Let’s talk about money

By Mike Littlecheckbook-688352_1280 copy

When I talk to groups of people about faith and money, I often start by suggesting they share their checkbooks and credit card statements with one another. I’m (mostly) joking, but I don’t tell people that right away. As I watch people glance at each other nervously, I explain, “Money is such a dominant topic in our scriptures that we have to get our money conversations ‘out of the closet.’” I know how to make people uncomfortable, don’t I?

In response to this suggestion one day, a woman adamantly objected. “My generation was taught not to talk about money,” she said, and packed up her things and walked out. There was an awkward silence. Then a hand went up. “I am a lawyer,” a man said (I was the one who got nervous then)—a divorce lawyer. He shared that in his experience, 85-90% of his clients break up due to money. “If we can’t talk about money in church,” he asked, “where can we talk about it? That has been the problem.” Exactly.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 12.40.28 PMWe don’t want to talk about money. But Jesus talked more about money and its relationship to God’s way of life than anything but the Kingdom of God itself. Our story as a people of God is that we are all invited to live in this new realm that Jesus talked about, the Kingdom of God, which includes every aspect of our lives, including our money. Perhaps especially our money.

The question is, what does it mean to be the body of Christ? Especially in the midst of the huge disparity we see in the world, how can we be the family of God? How can we live in God’s realm now? We’ve been trained in our individualistic culture that our money, resources and lives are private, but that creates such isolation and loneliness. Instead, God intends for us to have community, to be community to one another.

Perhaps it is so threatening to talk about money because it has somehow become related to our identity. Our worth is connected to how much money we make and what we own. That is absolutely antithetical to Jesus’ teaching that our identity is found in community and our love for others and that our worth is found in God’s grace and God’s love for us.

We have learned to place our security in our money, and we certainly don’t want our indiana-1888207_1280security threatened. Jesus called the guy who built the bigger barns a fool because he identified his security in what he had in the barn. It’s no different for us. We say we want our barns full of God but we have one shed out back full of money, just in case.

If we talk about money in the light of our faith, it might require something of us that we fear. But spiritual growth always involves a risk.

Growth starts with an acknowledgement that we want to grow deeper. It starts with an awareness that if part of God’s family is suffering, then I’m suffering. As a Christian, I’m responsible to help bring the fullness of life for everyone, a fullness that includes people’s inward lives and their outward, material well-being.

In our churches, many people recognize this responsibility and are unsure about their plenty and wonder what their obligations are. We are often caught up in all the time and energy involved in “making ends meet” but realize that the deepest values that we grew up with in the church have been attended to poorly. When we can acknowledge that, we are ready to make some changes in our lives.

About the Author

Mike Little-photoMike Little is director of the Faith and Money Network, a ministry born out of the Church of the Saviour that equips people to explore and transform their relationship with money within the grounding of their faith. Many resources are available at www.faithandmoneynetwork.org. Mike Little can be reached at mike@faithandmoneynetwork.org.

Join us TOMORROW at 8 p.m. ET for a Live Chat led by Mike Little. During this chat, we will explore your relationship with your money, writing a money autobiography, making good financial decisions, connecting faith and finances, and more! There’s still room to sign up at marcia_5.gr8.com.

Photo credits: pixabay.com

Money autobiography

By Matt DeBall

knot-2114401_1280

Crossovers always have the potential to be energizing and enjoyable. Sometimes they happen on our favorite TV show or in a beloved movie series (special shout out to fellow fans of DC Comics or Marvel). Other times they happen in real life. For your edification, a crossover is happening on the COMPASS blog this week.

This month COMPASS has focused on our relationship with money and invited us to explore this relationship by writing a money autobiography. Marcia Shetler began unpacking this helpful tool and Beryl Jantzi helped us consider four categories that reveal our approach to money, debt management, and generosity. What follows in this blog are a handful of questions and answers related to my money autobiography (that can also help you write your own). A wonderful CROSSOVER has occurred because I didn’t answer these questions alone.

In February, COMPASS explored how essential it is to talk about money with loved ones, live-chat-wedding-rings-image-copyand Rafael Robert from Brightpeak Financial led a great Live Chat about money, marriage, and meaningful conversations. Connecting those conversations with our topic for this month, my lovely wife, Chelsea, has joined me in answering the money autobiography questions below. We answered these questions individually and talked about our answers afterward. While we have different relationships with money, it is our relationship with money together that shapes how we manage our finances. This money autobiography process proved to be meaningful for us, but also allows you to hear two different relationships with money that contribute to our money autobiography. We hope you will find this blog to be as meaningful and helpful as we did.

