Hope you have a Debt-Free Christmas!

By Sandy Crozier
box-2953722_1280
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

The Cost of Making Financial Mistakes

By Jacqueline Painter

When it comes to our physical health, many of us regularly visit with and get advice from doctors, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists. And when we have concerns about doctor-check-uprelationship issues, we often talk with our pastors, professional counselors and therapists. We know we don’t always have the answers we need, so it makes sense that we seek out the wise counsel of experienced professionals.

But when it comes to our financial decisions, a lot of us avoid thinking about it or try to do it alone, instead of asking for help—and that can be costly.

According to a 2012 report by the Consumer Federation of America, two-thirds of middle-class Americans said they had made at least one “really bad financial decision”, and nearly half acknowledged that they had made more than one bad financial decision. Eleven percent of these people said these bad decisions had cost them at least $50,000, and 2 percent said their losses had been $200,000 or more.

It’s difficult for us to be able to view our money and other financial decisions from every thinkingangle to see if we’re making good decisions or about to make a costly mistake. One reason likely is because talking and thinking about money can be emotional. Those emotions can get in the way of making good financial decisions. On top of that, determining your financial goals—much less accomplishing them—is hard work, especially when you’re not sure what decisions to make or don’t have someone to help keep you accountable.

Responsibly handling your financial resources is a multi-faceted journey, and one that can be complicated to walk through by yourself. Working with a qualified financial planner to develop a well-constructed financial plan can help you gain control of your finances, and get a clearer understanding of your short and long-term goals.

In general, a wide-ranging financial plan encompasses your entire financial life, including:

  • Cash flow Does it ever feel like your money is controlling you, instead of the other way around? If so, then you might need to take a closer look at your cash flow.
  • Protection planning. What would happen if a fire were to destroy your home? padlockWhat would your family do if they lost their primary source of income because of a death or disability? Obviously, there’s no way to know what will happen in the weeks, months, or years to But you can take steps now to have resources in place for your family and loved ones in case the unexpected happens.
  • Tax All of us are affected by taxes. And whether your finances are fairly simple or really complicated, our tax system can be pretty confusing. Because nearly every financial decision you make can have tax consequences, it’s important to understand how your taxes work and know what you can do to impact your tax situation.
  • Investment From retirement income to college funding, there are a number of reasons why we invest our money. But in order to have that money for our future needs, it’s important to think strategically about the way we are investing. This includes understanding your goals, objectives and risk tolerance, and then finding investments that match your needs and values.
  • Retirement planning. The biggest fear that many people have about retirement is running out of money, which is why you can never begin too early when it comes to retirement The sooner you start, the more time you have to determine how much you will likely need in retirement and how you might get there.
  • Estate Effective estate planning gives you the ability to direct your assets and plans in the event of your death. It also helps you make clear who should be the custodial and financial guardian of your children or other dependents, should you die unexpectedly. Without an estate plan in place, state laws and/or local court decisions will prevail, and they may not be what you wish to happen.
  • Charitable Being generous is an important way to live out your faith and values. give-moneyDeveloping a plan for your financial affairs will help give you the freedom to be more generous, so you can make an impact on the missions and ministries closest to your heart.

The end result is a complete financial plan that gives you the big picture of your current financial health and helps you get on the right path for the future. Planning for your financial life may be one of the best gifts you ever give to yourself and those you care about. It’s a way for you to gain control of your finances and avoid some potentially costly mistakes down the road.

JJacqueline_Painter_2017acqueline Painter is an Everence Financial Advisor at 841 Mount Clinton Pike, Suite A, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22802. Securities offered through ProEquities Inc., a registered broker­ dealer, member FINRA and SIPC. Advisory Services offered through Everence Trust Company, a Registered Investment Advisor. Investments and other products are not NCUA or otherwise federally insured, may involve loss of principal and have no credit union guarantee. Everence entities are independent from ProEquities Inc.

Image credits: pixabay.com

What is your money, debt management, and generosity type?

