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.

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.

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.

How To Give More During Lent (and Beyond) – Part 1

By Matt DeBall

If you’re anything like me, you like to fill daysIMG_2941
as full as possible. Whether or not you carefully estimate how long a task or project will take, you begin the day ready to conquer a mountain (or two or five). Though some may call you ambitious, you’re ready to do your best, and if time runs out, there’s always tomorrow to pick up where you left off.

“This is a wise strategy,” you may think. It allows you to make the best use of your time. It brings results that exceed what you thought was possible. And it even means that you experience satisfaction and accomplishment by the truckload. What could possibly be wrong with this?

Imagine filling a cup to the brim with chocolate milk (you pick: 2%, skim, soy, or almond). Hurray! You’ve made the most of your effort and poured like a pro. You’re certainly going
to enjoy every extra drop of your sweet elixir. But how much more difficult have you made the task of carrying it across the room? Overindulgence aside, filling a glass until it’s full may seem advantageous, but it can present unintended challenges or consequences. Over-filling our lives can have the same results.

But you may be asking, “can’t God still use me even if my life is (too) full?” In short, absolutely, yes! Having a full schedule does not exclude us from being used by God to share love, grace, and kindness with others. Whether we have plenty of spare time or none, are refreshed or tired, God can still work through us to bless other people.

However, what’s most likely to spill out when assembling-a-bicycle-1727903_1280 copyGod tries to use us and we’re full to the brim already—our agenda, or God’s? And are we actually able to go out of our way to help people when we’re too distracted to notice their situation in the first place? Just like trying to quickly assemble anything complex, the more rushed we are, the more likely we are to make a mistake or miss something entirely. It is for this reason that, in order to give more, we must first account for things we can give up. Removing certain things will make room for new possibilities.

The season of Lent invites everyone—including all of us over-achievers—to slow down a bit and reflect on our lives as Christian stewards. Investing some time to assess how we currently use what we possess improves our capacity to give more. After doing a self-inventory this week to consider what you can put aside or change, we will explore next week how to take steps forward and give more.

Here are a few thoughts to help get you started:

1) Consider time. For the next week, take note oclock-2097537_1280 copyf how you spend your time. Is there anything unnecessary that should be reduced or eliminated? Are you allowing enough time to rest (both taking breaks during the day and sleeping at night)? Are you satisfied with how much time is spent with your family and those most important to you? With your faith community? Do you have enough time to do the things you most enjoy or from which you find the most satisfaction? Is there any allotment of your time, subtle or drastic, that prevents you from accomplishing your goals? If you don’t like the answers you have for these questions, consider small changes that will improve these areas.

2) Consider possessions. Take a look around all of the physical spaces in which you reside, work, or play (home, car, office, etc.). Is there anything you rarely (or never) use that you could live without? Do you have too much of anything in particular? Do you have any clutter that could be put away or disposed of? Are there any areas that currently distract you from accomplishing intended tasks within them? De-cluttering literal space can certainly lead to a less busy and distracted mind.

3) Consider your budget. How is your money spent each month? Is there anything unessential that could be reduced or removed? Is there anything important for which you do not currently put aside money for that should be added to our budget? If you have any debt, are you satisfied with your current plan to pay it off in a timely manner? Are you content with how much money is given to your church or favorite non-profit organization? Again, small changes can get you closer to where you want to be.

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: Matt DeBall, pixabay.com

Money, marriage, and faith

By Matt DeBall

When my wife, Chelsea, and I were preparing two-2042416_1280-copyfor marriage, our church asked us to
participate in a pre-marriage counseling course. This included meeting with a more experienced married couple who could mentor us. Many topics were discussed through seven learning sessions and four or more mentor meetings, but conversations that I remember most now were about managing money together. In particular, Chelsea and I learned about how each of us view money, and our mentors shared that the earlier we started to save money for the future, the better.

Because of how values, memories, and emotions surround money, it’s no wonder that managing money in marriage is important to get right—to care for one another and plan your lives together. Thankfully scripture offers at least three helpful insights for handling money together as a couple.

1. “For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV).
bicycle-1868162_1280-copy
These words of Jesus are important when considering offerings to the church, but are also relevant for personal finance. Do you or your partner enjoy reading books or magazines? These are likely to be included in your expenses. Do either of you enjoy biking, camping, fishing, or skiing? How about baking, painting, sewing, or woodworking? Money will surely be spent on items to carry out these interests. As a couple plans their financial present and future together, it is important to budget and plan for life-giving hobbies together. Talking regularly about money and special interests allows each person to feel loved and appreciated—both for being able to participate in desired activities and feeling respected by knowing about special purchases.

 2. Whoever loves money never has enough;… This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). There’s no doubt that money is essential in life, but it isn’t most important. Though conversations and planning may difficult for a couple that has one partner who is primarily a “saver” while the other is primarily a “spender,” at the end of the day, your love for one another will surpass your love for anything else, including money. Keeping your love for one another in focus while talking about money will help you work together and care for each other regardless of how much money is in your bank account.

couple-1838940_1280-copy3. “Be content with what you
have, 
because God has said,
‘Never will I leave you;
never
will I forsake you’”(Hebrews 13:5).
Finding contentment together and trusting God can improve any financial situation. Trusting God with your finances and regularly acknowledging that God provides for your family will help you keep money in the right focus.

Prayer is a good practice that reminds us to trust in God, especially when money is involved. You may consider praying the following prayer together before future money discussions:

Loving and generous God,
Thank you for all that we have. We are grateful that you have met all of our needs and continue to provide for us. Please bless this conversation about money and help us to be good stewards of what you have given us—for our good and your glory.
In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

What scriptures help you manage personal finances?

