Higher Learning and Student Debt: Is it Worth It?

During March, COMPASS has focused on “Managing Debt: Loans and Money in March,” including last week’s original live chat with Sandy Crozier. Today, I offer some personal thoughts and questions about student loan debt as we continue the faith and finances conversation, specifically this month about debt. 

Timothy and his wife Allison on the campus of their undergraduate campus where they met, Pacific Lutheran University.

Timothy and his wife Allison on the campus of their undergraduate campus where they met, Pacific Lutheran University.

Before leaving the Pacific Northwest to study and complete my first graduate degree, I was a bit nervous about the potential student loan debt I was about to commit to. I shared my thoughts with my former economics professor when I saw him at my undergraduate school’s bookstore. He told me, “Timothy, it’s just money. It’s just money. It’s an investment.”

However, the increasing cost of higher education—and the debt students are taking on to complete degrees—are causing some to reconsider if the investment is really worth it. According to the Wall Street Journal, 2015 US college graduates accumulated the highest average student loan debt in history, a base average of $35,000 per graduate school graduate and $23,000 per baccalaureate graduate. It is projected that 2016’s class will face an even higher total.

It is not unheard of for those earning professional degrees to graduate with six-figure student debt, including doctors, lawyers, and yes—clergy. Many institutions of higher learning—including seminaries—are trying to curb costs, but the numbers are daunting. With loan totals so high, it is mathematically possible that one might work their entire career and never do much more than pay off their student loan debt. A report by Goldman Sachs suggests avoiding “mediocre colleges”; steering away from lower-paying majors like arts, education, and psychology; and considering other forms besides college education to prepare for a vocation.

Nonetheless, my generation—the Millennials—have the highest percentage ever of college-educated persons, according to a White House study. In our household, my wife Allison and I hold 3 baccalaureate and 3 graduate degrees between us, and Allison is finishing her masters of divinity program this spring. We make our monthly payments, hope for some relief, and trust that in time, the costs will be worth it for our vocations and careers.

Theologian Frederick Buechner has written that “vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” As God’s people, I believe one pursues an education for opportunity and continued learning, and also to follow God’s calling or vocation. I believe that when one senses that they have gifts or passions for meeting the needs of the world, their neighborhood, or society, and when they most fully follow that call, it may lead to school or extended study. It is not always a call to become wealthy, sometimes far from it, especially if student loans are a part of the process. But if one is called, they are also called to trust that they will live in the abundance of God.

So when I think about my professor’s advice in the bookstore, I believe deeply that he was right. It hasn’t always been an easy path, but the investment has been and will continue to be worth it for me at least because it has led me to create connections, to learn, and to have experiences I couldn’t have dreamed about without the education I have been blessed to receive.

If you are looking for ways to reduce your debt—student and otherwise—check out the recording of the recent COMPASS Live Chat on managing debt led by Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director for the Free Methodist Church in Canada.

What has your experience been like with student loan debt? How do you live faithfully while taking it on, or working to pay it off?

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.

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.

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

One More Resolution- To Share More Openly & Often about Money and Giving

January’s COMPASS focus is financial New Year’s resolutions. Earlier this month I shared some of my own, but today I would like to add one more to that list. My wife Allison and I would like to talk more openly and more often with others about money and why we give. Coincidentally, this past weekend we were asked to share a “ministry moment” about stewardship and why we give at the congregation (Messiah Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Washington) we serve. What follows is what we came up with, and what Allison shared aloud.

We are so excited to give and talk about money, that we are jumping up and down in the snow about it.

We are so excited to give and talk about money, that we are jumping up and down in the snow about it.

My husband, Timothy, and I are happy to be one of the couples sharing why we give as a part of this year’s focus on stewardship. In fact, I really like how Messiah has different people share their personal take on why stewardship is important.

But just to play devil’s advocate, I want to share why it might not be very smart to give:

  1. When you give to the church, it leaves less money for spending on fun stuff.
  2. It forces us to realize how much we’re actually spending.
  3. It forces us to realize how much we’re actually making.
  4. It forces us to sit down, with no cell phones, no laptops, and no TV so we can have an honest-to-goodness conversation about what we value, what we believe in, and what our dreams are.