By Beryl Jantzicards-161404_1280

 It’s been suggested that Americans fall into one of four groups when it comes to how we manage money. Maybe as you review these four models, you can identify your own, and decide what changes, if any may, be helpful moving forward. Here’s what they are:

 The Perfectionists: 19% of Americans

These consumers know the exact route to their financial goals, whether they developed the map themselves or sought a professional financial planner. Not only do they have a household budget, which includes retirement savings and insurance, but they work toward specific short and long-term savings goals.

The Dreamers: 38% of Americansface-2269319_1280

Most consumers fall in this category. They have some goals worked out and have an idea of what they’d like to achieve. Dreamers may have savings plans for retirement or education, but they haven’t pulled everything together to form an overarching plan.

The Procrastinators: 33% of Americans

These consumers put forth the bare minimum and might get to the rest of planning later. Most in this group have a budget or plan to address savings goals, but not both. Their comprehensive financial planning behaviors don’t differ much from wanderers, but some Procrastinators keep a written budget, and they tend to avoid racking up credit card debt.

 The Wanderers: 10% of Americanswanderer-455338_1280

In this group, people float from bill to bill without any intentional plan. They tend to live in the moment without much concern for the future. They may have debt but probably couldn’t tell you the total debt they have.

Knowing our predisposition for managing money is a good start to knowing what we may need to do to get to the next step. Most of us will need to move one step at a time rather than leap from a Wanderer to a Perfectionist.

Questions to ponder:

  • Where do you see yourself most closely identified
    by the descriptions stated above?
  • If you don’t like the label used to identify your style
    what different word would you use?

Your generosity will be most fruitful when you have a clear understanding about how God is calling you to share what has been entrusted to you.

Are you a generous wanderer? Is your generosity usually based on the whim of the moment?

Are you a generous procrastinator? Do you have good intentions about giving, but never get around to it?

Are you a generous dreamer? You give, but you could be more disciplined and focused with your giving?

Are you a generous perfectionist? Do you feel confident about your giving habits now, and have plans to continue to increase it in days to come?

In the book of Philippians, Paul writes,

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12, NRSV).

What small steps can you take today to move from one money management and generosity type to another from the examples described above?

Source: Household financial planning survey 2013

Reprinted from a blog post on February 9, 2016.

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.

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.

Photo credits: pixabay.com

Seven Suggestions for Gift Giving

By Matt DeBall

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Gift giving is a hallmark of the holidays. God set the tone for this when Jesus was given to us as the savior of the world. Remembering God’s gift of love, we gather with family and friends for festivities and exchange gifts to express love to one another.

icmeelgsThough it goes without saying, loving one another, through spending time together and giving gifts to one another, is an important endeavor. However, with the distraction of flashy advertisements, we sometimes buy and give unsustainably. We might recognize our financial limitations, but feel pressured to spend beyond our means, and as a result, buy gifts with hesitation. We may also get carried away with holiday sales and buy gifts without much forethought. Whether we are more prone to reluctance or compulsion, neither motive matches the joy we should experience in giving. As you prepare for this holiday season, consider these seven practical suggestions for gift giving.

#1 Budget – Carefully plan how much you can spend on party preparations and gifts for family and friends, and take steps to stick to your budget. Be sure to include even small expenses as they can add up quickly. (Wish you could give more? Consider how you could better prioritize gift giving in your budget for next year.)

#2 Buy with cash – Purchasing gifts with cash will support your plans to spend within your budget, and by not using credit cards, you can also avoid added stress when you see your next statement (livingonthecheap.com/35-tips-to-save-money-and-time-during-the-holidays).

#3 Try a “secret Santa” or “white elephant” gift exchange white-304608_1280Especially for large families, these two methods of exchanging gifts can allow for cheerful, budget-friendly giving. “Secret Santa” allows for every person to give and receive a thoughtful gift, and “white elephant” can make for a fun-filled gift experience (www.wikihow.com/Organize-a-White-Elephant-Gift-Exchange).

