Talking about Faith and Finances- Purchasing a New Home

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches. As we continue the series today, I am excited to welcome my friends Pastors Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich to the blog. They have very recently purchased their first home which led me to want to hear their story. Today’s post is the second in a two-part series which focuses on their recent experience of buying a new home. 

Timothy (T): Amanda and Jeremy, why were you looking for a new home?

Amanda and Jeremy with their Realtor outside of their new home

Amanda and Jeremy with their Realtor outside of their new home

Jeremy (J): Well, we have been renting a house since we arrived in West Texas a little over a year ago when Amanda and I moved here to start our first calls as pastors. We wanted to make the investment in a new home for a number of reasons, including potentially expanding our family.

T: What did you learn when running the numbers and doing your research?

J: When running the numbers, we realized that the cost of renting for two years was basically the same as buying a new house and making a monthly mortgage payment for two years, and then selling it after two years.

Amanda (A): We also realized that we could save over $400 per month by buying a home rather than renting, including the cost for utilities and the mortgage. We live in a relatively inexpensive housing market with lots of good options, which made searching for our first home fun and full of possibilities.

J: We determined that after three years of buying our first house, we would save about $10,000 that first year, and then nearly $30,000 after the fourth year. The long term potential savings for us was a big reason to decide to buy a new home.

T: Were there any other factors in your decision to buy a home, rather than rent?

A: There is another element in our decision. In ministry, pastors often move at least a few times in their careers, and of course we have no idea how long we’ll be here until we might feel a call by God to some other context. We feel though that by buying a home, rather than renting, we are demonstrating to our congregations and the community that we are investing in the area for the longer term.

J: As we discussed, planning for the future is important for us. We’re still learning, and have not always been the best at financial planning, but we are working at it.

A: And we’re trusting God, and grateful that we are surrounded by such gifted friends, family, and colleagues who help us along in our life, vocations, and continued discernment about our faith and finances.

T: What lessons or tips would you like to share about buying a home and talking about faith and finances?

Gratitude overflowing- New Homeowners Amanda and Jeremy with the previous owner of their home (and the previous owner's family).

Gratitude overflowing- New Homeowners Amanda and Jeremy with the previous owner of their home (and the previous owner’s family).

A: It’s important to take time and be grateful. It can be so easy to get caught up in life, and feelings of scarcity, of not having enough. In buying the house, questions of ‘what if’ about the air conditioner, and water heater potentially needing to be replaced, or about other things that might need to be fixed came up a lot. I could have gotten buried in those types of questions and thoughts. But I’m grateful that some wonderful flooring workers helped us learn more about our new neighborhood. They also helped us take stock, and see that our new home is really a good house. This helped me remember to give thanks.

J: We have come a long way from starting out in our first place, that one bedroom apartment at seminary in Minnesota.  I’m still so grateful for that time, and especially our fun and frugal occasional $5.00 pizza dinners with friends. We’re also very grateful for all of the scholarship support that helped us get through school, and for the faith and gifts of others, who have given to the ELCA Fund for Leaders, people who have given freely because of their faith. We would love to pay it forward, and hope that by having our own home, we can make that happen in some way.

T: Do you have any other thoughts, questions, or insights you would like to share?

J: The biggest question for me seems to be, how do we steward that which we have been entrusted with?

A: We are grateful for the opportunity to have a house, after starting our marriage in a one-bedroom apartment in seminary. We are also grateful for all the support that we have received in the past from so many different people, congregations, and groups. We hope to be able to pay it forward.

J: We are also tithers, and we hope to be able to distribute resources and gifts to more places and needs.

J: Buying a home is more than a purchase for us. We believe we are investing in something. We are committing, at least for the near term, to being rooted in one place. And we continue to work and hope that we can be able to be good stewards of all that we have received.

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

About the Interviewees: Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich are a clergy couple in West Texas, both serving their first congregational calls as ordained pastors. Their family currently includes their wonderful dog, Lola. Together they are tackling the world’s largest puzzle, which includes approximately 33,600 puzzle pieces, because “everything is bigger in Texas,” and “why not go big or go home.” While attending Luther Seminary, they lived next door to Allison and Timothy Siburg, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship.

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.

Talking about Faith and Finances- One Couple’s Experience

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches. As we continue the series today, I am excited to welcome my friends Pastors Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich to the blog. They have very recently purchased their first home which led me to want to hear their story. In hearing it, I have decided that our conversation will make for a two-part series. Today’s post will shed light on how they as a couple have grown since getting married and attending seminary, especially related to talking about money together. The next post will be specifically about their experience of buying a new home.

