After Graduation… Student Debt?

After my wife Allison's and my most recent graduation.

After my wife Allison’s and my most recent graduation.

As the calendar turns to May, many students across the United States and Canada are preparing to graduate. Some are graduating from college or graduate school. Many others are preparing to graduate from high school, and then either enter the workforce or continue their educations in college.

All of these graduations are major life achievements worth celebrating. So in some ways I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but graduation can also mean it’s time to really look at and prepare for paying back your student debt.

For high school students preparing to begin college or further study, higher education loans are likely the first ones you will be taking on in your life. Most student loans require you to complete some kind of basic education about the loans, including learning about the life of the loans and their cost often online in a half hour or less.

This introductory information is helpful, but if you are like I was when I graduated from high school a decade ago, you may complete the online “training” with little more thought than going through the motions. Had I paid more attention, I would have better understood the potential for long-term student debt.

Those of you graduating college and entering the workforce will likely have a “grace period” on your loan payments upon graduation. After that period you will be required to make regular payments on your loan debt. Spend some time determining what those payments are and how they are structured, including the amount of interest. If able, I recommend beginning paying them off as soon as possible as to cut down on the amount of accrued interest.

Those who graduate from college and continue education with graduate study can place your school loans in deferment because you are continuing your education. However, if you are working while a student, it might be wise to make some kind of payments toward your student loan debt to at least reduce the cost of interest. (Not to mention that your student loan debt may continue to increase if you have added loans for your graduate education.)

These nuggets and observations are ones I have learned from experience. They are not necessarily bad things, but it’s helpful to have awareness and understanding of them.

Returning to graduation, congratulations on your studies and best wishes on your life’s journeys and next steps!

As we celebrate the graduation season during May and June,

  • What questions do you have about student loans and student loan debt?
  • What things are you wondering as you make final decisions and preparations for what’s next?

These are the questions that COMPASS will be exploring over the next few weeks. Please join the conversation.

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.

Eco-Friendly on a Budget

As the calendar turns to April, our focus turns to environmental stewardship. Later this month, on Friday April 22nd, the World will observe Earth Day 2016. In observance, the COMPASS blog will feature perspectives all about being environmentally friendly on a budget and our stewardship of the Earth.

eco friendlyThe first post in this series will take up the idea that “We Are What We Eat.” In addition to this, other reflections will include thoughts pertaining to: the stewardship of recycling; sustainability; community agriculture; the work of restoring creation; as well as water stewardship. If you would like to share a post or reflection within this theme, please let me know as we are always looking for more perspectives to share as part of COMPASS and our shared conversation about faith and finances.

To begin our conversation, consider these questions:

  • Do you think about where the food you eat comes from?
  • Do you actively recycle in your home and office?
  • Do you produce more things that go into recycling each week, or the garbage?
  • Do you leave lights on in rooms that you are not seated in? How about water running while you are brushing your teeth?
  • How might the answers to these questions be informed by your faith?

A Personal Confession

In asking these questions, I have to confess that I often come up a bit short. I don’t always eat the healthiest diet, nor always look for the most sustainable source of food. I do occasionally leave lights on in rooms that I am not in, and from time to time catch myself leaving the water running while no longer actively using the faucet. Even with the ability to recycle, I still think my wife Allison and I produce more garbage than recycling.

I work hard to recycle both at home and in the office, and this is made easier by living in neighborhoods and cities where recycling is a priority. However, I have come to learn through traveling, that this is not always the case across the country and world in all communities.

The way we care for our environment matters to me, because I believe that we are called to be stewards of creation. In Genesis we are reminded that God has created all, and invites us to participate with God in caring for it and working with it. When we lose sight of this, when we don’t show care for it, we are all impacted. Not only does it negatively impact the quality of our planet, it shows disrespect for the beauty that God has created for us to live and work in.

Environmental Stewardship on a Budget

How we live faithfully in this way on a budget sometimes may mean a bit more of a cost. Choosing to eat healthier may not always be the cheaper option. Recycling may not always be more budget friendly than garbage. But at least, utility costs are usually positively impacted when you turn the lights off as well as the faucet off. And, if you don’t mind it in the summer, you can turn the temperature up on your thermostat to save energy during the day, as well as down a bit during the winter to cut down on heating costs.