#4 Create a thoughtful card – This is the perfect combination of a handwritten note and a decorative, one-of-a-kind card. Craft a card that will be appreciated by the recipient and write a heart-felt message inside. You may consider including a photo and a poem or brief story from an important shared memory from the last year (www.biblemoneymatters.com/100-frugal-creative-homemade-christmas-gifts).
Additional option: include a $10 gift card.

#5 Call for a potluck – This is another idea that can be helpful for large families. Invite everyone to bring their favorite dish or two to share for dinner. This both allows everyone to contribute to the meal and prevents one person from fitting the entire bill alone. Tip: Invite everyone to say what they are bringing in advance to better plan for a diverse spread of food.

#6 Make homemade gifts – Whether for cookie-1786885_1280stocking stuffers or regular gifts, consider what gifts you could make for your loved ones. Candies, cookies, candles, and crocheted (drink) coasters are a few creative and simple ideas. You could also give homemade coupons for a coffee or ice cream outing so you can spend time together. One other option: a cookie exchange could be used to supplement
or compliment an exchange of
traditional gifts.

#7 Remember what is most important – While everyone enjoys giving and receiving gifts, remember that the reason for gathering is to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to spend time together. Don’t forget the intangible opportunities of the season like singing Christmas carols, sharing family stories, and simply being together.

By considering these seven suggestions, you and your family can prepare for a pleasant gift giving experience and, overall, enjoy happier holidays.

Do you have any suggestions for saving money on holiday gifts? Share them below.

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 his wife, 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 see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

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

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

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

Budgeting using Mint.com

Budgeting using Mint.com

Set-up

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

Budgeting

The Mint.com App

The Mint.com App

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

Saving

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

Giving

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

Ongoing Use

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

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

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

Image Credits: Mint Budget and Mint.com App.

What is your money, debt management, and generosity type?

During February the COMPASS blog is sharing some Faithful Fun with Finances. Today, we welcome back regular contributor Beryl Jantzi to the blog who shares about and asks, “What is your money, debt management, and generosity type?”

It’s been suggested that Americans fall into one of four groups when it comes to how we manage money. Maybe as you review these four models you can identify your own and decide what changes if any may be helpful moving forward.  Here’s what they are:

The Perfectionists: 19% of Americans

These consumers know the exact route to their financial goals, whether they developed the map themselves or sought a professional financial planner. Not only do they have a household budget, which includes retirement savings and insurance, but they work toward specific short and long term savings goals.

The Dreamers: 38% of Americans

Most consumers fall in this category. They have some goals worked out and have an idea of what they’d like to achieve. Dreamers may have savings plans for retirement or education, but they haven’t pulled everything together to form an overarching plan.

The Procrastinators: 33% of Americans

These consumers put forth the bare minimum and might get to the rest of planning later. Most in this group have a budget or plan to address savings goals, but not both. Their comprehensive financial planning behaviors don’t differ much from wanderers, but some Procrastinators keep a written budget, and they tend to avoid racking up credit card debt.

The Wanderers: 10% of Americans

In this group, people float from bill to bill without any intentional plan. They tend to live in the moment without much concern for the future. They may have debt but probably couldn’t tell you the total debt they have.

How do you manage your money?

How do you manage your money?

Knowing our predisposition for managing money is a good start to knowing what we may need to do to get to the next step.  Most of us will need to move one step at a time father than leap from a Wanderer to a Perfectionist.

Questions to ponder:

  • Where do you see yourself most closely identified by the descriptions stated above?
  • If you don’t like the label used to identify your style what different word would you use?

Your generosity will be most fruitful when you have a clear understanding about how God is calling you to share what has been entrusted to you.

Are you a generous wanderer? Is your generosity usually based on the whim of the moment?

Are you a generous procrastinator? Do you have good intentions about giving, but never get around to it?

Are you a generous dreamer? You give, but you could be more disciplined and focused with your giving?

Are you a generous perfectionist? Do you feel confident about your giving habits now, and have plans to continue to increase it in days to come?

In the book of Philippians, Paul writes,

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12, NRSV).

