Investing Is Not About Beliefs

Corey —  October 13, 2010 — 5 Comments

Scratching Head       In all my reading about investing (especially online), I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. People tend to talk about investing in terms of their beliefs. One might say, “I don’t believe people can’t beat the market. You can find good stocks by using your brain and analyzing information. I believe in active investing.” Another says, “I don’t believe anyone can beat the market. Most professional fund managers can’t do it consistently, and you probably can’t either. I believe in passive investing.” Still others say, “Market timing doesn’t work. It’s like predicting the future. I don’t believe in trying to time the market.” While some argue, “You CAN time the market if you know how. I believe it is possible to miss the bad days and save yourself a lot of money. I believe in market timing.

What’s Missing?

       You know what’s missing in most of these “belief” statements? Data. Facts. Testable, verifiable information. Knowledge. You don’t often hear people say “I know active investing works.” unless they’re talking about anecdotal evidence. And sadly, you don’t often hear people say “I know passive investing works.” They believe it because someone else believes it. Or because someone else told them to believe it. Or because it just “makes sense”. (This is true of any investment philosophy…)

Check Your Facts

       The thing is we have data, albeit historical data, but data nonetheless. We can’t guarantee that the future will look like the past, but we can learn some valuable lessons from it. We can learn that it is absolutely true that most people don’t beat an appropriate market benchmark consistently. (And when I say most people I mean 90%+ and by consistently I mean at least 10+ years in a row.) And we can verify data about market timing by looking at the results of those who try it.

       Then we get into the dangerous area of trying to predict the future. We make conjectures about what we think may or may not happen in the future. Then we build up our investment philosophy around that. Too often, we build it only on those conjectures and ignore all the data. And that’s the problem I’m seeing.

Belief or Reality?

       I’m not going to get into the details of what we think we know and don’t know. I simply want to ask you to think the next time you talk about your investing “beliefs”. Are you basing your beliefs on facts, data, and information you can test? Or are you basing it completely on feelings, conjectures, and guesses about the future or what makes sense to you?

Photo Credit: (SAN_DRINO on Flickr)

Redefining Riches       My friend Rob Kuban at Dollars and Doctrine has recently released a four lesson Sunday school series called Redefining Riches. I’ve had the chance to review it and I can tell you it’s an excellent introductory course to the core principles of a Biblical approach to finances. If you’re looking for something related to finances to do in your Sunday school class or small group, I highly recommend this as a starting place. (I’m not getting paid to say this, and I don’t earn anything if you buy it. I just believe Rob’s put together a great resource with a heart for helping people understand Biblical truths about God’s desires for our finances.) It’s only $3.99 for all four lessons, which includes PowerPoint slides, leader’s guides, and handouts. You can print as many copies as you need for your group, so it’s a great deal.

       Today’s post is from the content in the lesson on stewardship, which I’ve reprinted with Rob’s permission. I’m not devaluing Rob’s work because the value of buying Redefining Riches is in having the lessons already prepared for you along with the PowerPoint slides. You’ll get a good idea of the content by reading the excerpts I’ll share, but you’re still missing out on some additional content Rob includes as well as the leader’s guides and handouts.

Stewardship: A Work of Faith

       Stewardship is respectful of God as Creator and King.

“For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You…O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build You a house for Your holy name, it is from Your hand, and all is Yours.” (1 Chronicles 29:14,16)



       When we properly understand God’s ownership of all of His creation, we will view ourselves as managers of the resources with which God has entrusted us. Like the parable of the talents, we will seek to utilize our resources according to our master’s desire. The way we handle our money matters. The volume of scripture regarding money and possessions is profound. When we consider how often the Law, the prophets, Christ and the apostles spoke of such things, we can no longer view the way we handle our money as insignificant. (See Also: Psalm 24:1, Psalm 89:11, Deuteronomy 10:14, Romans 11:36, John 3:27, Matthew 25:14-30)


       Stewardship is revealing of our heart’s true treasure.

