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.

Hope you have a Debt-Free Christmas!

By Sandy Crozier
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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

Four Guidelines for Financial Planning

By Matt DeBall

Financial planning is important, and it’s been great to talk about it this month. Marcia Shetler identified the new rules for financial planning for young adults in comparison to past generations. Jacqueline Painter of Everence highlighted the cost of making financial mistakes and led an awesome Live Chat about faith-based financial planning. Most recently, John Withum shared reorienting spiritual principles for financial planning.

As we conclude this month, here are four quick guidelines to help you with financial planning.

 Assess where your money is going

directory-235079_1280Do you have a budget? If not, consider forming one that reflects your goals and values. If you do have a budget, do your financial actions represent it well? Is there any way to modify your budget or spending habits to more closely put your faith, values, and goals into practice? Knowing how your money is used is a good first step in making changes and charting a course forward.

Ask a friend for help

It’s nice to be self-sufficient and learn new skills, but if you have a friend or family member who is well versed in handling their money, why not ask for help? There’s no reason to struggle on your own and you shouldn’t feel ashamed of asking for advice. (Note: rather than springing questions on your friend at a social gathering, ask if they would be willing to come over for dinner and talk about financial planning.)

Work with a professional

If you had a leaky pipe, you’d call a plumber. If you became very sick, you’d go to a doctor. These and other professionals have expertise and can help you more than you are able to help yourself. This includes financial advisors. If you’re in a difficult financial situation or anticipate one in the future, reach out to a financial professional and prevent current challenges from becoming worse.

Set one goal and stick to it

Financial planning can seem like a daunting task. Rather than trying to make many arrow-2886223_1280financial maneuvers all at once, set one attainable but challenging goal that will make a difference, and stick to it. Do you want to save more money? Consider where there is room in your budget to do so, and open a new checking or savings account to deposit that money after each paycheck. Improving your financial management one goal at a time is far better than becoming worn out or discouraged by trying to make many changes and not seeing much progress. Celebrate steps in the right direction and set new goals as old goals become habits.

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

Reorienting Spiritual Principles for Financial Planning

By John Withum

car-768711_1280While planning a day off from school in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the titular character wants access to a vintage Ferrari belonging to his friend Cameron’s father. When Cameron points out his dad’s meticulous attention to  details of the car, including its mileage, Ferris replies, “We’ll just drive home backward,” with the hopes the mileage will reverse.

Financial planning, at least in the “conventional” view outside of the church, is meant to maximise the potential of our money to build wealth and protect the future for the investor. When the working years are over, this line of thinking says, money will provide a verdant pasture for retirement and golden years of relaxation and leisure.

But much like Ferris Bueller, we have to look at the whole situation backward. We are followers of Jesus, whose birth was an exaltation of the lowly, whose ministry cared for the poor and powerless, and whose victorious kingdom reverses the power structures of the kingdoms of this world. This alone causes us to think of all sorts of priorities in new ways. Our approach to financial planning, then, must be based around Kingdom priorities as well. It matters little whether we would be considered wealthy in this world or poor; our entire lives fall under the rule of King Jesus, and we should view how we utilise our money accordingly.

While not exhaustive, here are three reorienting principles around which we should consider financial planning.

First, financial planning gives us the opportunity to line all of our priorities up together. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 that our heart will find rest wherever our treasures are (v 21). We are also told to seek the kingdom of God above all else (v 33). Even if we talk about Jesus, worship weekly, and participate in Christian community, our money could be living a different life than we are. If we are truly interested in offering our whole lives to Jesus, we need to stop viewing our money as a means to personal gain and instead as a means to further the redeeming and healing mission of Jesus Christ in our neighbourhood and world.

Second, having a plan allows us to utilise our stamp-2022899_1280
money instead of it controlling us. Spending can get out of control quickly, day-to-day necessities can overwhelm, and the urgent can take priority over the truly important. When we lack a plan to use our money wisely, to invest it properly and well, it ends up taking over our lives. No matter what our income, having a plan for how to manage our finances helps us to navigate both day-to-day spending and long-term saving. Most of us carefully plan how to spend our time; likewise, we must have a plan for how to use our money.

Finally, our money can do work for us in the years our bodies can no longer physically serve the Lord. Followers of Jesus should be devoting their whole lives—work, rest, time, and money—to God’s ongoing mission in the world. At some point, however, our years of work will end, and eventually (hopefully many years later) our bodies will not be able to continue the same level of participation or activity we once could offer. In those years, if we have planned well, our money will be able to continue bearing the fruit of our life’s service to Jesus. My education was funded by the financial legacy of several individuals who had given their lives to educating pastors and missionaries. I am blessed to be a part of their ongoing work.

The platitude “you can’t take it with you” is true, in the sense we give up personal control of our finances at the moment of our earthly lives. If we have planned well, however, our money can continue serving the Lord long after we are gone.

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

The Cost of Making Financial Mistakes

By Jacqueline Painter

When it comes to our physical health, many of us regularly visit with and get advice from doctors, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists. And when we have concerns about doctor-check-uprelationship issues, we often talk with our pastors, professional counselors and therapists. We know we don’t always have the answers we need, so it makes sense that we seek out the wise counsel of experienced professionals.

But when it comes to our financial decisions, a lot of us avoid thinking about it or try to do it alone, instead of asking for help—and that can be costly.

