with the sexual sinners of this world, or with the covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters; for then you would have to leave the world. 11 But as it is, I wrote to you not to associate with anyone who is called a brother who is a sexual sinner, or covetous, or an idolater, or a slanderer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner. Don’t even eat with such a person.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11

       17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts; 19 who having become callous gave themselves up to lust, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

Ephesians 4:17-19

       3 But sexual immorality, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be mentioned among you, as becomes saints; 4 nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not appropriate; but rather giving of thanks. 5 Know this for sure, that no sexually immoral person, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.

Ephesians 5:3-5

       1 If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, our life, is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore your members which are on the earth: sexual immorality, uncleanness, depraved passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; 6 for which things’ sake the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.

Colossians 3:1-6

       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. 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.

1 Timothy 6:3-10

       For the overseer must be blameless, as God’s steward; not self-pleasing, not easily angered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for dishonest gain;

Titus 1:7

       Be free from the love of money, content with such things as you have, for he has said, “I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.”

Hebrews 13:5

       1 Where do wars and fightings among you come from? Don’t they come from your pleasures that war in your members? 2 You lust, and don’t have. You kill, covet, and can’t obtain. You fight and make war. You don’t have, because you don’t ask. 3 You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it for your pleasures.

James 4:1-3

       In covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words: whose sentence now from of old doesn’t linger, and their destruction will not slumber.

2 Peter 2:3

       There’s no doubt that the majority of those verses cover the stop-at-nothing-to-get-more definition of greed. But several of the verses point toward greed as the “excessive”-desire-for-more-than-you-need idea. In particular, Proverbs 21:26, Luke 12:15, and 1 Timothy 6:3-10 all seem to describe greed as being selfish, not being content, and desiring things for the sake of having more (often, more than your neighbor). That certainly fits in with the broader definition – greed as excessively desiring more than you need.

       Personally, I think the Gospel of Jesus Christ eliminates any semblance of greed as an option for Christians. If we’re to be focused on loving others and helping the poor, how can we spend our time daydreaming about bigger houses, nicer cars, more exotic vacations, and lazy retirements? That certainly wouldn’t fit the instructions of Colossians 3:1-6.

Your Thoughts

       But I want to know what you think. What is greed? What does it mean to be greedy? Is greed limited to the stop-at-nothing-to-get-more definition? Or is it more broad as in the “excessive”-desire-for-more-than-you-need definition? And in that same line of thought, when does a desire for more than you need become excessive and when does it remain acceptable? (That’s a question worthy of it’s own post!)

       Let me know what you think in the comments below, and we’ll work through this issue together.

(photo credit: See-ming Lee)

This post was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance.

       We’ve discussed how God calls Christians to work hard as a way to glorify Him and because of the benefits hard work affords. However, there is a third aspect to this calling. God knows that laziness and too much rest can be dangerous for our well-being and can become a stumbling block in bringing others to Christ. In the next three parts, we’ll look at the dangers of too much rest and laziness.

The Traps of Laziness and Excuses

       The problem with laziness and excuses is that their full effect is not felt for quite a while. It never seems like a little more sleep here and a little more fun there will cause our entire world to crumble. But it’s the cumulative effects of our procrastination that can wreak havoc in our lives. With steady, diligent care we can manage our lives well. But if we allow ourselves to get sidetracked with sleep, idleness, or unimportant things, we can quickly lose track of what we need to be doing and become overwhelmed with the mess that piles up.

       30 I went by the field of the sluggard, by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; 31 Behold, it was all grown over with thorns. Its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. 32 Then I saw, and considered well. I saw, and received instruction: 33 a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep; 34 so your poverty will come as a robber, and your want as an armed man.

Proverbs 24:30-34 (WEB)

       Continual neglect of our work and the important matters in our lives, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal at the time, can cause poverty and want to creep up on us – even to the point where we don’t realize it until it’s too late. In stark contrast, continual care, maintenance, and repair, even though it doesn’t seem like much, can keep our work running smoothly and help us deal with our lives much more easily – especially when disasters strike.

       But even if you’re at the point where your neglect has ruined your work or your finances, do not fear. With the Lord, nothing is impossible. You can overcome the weeds that have taken over your life, if you will fall back on the Lord and commit to His ways. The same thing that prevents the ruin of poverty and neglect can overcome it – diligent, hard work over time will bring you and your affairs back into order. During this recovery time be careful not to forget prayer and do not be so proud as to reject the help of your fellow Christians.

       The are two main ways to prevent poverty and disaster from sneaking up on you. One, be careful of how much you sleep. And two, be cautious of using excuses to avoid work.

       Don’t love sleep, lest you come to poverty. Open your eyes, and you shall be satisfied with bread.

Proverbs 20:13 (WEB)

       Sleep and naps can easily rob us of time we need to do work. While sleep is necessary and a quick nap may refresh us enough to get some work done, it’s easy to fall into the habit of excess. But it’s easy to see that too much sleeping and napping can quickly bring you to poverty. You just can’t do any work while you’re sleeping or napping.

       The sluggard will not plow by reason of the winter; therefore he shall beg in harvest, and have nothing.

Proverbs 20:4 (WEB)

       Another trap we must avoid is using excuses to get out of work. I don’t just mean calling in sick to get a day off. These excuses can come in all kinds of disguises depending on your circumstances. It’s up to you, through the power of the Spirit, to uncover those excuses for what they are – lies designed to distract us from the work God calls us to. I’m not saying you should be out breaking your back if you’re on your deathbed. But we all know how we use excuses and half-truths to get out of things we don’t feel like doing at the time.

       If a farmer doesn’t plant his seed in the spring, there will be no harvest in the summer and fall. And if we don’t do our work when we need to, there won’t be a paycheck to pick up next Friday. Don’t let the excuses Satan feeds you distract you from the work God has called you to. Pray to God for deliverance from Satan and ask for His strength and guidance. His will can overcome any excuse.