Question: Describe the role of money in your childhood. What was your attitude toward money as a child? Did you feel poor or rich? How did your perceptions make you feel?

Chelsea: Growing up, my parents didn’t have a lot in terms of money. But they never let us know or feel that strain. It wasn’t until we were older that we realized that we were somewhat poor for a lot of our childhood.

Matt: Money served different functions in my childhood. It paid for food at the grocery store. It was the two quarters that my parents gave me each week to put in the offering plate. It was how people supported my Boy Scout troop through buying popcorn. Money was just around. I didn’t feel like my family was rich or poor—just average. My parents taught us to be thankful for what we had and they didn’t talk much about money in front of us.

Q: What was your attitude about money as a teenager? What memories do you have related to money?

C: As a teenager I was obsessed with making money. I had two jobs through most of high dollar-1362243_1280school. I loved having my own money to spend on what I wanted.

M: Money was a means to have fun. It allowed me to buy snacks and games, and participate in activities with friends.

Q: In your current situation, how have other sources shaped your thoughts about money?

C: Nothing has really shaped my thoughts about money. I appreciate it more now that I am an adult with actual expenses to pay for.

M: Society at large and media has influenced me to see some debts as good (homes, college degrees) and other debts as bad (credit card). The church has helped me see money as a tool that God gives us to meet our needs and to carry out His purposes in the world.

Q: How do you feel about your present financial status? Do you worry about money? How does having or not having money affect self-esteem or sense of self-worth?

C: I do worry about money. Mostly because there are things I’d like to be able to buy (a new car) or do (remodel our home) but our financial status keeps us from doing that. Not having as much money as some of my peers does affect my self-esteem. I do find myself getting jealous of those who can buy nice houses, go on vacation, or stay home with their children instead of having to work.

M: I feel proactive and content about our current financial situation. I very rarely worry about money (only when large bills are paid right before a payday). Though I wouldn’t consider it a large factor in my self-esteem or self-worth, our money providing for our needs does have a positive effect on me.

Q: Do you spend money on yourself easily or with difficulty?coffee-1273147_1280

C: I used to be able to spend money on myself with no problems. But recent life events
have made me think more before I make a purchase for myself.

M: Somewhat easily for things under $10 (coffee, lunch, a book), but hesitantly for anything else.

Q: Do you feel generous or stingy with your money?

C: I am generous in terms of gift giving, but I know I am stingy with money. I would hesitate greatly before loaning someone money.

M: It depends on the day, but I typically feel more generous.

Q: Do you give to your church or other charitable organizations? Why do/don’t you give? How does this make you feel?

C: Yes, we give to our church. At first I was very reluctant to do so because I didn’t want to give away our money. But now I am more comfortable with donating to our church.

M: Yes. I like to give because it is an opportunity to show love to God and support God’s important work in the world. Giving makes me feel happy and like I am being faithful to God’s call to give.

Q: How do you feel about asking other people for money…for yourself, a worthy cause, your church community, etc.?gift-1278395_1280

C: I am very hesitant asking people for money. I never want anyone to feel obligated to
give to me based on our relationship and I wouldn’t want my asking for money to affect our relationship.

M: It would make me uncomfortable to ask for money for myself. For my work, I am a fundraiser, and because I believe in the ministries of our organization, I am comfortable with asking people to support them.

Q: Consider the following idea: how you handle money reflects your deepest values. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

C: I agree. What we spend our money on may reflect what we care about the most or what we consider a priority in our lives.

M: Agree because of Matthew 6:21, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When we spend money on anything, it reveals what is important to us.

Q: What future hopes or plans do you have with money?

C: I hope that we are able to continually support ourselves financially. Being independent financially is a great feeling.

M: I hope we can plan to pay off our debts, save for retirement, increase our savings for unexpected emergency circumstances, and increase our giving to church as we are able. I also plan to open savings accounts for our kids early in their lives to prepare for their needs and aspirations in the future.

In addition to answering these questions for your own money autobiography, you can learn more about this helpful tool on Tuesday, May 30 at 8 p.m. ET at our next Live Chat “Your relationship with money” led by Mike Little, director for the Faith and Money Network. Sign up while spots are still available at marcia_5.gr8.com.