Money does that.  So maybe there are some good reasons to give.

It’s true – once a month we make a chocolate chip pancake breakfast and talk about our finances and budget, partly because giving is so important to us, and we need to know how big or how little my coffee budget needs to be this month.

We ask each other: “What are the things and groups that matter so much to us that we want to give money to them?”

The first place we think of… is often not church. I’d love to say it is, but often it’s student loans from three different degrees that we’re not even halfway done paying, it’s paying for car expenses that helps us get to the grocery store, me to hospital visits, and helps us drive for an overnight once in a while to our families’ homes three hours north, which we haven’t been able to do in five years.

Yes, all of the things I just listed are things we spend money on that aren’t the church, but in all of this, God is at work using what God first entrusted to us.

At church we hear the message over and over again of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and the good news of God’s love which propels not just our work, but this whole community’s work of love and service in the world. It’s in the giving and spending our money intentionally that we’re giving our money and our lives over to God. That includes tithing and giving money to church, but also to organizations that align with our values like our alma mater Pacific Lutheran University, and money for coffee so I can learn your beautiful stories of struggle and joy and faith, and gas for our car and going to school, tuition payments, using our brains and gifts of compassion, empathy, and hard work.

So why do we give to the church? We give because we are only beginning to understand the depth of God’s love that is shown most potently through faith communities like Messiah shaped by the table, and by Christ’s living water. This stuff matters to Timothy and me.

As a couple, to discern where to give our money to, we listen to God through prayer, music, service, worship, our neighbors, and through each other. We continue to find out how God is at work, and how exciting that is to be a part of it.

Happy New Year's from Allison and me in surprisingly Snowy Washington

About the Authors: Timothy blogs regularly 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. Allison also blogs regularly and serves as the Pastoral Intern at Messiah Lutheran, serving a culminating internship prior to being ordained to be a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

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.

Financial New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year from all of us at COMPASS! 2016 is going to be a year of continued, new, and exciting conversations. We’ll continue to explore faith, finances, and topics such as debt management, saving, thanksgiving, gratitude, and giving. We’ll also enter into new conversations about shared economies, alternate living situations, pooling resources, and even piecemealing income.

resolutionsTo kick off the year, during January COMPASS Team members and other Millennial guest bloggers will share resolutions, questions, and ideas for financial New Year’s resolutions. To start this month’s series on Financial New Year’s Resolutions, I figured that it would only be fair if I shared some of my own first.

I have to admit, I have never been enthusiastic about New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I have made them and then not followed through:  I’ve just never really made them. I know that they are helpful for some people, but instead of resolutions, I am going to make a few promises to myself. When I promise something, I generally follow through.

  1. I Promise Myself that I Will Be Healthier

This might sound like a generic resolution, and to some degree maybe it is. But for me, this means more than just making sure I work out regularly. Being healthy also means allowing myself space to be most fully and healthy me, emotionally and mentally. 2015 was a wonderful year of growth and opportunity. My plate filled to the brim with great blessings and opportunities as I have piecemealed income and projects. This is exciting but also means that I end up working so many projects that I hardly ever get a full day off during the week. For my health, sanity, and productivity, I am promising myself that will change in 2016. This may mean occasionally saying no to a project that might have provided some extra financing, as well as to continue to make financial commitments for insurance, health care, and regular doctors’ visits. Being proactive and preventative is a promise for health- both physically but also financially.

  1. I Promise Myself that I Will Take Some Time to Breathe

Also related to health, I am starting the year with the promise to give myself a little more “me time” each day for reflection, prayer, moments of gratitude, and vocational restoration. A day off each week away from work and projects is helpful for me to be most productive, but taking a little time to reflect each day also enables me to be my best self whom God has created and called me to be. Without taking this time, I can give in to doubt and stress related to life and finances, while not taking the time to reflect and be grateful for all that God has done and continues to do.

  1. I Promise to include Creativity in My Life

I have found that writing and blogging is a way that I stay healthy and mentally charged. By carving out some time each day to write, I will also be giving myself a chance to reflect and see how I am doing and breathe without focusing on other projects and work that needs my attention. This time allows me to create and write, something that I believe I am called to do as part of my vocation and identity as a Child of God. When done with my blogging and “me time,” I will be even more focused, productive, and ready to dive back into my work for that day, and be able to get more done.