As we take up these questions this month, I invite you to share your perspective, and I look forward to the conversation together.

timothy headshotAbout the Author: Timothy Siburg is the Communications Associate for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and focuses especially on the center’s COMPASS initiative focused on creating conversations and resources for faith and finances among younger Adults and Millennials. Timothy also currently serves as a congregational mission developer, among a few other roles and blogs regularly on his own blog as well.

Image Credit: Eco Friendly

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.

Managing Debt

A new part of the COMPASS resources this year are live chats with thought leaders on the month’s theme featured on the blog. During March, COMPASS has focused on “Managing Debt: Loans and Money in March.”

Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director of The Free Methodist Church in Canada

Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director of The Free Methodist Church in Canada

This past week Sandy Crozier presented on Managing Debt offering tips and ideas for how to repay debt, have emergency savings, and to be financially fit. The recording of the chat is available here to watch the discussion and gain Sandy’s wisdom.

Please note, as this was the first COMPASS Live Chat there were a few technical issues in the first 5-10 minutes of the recording, but after that, it worked well.

Enjoy the presentation, and please share any thoughts, questions, or comments on the topic that you may have here in the questions and we’ll continue the faith and finances conversation about managing debt together.

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.

Mint.com- a tool for budgeting, saving, giving & more

During February the COMPASS blog is having “Faithful Fun with Finances.” We’re thinking about credit scores, budgets, planning, and other topics. In this post, new COMPASS team member Jessica Zackavec shares about a resource which she has found useful, Mint.com, as a tool for budgeting for Millennials. We share it here as a look at one potential tool and resource that can be used in the budgeting process.

Budgeting can be difficult, as most Millennials in this fast-paced world recognize. Most of us are always on the go which makes it hard to keep up with a monthly budget, or at least I know it’s hard for me. I’m a newlywed with a husband who has a busy work schedule (he works full-time and is a volunteer firefighter). Our time together is often limited, which makes it quite precious. Finding time to sit down and figure out the budget isn’t something either one of us really wants to spend much of our time on. I found Mint.com a while back, and decided to give this budgeting tool a try. (Mint.com is related to Intuit and Turbotax which most people have heard of, which increased the credibility for a new user like me.)

Budgeting using Mint.com

Budgeting using Mint.com

Set-up

When you start with Mint.com I recommend using Firefox as your browser to ensure a smooth experience. It will ask if you would like to connect your bank, credit card, and loan accounts. You can connect them to your Mint account by following the instructions and using your online bank, credit card, or loan logins and passwords. Some may find this a little scary, but we did our research and felt very at peace about using it.  You need to do whatever you are most comfortable with personally. Once you connect your accounts, Mint will categorize your spending. (Just note that you may need to go back in and re-categorize a few purchases here and there).

Budgeting

The Mint.com App

The Mint.com App

You are able to set up a monthly budget. Once you establish an account, Mint categorizes your spending; it will show you exactly what your spending looks like for the last month. Mint will inform you via email if your spending goes over budget in any category, which is a helpful reminder!  Also, Mint.com has an app which makes it great for me and my husband to see what’s happening with our money even when we are apart.  It’s very convenient to log in to one place or open the Mint.com app to view our finances. Logging in to each account separately was a time consuming chore for us. If you are on the go like we are, you will love what Mint can do for you and your budget!  It’s easy to forget some of those small purchases which add up by the end of the month.  It is quite beneficial to see what your money is actually used for.

Saving

One of the cool options we have both really enjoyed is the goal section. We are able to create our own savings goals such as for a down payment on a house and an emergency fund.  Mint will also give us an estimate of when we will reach our goal. It also has a visual tool to help us track our progress and see where we are in our saving process.

Giving

Mint.com’s help with our budget allows us to set giving goals too. Establishing our giving goal brought back fond memories of Sunday School when we would try to make a giving goal for missions.  We’d have a big thermometer that you got to color in every time you gave a bit more so we could see where we were with our end goal. Mint provides that visual motivation as well!

Ongoing Use

I have really enjoyed my month with Mint, and think my husband and I will continue to use it. It’s very easy to maintain, and by spending just a little bit of time here and there, you can easily keep track of your financial spending, saving, and giving too!

jessica headshotAbout the Author: Jessica Zackavec is a newlywed and the wife of a volunteer firefighter. She has a passion for stewardship, and enjoys budgeting. She also loves crafting and all things Pinterest, if there is an opportunity to make something amazing for cheaper she will find a way! Creativity is a big part of her life at work and home. She is the Church Relations Coordinator at Barnabas Foundation and works in Stewardship Education, as well as Marketing.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credits: Mint Budget and Mint.com App.