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

Keeping Your College Years Affordable- At Least 7 Ideas (PART 2)

By Timothy Siburg

Last week I shared a few ways to save money during your college years. Here are more helpful ways I discovered to make college more affordable.

Sharing Responsibilities

If you find yourself living off campus or in an noodlestew-1737476_1280on-campus apartment where you are not on a full or regular meal plan, that likely means you will need to cook. Between you and your apartment mates, devise a cooking schedule where you take turns cooking for each other once or twice a week. This will help save on costs and work. Also, think about how to share responsibilities for cleaning the bathrooms, kitchen, vacuuming, etc. Having a plan can make life more enjoyable, avoid conflict, and in some cases, save you time and money.

Furniture and Furnishings

Especially if you are living on campus, dorm rooms have become so ornate in the past few years. It’s not unheard of, to see people spending upwards of a couple thousand dollars to

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The bookshelves my Grandpa, Dad, and I built as they appeared holding my bed up during my first year of college, with my keyboard and some pictures on bulletin boards below.

furnish their room and make it feel like home. If you are doing that, my advice, make sure that you can use the same things throughout your college years (and ideally longer) to make the investment worth it. If you are not planning on keeping everything, then I would always caution about that kind of spending.

In terms of stewardship, look at second hand or homemade options when possible. When I was in college, I wanted to maximize the space in my room, so my Grandpa and Dad helped me build two book cases in my grandpa’s wood shop, which also were strong and sturdy to support and loft the school provide bed on top of them. (In fact, they were much stronger and more sturdy than the school’s provided loft system.) To this day, these bookcases are holding many of my wife’s and my books, and have moved across the country at least three times over the past 11 years.

Activities on and Off Campus

Take advantage of opportunities. On campus, free events are often advertised which can be a meaningful study break, community building, and even entertaining experience. As a student on campus, you can often get into concerts, performances, speeches, and athletic games and competitions for free (or at reduced rates) simply for being a student. This can be a great way to support your friends and roommates. And off campus, many local places like movie theaters, skating rinks and more, have reduced student rates. All you likely need for these offers, is a valid student ID card.

Study Abroad Experiences

rome-study-abroad

When studying abroad in Italy, you have to go and visit the Coliseum in Rome.

One of my favorite parts of college was the opportunity to study abroad in Italy, and tour and perform with my college’s choir across much of Eastern Europe and the United States. Studying abroad was fantastic, but it can be pricey. Look for scholarships, and with any travel, plan well ahead. There can be discounts for being a student to help with travel costs, and if you look for them, the same sort of tips above related to events and experiences can apply. The experience is well worth it, and will serve you well long past college, if you save and plan for it.

Those are at least seven ideas I have based on my own experiences for ways to keep your college years affordable. What ideas do you have?

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy 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. 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.

Image credits: Timothy Siburg, pixabay.com

Keeping Your College Years Affordable- At Least 7 Ideas (PART 1)

By Timothy Siburg

We all know that going to college or graduate school can be expensive. Marcia and Ryan covered that well earlier this month, in fact. I am happy to say that there are ways to keep your college years affordable that worked for me and might work for you.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

“The Great Wall of Cup of Noodles” beginning to form in the spring of my first year in college. By the end of the semester, the entire left hand side of the window would be full of the Cup of Noodles from top to bottom.

During my first year of college, my roommate found a way to save on some food costs by stocking up on cup of noodles soups. He loved them so much, as the year went on, he even built a wall of cup of noodles to help block out the sun near his desk. This was humorous to me for several reasons, but especially because our room’s window was shaded well by a big tree outside it, and given that we were at a college in western Washington state, overly sunny non-cloudy days were not common experiences.

I must confess that I got through college affordably thanks to great scholarship support, and my parents’ help paying for school. I am grateful for that, and in the years since college, have worked to give back financially (and in other ways) as possible to help other students afford the great education that I believe I received. I view that as part of my faithful response, and a way to steward what I have been entrusted with by God.

Even with the great scholarships I received, I discovered at least seven helpful ways to make college even more affordable.

Walking

In college and especially grad school, I put an emphasis on walking. Instead of driving to the palley-1840264_1280harmacy or grocery store a half mile off campus, if it wasn’t raining I loved to walk. This obviously helps save a little on the car costs, but it is also good exercise, good physical stewardship. In grad school, I didn’t have much of a choice, as I went carless in Claremont, California. Thus, I walked to Trader Joe’s a few blocks away for groceries, and even to church, 1.8 miles each way. Of course, you can’t beat Southern California weather, so that was enjoyable. When needing bigger things, like a Costco run, it helped to have friends with cars though.

Friends, Family, and Parents

Speaking of friends, it certainly helps to have friends, family, and especially parents who visit or are nearby. For me, this meant a free place to do laundry whether at my parents’ or grandma’s home while in college. It also meant, good home cooking, which you start to miss while at college. It’s never a bad thing either to have your loved ones come and treat you for a lovely lunch or dinner off campus too. I am grateful I had all of this (and so much more support) when I was in school.

Textbooks

One of the most expensive parts of college can books-1943625_1280be textbooks. In some fields, new editions are printed seemingly every year, and because of that, prices can seem astronomical. Often, you can get by with a slightly older edition, saving you some money. In other cases, using a website like half.com, or a used book site can be helpful. Better yet, if you have friends who have recently taken the class requiring your book(s), perhaps you can borrow it from them, or even trade textbooks as needed? In seminary, when my wife and I found ourselves in the same class, we tried often to only purchase one copy of the required books to share. This worked some times, but we also like to take notes in our books, so other times, we had to breakdown and purchase a copy for each of us.

Here are a few ideas to keep your college years affordable. Come back next week for more.

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy 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. 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.

Image credits: Timothy Siburg, pixabay.com