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.

We Are What We Eat – Part 2

During April, the COMPASS blog is sharing perspectives about environmental stewardship and being eco-friendly on a budget. Today we welcome back regular contributor Dori Zerbe Cornelsen who reflects about how “We are what we eat.”

It is early spring where I live on the Canadian prairies.  There are just a few crocuses blooming in my otherwise still barren garden.  It’s the time of year when I begin to yearn for colour after a long white winter.

Produce from Metanoia Farmers

Produce from Metanoia Farmers

I also yearn for fresh food greens and veggies, grown locally.  One of the ways we have decided to enjoy fresh local produce in the summer is by participating in a Community Shared Agriculture project called Metanoia Farmers Worker Cooperative.  We buy a half share for the two of us and get to eat whatever the land is producing that week, by the work of hands of farmers we know, from sometime in June into September.

I like that faith is part of the Metanoia Farmers’ motivation.  Here is a description:

“The Metanoia Farmers Worker Cooperative is a group of CMU (Canadian Mennonite University) students and alumni, emerging as farmers motivated by our faith, who use sustainable practices to provide food to urban eaters.  We grow a wide variety of only heirloom vegetables and are developing our seed saving skills to continue to be able to grow these vegetables…The Metanoia Farmers operate as a workers cooperative, practicing consensus decision-making models.  We hope to foster meaningful dialogue while joyfully stewarding God’s gift of the land.”

dori-zerbe-cornelson-220x220I can almost taste the kale now…

About the AuthorDori Zerbe Cornelsen works with Mennonite Foundation of Canada encouraging and inviting generous living.  She and her husband Rick live in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Image Credit: Produce from Metanoia Farmers

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.

We Are What We Eat – Part 1

During April, the COMPASS blog is sharing perspectives about environmental stewardship and being eco-friendly on a budget. This week we consider how our decisions about food purchases impact environmental stewardship. Today we learn a little about the sustainable agriculture movement. Later this week we will welcome back regular contributor Dori Zerbe Cornelsen who reflects about how “We are what we eat.”

In a capitalistic society, mass-production of everything—including food—can be thought of as a good thing. New technologies, chemicals, and government policies have reduced the number of farmers and increased the size of farms. The number of farms in Canada decreased by more than 10% between 2006 and 2011. In the US, the number of farms decreased 3% between 2007 and 2012.

However, more attention is being paid to the concerns of this type of farming: topsoil depletion, economic effects of the decline of the family farm, poor living and working conditions for farm laborers, and increasing costs of production. These efforts can be defined as sustainable agriculture.

The University of California-Davis’s Agricultural Sustainability Institute names stewardship of both natural and human resources as important in sustainable agriculture. The Institute says that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

What a box of produce from your local CSA might contain

What a box of produce from your local CSA might contain

Participating in community-supported agriculture (CSA) can be sustainable and budget-friendly. You can buy a membership or subscription from a local farmer and receive produce in season in return. You can learn more about CSAs and search for one near you at www.localharvest.org/csa.

As we attempt to follow Christ’s example, we know that how we practice Christian stewardship is a measure of our faith’s authenticity: our commitment to unity and community, our concern for the needy, and our witness in the world.

Paying attention to how we use what God has given and entrusted us—including how we spend our food dollars—is part of our stewardship footprint.

Image Credit: CSA Box

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: Loans and Money in March

As the calendar turns to March, COMPASS is focusing on debt management this month. You will hear perspectives from financial advisors, debt experts, and faith based financial voices as well. As we set the stage for this conversation, it is important to briefly articulate some of the different types of debt we might face.

debtCredit Card Debt

A couple of years ago, about 6 out of every 10 millennials did not have a credit card. Since then, that ratio has changed somewhat. One thing that does seem clear is that millennials as a generational group lack some credit card knowledge, especially as they relate to credit scores.

