Financial Tune-Up: a Personal Take on Saving

By Mitch Stutzman

Any conversation around money will inevitably include some talk about saving for the future. Whether that conversation is couched in terms of emergency savings, college savings, saving for a large purchase like a car or home, or retirement savings, the topic gets a lot of attention when a person considers their overall financial situation.

As I have thought about my own financial journey, and particularly about how saving has impacted my financial life, I have thought about times when my savings has become particularly meaningful. Times when my savings became more than just numbers floating in cyberspace that represent a determined value that our society has placed on them.

I found myself standing at the counter at my local auto repair shop. I had taken my vehicle in to be serviced and for a trained eye to give it a once-over and make sure everything was ready to go for a long trip that I was about to embark on. Things had been running well and I had no particular concerns but just wanted a seal of approval from someone smarter than me.

After my mechanic took a look at everything he told me that a there was some things he would recommend as a safety measure before taking this vehicle on a cross country trip. I trust my mechanic and believed that he had no intentions of selling me something I didn’t need. I said I would go ahead and have him do the work that was necessary. He informed me that with the additional work my bill was going to come to $1,200 for that particular visit. Well, I had not planned for this visit to the shop costing quite that much; but I wrote a check for the repairs. Ouch, that smarts.

After the work had been completed, I picked up my vehicle and was driving home with my wife. We were talking with each other about the unforeseen expense. I remember saying, “Well, writing that check wasn’t fun. But isn’t it great that we can write that check?”

I had read that week in an article from Forbes that 63% of Americans do not have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency. I told my wife that even though I didn’t welcome a $1,200 expense, I was so glad that we set aside emergency savings to cover it.

There was a time in my life when that would not have been the case; a time in my life when if faced with a $1,200 repair bill I may have been tempted to just call it a loss, leave the car at the shop, and walk home and let my mechanic deal with how to dispose of the vehicle. But over the past several years I have developed strategies for saving that work for me and (I can’t even believe what I am about to say) make me excited about saving!

Saving all starts with identifying your cash flow: What is coming in and what is going out. When what is going out exceeds what is coming in, the rest of your financial life doesn’t seem to fall into place like it should. In the words of my mechanic, “There’s your problem, right there.”

Establishing a healthy cash flow plan is the first step in building your savings. I want to take a moment to simply recognize that a person’s expenses exceeding their income can be the result of many different factors. I also want to own and recognize that I have found myself in places of privilege throughout my life which has afforded me opportunities not available to some. But, regardless of status, the principle remains the same that to save you need to make sure expenses do not exceed your income.

Some expenses are unavoidable. Things like food, clothes, and shelter are basic needs that typically require some level of financial commitment.  However, when you step back and take a hard look at your spending, you may be surprised to find that there are some things that could be cut from your everyday spending. I heard it said once that people rarely get themselves into debt or money trouble from one $10,000 purchase, but rather one thousand $10 purchases.

The discipline to make more intentional choices takes practice. It is truly amazing how much money you can save by just waiting one more day to make your decision instead of making your purchase right away.  Instead of buying that cute novelty coffee mug that you saw online, wait one day and see if your life is empty without it. I would venture to guess that many of our “impulse buys” are things that we can probably do without.

So, give yourself a financial tune up and consider what it is that brings you satisfaction. In my experience, peace of mind provides a level of satisfaction that stuff doesn’t. The knowledge that if an unexpected expense reveals itself I can cover it helps me sleep better at night. Take a hard look at your spending and saving habits and make the changes you must to position yourself in way that you can live comfortably and give generously to the causes and organizations you love most.

About the Author

Mitch Stutzman is a Stewardship Consultant for Everence.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS blog, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

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Guidance for Saving

By Denise Wayman

Who needs savings? Why should I save? Am I too young? Do I make enough money to save?

Well, can you really afford to not save?  We all work hard for the money we earn; however shouldn’t we be just as diligent in being responsible for it? Some questions to think about and ask yourself:

  • What is your very first memory of money?
  • Was money talked about when you were growing up?
  • Who handled the finances at home growing up?
  • What was or will be your first major purchase / expense?

