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

New Rules for Financial Planning

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

(*Strauss and Howe’s generational definitions)

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler is Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

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

Photo credits: pixabay.com

Straightforward Advice About Student Loan Debt

By Darryl Dahlheimer

Less than ten years ago, Americans faced a soap-bubble-826018_1280 square
“housing bubble” that burst into people
losing their homes mortgage foreclosure and the Great Recession following the collapse in housing values. Here in 2017, the French adage applies again: “Plus ça change, plus ça la même chose.

This time, it’s a student loan debt bubble where total student loan debt now surpasses total credit card debt. And the Federal Reserve has reported that almost one in three of us who have this debt (31%) are 90 days or more late on our payments. This crashes our FICO credit score and leads to court actions like garnishments against our wages (even the number of retired adults over 65 who are finding their Social security checks garnished for old student loan debt has risen from 8000 a decade ago to 63,000 today).

Many borrowers feel overwhelmed by the confusing landscape of many different loan types, each with its own rules, and so they get talked into unfavorable consolidations, or parking the loans in deferment, which has a ticking-clock time limit and keeps the loan debt growing by interest charges.

One bright ray of hope in this debt morass is the Student Loan Repayment Counseling (SLRC) project being piloted by LSS Financial Counseling. Certified student loan repayment counselors help people face their debt and make an action plan that is realistic. Not everyone needs expert SLRC, but whether doing it on your own or using SLRC, here are the steps to get back in control of your debt.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 10.38.18 AMThe first step is loan discovery, where you make a complete list of all the loans owed, and which types – you’ll need to look on the www.nslds.ed.gov site for all your federal loans, and also look on your three credit bureau reports from www.annualcreditreport.com to find any private student loans or collectors.

Then you need to understand all your options for repayment. One of our favorites is to teach people about “public service loan forgiveness” where people working in (not all but many types) of government or nonprofit jobs can pay a reduced amount and have a large portion of their debt forgiven.

It’s also important to dodge the “help” scams that promise to assist you but actually charge large fees to do what you can do for free. Similar to what happened during the mortgage crisis, many student loan “servicers” have been caught giving out bad advice or harvesting fees from borrowers. Especially do your research before any loan consolidations, which can cause your federal loans to lose options.tip-jar-1796480_1280
LSS will present information about its
SLRC and about repayment options at a
free COMPASS Live Chat on
April 20th from 12:30-1:30pm ET
you can join this chat at stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats

LSS offers SLRC free to anyone in Minnesota (888-577-2227) and through its partnership with Everence, offers SLRC nationwide via phone counseling for all Everence members (877-809-0039).

About the Author
Darryl-DahlheimerDarryl Dahlhemier
is Program Director for
LSS Financial Counseling.

 

 

Photo credits: pixabay.com, www.nslds.ed.gov

The Student Debt Challenge

By Marcia ShetlerGraduates with Student LoansIn a month or two, commencement ceremonies will take place at colleges and graduate schools across North America. Can you imagine graduates walking across the stage and receiving another slip of paper besides their diploma? That document would be their student loan bill.

According to US News & World Report, in recent years seventy percent of US students graduated with student loans. So for every ten graduates you see filing past you, seven of them would receive that piece of paper. The Globe and Mail reports similar statistics for Canada, where four students out of ten might have no student debt. What might the numbers on those papers look like? In 2016, the average Canadian graduate had more than $25,000 in debt. In the US, it was more than $37,000.

Student debt creates many challenges:

  • weight-loss-850601_1280The University of Toronto reports that students who took out more student loans were more likely to have poor mental health in early adulthood;
  • Time Magazine says that student debt can delay major life events such as buying a home, getting married, or having children;
  • Time also says that graduates with debt may work more than they wish, including taking a second job;
  • and MarketWatch reports that those who took out loans to pay for higher education but did not complete their degree have the most difficulty repaying their loans.

But student debt doesn’t have to be part of your new normal. There are things you can do to avoid it. And if you’re challenged by student debt, there are ways to make it more manageable.

This month, the COMPASS Initiative will look at these two sides of the student debt challenge:

  • Get great insights every week on this blog and on our Twitter feed and Facebook page.
  • Grab your lunch or a cup of coffee and join us for a Live Chat with Darryl tip-jar-1796480_1280Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling—a partner of Everence—on Thursday, April 20, 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, 11:30 a.m. Central time, 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, and 9:30 a.m. Pacific time. Darryl will tell us about new student loan repayment options and share stories of experience and hope about this challenging issue.