Amanda and Jeremy with my wife Allison and I

Amanda and Jeremy with my wife Allison and I, after Amanda and Jeremy graduated from seminary.

Timothy (T): First of all, Amanda and Jeremy, thank you so much for being willing to share your story with me, reflecting on how you talk about faith and finances, and how those conversations have led you into very recently purchasing your first house.

Jeremy (J): We are excited to share our story, and hope it helps other young adults and young families in having these conversations.

T: Amanda and Jeremy, how do you have conversations about faith and finances? What challenges have you faced in having these conversations?

J: Good question Timothy. Having these conversations has been a growing process for sure. We each grew up with different understandings and familiarities when it comes to talking about and managing money.

Amanda (A): We had no clue what we were doing when we started.

J: I felt like I had some clue, but I admit, I didn’t know much. I think we were both raised with the idea that, ‘if you don’t have it, don’t spend it.’’ Because of this, we were naturally inclined to not want to spend, especially as we were paying for college and seminary. We were, and really are, inclined to want to save, and live frugally as much as we could. But that looked differently for both of us.

A: When we were first married, it was really difficult to have money conversations.

J: My dad and uncle invested for a long time, including investing in me. For example, growing up, I showed heifers (cows) at the county fair, and after showing they would be sold. All the money that was raised from those sales became scholarship money for me. This was an early opportunity for me to earn some income, and to do some good work by caring for the cows, walking and feeding them.

A: My sisters and I had an allowance growing up. At some point, once I became a teenager, my parents helped set up a checking and savings account for me.

A: After getting married, Jeremy and I didn’t have credit card until two years into marriage and seminary. I think the biggest reason why we didn’t get a credit card until then was because we were afraid of having a credit card. We changed our minds in large part because of financial counseling we received which moved us past our fears to the possibilities. We have learned that when intentional and careful with a credit card, and using it as a tool to build credit, and pay it off right away every month, having one can be a good thing. We actually now have two credit cards now- one used for purchases at a single store as well as for gas.

J: While in seminary we received coaching from a financial coach, and that was a very helpful thing which really helped us grow in our ability to talk about money. In fact, one of the things we did early on which was probably most helpful was that Amanda and I both created a financial autobiography. It was so helpful to hear and dig into our financial stories from growing up. That helped us understand each other so much more.

T: In looking at your finances, how often do you have conversations about them?

A: As a couple, we go over our finances, credit cards, checking accounts, etc., at least once a month. In fact, every transaction that we make I enter into a spread sheet, under a certain tabbed area. This helps us, review, make adjustments, and cut back as needed with our budget.

J: Even though we have figured this out, we still have conflict over finances. I am a bit more of a spender than Amanda, and more quick and willing to spend. In seminary, it was really difficult, because when shopping for something, Amanda and I sometimes had differing opinions about whether a purchase was really a need. These moments of conflict sometimes affected our respect and trust for each other. So it was important for us to talk it out and take some time.

A: For example, Jeremy really wants to get a treadmill. He wants to invest in his health. At first I didn’t see the need, but after talking it out with Jeremy, I have come to see the potential benefits.

J: Through our money conversations we have learned to compromise, but also to learn and hear each other’s opinion. Especially in seminary we tried to always avoid impulse buys, and any unplanned big expense. Now, we are slightly more lenient on that, but we definitely have price limits.

Pastors Jeremy and Amanda Ullrich

Pastors Jeremy and Amanda Ullrich

A: Perhaps the best thing that that has come from our conversations is that our communication between each other has definitely increased over the years.

T: What have you two learned in the process of having these money conversations?

J: We have learned that sometimes we aren’t in the right spot to talk about money. Sometimes it might actually be more painful to talk about than helpful. We have had to realize that these conversations also have to deal with conflict management. As finances are both stewardship and ministry, they also reflect one’s core values. What you spend your money on shows where your heart is. To reflect on this takes time and space. Sometimes we may not have the time or mental capacity to have that reflection together, because of stress from work and life. It’s important then to set a time to come back to the conversation with each other.

A: We have also really learned how to address conflict in a healthy way!  By doing so, we don’t let conflict, or any potential conflict, create more distance between us. We have also been reminded over the years of the gifts of our friends, and have collaborated with them to help strategize and have these conversations.

T: Over the years, and with the purchase of your new home recently, what new questions about faith and finances have emerged for you?

A: We want to tithe to our congregations and give beyond that to different groups, causes, and nonprofits. We are still working to figure out the best model for us to have the most impact with our giving.

J: At the same time, we are facing the reality that a huge part of budget in our congregations is for our salaries. As pastors, we have to wrestle with what does it mean to steward the gifts we have as a congregation.

