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

Hope you have a Debt-Free Christmas!

By Sandy Crozier
box-2953722_1280
Christmas is a time for giving. It is a time for thinking of others. A time for expressing the
joy and hope we have inside because of God’s perfect gift to us.

Gift giving, holiday parties and family gatherings are all good things–but when they become the focus of the season, many people experience stress, guilt, and pressure to spend what they do not have–as well as the debt that follows. With the Canadian Debt-to-Income ratio hitting 150% early this year, many people are still paying off last Christmas (if not the one before too).

Somehow, we have bought into the cultural lie that we have to spend a lot for Christmas gifts to be socially acceptable. There are now guidelines on who and how much to buy for everyone from your boss to your mailman.

Sadly, many feel that even if they are completely broke, they can still spend thousands of dollars on Christmas gifts—and believe it is not only their right to do so, but that they are chain-1027864_1280obligated to do it. For those living on tight budgets, who have been as careful as they know how to be, and have a Budget or Spending Plan–the pressure to overspend at Christmas is still there.

And it is not just money that we overspend. There is also the mounting pressure to attend every event, party, rehearsal, and gathering. Saying yes to these will surely over tax our time and emotions. At the very time of the year when relationships could and should be of highest priority, over-activity and overspending combine to become a toxic potion that effect our relationships with God and each other.

The Christmas story begs us to see it as far more than a peak event in December that is soon followed by the reality filled with bills we cannot pay. We should be celebrating the greatest gift of all–God with us. But it should not come with any more debt–other than the debt of love to God and each other.

Tips to having a Debt-Free Christmas

  1. Make a commitment to NO NEW DEBT at Christmas – Overspending increases stress, not joy, to the season.
  2. Set a budget for your holiday spending and stick to it! Make a list of everyone you are buying a gift for and what you can afford to spend–and don’t go shopping without the list. You will be far less likely to buy on impulse.
  3. Save BEFORE you Shop – Many people find it is necessary to open a completely separate account for this purpose. You can set yourself up to have an automatic transfer of funds to a savings account and come Christmas time you’ll have money ready for shopping.
  4. Pay Cash / Avoid Credit – One of the best ways to stick to a budget is to pay cash for everything. Take out the total dollars you can afford to spend over the holidays. Put the money in an envelope and pay for all your gifts from that single source.
  5. Shop Early – Last minute shopping can be expensive. Stores may be out of the items on your list. When you are tired and frustrated, it is easy to make costly impulse buys just to cross that name off your list.
  6. Be Creative – There are a lot of ways to give without spending any or very little thought-2123970_1280money. Handmade crafts, cookies or jars of preserves are always appreciated. You can give your time/service (babysitting, cleaning, home repair, etc.) Use reward points gift cards (movie pass or restaurant). For those hard to shop relatives who do not need anything – consider giving a gift in their name of a goat or cow through World Vision or Samaritan’s purse or another mission that is important to them.
  7. Get out of the house & enjoy the season. There are lots of lights, community events, carol sings and more that you can enjoy for free with your family that focus on the season and not your wallet.
  8. Model a sane schedule – Avoid overtaxing your health and relationships by limiting how many commitments you make. And when you do feel stressed and pressured to do more – stop and take a deep breath. Do what really needs to be done and then choose to take the second deep breath of God’s Spirit. Take this moment to reflect on your perspective and ask God’s Spirit to guard your heart and renew a right spirit in you. Bill Bright used to call this “Spiritual Breathing.” Remember – Christmas is not about the gifts, it is about “The Gift” to each one of us – one that costs us nothing but cost God everything.


About the Author

Sandy CrozierSandy Crozier is Stewardship Development Director of The Free Methodist Church in Canada.

Image credits: pixabay.com

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.

The Student Debt Challenge

By Marcia ShetlerGraduates with Student LoansIn a month or two, commencement ceremonies will take place at colleges and graduate schools across North America. Can you imagine graduates walking across the stage and receiving another slip of paper besides their diploma? That document would be their student loan bill.

According to US News & World Report, in recent years seventy percent of US students graduated with student loans. So for every ten graduates you see filing past you, seven of them would receive that piece of paper. The Globe and Mail reports similar statistics for Canada, where four students out of ten might have no student debt. What might the numbers on those papers look like? In 2016, the average Canadian graduate had more than $25,000 in debt. In the US, it was more than $37,000.