  1. I Promise to Continue to Budget and Save for a Honeymoon and Make it Happen
Happy New Year's from Allison and me in surprisingly Snowy Washington

Happy New Year’s from Allison and me in surprisingly Snowy Washington- being healthy by taking some time to enjoy it together.

My wife Allison and I have been married for nearly five and a half years now. This is the real confession moment: we have not yet gone on a honeymoon. Because of our vocations, studies, and other demands we moved and started seminary (following our faith calling for further education and preparation for ministry) right after getting married. In the meantime, we have created a few different financial savings account pockets, one of which is for our honeymoon. I am promising to myself that not only will we continue to save for this experience, but at least by the end of the year we will have made reservations to make it happen.

  1. I Promise to Give More

As a late 20-something, I know that my wife and I have a long and exciting life and journey ahead. I’m grateful for that, and that’s why we save as much as we do and budget regularly. This year I am promising to build off of that and continue to give more financially. We’re not “crazy wealthy,” but we’re not starving either. We have been more than able to find the ability to continue to pay off our student debt, give towards our faith community and causes we believe in, and save some. I am happy to say that in each year of marriage we have been able to incrementally increase our giving, and I promise that 2016 will continue this trend as we give more of what has been entrusted to our care.

These are five big promises, I admit. But I think that I can keep them. It might mean giving up an occasional early-morning or late-afternoon meeting for a walk or workout, or taking some time that might have been spent elsewhere to collect my thoughts and write some reflections. Overall though, I believe these decisions will make for a healthier, happy, and productive 2016.

What New Year’s resolutions are you making for yourself? What promises are you making to yourself?

Image Credit: Resolutions

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.

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.

Why Do I Give Thanks?

20151110_141047This month the COMPASS blog is sharing Thanksgiving-themed reflections, especially those that dig deeper into thinking about why we give thanks.

It’s only fair that I should answer this question since I am inviting so many others to share their thoughts here with you. For me, my honest answer is simply, what else can I do?

I’m reminded of the themes of Thanksgiving found throughout scripture, such as this paraphrased passage from 2 Chronicles which has been used to shape a number of song and hymn lyrics on the subject:

Give thanks to the Lord, “For God is good, for God’s steadfast love endures forever.” (based on 2 Chronicles 5:13)

For me thanksgiving and gratitude are a response. I believe that the gifts of God which I have come to believe and understand through Jesus Christ – such as life, love, hope, promise, and reconciliation—are  just that: gifts. There is nothing I can do to earn them. There is nothing I can do to warrant them. Rather, they are gifts freely given by a God who creates, loves, sustains, calls, and invites us to be part of God’s acts of love, mercy, and creation.

I can thankfully respond to these gifts in at least three ways:

  1. Give thanks and praise to God,
  2. Live an abundant life, sharing this good news of the love and gifts of God for all people and creation,
  3. Participate in God’s work of love, hope, and reconciliation, as I believe God calls us all to do in our lives and vocations.

Giving thanks is all about living joyfully and gratefully for gifts beyond measure which I cannot do anything about but be thankful for. I give thanks for this love, and for all who have helped me to grow in my understanding of it. I give thanks for everyone who has shown and continues to show me such love, and hope that I can share this love with others.

My wife Allison

I give thanks for my wife Allison

I give thanks for meaningful work, and life-giving relationships. I give thanks for a loving and supportive spouse, and for my family full of people who also live out their vocations in thankful response to gifts far too numerous to count. I give thanks for friends, colleagues, peers, and mentors who live out their lives to the fullest and, whether they know it or not, provide inspiration for me and others to live fully like them.

My family

I give thanks for my family

 

Today, I particularly give thanks for a loving God, for the most supportive parents and grandparents I could have ever hoped for, for the most amazing life partner in my wife Allison, and for the supportive and exciting work of my siblings.

Who are you thankful for? What are you thankful for? And why do you give thanks?

Please join the conversation with COMPASS as we continue to reflect on why each of us gives thanks.

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.