       “The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.” (Matthew 12:35)

       ”Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)



       The way we handle and acquire money reveals a lot about our character and priorities. Are we generous, honest, selfish, content, humble or greedy? How we obtain our money and where it ends up reveals a lot about what we value. Christ constantly spoke of the impact our internal conditions have on our external acts. The use of money is a perfect example of this principle. (See Also: Proverbs 15:6, Luke 16:10)


       Stewardship is rewarding when done Biblically and wisely.

       “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Matthew 6:19-20)



       We will give an account for how we have managed and invested such a powerful asset. Are we investing in the kingdom or ourselves? The Bible clearly relates that heavenly reward awaits those who choose to invest in the kingdom of God. We must recognize that money has huge amounts of “potential energy” and we will be accountable for how we utilized and where we invested what God has entrusted to us. (See Also: Luke 12:33-34, Luke 14:12-14, Matthew 19:21, Hebrews 11:6)

Personal Finance Bible Verses

Corey —  October 11, 2010 — 2 Comments

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       Looking for bible verses about personal finance or money? Check out the Personal Finance Bible Verses page to find nearly 1,200 verses about personal finance in the Bible!

       I’ve collected and organized over 1,190 different Bible verses that teach us God’s ways for handling our personal finances. These are not verses that merely mention money. These are verses packed with practical advice about how we should handle our finances in a way that glorifies God. And I’ve tried my best to make sure I only used verses in the right context.

       I hope this resource will prove valuable as you seek God’s teaching on how you should handle your personal finances. Following God’s financial wisdom will have profound effects on your life and the Kingdom of God, but the path required is very different from what the world teaches. May God bless you and open your heart to His teaching as you seek the ultimate truth about how we should live and handle all that God has blessed us with!

       In the next part of our Personal Finance Bible Study, we’ll look at God’s desire for Christians to work hard and diligently. While contentment helps us to spend less money, hard work helps us to earn more money. When combined, these two values create a powerful force for giving generously in God’s name.

       We’ll begin this part of the Personal Finance Bible Study by looking at God’s call for Christians to work. Next, we’ll talk about the value of work in our lives. Then we’ll look at the dangers of too much rest, followed by the need for rest. We’ll finish up by discussing God’s business values and ethics so we can honor Him in our work.

We Were Made to Work

       From the very beginning of Creation, part of our purpose was to work. When God created Adam, we see that He assigned Adam the task of working in the garden of Eden:

       Yahweh God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

Genesis 2:15 (WEB)



       Part of the way we honor and worship God is by working to glorify Him. God created Adam and put him in the garden to work. Our human nature has not changed since then. We still need to work to honor God. Our work may look very different from Adam’s, but there is still work we must do.

We Need to Work

       Government aid programs aside, we cannot survive for long if we do not work. If we do not work, we cannot earn money. (All forms of income require work at some point in time.) It’s as simple as sowing and reaping. If you don’t plant a garden in the spring, you’re not going to have vegetables growing in your back yard in the summer. It’s also true that the harder we work, the more likely we are to find success. Solomon gives this advice clearly in Ecclesiastes:

       4 He who observes the wind won’t sow; and he who regards the clouds won’t reap. 5 As you don’t know what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child; even so you don’t know the work of God who does all. 6 In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening don’t withhold your hand; for you don’t know which will prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both will be equally good.

Ecclesiastes 11:4-6 (WEB)



       Many of us find security in having a paying job with a regular paycheck, but we also know that there are no guarantees. Just because you have a job today doesn’t mean you’ll have it tomorrow. This is not to say that we should live in fear, but we really do not know what the future holds. Solomon encourages us to continue working in the evening hours so we have something to fall back on if our primary work falls through. Start your own business part-time, and if you lose your regular job you’ll have something to fall back on. Or maybe they’ll both do well and you’ll prosper even more.

       I’m not saying we should all go out and become workaholics. The advice Solomon gives here is more along the lines of diversifying your sources of income. If you rely completely on your regular paycheck and you lose that, it’s going to hit you pretty hard. But if you have multiple sources of income, losing one of them won’t hurt you quite as badly.

       We see between these two verses that we are made to work and we need to work. Next, we’ll look at how our work glorifies God.