Student debt creates many challenges:

  • weight-loss-850601_1280The University of Toronto reports that students who took out more student loans were more likely to have poor mental health in early adulthood;
  • Time Magazine says that student debt can delay major life events such as buying a home, getting married, or having children;
  • Time also says that graduates with debt may work more than they wish, including taking a second job;
  • and MarketWatch reports that those who took out loans to pay for higher education but did not complete their degree have the most difficulty repaying their loans.

But student debt doesn’t have to be part of your new normal. There are things you can do to avoid it. And if you’re challenged by student debt, there are ways to make it more manageable.

This month, the COMPASS Initiative will look at these two sides of the student debt challenge:

  • Get great insights every week on this blog and on our Twitter feed and Facebook page.
  • Grab your lunch or a cup of coffee and join us for a Live Chat with Darryl tip-jar-1796480_1280Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling—a partner of Everence—on Thursday, April 20, 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, 11:30 a.m. Central time, 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, and 9:30 a.m. Pacific time. Darryl will tell us about new student loan repayment options and share stories of experience and hope about this challenging issue.

Student debt can be a burden that affects our ability to live the life to which God has called us. It impacts how we steward what God has given us to manage and our freedom to be generous. Whether we are considering how to finance education or deal with the financial ramifications afterward, the key is seeking God’s guidance and choosing wisely. I hope the information shared this month will help you conquer your Student Debt Challenge!

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.

Photo credits: pixabay.com

How living affordably in college expresses your faith

By Matt DeBall

university-1714975_128-croppedGoing to college is an important decision that establishes independence. As young people branch out on their own and possibly even move away from home, they are able to begin living more directly in line with their own goals. For Christ-followers, this also means learning how to make decisions for oneself and developing habits that put one’s faith into action.

Continuing with this month’s theme, being a frugal college student is not only a decision that is good for a checking account—it is also a means to express your faith. Here are three ways that living affordably through college expresses your faith.

1. It honors God

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God”
(1 Corinthians 10:31, NRSV).

Whether it be limiting how many times you eat out each week or purchasing a second-hand kitchen table instead of a new one, every decision to save money honors God. Not only does being a good steward of money honor God, but living within your means also makes way for being generous. Through being frugal and having the capacity to share of your resources, you are able to support the work that God does in the church and the world.

2. It honors those who support youcoins-668748_1280

When a person goes to college, there is often a band of people who support this decision. Parents, siblings, friends, and church-family members may never journey to a college campus, but they still support the student through prayer and other means. Especially when your family is helping you pay for school, how you spend your money honors them. By avoiding unnecessary purchases and saving extra money, it allows for contributing more to your college education.

3. It honors your future self

“The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets”
(Proverbs 21:20, Living Bible).

Any decision you make today could have an effect on your life tomorrow. While you have the choice to spend the extra money that you have, you could also choose to save it or use it wisely. Choosing to avoid or minimize student loans by paying for all or part of school expenses, for example, makes room for your “future self” to focus less on debt accrued through college. It is through making wise money decisions in college that your future self.

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 his wife, 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 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

Reconsidering consumerism

By John Withum

It was Christmas Eve 2014, and I was in panic mode.

vrcvr4qdFor a few years, my wife and I set Christmas budgets on what we could spend for each other. We left a little wiggle room, but always tried to stick to it. I had spent my budget, but the pile of presents under the tree seemed unimpressive. She was having a rough year at work, and I felt guilty that I had not put more effort into selecting her gifts. And that explains how I ended up spending almost $100 on last minute gifts at Target.

What in the world caused me to attempt to satisfy an emotional response with inanimate objects? Searching for the answer led me to re-examine the messages consumer capitalism has sold me about my self-worth, particularly around the winter seasonal celebrations.

Beginning almost immediately after the front doors have closed on the last trick-or-treaters, retailers roll out deals and decorations for the variety of celebrations between November 1 and December 26. Interestingly, very few of these sales focus on Thanksgiving, and most of them skip straight to the end of December. Why? No one gives Thanksgiving presents.

Consumer capitalism, at least the variety found in the United States, utilises every opportunity it can to earn money on the emotional response to various holidays and special days in cultures. As winter celebrations have continued to evolve in the U.S., consumer capitalism has ensured it has a hand in shaping public formation around two traditions: traditional winter cultural celebrations and the actual Christian holiday of Christmas.