It’s interesting once you start thinking about and answering these questions how it relates to how you now choose or don’t choose to handle money.  In our home when I was a child, finances were not discussed, but we were given coins every Sunday for offering.  My first memory of money was from church and the corner store near our church where we were allowed to buy 5 cents worth of penny candy.  Have times changed in so many ways about how we think, value, use and save money!

Maybe your parents opened a savings account and you developed a relationship with that financial institution. Maybe you received an allowance, or maybe you simply learned and are leaning the hard way.

Some key things to keep in mind:

Start healthy financial habits early.  Stop making excuses and just do it.

Save for long term, big, and important smart goals: first car, car repair, first home, a vacation,     etc.

Live within your means and don’t overspend

Is it a need or want?

Spend wisely

When it all comes down to it, know where and how you’re spending and saving your money so you are controlling it and it’s not controlling you.

Create a money plan, review it, change it as you need to and use it!

About the Author

Denise Reinoso Wayman is the Credit Union Regional Operations Manager for the Everence Federal Credit Union offices in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area. She and her husband, Marty, have three children. They reside in Lancaster City and are active members of In the Light Ministries. Denise enjoys supporting her sons in their musical and sport activities. She volunteers in a number of ways throughout Lancaster, but particularly enjoys providing meals to those in need.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS blog, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

The Bible and Saving Money

AntsWhat does the Bible have to offer us on how or why we should save money? Basically, the Bible says that just saving without reason is not enough, but saving for future needs while still having an open heart for others is wise. The general principles offered are clear: store away resources that you gather during times of abundance so that you will have what you need when resources are scarce. The passages themselves vary quite a bit. And some argue from a completely different tack.

In the book of Proverbs, we are taught through the example of ants. Both Proverbs 6 and Proverbs 30 point to the ant as a guide for saving. Ants may be small, but ants don’t even need a “commander, officer, or ruler” to tell them what to do.  Ants get and store their food during the summer. For this they are said to be wise.

In Genesis we have the story of Joseph in Egypt. Because of his dreams and interpretation of dreams, Joseph is able to plan for the future. Joseph interprets dreams that the Pharaoh has of cows and ears of grain. In his first dream, seven “terrible-looking, scrawny cows devoured the seven healthy-looking, fattened cows” (Genesis 41:4).  In the Pharaoh’s second dream,

seven ears of grain, full and healthy, grew on a single stalk. Just then, seven ears of grain, scrawny and scorched by the east wind, sprouted after them, and the scrawny ears swallowed up the full and well-formed ears. (Genesis 41:5-7a)

In both dreams the seven scrawny, poorly nourished swallowed up the healthy and strong. This foretold seven years of famine that would follow seven years of abundance. Joseph offered a saving strategy: “Then Pharaoh should appoint administrators over the land and take one-fifth of all the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance” (Genesis 41:34). Because of Joseph’s insight and planning, “The famine struck every country, but the entire land of Egypt had bread” (Genesis 41:54b). Through prudent planning, Egypt was able to weather the storms drought and famine.

You’re not an ant and you’re not a Pharaoh, but there are still lessons to be learned here. Store away resources that you gather during times of abundance so that you will have what you need when resources are scarce. The one-fifth of its income that Joseph had Egypt save may be too steep for your situation, but you can start your own fund to prepare for times of famine.

From the ant and the Pharaoh we learn about two different types of times of want. The ant faces a cyclical lack of food. Every winter the ant needs to have food stores while having food available for gathering in the summer. The Pharaoh had to deal with a larger, more unexpected trial. The ant can teach you to save your paycheck and not spend it all on payday. You know that your pay will come around again later, so it’s mostly a question of dealing with the rhythm of the cycle. Store away in summer, that is, save some of your pay. When winter comes, the rest of the time, take from your savings prudently so that you do not run out before summer comes again.

