In the last part of this series, we continued talking about practical applications when we take on God’s View of the World, Money, and our lives. How should we act and what should we do when we take on God’s View and live out His will? We’ll finish that discussion today, and in the next part of the series we’ll start talking about the results of following God’s teaching on contentment.

       Proverbs has tons of great personal finance advice, but Proverbs 23:4-5 has a very practical application for our lives—especially today.

   4 Don’t weary yourself to be rich.
   In your wisdom, show restraint.

   5 Why do you set your eyes on that which is not?
   For it certainly sprouts wings like an eagle and flies in the sky.

Proverbs 23:4-5 (WEB)

       When we look at the world around us, we can see people everywhere wearing themselves out trying to get rich. And how many families have been torn apart because of an obsession with work? How many people have committed suicide because they lost their wealth? We have to be wise enough to know when to quit—when enough is enough.

Bald Eagle by Velo Steve on Flickr       Worldly wealth can be quite fickle. It’s temporary (even if it lasts your entire life), faulty, and can disappear very quickly. I’m sure we all know of cases where money has come and gone quite easily. That’s the problem with worldly wealth. While we think we’ll get security if we have enough of it, the truth is that it’s built on a weak foundation and can’t provide the things we really need. Even if it gets us through our old age, we can’t do much with it once we’re dead.

       This is why Jesus tells us to focus on heavenly treasure and God’s kingdom. Unlike worldly wealth, these things are permanent. They’re built on a foundation stronger than any we’ve ever known. The lasting treasure we pile up in heaven will always provide for us during this life. And when we’ve passed on, we’ll still have all of it. No matter what happens to us, we can never lose the treasure of God’s love living in us. We might not be rich and famous, but we’ll always have the invaluable gift of eternal life.

       Paul mirrors the wisdom of this proverb in his instructions to Timothy for the rich:

       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 6:17-19 (WEB)

       Wealth makes it easy for us to become arrogant and stop trusting in God. We gain a false sense of security, because the truth is that worldly wealth is very uncertain. But when we place our trust wholly in God, He provides everything we need. God can give us joy that we can’t get from anything else on Earth. His joy lets us see the true value of things in our life, and His love working through us makes our lives much more valuable than any amount of money ever will.

       Paul’s very practical advice is that we should use money to do good—not to store it up and trust in it. We should focus on doing good things for other people in the service of God. We should be generous and always ready to share. This is the essence of God’s view on contentment—that we should not be obsessed with things or wealth or status, but that we should always be ready to do good, to love others, to share what we have, and to always trust that He will provide everything we need.

       Contentment means that we stop being obsessed with buying that new iPod, but instead we give that money to the hungry.

Give us this day... by Mr. Kris on Flickr

(Click the picture to read about the tragedy of hunger in our world.)

       It means that we drive our old car a little longer, so that we may be able to give clean water to the thirsty.

Woman with child collecting water by hdptcar on Flickr

       It means we live in a smaller home, so that we can provide shelter for those that have no place to stay warm or out of the rain.

Homeless by Henrique Vicente on Flickr

       It means that we stop spending so much time working and pursuing wealth, so that we can spend time building relationships with our family, our friends, our neighbors, complete strangers, and even our enemies.

Relationship by Smile My Day on Flickr

       Fully pursuing contentment means that we totally trust in God for His providence, and we stop worrying about what’s going to happen in the economy.

       And what do we get for all of this? A good foundation of heavenly treasure that lasts for eternity, and the ability to experience true life rather than that illusion of the “good life” that’s fed to us every day. Contentment allows us to live out a true life in Jesus and to fully experience His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Want to read the entire Bible study series on Contentment? Download your free copy of Contentment Is Wealth: A Bible Study on Contentment now!

Ruffling a Few Primerica Feathers

Corey —  September 8, 2010

Sparrow with Its Feathers Ruffled by bterrycompton on Flickr       Last week I wrote about why I hate MLMs (multi-level marketing companies). It seems I’ve ruffled a few Primerica feathers with my comment on the company. I received two emails from Primerica agents last week – one who I know has been reading for a while and another I’ve never heard from before.

       Both emails essentially said that I don’t understand what Primerica stands for or the value of “network marketing”. (By the way, that’s just another name for multi-level marketing. You get your family, friends, and neighbors to buy from you and recruit them to work under you. Then they do the same and so on. You can make a little money selling products directly, but the big bucks come after you’ve developed a huge down-line or “organization” as Primerica calls it.)

       Now I don’t want to end up in a saga like Lazy Man and Money’s with MonaVie where people start threatening to kill me or blackmail me because of my opinions. But I do want you all to be aware of the truth about Primerica before working with them. My concerns about Primerica can also be applied to many other brokerage companies and insurance companies, but Primerica seems a little more dangerous to me because of the focus on recruiting you for their business opportunity and not just selling you their financial products.