Where did most of what we know as the “holiday season” in the United States originate? The long, dark winters of northern Europe is as good of a place as any to start. Think yule santa-claus-1628845_1280logs, wassail, the various iterations of “Santa Claus” (such as Sinterklaas from the Netherlands, Father Christmas from England, Kris Kringle from Germany), trees, and stockings. There are many, many more to be mentioned, but hopefully this is enough to make the point. It is easy for capitalism to co-opt these winter celebrations because, being cultural, they have developed over long periods of time. They can be further exploited by retail marketing, advertising executives, and businesses who are interested in cashing in on good feelings. Most of these traditions being exploited are from northern Europe, where the lack of daylight in winter months has encouraged celebrations revolving around community, light, warmth, and rebellion against the darkness.

What is surprising is how easily marketers have drawn in classic Christian celebrations of Christmas. The whole message of Christmas, in the words of Christian author Scot christmas-1010749_1280McKnight, is “about a God who entered into the world in a socially shamed family in order to lift the socially shamed to the highest name ever.” It is about Israel’s true king being born into a feed trough while the false king of Israel murdered children. Christmas, situated at the end of Advent, must deal with looking back on the moment when our help in this world arrived and looking forward to the day when justice and righteousness reigns in fullness through Jesus’ return to Earth.

There is a long history—dating back to the late 300s—of Christmas being used to lure followers of Jesus away from the sort of northern European pagan celebrations mentioned earlier. It seems, sadly, that Christmas has a bad reputation for being compromised. For whatever reasons, Christians have constantly been willing to trade the deep, world-shaking message of Christ’s arrival for a more comfortable place in society. It is not insignificant to consider the trade-off of message for comfort began after Constantine imposed the will of the Roman empire on the church by declaring Christianity the official religion in 317 C.E.

And here we are today. We are still trading comfort for our witness in the world. We would still rather tell our children about Santa Claus than have them be outcasts. We continue to drain our wallets and pile up debt in the name of hoping our loved ones feel our love in the weight of the possessions in their hands. We want to go with the flow of society, except on Sunday when it’s time to proclaim and sing the Scriptures of old about the arrival of our Saviour. Jesus Christ, Son of God, forgive us.

fireplace-croppedConsumer capitalism helps all of us to feel better about all of this by appealing to the same sensitivities that gave birth to the aforementioned winter traditions. The sunlight grows short, the darkness grows long, the cold creeps in—so bring us light displays and fireplaces. The change in the season often brings loneliness—so tell us it is time for families and parties at your local chain restaurant. We become thankful for all the people who help us get through the tough seasons of life—so thank them with lots of gifts, purchased online or at your local retailer.

But what if we flipped the script on consumer capitalism and collusion with old pagan traditions? When we realise God is not far from us (Acts 17), we see there could be one thing the winter celebrations have to offer: the focus on light.

Read John 1. Read Isaiah 9. The arrival of Jesus Christ is a light in the darkness. These old winter celebrations are awake to a reality that darkness is difficult to live with, and light is necessary for survival; what they miss is how the light truly arrives and is manifested. God sent his light in the world to illuminate the darkness, and has called followers of Jesus out of the darkness to be witnesses to this light.

When we are confronting the darkness as followers of Jesus the Light, we must be careful not to fall prey to the traditional consumer capitalistic agendas for our world. Splashing the cash on a bunch of gifts is not going to bear witness to the Good News of God being born to rescue the world. There must be a difference between the way we behave towards Christmas—a Christian holy day—and whatever this watered down, consumer capital nonsense is. It begins by asking ourselves what is actually redemptive, especially in the face of what the rest of culture tells us.

Most of us, at this time of year, have calendars full of events and activities. What if we reconsidered which of those were actually important? Colossians 4:5 (NLT) tells us to “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity.” Carefully consider what is occupying so much of your precious time. Which social events will be enhanced by your presence and allow you to spread the light? Which events are merely obligations and only require you to “make an appearance”? Your presence and absence is a message to others, and we are poor stewards of our time if we say yes to every gathering.

If our time matters, then it makes little sense to spend our time in stores (or online shopping!) when that time could be used to remind your starbanner-boxloved ones, children, etc. that they are actually a priority in your life. Use the opportunity to rest and recharge (which is absolutely a biblical response to free time) or to find a way to increase the light of Jesus in your neighbourhood, community, or family. Again, if how we spend our time makes a statement, it will make a statement to our families if we are spending time with them rather than being elsewhere.