The Pharaoh had a much harder lesson. Not all situations are part of the regular cycle of sowing and reaping. And while the Pharaoh had two heaven-sent dreams and a God-commissioned interpreter, most of us do not have advance warning for major crises. We rely on things like insurance and savings to prepare us for the hard times. For such times, financial experts tend to recommend that we have six months’ worth of pay saved in the bank. Six months’ worth can be daunting, so work your way up a little bit at a time.

If you have read my writings before, then you may not be surprised to find that the Bible is not entirely of one voice on this matter. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus cautions us to

Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. (Matthew 6:19-20)

Gathering money and resources cannot be our only imperative, and it should not be at the demise of the earth or others in it. Worshiping God and doing the work of the Kingdom of Heaven are important, in many ways more important than saving money. Does this mean that we should not save money or never keep grain in our storehouses? No, while we should not focus our lives on accumulating wealth, this does not mean that we should have no savings. What we can learn is that gathering money itself is not the goal. Being rich is not the answer. Having a safety net so that we are making decisions without feeling stressed allows us to consider, not worry about the lilies in the field.

We also gain insight into Jesus’ perspective from a parable of a man who comes into new wealth. When a huge harvest comes in, he has nowhere to put all his abundance.

Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ (Luke 12:18-19)

What the man had no way of foreseeing was that he was going to die that same night. Instead of making bigger storehouses, perhaps the man should have been sharing with neighbors for their storehouses. More than any savings account, community can be there for us in times of trouble.  Generosity is an attitude expected of all Christians, not to keep us from saving, but to keep us connected and compassionate for the situation of others. Christianity is not about doing away with the Hebrew teachings but making them deeper.  It says. “Yes” to savings, but “no” to greed and selfishness.

Together the guidelines of scripture provide us boundaries. Gather enough savings to care for yourself and your family during the lean times. Don’t gather so much wealth that greed consumes you or that you ignore the needs of others.

Get Savvy about Saving

-Marcia Shetler

piggy-bank-300As North Americans, we enjoy grouping and analyzing generational cohorts on any number of topics. While they share common experiences that influence their life choices, there also is significant diversity of the members of any generational cohort. That’s certainly true for millennials and their savings. According to a 2018 Bank of America survey, 16 percent of millennials have $100,000 or more in savings. But nearly half—especially younger millennials—have no savings at all, according to Gobankingrates.com. In Canada, millennials have taken to heart the need to save for retirement, with nearly 68 percent doing so. Yet, many fall short saving for other needs.

 

Benjamin Felix from The Globe and Mail describes three reasons to save: 1) emergency needs, 2) intermediate needs (think major expenses), and 3) long-term needs (like retirement savings). Each category is important, but each one also requires different considerations. Saving for emergencies lowers the need for borrowing and additional debt. Saving for intermediate needs (like weddings, vacations, and cars) involves discernment about how important the expense really is and if there are ways to be more economical. Saving for retirement as early and consistently as possible will reap big benefits when those days of leisure finally arrive.

 

Understanding the different ways to save is important. Cutting back on expenses may be the first thing you are able to do. As you become increasingly successful at saving, you also need to become more savvy. It is important to understand your savings as investments, and that can be complicated! The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority website lists at least nine different types of investments, and within each is a myriad of possibilities. But by being savvy about your savings, you can make them grow even faster. You also can learn how to prioritize and choose the best types of investments for your savings needs.

 

This month the COMPASS Initiative invites you to get savvy about saving:

  • Get great insights every week on this blog and on our Twitter feed and Facebook page.
  • Join us for a Live Chat with Denise Wayman, regional operations manager for Everence, on Thursday, April 26, 2:00 p.m. Eastern time, 1:00 p.m. Central time, Noon Mountain time, and 11:00 a.m. Pacific time.

 

As followers of Jesus, what we do with our money is part of our Christian witness. Let’s get savvy about saving, so we can use our money in ways that express gratitude for God’s generosity to us and allow us to do the work of God in the world.