About the Authors

C&MDeBall-9-15Chelsea and Matt DeBall live in northern Illinois. Chelsea works as office coordinator for a Special Recreation Association, and is pursuing a Master’s of Mental Health Counseling from Judson University. Matt serves as the COMPASS communications coordinator for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and as coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary. They enjoy caring for their Welsh Corgi (Watson) and being involved at the First Baptist Church of Aurora.

Photo credits: pixabay.com

What is your money, debt management, and generosity type?

By Beryl Jantzicards-161404_1280

 It’s been suggested that Americans fall into one of four groups when it comes to how we manage money. Maybe as you review these four models, you can identify your own, and decide what changes, if any may, be helpful moving forward. Here’s what they are:

 The Perfectionists: 19% of Americans

These consumers know the exact route to their financial goals, whether they developed the map themselves or sought a professional financial planner. Not only do they have a household budget, which includes retirement savings and insurance, but they work toward specific short and long-term savings goals.

The Dreamers: 38% of Americansface-2269319_1280

Most consumers fall in this category. They have some goals worked out and have an idea of what they’d like to achieve. Dreamers may have savings plans for retirement or education, but they haven’t pulled everything together to form an overarching plan.

The Procrastinators: 33% of Americans

These consumers put forth the bare minimum and might get to the rest of planning later. Most in this group have a budget or plan to address savings goals, but not both. Their comprehensive financial planning behaviors don’t differ much from wanderers, but some Procrastinators keep a written budget, and they tend to avoid racking up credit card debt.

 The Wanderers: 10% of Americanswanderer-455338_1280

In this group, people float from bill to bill without any intentional plan. They tend to live in the moment without much concern for the future. They may have debt but probably couldn’t tell you the total debt they have.

Knowing our predisposition for managing money is a good start to knowing what we may need to do to get to the next step. Most of us will need to move one step at a time rather than leap from a Wanderer to a Perfectionist.

Questions to ponder:

  • Where do you see yourself most closely identified
    by the descriptions stated above?
  • If you don’t like the label used to identify your style
    what different word would you use?

Your generosity will be most fruitful when you have a clear understanding about how God is calling you to share what has been entrusted to you.

Are you a generous wanderer? Is your generosity usually based on the whim of the moment?

Are you a generous procrastinator? Do you have good intentions about giving, but never get around to it?

Are you a generous dreamer? You give, but you could be more disciplined and focused with your giving?

Are you a generous perfectionist? Do you feel confident about your giving habits now, and have plans to continue to increase it in days to come?

In the book of Philippians, Paul writes,

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12, NRSV).

What small steps can you take today to move from one money management and generosity type to another from the examples described above?

Source: Household financial planning survey 2013

Reprinted from a blog post on February 9, 2016.

About the Author

Beryl Jantzi and familyBeryl Jantzi serves as the stewardship education director for Everence, a faith-based financial services company of Mennonite Church USA, which serves all who are interested in integrating their faith with their finances.

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 and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Photo credits: pixabay.com

Understanding Our Relationship With Money

By Marcia Shetler

puppy-1647692_1280Have you ever thought about you and your money being in a relationship? It might seem like a bizzare idea, but it’s true. You might be the one in control of your relationship—or it might be your money. Most likely, it’s an ongoing tug-of-war between the two of you.

Followers of Jesus are not exempt from this relationship. In fact, in the Bible we find that Jesus speaks more about money than any other topic, save the kingdom of God. This emphasis indicates that a healthy understanding about our relationship to money is essential if we are to realize our full potential as children of God.

Our relationships—healthy or not—are formed over time. Your connection with your money has been shaped by many things, including your family and friends, your environment, your personality, and your faith. Taking some time to think about those influences can be very helpful in understanding your relationship with money, and putting you in charge of that relationship.

One way to begin that exploration is by developing a money autobiography. A money Money bookautobiography is a reflection process on the role and influence of money and material possessions in your life. It challenges you to explore the past to see how your attitudes, assumptions, and values concerning money and wealth were formed. The money autobiography provides a lens through which you examine how you manage money and how money manages you. It allows you the opportunity to wrestle with your needs, wants, and desires and helps you understand the lifestyle choices you make. It can even help you set some priorities and goals for the future.