Faithful Fun with Finances in February

How is that for some alliteration? COMPASS’ focus and mission is on creating conversations related to faith and finances for Millennials and young adults. This month on the COMPASS blog, we will dig deeply into some fresh financial topics such as credit scores, credit cards, taxes, income tax filing, and student debt. In March, we’ll continue a focus on finances with a closer look at debt management.

February is a month with more than just Valentines. We are going to have fun thinking about #faithandfinances.

February is a month with more than just Valentines. We are going to have fun thinking about #faithandfinances.

I am looking forward to sharing posts with you on the blog from persons who have far more expertise on these topics than I do. To start the conversation though, I have a few thoughts about some of our February topics.

Credit Scores

I am no expert when it comes to credit scores, but I have checked my wife’s and mine a few times because of having a credit card and paying student loans. I have learned that paying bills regularly and on time has a positive impact on your credit score. The credit score is one factor that is used when deciding if you will be approved for loans or other credit.

Income Taxes

In the United States, income taxes must be filed by Friday April 15th this year. Because of this, I am guessing that most of you have not yet started preparing your tax forms. I have to admit, I haven’t either. It’s on my agenda for this month, and I will let you know on the blog how that goes. Here are some things you can start doing now before filling out your paper or e-form:

  1. Find your 2015 receipts that you might use for deductions.
  2. Make sure that you have received all W-2s and other such forms (like 1099-Misc.) which you receive.
  3. Do a little research to determine the best way for you to do your tax preparation (e.g., do you need an accountant, tax preparation software, do you do it by hand??). The approach will vary based on your level of patience, time, interest, and expertise.

Student Loan Debt

At the start of each month my wife Allison and I make sure to set up payments for our student loans. Because we try to pay enough to reduce the principal in addition to the interest, it’s always nice to see that the total amount has gone down, thanks to the previous payment! If possible, adjust your payment schedule and/or amount to pay more than just the interest on student loans.

These are just a few observations from my experience. It’s also helpful to remember that in spite of all of the stress that financial matters can create, God is present with you. One of my favorite passages to remember which helps me put things in perspective and gives me patience is Isaiah 43:1-7.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you… you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you… Do not fear, for I am with you.” ~  from Isaiah 43:1-5, NRSV.

What are some financial questions and topics that you have been wondering about?

About the Author: Timothy blogs regularly and serves as the Communications Associate for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center with a focus on COMPASS. He also serves at Messiah Lutheran as the congregation’s mission developer.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credit: Hearts

Giving on a Budget

During December, the COMPASS blog is sharing reflections related to giving, since this is an especially gift giving time of year. Today, I share some more thoughts about how my wife Allison and I give on a budget, and offer some tips from our experience that might be helpful for you too.

Making our Christmas Budget

Making our Christmas Budget

My wife Allison and I are not master budgeters by any means. We are also not the most frugal people in the world. That being said, we do have a general budget that we check regularly to see how we are doing, and each year we also sit down and review our gift budget from the previous year and see if we can adjust it for the current and next year.

Allison and I recently had our pre-Christmas shopping budget conversation. It went well, as we went through reviewing last year’s spreadsheet, and creating this year’s. We listed out about how much we planned to spend on every present- for our families, ourselves, and loved ones, including shipping expense, and included costs related to preparing and mailing our annual Christmas letter. We also discussed our year-end giving as another part of our Christmas gifts. It’s always an adventure to go through this process. We want to share our love, but to do so without breaking the bank.

As has become our practice, after creating our spreadsheet, we then pored over our family’s Christmas gift wish lists. I don’t know about your house hold or family, but each year we invite people to put together a list of things that they either would like, want, or need for Christmas, or groups that they would like to support. Ideally the list has a variety of options on it, as well as a variety of costs for different people, families, and budget situations. Having lists like this is helpful. Though there isn’t an obligation to get anyone a present, let alone something on their wish list, it’s helpful for planning and for looking for bargains and deals and ways to save and stay under budget.

I have written quite a bit before on this blog about why we like to give. We do so as a response to the good news, and this time of the year particularly, the joy and good news of Christmas. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims,

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6, NRSV.

It’s rare when our spending comes out exactly as we budgeted on presents and giving. But we’re generally close, often because we took the time to budget and search for cost-effective solutions. When we have a little extra, we can either give to another cause or group we are passionate about, or add it to our savings account.