 

About the Author 

Marcia Shetler is Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Millennials and Credit – One Personal Perspective

By Timothy Siburg

You have seen the numbers and the data. Marcia Shetler did a nice job of summarizing the reality about millennials and credit. I think it would be fair to say that millennials are apprehensive and anxious when it comes to credit cards. As a millennial myself, I get the sentiment, I do. It can be easy to be afraid, and caught by those fears of money, scarcity, security, and the feeling of not having enough. But as time has gone on, my wife Allison and I have found ways to deal with credit cards effectively for our finances and needs.

Like most millennials, we have debit cards. But perhaps surprisingly unlike many, we have a credit card too. We didn’t take this on without some serious thought, though. My parents’ advice has always been, “A credit card is a tool. Don’t misuse it, and pay it off every month, and you’ll be fine.” I have found that advice to be sound and helpful.

To translate, make sure you don’t carry a balance on a credit card, because if you do, that’s when the interest and the amount you owe can spiral. I think that’s where the fears of many millennials come in. We already have plenty of big interest payments we make each month on student loans, so the last thing we want to do is to create another such financial burden or challenge to overcome.

You might remember that Allison and I often budget over pancake breakfasts. We still do this, though perhaps it’s been a bit more sporadic lately. But when we do this, we include an update on all of our accounts, what it will take to pay off any credit card balance that month, and our plan of action.

I’ll admit, there have been months when those credit card payments are a bit higher than I might like. Just because you have the card doesn’t mean you get to put off budgeting, spending within your means, and saving responsibly. I view a credit card as a tool to make the most of the spending that my wife and I already need to do.

One of the biggest things that we enjoy from our credit card are airline miles. Being half a country away from most of our extended families means we travel a lot. Having air miles to use towards those flights and trips can be a big help in bringing down airline ticket costs. Besides, if we were going to spend that money anyway, we might as well get some additional benefits from those purchases.

In terms of what we purchase with our credit card, we usually use it towards big expenses and online purchases. This might mean a recent car repair bill I had to pay, or as new parents very soon, we have been stocking up on baby essentials, and ordering all of the fun baby furniture online. Using a credit card for online purchases can potentially help give a little extra security.

Friends we know use their credit card faithfully on regular purchases like filling up their gas tank, or buying groceries. They do so because they have developed a system with their family budget, of paying off that credit card weekly while receiving some extra benefits from those purchases. That system hasn’t quite worked for us, but I have seen it work for them.

If credit cards are used wisely as a tool, they can help build up your credit score over time by proving that you are reliable with your finances, and making timely payments. This might prove helpful down the road, when considering a bigger purchase like a new home or car, or when stepping into a new chapter of life like moving to a new state and/or growing as a family.

In terms of faith, one of the things that I enjoy most about having a credit card, is that it gives me a little piece of mind when giving to my church and other causes that matter to me—online. It’s quick and easy to use. These are offerings and donations that we would make anyway, and there’s a little bit of freedom to be able to do these from the comfort of our own home, and see the transaction credited within moments.

These have been things that we have found to be helpful. This advice might not work for you, and I am certainly not a financial expert. For us, having one primary credit card, and debit cards has been the right approach for living faithfully with our finances, and stewarding them. We’ll see how this approach might change once Baby Siburg arrives.

About the Author: Timothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area and are expecting their first child. Timothy attended college at Pacific Lutheran University, and graduate school at the Claremont Graduate University and Luther Seminary. Timothy can also be found on TwitterFacebook, and on his blog.

A High Score Can Help You: Responsible Credit Decisions Now Can Pay Off Later

By Denise Reinoso Wayman

Do I have credit? Why does credit matter? What is a credit score? Should I apply for as much credit as I can get? You may have asked yourself these questions.

A credit score evaluates a consumer’s creditworthiness. Lenders use credit scores to gauge how likely someone is to repay debts. Someone with a higher score is considered more financially trustworthy.

Lenders generally offer lower interest rates to borrowers with high credit scores. If you have a low credit score, you may not qualify for certain loans or have to pay higher interest rates, which increases your cost of borrowing. If you have no credit score, that usually means you haven’t established credit yet.

Establishing credit usually means borrowing money (using a credit card or getting a loan) and making your payments on time.

Missing payments can lower your credit score, so be realistic about how card or loan payments fit into your overall budget. It takes time to rebuild your credit score after it declines.