What about the thorny business of gift-giving? We can fairly thoroughly dismantle lots of the persuasions of consumer capitalism, but since childhood, we have been taught to expect we will give and receive gifts at this time of the year. Our desire to please our loved ones is not intrinsically bad; our desire to quantify our love with possessions is. We have a choice of whether to buy presents for a few people who we truly love and care about, or a lot of people we feel obligated to give a gift to. When we pare down the list, we can reduce the time and potential financial damage due to guilt, and we can increase how much the gift means to us. My uncle regularly travels throughout the country, and takes beautiful pictures everywhere he goes. One year for Christmas, he combined some of his photographs with my mother’s favourite hymn out of an ornate older hymnal and presented it to her in a beautiful frame. It was very thoughtful, and it hangs on her wall to this day.

This is also an excellent time to teach our children new expectations when it comes to gifts. I grew up making lists of desired toys from adverts in the newspaper, then eagerly storming the living room on Christmas morning to see the piles of presents I expected. No matter what the haul was, I always felt empty by Christmas evening. The presents were opened, the meals were eaten, and there was no longer anything to look forward to. If we teach our children early about the good news of Christmas, and tell them in their terms about our priorities for Christmas, we create an opportunity to form their lives around the Gospel rather than consumer capitalistic desires. Consider the “Want, Need, Wear, Read” approach. It involves buying one thing your child wants, one thing she is in need of, one thing to wear, and a new book to read. This allows children to see gifts as purposeful, meaningful, and that there is more to Christmas than wrapping paper.

Reconsidering our behaviour towards Christmas is not nearly as tidy as tweaking a few shopping habits or taking back our calendars. These long-held consumeristic patterns are tied up with our emotions and, often times, can mingle with our fears of hurting someone’s feelings or disappointing our children if we change these ways. To be sure, toes will be stepped on and boundaries must be created and enforced.northern-lights-984120_1280

Since the fateful trip to Target two years ago, my wife and I have slowly taken back Christmas’s meaning in our lives. We started a Christmas morning pancake breakfast and service at our church for anyone who needs a warm, bright, inviting place to be. We have tamed the number of people we buy gifts for, and focus on gifts that involve spending time with the ones we love. And this year, rather than giving each other gifts, we are scratching an item off our bucket list and going to Minnesota to see the northern lights.

Reclaiming Christmas is hardly easy, but it is worth it.

About the author

Processed with VSCOcam with kk1 presetJohn Withum is the associate pastor of the First Baptist Church of Aurora, Illinois. He also serves as the recess supervisor at a local elementary school. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Journalism from Marshall University of Huntington, West Virginia. He and his wife, Katie, live in Northern Illinois with their dog, Bacon.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Happier Holidays: Getting Off the Consumer Escalator

By Marcia Shetlerautumn-19672_1280

During the last week of October, I was running errands. At the grocery store, I noticed snowmen statues scattered among the baskets of fall mums. At the home improvement center, Halloween and Christmas decorations were competing for space on crowded shelves. The holiday shopping season seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, giving us more and more time to plan our shopping strategy to make ourselves and others happy—or so we think.

In North America, shopping has become enmeshed with celebrating the holidays. We can name when Black Friday, Cyber Monday—and in Canada, Boxing Day—take place as easily as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And not only do we know these days, we participate. gift-1420830_1280In their online Holiday Headquarters, the US National Retail Federation’s recent survey found that US consumers plan to spend an average of $935.58 during the holiday shopping season this year. Nearly six in 10 plan to buy for themselves, spending an average $139.61, up 4 percent from last year and marking the second-highest level of personal spending in the survey’s 13-year history. The Royal Bank of Canada reports that the number of Canadians who are spending more than they expect to each holiday season continues to grow, reaching the highest point in five years in December 2015.

The title of this month’s COMPASS Initiative topic may feel a bit dated, as US consumers report a three-way tie for their holiday shopping destinations: department stores, online, and discount stores. And Statista reports that although in North America the United States is by far the largest national market for e-commerce, Canada is slowly but surely catching up, with online retail sales expected to reach almost 50 billion Canadian dollars by 2019. But the escalator imagery is a good one as we consider what happens, unfortunately, to many holiday shoppers, as their expenses and their debt go up and up. According to In Charge Debt Solutions, one survey after the 2015 holiday shopping season revealed that US consumers added nearly $1,000 to their credit card debt balances. While similar Canadian statistics are harder to find, HIBUSINESS reports that Canadian consumer debt reached an all-time high this spring.