Student debt can be a burden that affects our ability to live the life to which God has called us. It impacts how we steward what God has given us to manage and our freedom to be generous. Whether we are considering how to finance education or deal with the financial ramifications afterward, the key is seeking God’s guidance and choosing wisely. I hope the information shared this month will help you conquer your Student Debt Challenge!

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler is Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

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

Photo credits: pixabay.com

College is Amazing: Paying for it Doesn’t Have to be a Maze

By Marcia Shetler

sweet-corn-maze-905219_1280I live in the Midwest, where corn mazes have become a popular form of entertainment. Perhaps you have wandered through—or got lost in— one yourself. But as you are engaging in this organic, nature-connecting activity, you might not realize how high-tech of an enterprise corn maze creating has become. Farmers outsource maze development to companies that produce an endless array of intricate designs, from the Mona Lisa to mastodons. And corn mazes are big business. In 2013, Modern Farmer reported that farmers have made as much as $50,000 per year with their maze, and that was three years ago.

But now the corn has been harvested for another season: it’s winter and a new year, and the time when many high school seniors and others are stepping up the pace to get their college plans in place. A significant piece in this puzzle is paying for it. Like choosing a college or university itself, finding the best options to pay for higher education can feel like being stuck in a maze with a myriad of options. It’s hard to know which direction to go and it feels impossible to see the big picture. And making a wrong turn will have the exact opposite results of a money-making enterprise and instead can send you down a path of decades of debt.

But, there is good news! Finding credible resources to help with higher education financial planning doesn’t need to be like looking for a needle in a haystack. 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 graduate-1440191_1280-croppedTwitter feed and join us on Facebook all month long for great curated content. And view our resources on the COMPASS web page for even more help and guidance.

Finally, you won’t want to miss this month’s COMPASS Live Chat on Monday, January 23, 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific. Darryl Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling, will share tools to help navigate choosing a college, to create a budget to keep living costs low while in school, and to find the best options to repay student loan debt after graduation. Just connect to the Chat on January 23 with this link: stewardshipresources.adobeconnect.com/january2017chat

Getting a degree can be a great enhancement to your life. The COMPASS Steering Committee and I look forward to helping you on your higher education financial planning journey as we meet each other on Facebook, Twitter, and at our Live Chat to explore ways to navigate the maze of college finances!

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler is Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

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

Image credits: pixabay.com

Happier Holidays: Getting Off the Consumer Escalator

By Marcia Shetlerautumn-19672_1280

During the last week of October, I was running errands. At the grocery store, I noticed snowmen statues scattered among the baskets of fall mums. At the home improvement center, Halloween and Christmas decorations were competing for space on crowded shelves. The holiday shopping season seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, giving us more and more time to plan our shopping strategy to make ourselves and others happy—or so we think.

In North America, shopping has become enmeshed with celebrating the holidays. We can name when Black Friday, Cyber Monday—and in Canada, Boxing Day—take place as easily as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And not only do we know these days, we participate. gift-1420830_1280In their online Holiday Headquarters, the US National Retail Federation’s recent survey found that US consumers plan to spend an average of $935.58 during the holiday shopping season this year. Nearly six in 10 plan to buy for themselves, spending an average $139.61, up 4 percent from last year and marking the second-highest level of personal spending in the survey’s 13-year history. The Royal Bank of Canada reports that the number of Canadians who are spending more than they expect to each holiday season continues to grow, reaching the highest point in five years in December 2015.

The title of this month’s COMPASS Initiative topic may feel a bit dated, as US consumers report a three-way tie for their holiday shopping destinations: department stores, online, and discount stores. And Statista reports that although in North America the United States is by far the largest national market for e-commerce, Canada is slowly but surely catching up, with online retail sales expected to reach almost 50 billion Canadian dollars by 2019. But the escalator imagery is a good one as we consider what happens, unfortunately, to many holiday shoppers, as their expenses and their debt go up and up. According to In Charge Debt Solutions, one survey after the 2015 holiday shopping season revealed that US consumers added nearly $1,000 to their credit card debt balances. While similar Canadian statistics are harder to find, HIBUSINESS reports that Canadian consumer debt reached an all-time high this spring.