Cracked Nest Egg Because of Stupid Retirement Rules       The “save 10% for retirement” rule is absolutely stupid. And so is “save 15% for retirement” (sorry, Dave Ramsey) or “save 20% for retirement” and any other “save #% for retirement” rule you’ll come across. Now I don’t doubt that the people giving this advice meant no harm. They probably just want to get you to start saving for retirement, and offering a simple % of your income solution is a quick, easy answer for a difficult question.

       But they’re all absurd, useless rules for one simple reason: they completely ignore your situation. For most people, a simple rule like “save 10% of your income for retirement” is likely to be wrong (and blindly following dumb advice like that can have nasty results). The right answer depends on seven major factors that are specific to you and your situation. Specifically, they are:

  1. Your Current Age
  2. Your Retirement Age
  3. Your Life Expectancy
  4. Your Current Savings
  5. Your Investments
  6. How Much Income You Need for Retirement
  7. Your Current Income



       All of these factors work together to determine how much you should be saving for retirement each year. Let’s break them down.

Your Current Age & Retirement Age

       The difference between your retirement age and current age determines how long you have to save and invest. If you’re 25 now and don’t plan on retiring until you’re 70, then you’ve got 45 years until retirement. But if you’re 50 and want to retire at 65, well then you’ve only got 15 years. That’s a huge difference!

       The longer you have until retirement, the less you’re going to have to save. But these simplistic rules ignore this completely. If you’re young and just starting out, these rules might be OK for you. But if you’re older and haven’t done so well with saving for retirement, you’re not going to be happy when you realize you can’t retire because you didn’t save enough.

Your Life Expectancy

       Trying to guess your life expectancy can be a shot in the dark. You don’t really know when you’re going to die. But your health, your habits, and your family history do affect how long you can expect to live. Obviously, the longer you’re likely to live, the more you should save for retirement. But these dumbed-down % rules don’t account for this at all.

Your Current Savings

       If you’ve been wise and have already been saving a lot for retirement, you may not need to save 10% of your income. But if you’re 50 years old and haven’t saved a dime, then even 15% or 20% are unlikely to cut it unless you’re willing to make some major changes to your life and retirement plans. How much you already have saved can drastically affect how much you should save for retirement, but once again these % of your income rules won’t help.

Your Investments

       Are you so afraid of risk that you’ve vowed only to use CDs to save for retirement? Well, I can tell you that you’re going to need to save a whole lot more than 10% of your income even if you’re starting at 18 and don’t plan to retire until you’re 75. Your investment returns (which are connected to the risk you’re willing to take) will drastically affect how much you need to save. Based on what I can figure, the % rules assume you’re going to invest in a moderately aggressive mix of stocks and bonds that you tone down as you get closer to retirement. So if your risk tolerance is higher or lower, these rules won’t work for you.

How Much Income You Need for Retirement

       How much income you need for retirement is also a huge factor in figuring out how much you should be saving. Are you going to get a pension? Well, you’ll need less income from your own savings (lucky you). Do you plan to downsize and cut way back on some major expenses? Then you probably won’t need to save as much. Want to travel the world extensively? You might have to plan on saving more if your retirement expenses are going to drastically exceed your current income.

       You see, these % rules assume you’re going to need about 80% or so of your income in retirement. (That’s a stupid assumption for some other reasons, but I’m saving that for a different post.) So if you’re going to be different, these rules just won’t work for you.

Your Current Income

       Finally, and this should be obvious, your current income will affect the % you should be saving. Once you consider all these other factors I mentioned above, you can figure out exactly how many dollars you should save for retirement this year. But depending on what you make now, that could be 5% or 25% of your current income. (Or even more!)

The Solution

       So how, exactly, should you calculate how much you need to save for retirement? Well, I’d like to say that my handy little retirement calculator is the perfect answer, but it’s not. (It’s free by the way!)

       My calculator assumes you’re going to invest using a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds (also a free calculator) with a moderate-slightly aggressive stock/bond mix. It also simplifies the taxes and doesn’t allow for “lumpy expenses” or significant changes in your retirement spending. Finally, it’s based on some other assumptions that I just can’t know will be absolutely correct. I did my best, but I know it’s not perfect.