By budgeting, we’re also able to plan and save up for giving each year. It’s taken a few years to build this practice, but now it’s actually a fun part of our Christmas preparations during Advent.

Do you budget for gift giving? If so, how do you go about it? If not, what might it take to start budgeting this year and next year? What questions do you have about budgeting?

From our experience, here are a few extra helpful tips:

  1. Never talk about budgets with your loved ones on an empty stomach. That’s why we have these conversations often while we eat a meal like breakfast.
  1. Don’t forget that many people, who you might feel a desire to give to, may be just as equally honored and grateful (or more so) if you give a gift in their name to their favorite charity, cause, faith community, or nonprofit organization. It’s always fun to see friends and family’s lists include groups to donate to. If you are looking for a way to be more frugal around Christmas and not just give and acquire stuff, this is a great idea.
  1. You can save money by buying ahead, especially on Christmas wrapping materials when they go on clearance after Christmas Day. It requires a little preparation, but if you are willing to store things for the year ahead, you can often get great bargains.

    Our beautiful (and on a budget) Christmas Tree. Merry Christmas from Allison and me!

    Our beautiful (and on a budget) Christmas Tree. Merry Christmas from Allison and me!

  1. If you love to decorate your house for Christmas, the same principle applies as above. Allison and I found our Christmas Tree that has been ours since our first Christmas together, at a bargain rate of about $30. It’s not the biggest tree in the world, but it’s durable, and has helped warm our home each Christmas together.

What tips would you add from your experience? How do you give and stay on budget around Christmas?

From all of us at COMPASS and the Ecumenical Stewardship Center, thank you for being part of the conversation, and Merry Christmas! May this time of gathering and celebration also be a time of remembering God’s gifts for each one of us, a time of giving thanks for those gifts, and sharing the joy of them with all whom we meet.

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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.

Budgets, Charity, Giving, and #GivingTuesday

We begin a new month today, December. Over the weekend, those of us in liturgical Christian traditions began a new season and church year as well, with the beginning of Advent. Today also happens to be #GivingTuesday, a day that follows Thanksgiving and the likes of “Black Friday,” “Small Business Saturday,” and “Cyber Monday,” days that are focused on spending and supposed deals with potential for savings.

Hands holding a gift box isolated on black background

Giving- what does it mean to give? 

In this spirit, the COMPASS blog is sharing reflections and insights about budgets, charity, and giving during December. We’ll ponder about how to give on a budget. Among the reflections and perspectives you will hear from in the weeks ahead, are from people working in philanthropy for congregations, churches, and nonprofits.

For today though, this #GivingTuesday, I want us to reflect on what it means to give?

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NRSV). As I have written before, I believe that God has entrusted us with all that we have, and what we do with this is our joyful response. For me, this means intentionally budgeting to give, being generous, and helping be a part of God’s work in the world.

My wife Allison and I started having budget breakfasts a few years ago, where at least once a month, and lately usually twice a month, we check in and see how things are going. At these meetings, we strive to always take at least 10% of what we have earned or been given over the previous month, and direct that to giving, usually in our congregational offering. Believing that all that we have has been entrusted to us by God, what we have is not ours then, rather it’s God’s. Thus, we return to God a portion of what God has entrusted to us (kind of like the “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25).

Allison and I give both because we see needs in the world and know that we have an ability to partner and respond, but also because we are so grateful for everyone near and far who have (and continue to) supported us thus far.

Allison and I give both because we see needs in the world and know that we have an ability to partner and respond, but also because we are so grateful for everyone near and far who have (and continue to) supported us thus far.

We also try and give a little each year to at least one of our alma maters as a way of paying it forward. We have been blessed with great scholarship support over our years of study from people who believe that education matters. We agree, and likewise want to help others in their pursuit of it.

Additionally, in our budget we leave some for potential usage or giving to respond to particular needs that may come up, or organizations doing good work that connect with our passions.

As today is #GivingTuesday, I want to invite you to consider giving some to an organization or group that you have heard about or seen in action that does good work responding to some of the needs of the world or local community. If you need some added motivation, there might even be incentives to give today like prizes or matching gifts. Of course, there is also the fact that your gifts are likely tax deductible and with it being December, the tax year will end at the end of the month.

What does it mean to you to give? Why do you give?

Are you participating in #GivingTuesday? If so, what types of causes or organizations are you supporting today and why?

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credit: Giving.