sweet iced tea in a mason jar by House of Sims on Flickr       Cut me and I’m likely to bleed sweet tea. My wife can testify that we almost always have a gallon pitcher of sweet tea in our refrigerator. Earlier in our marriage, she would have said this was completely my fault. But she says I have her hooked now – at least to my version of sweet tea. She doesn’t like the manufactured brands anymore. I can’t blame her. Lipton brewed tea is just about the only manufactured tea I can tolerate – and then only just.

       You see, I’ve never been one who likes water. I know it’s cheap and I know it’s healthy, but I’ve just never liked it. You could say I’m a “water snob”, though you’ll never catch me drinking Fiji bottled water. I just like my water to be cold and non-chlorinated with no funny tastes or smells. Our tap water doesn’t make the grade (plus it’s full of nitrates), so I tend to live on sweet tea. (This could have repercussions for my health though – diabetes, anyone?)

       But in terms of cost, sweet tea is much cheaper than soft drinks. It’s much healthier, too. Even with my version (which is fairly sweet), you’ll still be getting less sugar than you would in a soft drink. Before you tout diet soft drinks (which are still expensive), remember you can use artificial sweeteners in your sweet tea. I’d never use artificial sweetener in my sweet tea since I hate the taste, but it is an option. Some people forgo the sweetener altogether (artificial or not), but I’m not sure how they do that. Bleh…

       A gallon of sweet tea costs me just under $1.00 to make. That’s 50-70% cheaper than most soft drinks if you’re buying a 2 liter bottle. It’d be even cheaper if you’re comparing cans or 20 ounce bottles. Twenty ounces of sweet tea costs $0.16 and twelve will cost you just over $0.09. It’s quick and easy, too. It only takes me about 3 minutes of hands-on time to make a gallon. Here’s how I do it.

Paul’s Not-So-Top-Secret Sweet Tea Recipe

       Fill up a gallon pitcher nearly to the top (you want to leave some room for the sugar later). I use hot water from our tap because it duplicates the taste of sun tea but is faster. If you’re going to make sun tea, you can use cold water.

       Add 4 family size tea bags (I always use Lipton…my preference). Let it sit for a couple hours (longer if you’re making sun tea). It’s done when it looks like tea. Darker is stronger but that can mean bitter. However, it’s difficult to make your tea too bitter with this method. The water just doesn’t get hot enough for that to happen.

       Remove the tea bags. Add 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Stir until dissolved. Refrigerate until cold or pour over ice if you want to enjoy it immediately. No lemon, please. Serve in a Mason jar for added effect.

I Need to Drink More Water

       Despite my fondness for sweet tea, I know I need to drink more water. It may not be bad on my wallet, but it’s not good for my health. I probably have a good risk of diabetes based on family history alone, and my sweet tea habit isn’t helping. Anyone else struggle with drinking water? Have any tips on how to start drinking more? Let me know in the comments!

       This is a guest post from the people at Lender 411.

       The largest investment many of us will ever make is the purchase of a home. Many people purchase this “product” at least once during their lifetime. This “product”, however, is often so expensive that only a small fraction of potential buyers can actually afford to buy it in full at any given time. Few future homeowners have $300,000 in cash in their hands. Most of us will likely earn far more money than this over our lifetime, but we don’t have access to it all at once. In the meantime, we need a place to live.

       A mortgage helps solve this problem. Banks, with access to large sums of money, agree to give you the $300,000 you need right now at a price. This price is what we call interest, and you may have heard it said that “interest is the price of money”. This is true in one sense, but in reality what you’re paying for is time. Remember, you will undoubtedly earn far more than $300,000 over the course of your career. The interest, the “price” that the bank charges you, is not buying you the actual $300,000 itself. You will eventually earn that either way. What you get is time. The bank gives you $300,000 and time, often 30 years or so, in which to earn this money. You ultimately give the bank $300,000 back plus the price of the time.