What small steps can you take today to move from one money management and generosity type to another from the examples described above?

Source: Household financial planning survey 2013

Beryl Jantzi and familyAbout the Author: Beryl Jantzi currently serves as Stewardship Education Director for Everence, a Christian-based, member-owned financial services organization which is a ministry of Mennonite Church USA and other churches. 

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: Piggy bank.

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.

———————————————————————————–

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: A Practice in Joyfulness

During December, the COMPASS blog is sharing reflections related to giving, since this is an especially gift giving time of year. Today, regular contributor Nicole Brennan shares her story about a year of service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and lessons she has learned from that experience about giving, in writing “Giving: A Practice in Joyfulness.”

A trend that is gaining steam in America is the practice of a “gap year.” A “gap year” is some length of time (usually a year) during which students take a break from their studies to live in the real world and do something fruitful. Many students do this after high school in between college, or like me, some do it following college.

Here I am in the homeless day shelter with one of the most memorable guests, John. I had the pleasure of witnessing his transformation throughout my year.

Here I am in the homeless day shelter with one of the most memorable guests, John. I had the pleasure of witnessing his transformation throughout my year.

To some, it isn’t a new concept. The Peace Corps was established in the United States in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy; AmeriCorps (the domestic counterpart) was established in 1993 by President Bill Clinton; and the volunteer program I entered, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, started informally in 1956. However, to me, it was a radical notion. I moved across the country without knowing a soul, promised a year of service, and was going to work with 700+ homeless people, mostly men, every day at a complex called Loaves & Fishes. I couldn’t have been more scared and excited!

My service year forever molded my life. I had many great experiences, including learning how to drive, living off $100 a month, and discovering the values of simplicity, community, and intentionality. I gave the gift of my time to the people who needed it. And believe me, I received far more benefits than anyone I helped.

A distinct lesson I learned during my service year was about giving and the true essence of a gift. Winter time in California is not as bitterly cold as it is in Chicago where I live now, but it is still cold when you are living on the streets. It seemed on every blustery day we were passing out gloves, hats, scarves, blankets, and if we were really lucky, hand warmers. But when you don’t have a permanent place to keep your stuff, you only carry what you can and it is easy to lose a glove.

We began passing out cold weather gear as late in the season as we could – only when the thermometer dipped below 40°F/4.44°C. Though people are very generous, the need is too great. We would run out of items very quickly, even though we had a strict policy of how many items people could have. It is heartbreaking to turn away a guy who just needs a pair of gloves. “I’m sorry Jason, but there just isn’t enough.” And it is even more heartbreaking to repeat that phrase to the twenty guys in line behind him. And more heartbreaking still, to repeat that phrase several times a day for weeks on end. (My heart hurt a lot that year, but it was also the most wonderful year of my life. I kept a blog of my experiences if you want to read more.)

Sometimes “you gotta do, what you gotta do.” Dirty dishes for 700+ was a one of those things.

Sometimes “you gotta do, what you gotta do.” Dirty dishes for 700+ was a one of those things.

I was lamenting about this heartbreak to my spiritual director, Sr. Claire. She wisely told me a story about Andora. Sr. Claire would run into this homeless woman often at the clinic she ran, and after a few years, an almost-friendship grew between them. Sr. Claire would always bring her hot meals, practical items, and a few dollars when she could. One day, Andora remarked about these gifts. She needed them, but moreover, Sr. Claire needed to give them. “Gifts are not so much about the person receiving them, but about the person who gives them.” Even though Andora needed these items, and the homeless gentlemen needed gloves, the true gift was the increased generosity in our own hearts.

I have to believe in the best in people – they gave what they could. And even though it was heartbreaking to not give out more, it was a joyful moment when the shelter had items to give away. Giving is a joyful event, and when you give, joyfulness and generosity pervade your life. Giving begets giving. When you know the joy that comes from giving, you want to duplicate that as much as possible!

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoying live music with friends, or watching reruns of Parks and Rec. Email me at nicoletbrennan@gmail.com or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

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.