A: Trying to decide how much money to put down on the house was interesting. And I’ve been wondering especially about how to talk about these issues, and stories, in the pulpit more regularly.

J: I think about the story of the rich man, who is told by Jesus that he needs to sell all his possessions. What does it mean to have finances and still follow Jesus? That’s the point at which it becomes a tension. There seems to often be a fear or focus on finances and financial situations in tension with following God. For instance, who are really worshiping when we think about and use our finances?? God? A checkbook? A bank account? It can be a constant tension. I have come to believe that it is important to live into that tension.

T: What hopes and dreams do you two have?

J: I hope to have a growing family someday, and to be able to care for it well.

A: In addition to that, I hope to be able to pay it forward, as we’re both so grateful for all that we have received and do receive.

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

T: We will pick up the conversation in our next post as we turn to Amanda and Jeremy’s decision to buy their first home.

About the Interviewees: Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich are a clergy couple in West Texas, both serving their first congregational calls as ordained pastors. Their family currently includes their wonderful dog, Lola. Together they are tackling the world’s largest puzzle, which includes approximately 33,600 puzzle pieces, because “everything is bigger in Texas,” and “why not go big or go home.” While attending Luther Seminary, they lived next door to Allison and Timothy Siburg, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship.

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.

Talking about Faith and Finances during Life Transitions

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches.

Inside our car while moving cross country

Inside our car while moving cross country

Talking about money can be hard under what we might consider normal circumstances. But it can be even more difficult to do during times of life transitions.

My wife Allison and I have just gone through one of these times as we have moved across country and started new jobs. Allison is serving as a pastoral intern in a congregation and I am serving as the congregation’s mission developer. These are exciting roles, but their hours, expectations, and location are new and different.

Our new jobs have changed our budget for the longer term. But we also had other one-time expenses like moving costs, costs related to starting or ending services (like utilities), and insurance changes.

Because transition times can sometimes come unexpectedly, you may face expenses that you did not anticipate. Allison and I had to move before the end of our former apartment lease. That made for some hard conversations and choices. In order to make the leap into our new grand adventure, we had to pay to break our lease at our former apartment. Our budget and savings took a noticeable hit.

I believe it was the right thing to do, and I am grateful that Allison and I have done it. However, it was not an easy process. It helps knowing that we did this in part because of a call into new ministry roles. It helps also because of how welcoming our new faith community has been, and how doors have just opened to opportunities and relationships. All of these feelings are great, but they don’t solve the issue or challenge of talking about money.

How do you talk about money- especially when you are going to have to spend a large amount of it- unexpectedly?

Allison and I have found that the conversational practices we have developed for talking about money under normal circumstances serve us well during unexpected times too, such as:

  • When we are having breakfast, and can look at our budget and related spreadsheets.
  • When we are out for a nice walk around a lake or in a neighborhood we share and listen with care to each other’s thoughts about the possibilities and our hopes, fears, and dreams.
  • When after processing our emotions and budgets, we come up with a budget and a strategy, we revisit it every week or so to see if it’s realistic or not.
  • We talk to God about it. We pray, we listen, we hope, turn our fears over, and then trust.

Allison and I on a quick summer trip last year to see a couple friends of ours be ordained as pastors.

Allison and I will be fine. But this recent life change and experience has reminded me that these money conversations aren’t always easy. Thankfully we have found ways that work for us for talking about our faith and finances together.

What ways have you found in your own life? What questions do you have in talking about money and your faith in your own life?

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.

Talking About Faith and Finances: Pursue Contentment

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches. Today we welcome Dori Zerbe Cornelsen, from the Mennonite Foundation of Canada, back to the blog. Join Dori in thinking about contentment. As Dori mentions, First Things First and many other resources on the COMPASS website help pursue living with a deeper sense of contentment. See what you think and please join the conversation on Facebook or here on the blog by leaving a comment.

10 Million

“Which would you rather have – 10 kids or $10 Million?”

“Which would you rather have – 10 kids or $10 Million?” 

During a presentation I once asked the group, “Who comes to mind when you think of the word contentment?” Someone said his grandfather used to ask this question. Without much hesitation, I said, “I’d choose the $10M.”

“Wrong answer,” the person said.  “Because if you have $10M you are never completely sure you have enough but if you have 10 kids… you know you have enough!”

Contentment probably does have something to do with having enough.  In studies that test the link between money and happiness, one consistent observation is that the association of happiness-to-money plateaus when people have enough money to meet basic needs, have good health care and safety, etc. – any increase in money above this level does not predict the same increase in happiness.