       Different banks charge different rates for their time, and of course, the amount of time you’re buying will differ from bank to bank as well and will depend on your personal situation. But at the core, this is how mortgages work.

       What’s the value of a mortgage refinance? Simply put, a refinance allows you to repurchase the time that you’ve bought from your bank at a different interest rate, one that is lower and more favorable to you. You can also extend the life of your loan, buying you additional time at this decreased rate. A refinance, then, is like purchasing additional time at a lower price. If you can find or arrange such a deal, a mortgage refinance can be immensely valuable.

       There’s the logic behind it. As you consider whether this financial step would benefit you, remember one thing. Time is a commodity. You can buy it from any financial institution. Educate yourself and learn what your options are. Find the lowest mortgage rates that are available to you, because the lowest rate will get you the best price on the time that you’ve purchased.

       I have great news! J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly published a guest post I submitted to him. It’s up on his website today. It’s called The Personal Finance Continuum. In the article, I discuss the idea that there are a number of money-making or money-saving activities you can pursue with varying rewards and effort. The important thing isn’t always picking the “right” activity but picking the ones that you enjoy and will help you reach your goals. Be sure to check it out and leave a comment!

       Note to visitors from Get Rich Slowly: Thanks for stopping by! If you’d like to get a better feel for what Provident Planning is all about, make sure you check out the Start Here page. I’ve got some free stuff for you as well. Thanks again for taking the time to visit!

Conformed or Transformed?

Corey —  June 15, 2010 — 1 Comment

       If someone were to look at your bank or credit card statement, would they see a Christian? Are the choices you make still following the pattern of the world? Or have you been transformed by the renewing of your mind and presented your body (and your money) as a sacrifice to God?

       1 Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. 2 Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:1-2 (WEB)

       These verses encourage us to live changed lives in light of God’s overflowing mercy toward us. I would not begin to imply that it relates specifically to finances. However, the choices you make with the money God has given you can clearly reflect where your heart is focused. When you make your money decisions are you thinking in terms of God’s will, or are you continuing in the patterns of the world?

       This doesn’t mean that you are perfectly holy and good if your account statements show that you give all your money away (or even live on very little and give the rest away). Outward appearances are not necessarily an indication of the heart. Jesus spent most of His time teaching this exact idea. If you do not have God’s love and your actions are not motivated by that same love, then your pious actions will help you in no way.

       The challenge I want to present to you (and myself) is simply this: In your earning, spending, and managing money, how are you presenting yourself as a sacrifice to God and seeking His will? In other words, are your money decisions in alignment with God’s principles and values?

       It’s very easy to live just as the rest of the world does. In many ways, Christians are indistinguishable from non-Christians. But we are called to live differently. This doesn’t necessarily mean rejecting everything the world does, but it will often look that way. Rather, we must give everything over to God (as a response to the gift of salvation) and seek His will.

       A transformed life may not look very different from the world. Much personal finance advice is good regardless of your faith (though the motivations may be quite different). On the other hand, it may be the exact opposite of the world’s ways. Giving is one example. It simply doesn’t make sense if you look only at the numbers.

       How your life will look is not the point. A transformed life could look different from one Christian to another (though there will be some similarities). The point is whether or not you are seeking that transformed life, seeking God’s will, and striving to persevere until the end. A life of following Jesus is not marked by the absence of sin. It is marked by striving against sin, by denying your own will, by giving up those things that keep you from God, and by taking up your cross each day. If you’re willing to do that (you’ve counted the cost), then God will transform your mind and your life as you grow in the likeness of Christ.

       So take time (at least each month, if not more frequently) to ask yourself this question as you review your finances: Am I following Jesus, or am I following the world?

       I never find myself falling short on ideas for articles on Provident Planning. Personal finance includes so many different areas that the topics are endless. Budgeting (and every area you might spend money), retirement, investing, insurance, estate planning, taxes, education, and strategies to increase your income are all fair game.