This month, the COMPASS Initiative will take a look at money autobiographies:

  • Get great insights every week on this blog and on our Twitter feed and Facebook page.
  • Join us for a Live Chat with Mike Little, director for the Faith and Money Network, Mike Little-photoon Tuesday, May 30, 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, 7:00 p.m. Central time, 6:00 p.m. Mountain time, and 5:00 p.m. Pacific time. The Faith and Money Network equips people to transform their relationship with money, to live with integrity and intentionality, and to participate in creating a more equitable world. One of the resources of the Faith and Money Network is guidance on completing a money autobiography. Mike will give us even more information about this benefical way to explore our relationship with money.

Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24, NIV). Your relationship with money influences your understanding of Christian stewardship as discipleship, your willingness to give generously and joyfully, and your responsiveness to use what you have been entrusted with as channels for generosity and love. I hope the information shared this month will help you improve your relationship with your money!

Many of the ideas in this article come from the Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church website.

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia 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.

Image credits: pixabay.com, Mike Little

Steps for Conquering Student Debt

By Matt DeBallaway-1356948_1280

I remember very clearly when God nudged me to pursue ministry as a career. I also
remember the palatable community atmosphere of a Christian college, and knowing that it was God’s next step for me. Though both of these experiences were nearly a decade ago or more, they are memories I have often revisited to recall God’s faithfulness. What has followed both of these events is in line with Paul’s blessing: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Though your experience may be rather different than mine, all who follow Jesus are faced with opportunities that require counting the cost and taking steps of faith. My 18-year-old self could not have fully understood the endeavor of paying for college, but did understand that college (and, later, seminary) was an investment in my future. Thankfully, I was blessed by the support of my parents, my church, and my schools (via scholarships), which significantly reduced the amount of student loans required to complete my degrees.

Having completed my time in college and seminary, repaying student loans has begun. Here’s what this next step of my journey looks like:

1) Before graduation, chosing a repayment plan that would work best for my wife and me. Depending on which plan you choose, you may be able to change plans later. Typical
board-2084777_1280options include several standard repayment models (the same payment amount every month during the course of your loan, smaller payments leading to larger payments, and vise versa) and income-based repayment plans. There are also options for deferring loans if your current financial situation is difficult and prevents you from repaying with a regular plan.

2) Making small (or significant) lifestyle adjustments to pay for student loans. This includes finding a source of additional or increased income and/or cutting back on leisure expenses in order to faithfully make monthly payments.

3) As often as possible, paying more than the minimum monthly requirement. In addition to cost savings, you can target the lowest valued loan with the highest interest rate, and over time decease the rate of accumulating interest as you pay off each loan (what many call the “snowball method”).

4) Celebrating milestones along the way. celebrate-1835387_1280Regardless of how much you owe or how many loans you have, its important to celebrate when you pay off a student loan or decrease the value of your loans a certain amount (e.g. every $5,000 or $10,000).

5) Having hope that loan payments are purposeful and won’t last forever. Even the loans with the shortest lifespans (10 years) can feel like they will never end. Even though repayment can take (a long) time, it’s important to remember the results of your loans: a quality education, the opportunity to be qualified for desired jobs, and/or being faithful to God’s call for your life.

If you find yourself in the midst of paying back student loans, take heart: God has been faithful in the past and will continue to be faithful in the future.

About the Author

m-deball-9-2016Matt DeBall is the COMPASS Communications Coordinator for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. He also serves as Coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Communication Arts from Judson University of Elgin, Illinois. He loves running, reading, and napping. He and Chelsea live in Northern Illinois with their Welsh Corgi, Watson, and attend the First Baptist Church of Aurora.

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’ve read? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Straightforward Advice About Student Loan Debt

By Darryl Dahlheimer

Less than ten years ago, Americans faced a soap-bubble-826018_1280 square
“housing bubble” that burst into people
losing their homes mortgage foreclosure and the Great Recession following the collapse in housing values. Here in 2017, the French adage applies again: “Plus ça change, plus ça la même chose.

This time, it’s a student loan debt bubble where total student loan debt now surpasses total credit card debt. And the Federal Reserve has reported that almost one in three of us who have this debt (31%) are 90 days or more late on our payments. This crashes our FICO credit score and leads to court actions like garnishments against our wages (even the number of retired adults over 65 who are finding their Social security checks garnished for old student loan debt has risen from 8000 a decade ago to 63,000 today).

Many borrowers feel overwhelmed by the confusing landscape of many different loan types, each with its own rules, and so they get talked into unfavorable consolidations, or parking the loans in deferment, which has a ticking-clock time limit and keeps the loan debt growing by interest charges.