We live in a culture that promotes being discontent.  Spending on advertising in North America is projected to be more than $200B in 2015 all to remind us that we should be dissatisfied.

So, can we be content?  Way before people did studies on money and happiness, Paul wrote a letter to Timothy in our Bible that includes pretty much the same observation:

“For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6:7-8).

Paul goes on to warn Timothy that unchecked dissatisfaction can lead to pretty grim consequences.

I mentioned the study guide, First Things First in my last blog.  “Contentment is a choice,” writes Edwin Friesen:

“True contentment frees us to enjoy our gifts in the present.  To be content does not mean that we don’t work for better tomorrows or plan for the future.  It does mean that we do not let our dreams and concerns about tomorrow rob us of fully enjoying the gifts we have today.” (p. 35)

How are you choosing contentment?

dori-zerbe-cornelson-220x220About the Author: Dori Zerbe Cornelsen works with Mennonite Foundation of Canada encouraging and inviting generous living.  She and her husband Rick live in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

 

 

Image Credit: Money

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.

Talking About Faith and Finances: a bright side and dark side

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches. Today we welcome Dori Zerbe Cornelsen, from the Mennonite Foundation of Canada, back to the blog. She shares about “a bright side and dark side” to talking about faith and finances. See what Dori has to say, and please join the conversation on Facebook or here on the blog by leaving a comment.

money or God

What has more immediate power in your life- God or money?

What has more immediate power in your life – God or money?  When you start your day, what is most on your brain – your to-do list or a to-experience attitude?

I am a committed Christian who tries to live a Spirit-infused life in the way of Jesus.  I belong to a community of believers that cares deeply about faith impacting life.  At the same time, I often close that part of me when I open my eyes in the morning and think about everything that needs to get done that day, week, month…  And even before Monday morning comes, I definitely get the Sunday night blues.

It’s not about the money, I could tell myself, and that might be true.  But part of me knows that I do what I do to earn a living to have a good life.  When that’s the focus, I get drawn into a dark side of money that tells me the key to my happiness is having enough of it (and more).  Looking out for my security, I get more anxious.  Crazy.

In (rare) moments of clarity I get past lists and expectations to a brighter focus – the privilege of having good work and colleagues, and days when really amazing things happen.  When I start here, I bring the values shaped by my faith community into my day, becoming open to a different good life.  It’s not just about me, my performance or my money but receiving and giving enough for all.

My early mentor in my current work, Edwin Friesen, wrote a study guide connecting faith and money called First Things First.  He starts the book with the dark side/bright side rivalry we have with money and reminds us that we need to choose a side – all the time.

Sound too much like Star Wars? Or maybe just enough… 

You can find a link to First Things First on the Compass website – check it out!

dori-zerbe-cornelson-220x220About the Author: Dori Zerbe Cornelsen works with Mennonite Foundation of Canada encouraging and inviting generous living.  She and her husband Rick live in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

 

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.

Image Credit: God or Money

How do you talk about faith and finances?

compassHow do you talk about faith and finances? No really, how do you?

In August, Marcia Shetler’s blog post suggested providing a conversation table to share about faith and finances. We can gather ‘round with our families, loved ones, friends, colleagues, fellow faith community members, etc. But, what are we going to talk about? In September, the COMPASS blog will dig deeper into the topic of conversations about money.

3 Millennials who like to talk about faith and finances

A group of Millennials who like to talk about faith and finances.

Our guest bloggers include ministers and foundation staff, who will share guidance and best practices. Conversation ideas from resources profiled on the COMPASS website will be highlighted as well.

As COMPASS’ goal is to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances, here are some suggestions—from a Millennial—about how you might frame those conversations:

 

  • Approach others with genuine curiosity and appreciation– whether someone younger than you, from a different generation; someone older than you; or even someone in your own generation.
  • Ask open-ended questions, as these generally lead to more engaging and life-giving conversations.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about money. It’s a reality for everyone, and Millennials in particular understand this as their generation has had to come to grips with the challenges related to student loan debt.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask what someone believes. Sometimes this may not be the easiest thing to start with, but as the conversation goes, or as future conversations emerge, this may naturally develop. It may also be helpful to imagine or ponder what you see in the person you are talking with, particularly in the way of their gifts, choices, and/or passions. How might these be a reflection of God’s work, call, or mission, or one’s vocation as part of that?
  • Avoid using language- in words, or body language- that might suggest judgment. If you are open, honest, authentic, and inviting, chances are the person you are talking with will be too.

So, how do you talk about faith and finances? As we unpack this question this month, we would also love to hear from you and share your thoughts and perspectives. If you would like to ponder this question and share a reflection, please let me know via a comment here or on Facebook.

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.