Student Loan Debt

Among Millennials, student loan debt is a major generational challenge because of the well-documented increase in the cost of education over the past two decades. Natalie Kitroeff recently noted “Four Ways Student Debt is Wreaking Havoc on Millennials.” Natalie notes that:

  • Student debt seems to dampen home buying
  • Young people are delaying starting families
  • Millennials are saving less than they could be
  • College loans make it hard to be financially healthy

How do we manage these and other kinds of debt? How do we faithfully give and live when facing the reality of debt?

These are questions that there aren’t easy answers to. For example, most of the above observations are true for my wife Allison and me. We have found that it is most helpful to remember the reasons for the debt in the first place.

We have yet to buy, or even look for a home because of our educational and vocational plans as we prepare to be a pastor (Allison) and a rostered leader in ministry (me). We have taken on this debt largely because we believe that our education matters, and that we are called to serve in capacities where an education will be invaluable. So in this sense, these loans are and remain an investment on our part in our present and future.

Conversations about Debt

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 month COMPASS is beginning a new initiative offering a monthly conversation in real-time on the month’s theme. The first conversation will center on topics related to debt and how to manage it. It will be held on Tuesday March 22nd at 8pm EDT/5pm PDT. Sandy Crozier will be our topic leader. Sign up for the Live Chat at https://stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats. If you have questions that you would like to discuss, please let us know in the comments, via Facebook or Twitter, or by email.

What questions do you have about debt and managing it?

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: Debt

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.

Why I Give: some personal Christmas in July reflections

During July the COMPASS blog is sharing reflections on giving in the spirit of “Christmas in July.” Many of the most frequent posts have been more practical in nature about finances and choices. This post is a bit different, and is a reflection about some of the reasons why I give.

Hi! My name is Timothy and this is my wife Allison.

The picture of my wife Allison and I that introduced you to us a year ago on this blog.

I began working with the Ecumenical Stewardship Center as Communications Associate a year ago. In my first post here on the COMPASS blog I reflected on “Why Do I Give?” Given this month’s theme, I thought it would be a good time to revisit that post and see what (if anything) has changed in explaining why I give.

1. I give because of the Good News.

My giving is part of my response. Deep down my giving to the church and ministry is part of my joyful response to what I believe is the good news of the Gospel. My giving to causes, relief organizations, and other agencies is also part of this response. I deeply believe that I cannot earn salvation, but rather that is God’s work and has already been done for us. All I can do with that good news of love and grace is to live joyfully in response to it: sharing that good news with others, living life fully and abundantly, and giving thanks.

2. I give because there is a need.

My giving is also usually initiated by being moved to act in response to a need in the world. When I see someone hurting or not being cared for, I wonder, “What can I do to help?” If my wife and I can give a financial contribution, that is wonderful. If our budget is constrained, we can still give through volunteering and helping in other ways. (In a practical sense, this is where the idea of “Time, Talent, and Treasure” is made real through giving.)

3. I give because I want to.

There is no greater joy in life than the feeling of helping another person, or bringing a smile to someone’s face.

4. I give because it’s part of God’s work.

I believe that the way I serve and give are part of God’s work in the world and that we all are called to share in this work. Our vocations and God-given gifts, strengths, and passions aren’t meant to be hoarded, but are to be used in service to our neighbor to build up the Kingdom of God.

5. I give because I grew up in a family of givers.

A family of givers

A family of givers

I give because I grew up in a family of givers. My parents talked about money, not as a way to intimidate us or make us worry, but because they knew that sharing their understanding about money, finances, and stewardship would make those subjects more comfortable for us when we were older. As part of this, I grew up receiving an allowance and started a savings account at a very young age. The only stipulation my parents gave us with that allowance was that we would give a portion of it to God through offering at church or to non-profits. Over time, I learned and came to believe that this giving to God was a returning of some of what God had actually entrusted to my care. I credit my desire to give especially to my parents.

Those are five reasons why I give. Now it is your turn. As we continue to celebrate “Christmas in July,” why do you give?

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.