       So I thought it might be worthwhile to do a bit more digging to see what I can learn about Primerica – their products, their “business opportunity”, their training, and so on. Since I’ve been trained in financial planning and have experience in the industry, I can cut through the jargon for you and plainly explain what’s going on.

       Unless you all have objections, I’ll begin writing some posts where I look at the different aspects of Primerica and help you understand what you need to know about the company. Here’s how you can help.

       If you’ve had an experience/encounter with Primerica, please share your story in the comments or contact me directly. This includes learning about the “business opportunity”, meeting with a friend of yours who started working for Primerica, or any other experience you’ve had with the company. I only have one limited experience with Primerica, and finding accurate and comprehensive information online about the company can be difficult.

       Also, if you’ve got some questions about Primerica that you need answered now, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me. I may use your question as the subject of a post, or I might just write you back with an answer/analysis.

       My goal is to give you the most honest, objective, and accurate information I can about Primerica, its products, and its business opportunity. My hope is that this information will help you make a good, informed decision so you won’t waste your money or your time. Until I have more information on here, I can only advise you to question everything. Thanks for helping me as I try to help you!

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       Today’s Personal Finance Bible Scripture comes from Proverbs 13:7.

   7One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
     another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.

Proverbs 13:7 (NIV)

       While I think it’s fun to look at this verse as a warning against “keeping up with the Joneses”, I think the Amplified Bible gives us a more accurate and applicable translation:

   7One man considers himself rich, yet has nothing [to keep permanently]; another man considers himself poor, yet has great [and indestructible] riches.

Proverbs 13:7 (AMP)

       As Christians, we have a great reward in Christ Jesus. Even the poorest of Christians in this life is far richer than the wealthiest non-Christian. This is why I emphasize so strongly that God’s blessing in a Christian’s life may not come in the form of material things. We are already greatly blessed because Christ died for us—material things beyond food and clothing are merely extras.

       Contentment is so important in a Christian’s life because it helps us realize that we don’t need much in this life to be happy beyond a close relationship with our God. Once we fully grasp this reality, we can begin to serve God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.

       In the last part of this series, we continued talking about practical applications when we take on God’s View of the World, Money, and our lives. How should we act and what should we do when we take on God’s View and live out His will? We’re still continuing that discussion today.

       How does God want us to deal with our circumstances? Paul provides us with some insight in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

       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)

       I’ve talked about 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 before, so I won’t go into as much depth here. This passage clearly sets out God’s expectations for how we should live, regardless of our circumstances. We are to always rejoice, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything. God wants our lives focused on the Gift He has given us, becoming closer to Him, and enjoying the good things He has blessed us with. There’s no room for greed or materialism when our hearts are focused on those things. That’s God’s will for us—that we’re focused on Him instead of this world.

       So we know by now we shouldn’t be focused on material things or amassing great wealth, but we still have needs while we’re living on Earth. What should we ask God for, and how much of it should we request? Agur gives us some good guidelines in Proverbs 30:8-9.

     8 Remove far from me falsehood and lies.
     Give me neither poverty nor riches.
     Feed me with the food that is needful for me (my daily bread);

     9 lest I be full, deny you, and say, ‘Who is Yahweh?’
     or lest I be poor, and steal,
     and so dishonor the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:8-9 (WEB)

Our Daily Bread by ms. Tea on Flickr       Agur asks God for his daily bread—just enough. If we have too much, we become inclined to believe we did it all ourselves and begin to deny even the existence of God. It is very easy to start relying on our wealth more than we rely on God. We get too focused on our material well-being and no longer see the need for God in our lives, so we disown Him and pretend He doesn’t exist. On the other hand, if we have too little we may become inclined to steal. This would dishonor God because it is sin—against God for not trusting in Him and against our neighbors for not loving them.

       This idea of our daily bread should be quite familiar to most Christians. It’s part of the Lord’s Prayer—Jesus’ example of how we ought to pray and where our hearts should be focused when we pray. Jesus wanted us to realize that this request for our daily bread is important. Asking God for just enough, being modest and content, and not letting materialism rule our lives—these are the things that allow us to honor God sincerely in our lives. It is such an important concept that Jesus included it in His example for prayer (not to mention all the time He spent telling parables and teaching about contentment and a focus on heavenly treasures).

       We see two main practical applications here. First, we should be content with our circumstances because it is God’s will for our lives. If we’re focused on the gift of eternal salvation, we don’t have to be as worried about the things of this world. We’re free to be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. Second, we should be asking God for just enough to get by each day—not for millions of dollars, or a huge house, or a BMW—just our daily bread. We bring nothing into this world, and we won’t take anything out when we leave it. This is why Paul says we should be content if we have food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8). That’s all we really need to get by (though a warm shelter is nice as well, it’s not completely necessary). When we start worrying about getting more than that, we take our focus off of God and put it back onto the World. And that’s a sure way to keep ourselves from fully serving God.