One bright ray of hope in this debt morass is the Student Loan Repayment Counseling (SLRC) project being piloted by LSS Financial Counseling. Certified student loan repayment counselors help people face their debt and make an action plan that is realistic. Not everyone needs expert SLRC, but whether doing it on your own or using SLRC, here are the steps to get back in control of your debt.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 10.38.18 AMThe first step is loan discovery, where you make a complete list of all the loans owed, and which types – you’ll need to look on the www.nslds.ed.gov site for all your federal loans, and also look on your three credit bureau reports from www.annualcreditreport.com to find any private student loans or collectors.

Then you need to understand all your options for repayment. One of our favorites is to teach people about “public service loan forgiveness” where people working in (not all but many types) of government or nonprofit jobs can pay a reduced amount and have a large portion of their debt forgiven.

It’s also important to dodge the “help” scams that promise to assist you but actually charge large fees to do what you can do for free. Similar to what happened during the mortgage crisis, many student loan “servicers” have been caught giving out bad advice or harvesting fees from borrowers. Especially do your research before any loan consolidations, which can cause your federal loans to lose options.tip-jar-1796480_1280
LSS will present information about its
SLRC and about repayment options at a
free COMPASS Live Chat on
April 20th from 12:30-1:30pm ET
you can join this chat at stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats

LSS offers SLRC free to anyone in Minnesota (888-577-2227) and through its partnership with Everence, offers SLRC nationwide via phone counseling for all Everence members (877-809-0039).

About the Author
Darryl-DahlheimerDarryl Dahlhemier
is Program Director for
LSS Financial Counseling.

 

 

Photo credits: pixabay.com, www.nslds.ed.gov

Affording College: Before, During, and After


hand-1840039_1920By Beryl Jantzi

There is an old adage that says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” The same could be said about preparing for the financial realities of paying for college.

Preparation is not a once and done exercise. Preparation is ongoing. One misconception is that preparing for the financial obligations of college is only about saving beforehand or paying off debt once you graduate. In reality, there are several points along the way to redouble your efforts to get as good an education as possible in the most cost-effective way as possible.

There are three stages in Affording College, and each includes proactive steps you can take throughout this journey.

1. Before: for perspective students

  • Know what financing is available. Educate yourself about:
    • Federal loans
    • Private loans
    • Subsidized and unsubsidized loans
  • Shop and Compare:
    • In state vs. out of state costs
    • community college vs. state university vs. private school costs
  • Budget now:lawn-mower-938555_1280
    • Get information on tuition and living expenses for various schools and on campus and off campus costs for various regions of the country
    • Parents: Start 529 plans as early as possible
    • Youth: Consider part-time jobs and summer work to save for college
    • Monitor your debt from year to year
  • Apply, Apply, Apply:
    • Research sources of grants and scholarships, and business scholarships available through parents employers and local civic organizations
  • Do your homework on career interests:
    • Know the first year earning potential of your career of choice to help determine how much you can/should borrow. (Rule of thumb: borrow no more than the entry income of your career of choice)

2. During: for current students

  • Don’t stop looking for scholarships:
    • Scholarships are not just for freshman
    • Return to organizations that may have turned you down for your first year and reapply
  • Don’t take all the loans you qualify for unless you absolutely need to. Borrow as little as necessaryapple-1851464_1280
  • Look for entry level internships for your career and major. Experience will matter
    when it comes to interviewing for work
  • Always know what you owe:
    • Monitor your total debt from year to year
    • Set a limit on what you can borrow based on your career of choice and your first year earning potential

#3 After: for those entering the working world

  • Know the repayment options for all your various loans
    • Prioritize increased payments for highest interest loans and aggressively take on one loan at a time while paying minimum amounts on the others
    • Discuss consolidation of private loans to lower interest payment. Do not consolidate Federal loans which typically have lower interest rates
    • If you are struggling to make payments, do not stop making payments without talking directly with your lender. Forbearance options exist
    • If you can accelerate payments it will reduce total interest paid over the length of the loan

If you find these guidelines helpful, consider viewing three short videos related to these three stages at www.everence.com/college. They are based on the lives of Carol, Erica, and Justin. Each of these students will speak in more detail to the realities of each stage of your college experience.

For more information contact me about additional resources to help you with your college journey at beryl.jantzi@everence.com.

About the Author

Beryl Jantzi and familyBeryl Jantzi serves as the stewardship education director for Everence, a faith-based financial services company of Mennonite Church USA, which serves all who are interested in integrating their faith with their finances.