According to a 2012 report by the Consumer Federation of America, two-thirds of middle-class Americans said they had made at least one “really bad financial decision”, and nearly half acknowledged that they had made more than one bad financial decision. Eleven percent of these people said these bad decisions had cost them at least $50,000, and 2 percent said their losses had been $200,000 or more.

It’s difficult for us to be able to view our money and other financial decisions from every thinkingangle to see if we’re making good decisions or about to make a costly mistake. One reason likely is because talking and thinking about money can be emotional. Those emotions can get in the way of making good financial decisions. On top of that, determining your financial goals—much less accomplishing them—is hard work, especially when you’re not sure what decisions to make or don’t have someone to help keep you accountable.

Responsibly handling your financial resources is a multi-faceted journey, and one that can be complicated to walk through by yourself. Working with a qualified financial planner to develop a well-constructed financial plan can help you gain control of your finances, and get a clearer understanding of your short and long-term goals.

In general, a wide-ranging financial plan encompasses your entire financial life, including:

  • Cash flow Does it ever feel like your money is controlling you, instead of the other way around? If so, then you might need to take a closer look at your cash flow.
  • Protection planning. What would happen if a fire were to destroy your home? padlockWhat would your family do if they lost their primary source of income because of a death or disability? Obviously, there’s no way to know what will happen in the weeks, months, or years to But you can take steps now to have resources in place for your family and loved ones in case the unexpected happens.
  • Tax All of us are affected by taxes. And whether your finances are fairly simple or really complicated, our tax system can be pretty confusing. Because nearly every financial decision you make can have tax consequences, it’s important to understand how your taxes work and know what you can do to impact your tax situation.
  • Investment From retirement income to college funding, there are a number of reasons why we invest our money. But in order to have that money for our future needs, it’s important to think strategically about the way we are investing. This includes understanding your goals, objectives and risk tolerance, and then finding investments that match your needs and values.
  • Retirement planning. The biggest fear that many people have about retirement is running out of money, which is why you can never begin too early when it comes to retirement The sooner you start, the more time you have to determine how much you will likely need in retirement and how you might get there.
  • Estate Effective estate planning gives you the ability to direct your assets and plans in the event of your death. It also helps you make clear who should be the custodial and financial guardian of your children or other dependents, should you die unexpectedly. Without an estate plan in place, state laws and/or local court decisions will prevail, and they may not be what you wish to happen.
  • Charitable Being generous is an important way to live out your faith and values. give-moneyDeveloping a plan for your financial affairs will help give you the freedom to be more generous, so you can make an impact on the missions and ministries closest to your heart.

The end result is a complete financial plan that gives you the big picture of your current financial health and helps you get on the right path for the future. Planning for your financial life may be one of the best gifts you ever give to yourself and those you care about. It’s a way for you to gain control of your finances and avoid some potentially costly mistakes down the road.

JJacqueline_Painter_2017acqueline Painter is an Everence Financial Advisor at 841 Mount Clinton Pike, Suite A, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22802. Securities offered through ProEquities Inc., a registered broker­ dealer, member FINRA and SIPC. Advisory Services offered through Everence Trust Company, a Registered Investment Advisor. Investments and other products are not NCUA or otherwise federally insured, may involve loss of principal and have no credit union guarantee. Everence entities are independent from ProEquities Inc.

Image credits: pixabay.com

New Rules for Financial Planning

By Marcia Shetler
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In 1992, William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote the book Generations: The History of America’s Future. They believe that while each generation is shaped by its particular place in history, they also have characteristics that cycle over the years. The Baby Boomer Generation, born from approximately 1943 – 1960*, changed the rules about many aspects of North American culture, and continue to do so as they enter retirement. Like the Boomers, Millennials—born approximately 1982-2004*—are doing the same, including financial planning.

(*Strauss and Howe’s generational definitions)

Millennials are writing new rules about housing, jobs, and relationships, based on their experiences as digital natives and growing up during the economic downturn. Many are ipad-820272_1280already saddled with more debt from educational and student loans than what would have taken their elders decades to accumulate. They value experiences over things, which affects how they live out their vocations. They treasure close relationships, yet have friends all over the world. They seek to build integrated lives of personal satisfaction and sufficiency.

Is there a place for financial planning in the world of a Millennial? There should be. Having an understanding of both the short-term and long-term aspects of financial planning may be more important for this generation than any other. Along with the need to understand the day-to-day aspects of financial management, Millennials may one day oversee the inheritances they receive from their parents and grandparents. Many financial planners are making new rules about financial planning to serve the Millennial generation well. For example, financial planner Joe Pitzl—a Millennial himself—uses social media, invites his clients to see him as a coach, and encourages looking at a variety of opportunities for building a monetary nest egg.

This month, the COMPASS Initiative focuses on financial planning:calculator-385506_1280

  • Get great insights every week on this blog and on our Twitter feed and Facebook page.
  • Join us for a Live Chat with Jacqueline Painter, financial planner with Everence, on Tuesday, October 10, 1:00 p.m. Eastern time, Noon Central time, 11:00 a.m. Mountain time, and 10:00 a.m. Pacific time.

I recently read a great quote from a Millennial about giving: “Do not just ask young adults to have the courage to part with their money. Encourage them to join it on its journey.” Good financial planning allows you to join your money on its journey and helps you live the integrated life of satisfaction, sufficiency, and generosity to which you aspire. I hope the information shared this month will help you demystify financial planning!

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