So during November, we’ll explore how we can get off the stressful up escalator and on the down escalator toward a more meaningful holiday season. Each week new articles here on the COMPASS blog will provide practical ideas, personal reflections, and spiritual insights. Follow our Twitter feed and join us on Facebook all month long for great curated content on the topic. And learn about resources on the COMPASS web page that you can use for further in-depth study.

Finally, our monthly Live Chat on Wednesday, london-692137_1280-mallNovember 16, 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific, features Darryl Dahlhemier, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling. During this Chat, expect to be inspired with examples of ways to capture the spirit and personal meaning of holiday celebrations. We’ll discuss ways to transform older traditions into new rituals that prioritize connection with family and friends, as well as “Talking Back to Advertising” and getting away from more and bigger material focus. Want to imagine the holidays with no extra financial stress and no “debt hangover” in the new year? Join us at the Chat!

The COMPASS Steering Committee and I look forward to journeying with you this month as we meet each other on Facebook, Twitter, and at our Live Chat, to gain new insights into having Happier Holidays!

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler became the Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center in March 2011. 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

New Engine, New Tires & Luke – Faith in the face of debt

By Timothy Siburg
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Student loans? Broken down cars? How am I ever going to pay this off? Those are some pretty normal reactions to debt, and ones we have heard a little bit about this past month on the COMPASS blog.

What strikes me though as I think about these questions, is a reminder of the way God is present even in the face of our stress, uncertainty, doubt, and fear, all of which can surface when thinking about money and debt.

The Gospel of Luke is full of stories and parables from Jesus about money, wealth, poverty, and debt. For example, there is the confusing parable of the Dishonest Manager found in Luke 16:1-13.

In this story we hear of a manager who has been called to account for his business. In the face of what sounds like the manager’s certain firing, he goes about reducing the amount owed by different individuals in the community to the manager’s master. This is something that certainly could be praised, in that those oppressed and marginalized by debt were getting some of it forgiven. Of course, the story is much more complicated than that.

It’s not as likely in our daily life that someone will come along and just because they can, reduce the amount of debt we owe. If you are assuming that is going to happen for you, I wish you well, but I wouldn’t advise you to plan and budget that way.

Debt is a reality of life. It doesn’t need to be a crushing one, however. It only has power, like money, when we give it that power. We can certainly live in fear of it, if we are not careful. And unexpected and big expenses can help lead us to be in fear.

hand-truck-564242_1920A couple of days ago, my wife and I faced one of the downsides of moving across country from Washington to Nebraska. My wife Allison went to turn the car on in the morning, and every warning light started to say hello to her on the dashboard. As we suspected, our car needed a new battery. That’s not all that surprising, since we have shared one car between the two of us for our six years of marriage, and it’s been a few years and a couple cross-country moves since getting a new battery.

Unfortunately, one of the other downsides of moving, wear, and tear is that your car might also need new tires, plus its next regular oil change. So, with new tires, fresh oil, and a new battery, we spent a bit more this week on our car than we like to do in one day.

This could easily have led us into despair and debt. Thankfully, we budget for such days as this, so it wasn’t that bad. But interestingly, there is another faith element to this.

A few days earlier we had received a refund check in the mail for the balance of Allison’s seminary cost, as she graduated from seminary and actually had money left on her account in her favor. We didn’t think much of the check at the time. The day after the car was running like new, we remembered that check. It was just about the exact cost of all of the car expenses. Sometimes I think God truly has a sense of humor. It’s experiences like this that remind me of just how much abundance we live in and have, thanks to our abundant God.

What makes confronting the reality of debt—whether student debt, housing mortgages, car loans, etc.—possible is the reminder that God is with us, and wants us to live life abundantly. Living abundantly doesn’t mean living irresponsibly. It means enjoying, giving, sharing, and using all that God has first entrusted us with to live our lives and steward them for the sake of our neighbors and communities. It also means responsibly paying off debt early or on time, so as not to be overwhelmed by the interest accrued from it, so that we can live abundantly.

As long as I can keep this in perspective, making those monthly student loan payments, and needed car expenses, for example, doesn’t seem to be as daunting.

Note: That check, in addition to helping our car expenses, will be stewarded in part back to the larger church in gratitude, and in support of other future seminarians.

About the Author
timothy headshot
Timothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison is awaiting call to be an ELCA pastor, and the two of them reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.


About COMPASS

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 or Twitter.

And join us this Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET for a Live Chat with Darryl Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling, for Conquering Your Debt: the Overlooked Key to Faith and Finances. It’s free! Register at https://stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats. People of all ages are welcome!

Image credits: pixabay.com