       I tend to want to start by writing about the basics and build up from there. I’d like to see Provident Planning become a place where people can learn most everything they need to make smart personal finance decisions that will honor God. But that takes time and it can be really boring, too. And there’s information on the basics everywhere. (I think the basics are essential though. They’ll get you 90% of the way and they’re all most people ever really need.)

       I want to be useful to you all, my readers, while I’m building up the material on this website. So I’m asking you: What are your money questions? They can be questions about personal finance in the Bible or just personal finance in general. Your questions will make the articles I write more interesting and relevant for you.

       If you have a question or topic you’d like to see me write about, you can leave a comment on this post or you can contact me directly. Either way, I’ll respond to you and write an article to cover the questions you have. Sound like a good deal? Great! Now just start sending in those questions!!!

Amish Ingenuity

Corey —  June 10, 2010 — 4 Comments

       Living in “Amish country” often affords me the privilege of seeing some interesting sights. Take this one for instance:

Amish Ingenuity

       And in case you can’t tell what’s wrong with the picture, I’ve zoomed in and highlight the problem for you:

       This is an example of the dangers of extreme frugality (frugality at the expense of safety). I hope this was just a temporary fix!

       This was just an interesting picture I wanted to share with you all. Hope you got a laugh like I did! :)

       And yes, the Amish do drive tractors occasionally. Some even own tractors, but those tractors won’t have rubber wheels. Instead, they use steel wheels. I’m guessing this guy was borrowing the John Deere from a neighbor.

       Previously, I’ve talked about God’s Provident Plan in detail. I’ve looked at what His plan is for our finances as Christians. If you look around on the site long, you’ll see a free e-book titled Contentment Is Wealth and you’ll find a Bible study series on work as well. I spent a lot of time looking at contentment and work up front because they play a very important role in God’s Provident Plan.

The Engine That Makes It All Go

       Contentment in Christ and hard work form the engine that make all the other parts of God’s Provident Plan possible. Together, these two principles are the driving force that give you the “extra” that you need to follow God’s plan for your finances. Contentment in Christ helps you spend less and less money on your own wants and needs as you realize what’s truly important in life. You no longer see Stuff as desirable or Money as a goal in itself. Instead, the Spirit gives you a burning passion to help others – especially the poor. Hard work helps you earn more income so you’ll have more money to manage according to God’s principles and to give in His name. Together they give you the momentum you need to walk faithfully with God in your finances.

       A budget has three main parts: income, expenses, and what’s left over. If you increase your income, you increase what’s left over. If you decrease your expenses, you also increase what’s left over. When you follows God’s plan of hard work and contentment in Christ, you do both at the same time – drastically increasing what’s left over. This leaves you with more to give to those in need. That’s why contentment and hard work are the foundation of the Provident Plan. Without them, you won’t have much at all to manage well and give in the name of the Lord.

Our True Motivation

       While anyone could apply these principles and find success, there’s a drastic difference between a Christian finding contentment in Christ and working for God and a non-Christian who wants to spend less and earn more. The non-Christian’s motivation can only come from their desire to achieve those goals. If they fail to reach their goals, it can be a crushing blow to their personal value and self-esteem. And some who actually reach their goals find themselves lost and without purpose because they based their identity on their attempt to achieve those goals.

       This doesn’t happen for the Christian who makes it their goal to follow God’s Provident Plan. Our value and identity come from being children of God – not in what we do or fail to do. While we can stray from the path, our motivation comes through God’s Holy Spirit and not the goals we set for ourselves or our own efforts. We rely not on our own power – but on God’s. We don’t do it for our own glory or satisfaction – we do it for God and others.

       I wish I had a better way to describe the difference between a Christian applying God’s principles and a non-Christian attempting to do the same. If you have a good example or the Spirit has given you the words to make this distinction, please leave a comment and share what you can.