       My free retirement calculator is certainly an improvement over these stupid % of income rules, but it’s still no replacement for sitting down with a good fee-only financial planner and working it out. So definitely try it out, but do yourself a favor and find a qualified professional to help you as well. And you need to do this more than once. Every few years you should revisit this plan with your advisor and update it as needed.

       I know that’s not an easy answer, but at least you’ll have a better chance of actually meeting your goals! Plus, I tried to make my calculator as simple as possible without making it too simple. And trust me, it’s better than most of the other free retirement calculators you’ll find out there because I used hundreds of thousands of Monte Carlo simulations to develop it. So it’s based on assumptions that mimic real market returns (which vary from year to year) instead of assuming a straight % return every single year (like 8%, 8%, 8%, …).

       Try it out, let me know what you think, and feel free to share your results here! What % of your income should you actually be saving to reach your retirement goals?


(photo credit: Nina Matthews)

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       Today’s Personal Finance Bible Scripture comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. I find it to be a good reminder of what we should do as Christians even when we’re experiencing hard times. If you are going through a difficult period right now, financially, spiritually, or otherwise, I recommend you write out this verse and put it somewhere you can see it every day.

       16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (WEB)



We can easily break this passage up into four main points:

       1. We should always be joyful – even in the very worst of times. And we have a very good reason to be joyful. God gave His only Son to cover our sins so we can join Him in Heaven. That fact should overshadow any adversity in our life if we really take it to heart.

       2. We should always be praying. This is how we communicate with God. Continual prayer means our minds are always focused on God. Whatever we focus our minds on will have a profound impact on our actions and attitude, so keeping God foremost in our minds is the best thing we can do in any situation.

       3. We should always be thankful – and not just in the good times. God has blessed us so much more than we realize. We get caught up in looking for material blessings, but the greatest blessing we have is Jesus. He has taken away our sins and brings us into communion with God. Even if we’re naked and starving, we still have the blessing of Jesus.

       I think most Christians in the U.S. can agree we’re also very blessed materially. Nearly all of us have a home, clothes, food, and much more. There are billions of people worldwide who would be ecstatic to have a home the size of the average American living room, much less all the amenities and abundance of food we find in our homes. So even in what seem like “hard” times, remember that you are very blessed and be thankful.

       4. This is God’s will for us. This is what God wants us to do all of our lives. He wants us to be joyful and happy, to be very close to Him and always in prayer, and to be thankful at all times. Our lives would be so much more fulfilling if we pursued these three things with relentless passion.

       A while back, I received a free copy of Upside Living in a Downside Economy by Mike Slaughter from the publisher for my review. Mike is the lead pastor at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio. In this book, Mike offers insight into God’s perspective on our money concerns using passages from the book of James and other Bible verses. At 96 pages and 5″ x 7″, it’s a short little book. However, it contains some powerful ideas about how Christians should approach their personal finances. I’ve broken down this review into the four chapters you’ll find in the book:

Seeking God’s Perspective

       In the first chapter, Mike focuses on getting the right perspective on our finances. First, he looks at God’s character as a loving father. Next, he mentions a couple of God’s perspectives on money and emphasizes that we must seek to put God first and serve Him with our money. This is key to following God’s plan for our finances and fully understanding His desire for our lives. Then, Mike talks about checking our motives. We have to be careful about pursuing material things and loving money. Finally, he finishes the chapter by asking us to look at the source of our motives and who we are listening to. He warns of listening to the media and recommends that we seek God’s Word and wise advice from Christians instead.

Rebalancing Life Investments

       Mike then looks at seven “right actions” we should take as a response to God’s priorities for our finances and lives:

1. Do the first “right” thing: planned giving to God.
2. Seek wise counsel through an accountability group or counselor.
3. Write or rework a budget.
4. Perform plastic surgery and reduce your debt.
5. Set future goals and practice delayed gratification.
6. Nurture an attitude of gratitude.
7. Pray, pray, pray.