Note: I do not mean that we should completely neglect our material needs, but it’s all about where our hearts are focused. Wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be also. So if you’re consumed with thinking about material things and wealth, your heart can’t really belong to God. That’s the only true sin, because once God gets your heart He’ll get everything else with it. It’s all He really needs from us—and that’s why it’s so vitally important that we don’t give our hearts to materialism.

Want to read the entire Bible study series on Contentment? Download your free copy of Contentment Is Wealth: A Bible Study on Contentment now!

       I pulled this out of our mail the other day:

PA Lottery Coupons

       Seriously? Someone at the Pennsylvania Lottery must be playing a joke. Big Savings? Let me get this straight. You’re going to use a coupon to buy a lottery ticket, and that’s going to bring you big savings? Let’s think about this just a bit.

What Are Your Chances of Winning?

       Let’s use the September coupon for our example. This coupon gives you one $2 Mega Millions with MegaPlier ticket for free if you buy one $2 Powerball with Power Play ticket. Basically, this is just one set of numbers because a regular ticket costs $1 for one play and the Power Play (or MegaPlier) doubles the cost of the ticket.

       The Pennsylvania Lottery’s website says your overall chances of winning a prize with a Powerball ticket are 1 in 35.11.

       We can figure out your chances for winning any of the specific prizes with some simple math. If your chances of winning a prize are 1 in 35.11, that means you have a 2.8482% chance ((1/35.11)*100) of winning every time you play Powerball. (Not very good, huh?) Basically, you can only expect to win something once out of every 35 tickets you buy. But that doesn’t tell us how much the ticket is really worth because your prize can range from $3 to $14,000,000 (or $6 to $14,000,000 if you buy the Power Play option) given the current jackpot. To figure out the value of your ticket, we’ll need to do a little more math.

What’s Your Ticket Really Worth?

       By using the odds given for each specific prize level, we can figure out the average prize for a winning ticket. Overall, you have a 2.8482% chance to win on any given ticket. You can use the same process to figure out your chances of winning a given prize. For example, the Pennsylvania Lottery website says you have a 1 in 61.73 chance of winning the lowest prize of $3. That’s a 1.61996% chance ((1/61.73)*100) of winning $3 on any given ticket. Since you have a 2.8482% chance of winning any prize, you’d expect a little more than half of your winning tickets to have a $3 prize. (The math is simple: 1.61996/2.8482 = 0.568766 * 100 = 56.8766%.)

       Continuing this process for each prize level, we can figure out your chances of winning a specific prize any time you have a winning ticket. This table shows those chances for a regular Powerball winning ticket.

Match Prize Chance of Winning This Prize on a Winning Ticket
5 Numbers + Powerball Jackpot (currently $14,000,000) 0.000018%
5 Numbers $200,000 0.0006833%
4 Numbers + Powerball $10,000 0.0048552%
4 Numbers $100 0.1845%
3 Numbers + Powerball $100 0.2573%
3 Numbers $7 9.7787%
2 Numbers + Powerball $7 4.4604%
1 Number + Powerball $4 28.4363%
Powerball Only $3 56.8772%

       Now we can figure out the value of a winning ticket simply by multiplying the prize by your chance of getting that prize on any given winner. Doing that tells us that the average winning ticket for regular Powerball is worth $7.65 ($8.65 – $1.00 for playing). Adding the Power Play to the mix changes the prize values, so the average winning ticket for Powerball plus Power Play is worth $24.04 ($26.04 – $2 for playing). (And technically, it would be worth a little less than that because there’s always the chance you might have to split the jackpot with someone else. But I don’t feel like finding the stats on that or doing the math.)

       That leads us to the next question. If the average winning ticket is worth $7.65 (or $24.04 for Power Play), then what is the average ticket worth? You only have a 2.8482% chance of winning that $7.65 (or $24.04). We need to take into account the cost of your losing tickets, which you’ll have 97.1518% of the time. Remember, you have to buy 35.11 tickets before you can expect to have a winning ticket (based on the odds). That leaves you with 34.11 losing tickets. If you’re playing regular Powerball, you’ll need to spend (that is, lose) $34.11 to win $7.65. If you’re playing Powerball with Power Play, you’re looking at a cost of $68.22 to win $24.04.