So during November, we’ll explore how we can get off the stressful up escalator and on the down escalator toward a more meaningful holiday season. 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 on the topic. And learn about resources on the COMPASS web page that you can use for further in-depth study.

Finally, our monthly Live Chat on Wednesday, london-692137_1280-mallNovember 16, 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific, features Darryl Dahlhemier, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling. During this Chat, expect to be inspired with examples of ways to capture the spirit and personal meaning of holiday celebrations. We’ll discuss ways to transform older traditions into new rituals that prioritize connection with family and friends, as well as “Talking Back to Advertising” and getting away from more and bigger material focus. Want to imagine the holidays with no extra financial stress and no “debt hangover” in the new year? 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 gain new insights into having Happier Holidays!

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

New Engine, New Tires & Luke – Faith in the face of debt

By Timothy Siburg
car-1564300_1920

Student loans? Broken down cars? How am I ever going to pay this off? Those are some pretty normal reactions to debt, and ones we have heard a little bit about this past month on the COMPASS blog.

What strikes me though as I think about these questions, is a reminder of the way God is present even in the face of our stress, uncertainty, doubt, and fear, all of which can surface when thinking about money and debt.

The Gospel of Luke is full of stories and parables from Jesus about money, wealth, poverty, and debt. For example, there is the confusing parable of the Dishonest Manager found in Luke 16:1-13.

In this story we hear of a manager who has been called to account for his business. In the face of what sounds like the manager’s certain firing, he goes about reducing the amount owed by different individuals in the community to the manager’s master. This is something that certainly could be praised, in that those oppressed and marginalized by debt were getting some of it forgiven. Of course, the story is much more complicated than that.

It’s not as likely in our daily life that someone will come along and just because they can, reduce the amount of debt we owe. If you are assuming that is going to happen for you, I wish you well, but I wouldn’t advise you to plan and budget that way.

Debt is a reality of life. It doesn’t need to be a crushing one, however. It only has power, like money, when we give it that power. We can certainly live in fear of it, if we are not careful. And unexpected and big expenses can help lead us to be in fear.

hand-truck-564242_1920A couple of days ago, my wife and I faced one of the downsides of moving across country from Washington to Nebraska. My wife Allison went to turn the car on in the morning, and every warning light started to say hello to her on the dashboard. As we suspected, our car needed a new battery. That’s not all that surprising, since we have shared one car between the two of us for our six years of marriage, and it’s been a few years and a couple cross-country moves since getting a new battery.

Unfortunately, one of the other downsides of moving, wear, and tear is that your car might also need new tires, plus its next regular oil change. So, with new tires, fresh oil, and a new battery, we spent a bit more this week on our car than we like to do in one day.

This could easily have led us into despair and debt. Thankfully, we budget for such days as this, so it wasn’t that bad. But interestingly, there is another faith element to this.

A few days earlier we had received a refund check in the mail for the balance of Allison’s seminary cost, as she graduated from seminary and actually had money left on her account in her favor. We didn’t think much of the check at the time. The day after the car was running like new, we remembered that check. It was just about the exact cost of all of the car expenses. Sometimes I think God truly has a sense of humor. It’s experiences like this that remind me of just how much abundance we live in and have, thanks to our abundant God.

What makes confronting the reality of debt—whether student debt, housing mortgages, car loans, etc.—possible is the reminder that God is with us, and wants us to live life abundantly. Living abundantly doesn’t mean living irresponsibly. It means enjoying, giving, sharing, and using all that God has first entrusted us with to live our lives and steward them for the sake of our neighbors and communities. It also means responsibly paying off debt early or on time, so as not to be overwhelmed by the interest accrued from it, so that we can live abundantly.

As long as I can keep this in perspective, making those monthly student loan payments, and needed car expenses, for example, doesn’t seem to be as daunting.

Note: That check, in addition to helping our car expenses, will be stewarded in part back to the larger church in gratitude, and in support of other future seminarians.

About the Author
timothy headshot
Timothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison is awaiting call to be an ELCA pastor, and the two of them reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.


About COMPASS

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 or Twitter.

And join us this Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET for a Live Chat with Darryl Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling, for Conquering Your Debt: the Overlooked Key to Faith and Finances. It’s free! Register at https://stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats. People of all ages are welcome!

Image credits: pixabay.com