       These seven actions cover some important ideas God teaches us through the Bible. They’re not comprehensive, and Mike’s discussion of these actions is mostly motivational. It is not a step-by-step guide, and Mike never claims that it is.

Do It Today

       Mike then discusses the importance of planning in accordance with God’s Will. Planning for the future does not mean we are not relying on God. Throughout the Bible, God encourages us to prudently plan and prepare for the future. However, when we are planning for the future, we should be careful to make sure we approach it prayerfully and seek God’s Kingdom first.

       Mike covers what he calls the “fundamental life principles of sowing and reaping”:

1. You reap what you sow.
2. You determine the size of the harvest at the time of planting.
3. You will reap more than you sow.
4. The harvest comes in a later season than the sowing.
5. You are responsible for the work of sowing; God is responsible for the harvest.

       Anyone familiar with gardening or farming can tell you these are accurate statements regarding sowing and reaping (with the exception of disasters that wipe out the entire crop). When you apply these principles to your finances, God can bless you just as He has promised. Your actions show your faith in His promises.

       Finally, Mike talks about seven steps in creating a financial plan:

1. Do a financial analysis.
2. Begin an aggressive program of debt reduction.
3. Create an emergency fund.
4. Be sure you have adequate life insurance.
5. Write a will.
6. Look at your giving.
7. Create a budget.

       Again, this is not a full list of the things you should do when creating your financial plan, but they are a good start. If you can do these seven things, you’ll be ahead of most people. This section is more about leading you down the right path rather than directing you along the way.

Investing in God’s Future Harvest

       In the final chapter, Mike discusses three ways we can invest in God’s future harvest. First, he looks at living and giving thankfully. We must realize that all we have is from God, and we should be thankful for the blessings he gives us. We need to appreciate what we have, even during hard times. Second, he talks about living and giving faithfully. God calls us to live by faith regardless of our circumstances. We must always lean on God and trust in His teaching. In this way, we can live free from fear.

       Finally, he covers living and giving sacrificially. As Christians, we have to remember we are the body of Christ. We are how He blesses and cares for people. Our purpose is to complete the work He has prepared for us—not to achieve the “American Dream” or other materialistic goals. Mike challenges us to give everything over to God—our money, our time, our entire being. Though it seems foolish or impossible from the world’s viewpoint, it is the true calling God has for those who follow Christ and it is possible through faith in Him.

Rebalancing Your Life

       At the end of the book, there’s a short section where you can reflect on the ideas in the book and write down goals for yourself. It’s only four small pages, but it’s a start to looking at how you should use the lessons in this book in your own life.

My Recommendation

       Upside Living in a Downside Economy is not a book that will guide you through the steps needed to fully align your finances with God’s Will. But it will give you a good start at understanding God’s perspective on our finances and our lives.

       My only concerns with Mike’s teaching in the book have to do with his emphasis on tithing and the incongruity of his views on giving to the poor and his own personal life. Any emphasis on tithing as God’s desire for Christians fails to acknowledge that Christians are called to give much more generously than just 10% of their income. There are also other problems with teaching the tithe that I will address when I discuss giving in my personal finance Bible study.

       I also found it hard to give credence to Mike when he discusses how Christians must live and give sacrificially in the same book where he explains that one of his personal goals was to have a mountain home by 2004. It’s difficult for me to think that having a second home of any sort is really sacrificial when millions of people around the world don’t even have suitable shelter. There were a couple other passages in the book that gave me this same feeling. I don’t mean to attack Mike and I’m not saying I’m better than him. There are areas of my life where I am not congruent in my actions and God’s teaching, but God is changing me as I grow in Jesus Christ. I agree with his ideas about living and giving sacrificially and most of his ideas in the book, but I would have liked to see him living out examples of this more clearly as a teacher of God’s Word.

       At a cost of $8.00, I’m not sure I can recommend that you buy the book. It is short and doesn’t contain much on the side of practical application. However, if you’re just starting to seek God’s perspective on money and want to start with an easy read, Upside Living in a Downside Economy may be right for you. Borrow it from the library, your church, or a friend if you can, otherwise feel free to click the picture of the book above and purchase it on Amazon.