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

Affording College: Before, During, and After


hand-1840039_1920By Beryl Jantzi

There is an old adage that says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” The same could be said about preparing for the financial realities of paying for college.

Preparation is not a once and done exercise. Preparation is ongoing. One misconception is that preparing for the financial obligations of college is only about saving beforehand or paying off debt once you graduate. In reality, there are several points along the way to redouble your efforts to get as good an education as possible in the most cost-effective way as possible.

There are three stages in Affording College, and each includes proactive steps you can take throughout this journey.

1. Before: for perspective students

  • Know what financing is available. Educate yourself about:
    • Federal loans
    • Private loans
    • Subsidized and unsubsidized loans
  • Shop and Compare:
    • In state vs. out of state costs
    • community college vs. state university vs. private school costs
  • Budget now:lawn-mower-938555_1280
    • Get information on tuition and living expenses for various schools and on campus and off campus costs for various regions of the country
    • Parents: Start 529 plans as early as possible
    • Youth: Consider part-time jobs and summer work to save for college
    • Monitor your debt from year to year
  • Apply, Apply, Apply:
    • Research sources of grants and scholarships, and business scholarships available through parents employers and local civic organizations
  • Do your homework on career interests:
    • Know the first year earning potential of your career of choice to help determine how much you can/should borrow. (Rule of thumb: borrow no more than the entry income of your career of choice)

2. During: for current students

  • Don’t stop looking for scholarships:
    • Scholarships are not just for freshman
    • Return to organizations that may have turned you down for your first year and reapply
  • Don’t take all the loans you qualify for unless you absolutely need to. Borrow as little as necessaryapple-1851464_1280
  • Look for entry level internships for your career and major. Experience will matter
    when it comes to interviewing for work
  • Always know what you owe:
    • Monitor your total debt from year to year
    • Set a limit on what you can borrow based on your career of choice and your first year earning potential

#3 After: for those entering the working world

  • Know the repayment options for all your various loans
    • Prioritize increased payments for highest interest loans and aggressively take on one loan at a time while paying minimum amounts on the others
    • Discuss consolidation of private loans to lower interest payment. Do not consolidate Federal loans which typically have lower interest rates
    • If you are struggling to make payments, do not stop making payments without talking directly with your lender. Forbearance options exist
    • If you can accelerate payments it will reduce total interest paid over the length of the loan

If you find these guidelines helpful, consider viewing three short videos related to these three stages at www.everence.com/college. They are based on the lives of Carol, Erica, and Justin. Each of these students will speak in more detail to the realities of each stage of your college experience.

For more information contact me about additional resources to help you with your college journey at beryl.jantzi@everence.com.

About the Author

Beryl Jantzi and familyBeryl Jantzi serves as the stewardship education director for Everence, a faith-based financial services company of Mennonite Church USA, which serves all who are interested in integrating their faith with their finances.

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

By Matt DeBall

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few thoughts to help get you started:

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

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

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

About the Author

m-deball-9-2016Matt DeBall is the COMPASS Communications Coordinator for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. He also serves as Coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Communication Arts from Judson University of Elgin, Illinois. He loves running, reading, and napping. He and Chelsea live in Northern Illinois with their Welsh Corgi, Watson, and attend the First Baptist Church of Aurora.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you’ve read? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: Matt DeBall, pixabay.com

Seeking a path with your partner

By Dori Zerbe Cornelsen

This summer my spouse and I did a long road trip from our home on the prairies of Canada through the Rockies and into south-eastern British Columbia that has a wealth of provincial parks to explore. We were thrilled to find the Jewel Lake Provincial Park tucked into a valley between mountains. The campground was rustic but the lake and surroundings were amazing.

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Jewel Lake Provincial Park

We took our bikes along the winding road from the campground to the resort at the other end of the lake. Well, resort may be a strong word for those who imagine all-inclusives in tropical destinations. The Jewel Lake Resort has some campground sites with RV hook-ups, some cabins for rent (including rustic hunter cabins) and offers watercraft rentals (no motors allowed!).

At the resort, we met the owner (who happens to be a retired NHL player – which we only found out later to my husband’s chagrin) who told us some of the history of the lake that at one time was home to a boom town during the early 1900’s. “You need to do some hiking to see some of the old mineshafts,” he told us. He gave us instructions to follow a logging road from

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Mineshaft at Jewel Lake Provincial Park

the resort, up the mountain to a closed shaft. “And there’s another one closer to the campground where you’re staying,” he said. “The trailhead is pretty obvious from the road just at the entrance to the provincial park.”

We did the hike from the resort and enjoyed spectacular views of the lake and did indeed find an old boarded up mineshaft from which we could feel very cold air blowing out cooling us from the hot day. Having explored the first mine, we decided to find our way up to the open shaft on the other side of the valley.

Well, we thought we found the trailhead – there was a small opening where you could tell people or at least animals had traversed in the recent past. But a little way up, we found ourselves thrashing through the forest, not knowing which way the trail went next. My partner thought we could keep going – we weren’t going to get lost, really, because all we needed to do was go down the hill to find the road. But I was leery of continuing and finally talked us into going back to the road. We were disappointed but decided to go a little further up the road and there with a ribbon and a wider entrance, we found a wide, easy to follow trail. It was a short hop up to the mineshaft entrance.