Credit_Reporting_AgenciesCredit is not a taboo topic. You may need a loan someday to further your education or buy a car or house. Wouldn’t it be great to be offered the best rate possible? Here are a few tips:

  • Apply for only credit you need – be smart about what you’re doing and why.
  • Be responsible with the credit you have.
  • Make your payments on time.
  • Keep a low credit card balance and pay it in full monthly.

Start by setting up a relationship with your primary financial institution – manage your accounts responsibly, and there’s no better place to start establishing your credit.

You’re entitled to some free information

AnnualCreditReport.com is the official, authorized website to get free credit reports form the three major reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Visit annualcreditreport.com/index.action for more information. It’s important to know what’s on your credit report.

If you have questions about credit or if you’re wondering about planning for your financial future, we would be happy to talk to you!

About the Author

Denise Reinoso Wayman is Regional Operations Manager for Everence Federal Credit Union. She works from their office in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.

*The logos of Equifax, Experian, and Transunion belong to their respective companies and do not imply their endorsement of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center or its programs

Christianity and Credit

By Joe Tolton

As a Millennial saddled with a massive amount of student loan debt, I find relief just thinking about the Jubilee year described in Deuteronomy 15. What a hopeful concept! All of our debt could be wiped away after just seven years. The Jubilee year among the Israelites had merit. Jubilee years kept the disparity in society from getting too great. This helped people to bond and kept the society from breaking down into those who had money and those who owed the money. Inequalities in the distribution of wealth were not so much that forgiveness of the debt would be too costly for anyone. Lenders were to use a zero-interest system either for the poor (Leviticus 25:35-37, Exodus 22:25) or for all of the people in the country (Leviticus 25:35-37, Deuteronomy 23:19-20, Ezekiel 22:12).

The scripture verses here and in other places acknowledge that a burden of debt can become spiritually and emotionally debilitating, not just a practical aspect of life. The caution of Proverbs 22:7 is that a borrower becomes a slave to the lender.

debt-1376061_640We have moved away from the kind of society that would have considered a Jubilee year to one where the poor are disregarded and preyed upon. Our whole society is taking a more predatory approach to finance on all levels. There is a larger disparity between those who lend and those who borrow than ever before. This is the sort of time in the Bible when the great prophets arise.

The financial industry now depends on debt to survive. The divide between the haves and have nots of this world has become wider and less likely to be bridged . Money has become equated with power, skewing our decision making from practical solutions that offer compassion and grace, to ideas that make sense just for those who earn the most money in the economy today. Those who can afford to lend the money end up making most of the decisions, including the health and welfare decisions of the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick in our society. It skews our government, and taints our way of thinking as a society.

Individually debt becomes a guilt-ridden area for many, and, for most, a source of shame. Personal debt can pile up pretty quickly: not just student loans, but car loans, home loans, and payday loans. Credit cards, a form of short-term loan called revolving credit, can be worst of all.

Jesus cautions us to plan for the future and count well the cost of what we are about to do. In Luke 14, Jesus compares looking to the future to planning to build a tower, making sure you budget for all of the levels of the building project. He also talked about the prudence of the king considering the consequences of going to war. Sometimes in the worst financial situations, we may not get our dreams fulfilled.  We may have to negotiate and settle for less. While living without regard to our debts may make us think we are living more freely, the costs of it are more harmful than interest rates and credit scores show.

There is a spiritual reason that Psalm 37 calls us to repay our loans and that Proverbs 22:26-27 and Romans 13:8 caution against getting ourselves in debt. As Christians, we need to do our best to live up to our word, but also offer ourselves the grace that God has given us. As Christians in a society we need to work for better practices when it comes to debt and debt collection.

About the Author 

Joseph Tolton is the Office Manager of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. He serves as co-pastor of West Elkton Friends Meeting of West Elkton, Ohio and is an ordained minister through the South/Central Indiana District of the Church of the Brethren. He holds a Master of Divinity from Bethany Theological Seminary and a BA in Communication from Hope College of Holland, MI.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.