       Our last bit of math will tell us the average value of any given ticket. Let’s check regular Powerball first. On average, you’ll spend $34.11 to win $7.65 leaving you with an overall loss of $26.46. Divide that by the total number of tickets you had to buy (35.11) and you’ll find that the average regular Powerball ticket is worth -$0.75. To put it another way, instead of buying a $1 Powerball ticket you might as well throw three quarters in the trash. (Oh wait, I forgot…the Pennsylvania lottery benefits older residents – every day. So maybe you should just donate the three quarters instead.)

       What about Powerball plus Power Play? It certainly looks like a more attractive value proposition at first glance since the average winning ticket is worth so much more. On average, you’ll spend $68.22 to win $24.04 leaving you with an overall loss of $44.18. So that means the average Powerball plus Power Play ticket is worth -$1.26. This time, instead of donating three quarters rather than buy a Powerball plus Power Play ticket you should donate five quarters! In terms of absolute dollars, you lose more with Power Play but the % loss is better than regular Powerball. (In regular Powerball, you lose 75% of your money forever. With Power Play, it’s “only” 63%. Granted, it starts looking a little better when the jackpot is very large, but your chances of splitting the prize increase as more people buy tickets. This means the lottery is always going to be a losing bet.)

       Let’s put this all into a little perspective. Buying a Powerball lottery ticket would be the equivalent of getting a $10,000 gift, going out into your back yard, and then proceeding to burn $7,500 of it for “fun”. Big Fun – according to the Pennsylvania Lottery.

You Want Big Savings? I’ll Show You Big Savings.

       I’m not going to take the time to prove that the lottery (in any form) is a waste of your money. You can simply look at the July 2009 – June 2010 annual income and expense report from the Pennsylvania Lottery to see that they only end up paying out about 61% of their total sales to winners. Talk about a great business! I’d take a 30% net profit margin any day. (The other 9% goes to other expenses.)

       Looking at those numbers from the other end, we see that lottery players as a whole are buying something with a guaranteed return of -39%! You want big savings? Here’s a thought. Stop paying the poor people’s tax.

Don’t play the lottery!

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       Today’s Personal Finance Bible Scripture comes from Matthew 16:26.

       26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

Matthew 16:26 (NLT)

       Jesus is asking us to consider everything in light of eternity. What good will it do us if we gain everything in the world but end up losing our souls in the process? How happy are you going to be if you work extremely hard all your life so you can have an amazing house, nice cars, and two European vacations every year, but you end up with an unhappy family in the process?

       Or what if you give up your passion to take a job you really hate because you can get paid four times as much? Do you think early retirement from the job that makes you miserable is going to make up for the years you neglected your true passion? Most people don’t even manage to save that higher income so they can later pursue their passion. Lifestyle inflation creeps up and they end up working in a job they hate for 30-40 years.

       The things The World offers us often fail to satisfy us when we finally get them, and they often come at the cost of relationships and true happiness, satisfaction, meaning, and purpose. The Gift of Jesus allows us to experience true wealth in this life while revealing our true purpose as well. And we don’t have to sacrifice our relationships to receive that Gift. However, we can only fully receive Jesus’ Gift when we give up our own dreams, desires, goals, wishes, and The World’s message. To find the Good Life, we must give up this life and fully submit to God’s plan for us.

       The Silicon Valley Blogger (SVB) had a post up Friday about MonaVie and the ongoing drama that Lazy Man and Money faces as he tries to expose it for what it really is. If you’ve been approached by someone selling MonaVie’s miracle juice, I strongly encourage you to read what Lazy Man has written about them.

       I left a comment on SVB’s post that I wanted to share with you all. She asked for thoughts on MLM, MonaVie, and the like. Here’s what I had to say:

My thoughts on MLM? I HATE IT!

I hate that people relentlessly pursue their family and friends (and their family and friends) just to try to make a quick buck (with a shoddy or overpriced product).

I hate the social obligation that we often feel to support people doing the above.

I hate that people get sucked in to what they think is a “real” business when all it really does is suck up their money and pass it up the line.

I hate the brainwashing that makes it impossible to talk any sense into your family and friends.

I hate all the wasted time and resources that go into these things when people could do so much more on their own or even just with a reputable company.

I say more power to Lazy Man! If he gets only one person to turn away from MonaVie (or any other MLM), he’s done the world a favor!!!

(Side Note: I think Primerica is another terrible offender in this arena because of the damage they and their products can do to unsuspecting consumers. I’ve seen this first-hand with my own mother.)

Now let’s see how many of your readers have already joined the MLM cults. :)

       Maybe I’m being harsh, but I just don’t have much tolerance for these shams – I mean, wonderful opportunities to become your own boss…

       What do YOU think about MLMs (any of them)? Let me know in the comments below! I’ll be happy to discuss this with anyone who wants to talk about it.

       P.S. If you’re considering getting involved in a MLM or buying from someone who is, I’d be glad to talk with you for free. Maybe we could find a better business model for you or look at the true value of what you’re about to buy.