Sometimes when we are learning together about money with partners in life, we don’t find a rhythm right away in terms of the trail we want to take together. There may be obstacles, even emotional blocks, to one way of doing a plan together and it might feel like thrashing through the forest and getting annoyed with one another.

It could be that there isn’t only one right way to make a budget or a money plan together. One of us may need to suggest going back to the road to find another way to get to our destination. That’s okay. What we need to do when we work with a partner, is to be open to listening to each other, remember that we have potentially come from homes where money was dealt with differently and so finding a way together might take some time. Conversation about money is worth it – the views when we work well together can be spectacular. So, keep trying to find what works best for you!

About the Author

dori_zc-abundance-profile-picture

Dori Zerbe Cornelsen is a Gift Planning Consultant with Abundance Canada, encouraging and inviting generous living.  She and her husband Rick live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where lots of generous, warm people live in cold temperatures for 6 months of the year.

Image credit: Dori Zerbe Cornelsen

Despite All Odds, The Financial Tool People Love to Hate is Becoming Cool

By Matt Bellconstruction-370588_1280

If you were to build a house, you wouldn’t just show up on the job site with a hammer, a box of nails, and some two-by-fours, and start flailing away. You’d have a plan—a blueprint.

Having a plan before you hammer the first nail is essential if you’re going to build the house properly.

Why is it, then, that so many people resist the idea of using a plan for building their financial life—a budget?

I once commissioned a research study in which budgeters and non-budgeters were asked about their perceptions of a budget. The gap between in their answers couldn’t have been wider.

Non-budgeters used words like “restrictive,” “rigid,” and “constraining” to describe budgets. One non-budgeter explained his resistance with humorous honestly by saying, “If I used a budget, I’d have to think before I bought something.”

office-594132_1280We wouldn’t want that, would we?

By contrast, budgeters felt “in charge” of their money, said a budget “allows me to control my spending,” “keeps me in a position of knowledge and control,” “allows you to plan for the future,” “helps me save money,” and “helps keep emotion out of spending decisions.”

Some non-budgeters acknowledged that they would probably benefit by using a budget. One said, “I think it would open our eyes to how much money we waste each month on non-essentials. I think I would recognize that we could easily pay for all expenses without ever having to use credit cards.”

But even their own reasoning wasn’t enough to get them to actually use a budget.

When asked why they don’t use a budget, one non-budgeter explained that “trying to stick to it wouldn’t be easy,” and tracking how much is spent in each category “seems like a pain.” That same person acknowledged not saving enough for their children’s future tuition costs.

The Bible tells us we’re stewards—managers—of God’s resources, and that we’re to keep tabs on the stuff that’s under our care.

“Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.” – Proverbs 27:23

Not many of us are tending flocks or herds these days, but most of us do have some money flowing into and out of our lives. With nearly half of all adults in the U.S. acknowledging it would be tough to come up with $400 to cover an emergency, perhaps more of us could stand to give a little more attention to our cash flow.mint-life-logo

The good news is that things are changing in the budgeting space. With the advent of free online budget tools like Mint.com, it’s never been easier to create and use a budget. It wasn’t that long ago that budgeting was a conversation killer. Now it’s something very close to fun—even cool.

People using today’s high-tech budget tools don’t even seem to realize they’re using a budget. In workshops, when I ask people how many use a budget, I still don’t get very many hands in the air. But later, when I ask how many use Mint, I get a lot more.

What exactly do they think they’re doing, if not budgeting? “Checkin’ on my money” is a common answer.

Works for me.

Do you use a budget? Why or why not? If you do, what’s your tool of choice?

About the Author

matt-bell-fb-profile-pictureMatt Bell is the author of four personal finance books that were published by NavPress, serves as Managing Editor at Sound Mind Investing (www.SoundMindInvesting.com), a Christian company that publishes an investment newsletter, blogs at www.MattAboutMoney.com, and speaks at churches, universities, and conferences throughout the country. Using a budget helped him recover from his own prodigal son experience.

Image credits: pixabay.com, blog.mint.com

Your Money GPS: Do You Know Where You Are?

By Marcia Shetler

map-455769_1280How did we get from place to place before Google Maps, Mapquest, and Garmins? I’m a member of the Boomer generation, so I remember using paper maps for every trip and vacation. One of our family’s favorite stories is laughing about the time our well-marked vacation map flew out the open car window as we were driving down the highway.

While we think today’s technology means that we never have to ask for directions, there are plenty of examples of a GPS leading people astray, with their final destination not being what they expected: at the best, interesting—and at the worst, perilous.

It can be distressing to be lost when we are traveling. It can be just as unsettling to feel lost when it comes to our finances. Unfortunately, we don’t always know what to use to find our financial direction and stay out of danger.

gps-41992_1280One of the best tools to guide you on your financial journey is a budget. Using a budget allows you to map exactly how you want to spend your money and provides a clear guide for short-term and long-term direction regarding your finances. This month, the COMPASS Initiative will focus on this topic. 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. And learn about resources on the COMPASS web page that you can use for further in-depth study.

Finally, our monthly Live Chat on Monday, December 19, 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific, features Matt Bell of Sound Mind Investing. Matt will give us great ideas for creating and using a budget. 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 explore ways you can become more comfortable, secure, and knowledgeable about your money!

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