Friday, June 29, 2012

Money 101

 Here is an amazing plan for your finances.  At the beginning of each month or whenever you are paid set aside 10% for your home church (1 Cor 16:1-2).  This is called a tithe.  There is a lot of arguing going on about this issue, but my point is that the church is the vehicle through which the community is most likely to be blessed.   
Image by selbstfotografiert

The idea of a tithe is that you are giving back an amount immediately that has been given to you.  In fact none of your money is yours, it is all God’s, so 10% is a reasonable amount (Deut. 10:14).  Failure to bring this tithe leads to natural economic consequences (Malachi 3:8-10).  While the rest is yours to live on, you should also consider giving.  Giving and tithing are separate issues and should be handled differently.  An additional amount can be set aside for charitable giving, but it should be considered something you want to do.  

 Do not bow to pressure to give without consulting God, for if you resent having to give, then it is not pleasing to God (2 Cor 9:7).  If you fall into debt you may be tempted to stop paying your tithe, but this is unwise. Dave Ramsey in his book The Money Answer Book: quick answers to your everyday financial questions has noted that many people fall into worse financial situations once they stop tithing.  He further explains that 10% is a reasonable amount and if a person cannot live on 90% then they cannot live on 100%.  The effort to pay the tithe forces a person to budget, which can lead a person out of debt.

Earlier we talked about the ability to utilize gratitude as a way to follow God’s commandments.  By focusing on the tangible and intangible gifts of God, you reach a point where change happens.  God’s plan will take you out of your debt.  You need to set aside 10% of your salary for tithing and an additional 10-20% for debt repayment and the rest is the amount you must live on.  Living this way takes faith in God’s provision for your life (Matthew 6:31-33).

A good way to reason out the tithe in your mind is that God gives you a total amount containing the tithe on top of your amount, the total amount is really determined by Him.  What if a stranger knocked on your door and handed you $110 and walked away.  Cool.  But, what if that stranger came back an hour later and demanded $10 of the money back, you would be bitter, wouldn’t you?  But what if the stranger told you the deal up front?  What if he said, “I’m going to give you $100, but I’ll also give you $10 that you need to give back to me. Oh and by the way as long as you are faithful in giving back the $10 I’ll keep dropping by with $100 for you,  if you are faithful I may entrust more to you”   This is a pretty sweet deal, but this is similar to how God deals with us (Matthew 25:15-30).  Remember that God gives us all of it, even if you work for it. He has brought about everything to give you the opportunity to earn it.  (James 4:1-3)

When you are faithful you are showing yourself able to handle more responsibility, but don’t think that God can be fooled into giving you more.  He won’t necessarily give you more money just because you are faithful, but by being faithful you are now able to access the blessings that flow from being obedient.  Remember, more money brings more responsibility for those around us who have less (1 Tim 6:17-18).  The Spirit that resides in you prompts you to be obedient to God’s commands.  When you obey the Spirit there are benefits that flow from obedience (Galatians 5:22-23).  These “fruits” are amazing characteristics that I want in my life and you should want them too. 
God is very clear that these are the blessings that flow from obedience. Monetary wealth is not promised.  It is possible to be poor and very happy, and at the same time to be very rich and miserable (Prov 13:7).  Wealth is not the purpose of life, in some ways it brings more hassles.  Most people live a lie by living above their means resulting in debt.  You have to realize this and not try to “keep up” with them. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Getting into College: Extracurriculars

I teach mostly freshmen and seniors.  I call those grades the bookends.  Freshmen are learning how to do high school academics, make new friends, and begin thinking about later on.  Seniors are totally different.  Since college applications are due by the end of November, then even the first semester grades of the senior year will not be available.  This means the initial judgment of college is based upon the 9-11 years.  In fact some colleges do not look at the freshmen year at all.  A senior who has messed around all high school has little options and they know it, because the kids who are applying for college are shoving it in their faces.
Image by Paul at Ft. Collins

Freshmen, the best thing you can realize is that the friends you have now are probably not the friends you will end up with at graduation.  Why is this? All people change over time, but there is no greater window of time that experiences more change than the high school years.  There is just something about high school that holds a lock on our hearts.  I’ve been out of high school for 23 years but nothing draws memories more than my high school years.  You are figuring out who you are and that requires experimentation.  I’m not talking about doing drugs and all, but I’m talking about those adjustments to our personality that comes during adolescence.  Researchers have determined that more brain development happens during adolescence than any other phase of life.  This is significant, so cut yourself a break.

A class discussion took a curve one day in my senior economics course.  We were nearing graduation and the kids were sharing that they had made really good friends in high school and didn’t want to lose them.  That piqued my interest so I asked them, “Who are your friends and where did you make these friendships?” What they shared has stuck with me and I now share with all my freshmen.  They shared that their closest friends were their teammates.  There are other renditions of this, such as band, theater, choir, and other clubs but the concept was the same. 

The things you do outside of the classroom will determine your friendships.  If you don’t get involved then you will have few authentic friendships and high school is going to be very lonely.  An authentic friend is someone you can talk to face to face and in person.  It is someone you can be open and honest with and not have to wear a mask.  They accept you for who you are and you do likewise for them.  It is a give and take relationship.  I’ve seen many of my better students neglect their friendships (as well as schoolwork) to focus solely on the person they are dating.  Once the breakup happens they find out that they have no one to lean on in their pain because their friends have moved on and made new friendships.

Colleges like to see involvement in sports, clubs, and community service because it shows that you are a well rounded person.  It also shows that you can manage time by juggling the responsibilities of homework, social life, as well as practice. There is something about slogging through a losing season and sticking with it that builds real character.  How about taking the time to teach a technique to a less skilled teammate, or having that tough one on one conversation with the coach because the rest of the team is afraid to say something?  All of these experiences make these activities very valuable.

As good as these experiences are, you should understand that to a college, your extracurricular activities are a very, very small portion of what colleges are looking for.  In fact some colleges are very upfront by saying the only thing they look at are grades and college entrance exams.  

Community service is work that is performed without pay where you make a contribution to the community in which you live.  Community service allows you the opportunity to help others and feel a part of something much bigger than yourself.  Many students have found their calling by doing community service.  It is a great way to learn about your strengths and weaknesses.  There is something about helping a person, it makes you care for them.  As you do more community service, you will begin to care more for others.  This will make you into a better person.  Another benefit of community service is that you will gain a better understanding of the basic working of life and how things work.

While there are many things you can do, my suggestion is to view it like a buffet.  In a buffet, you try a little of this and that and then you go back for the stuff you really like.  Going alone to do community service can be intimidating, so go with friends and you will have more fun.  Think about the things you care about the most.  What around you needs improving?  Then go find others who are already doing good things to help in that area.  If you are feeling innovative, organize it yourself.  There is a cool website to check out called  They have lots of ideas, events to join.  They will even fund your organization if you submit a good plan to them.

Private scholarships heavily lean on community service, so while the community service may not get you into a college, it may help you to pay for it.  The goal is to find something you are passionate about and put lots of time into one or two things.  Summers are made for fun and relaxing, but they are a great time to rack up community service hours.

Many colleges look very favorably on community service, but even colleges that have a comprehensive review of the whole set of experiences of a prospective student still rate grades and entrance exams as the highest factor of consideration. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Life is a Lot Like Frogger

There is this game from the eighties called Frogger, and I wasted a lot of quarters on that game.  The object of the game is simple.  You try to get your frog across a highway and a moving river to the lily pads at the top of the screen.  There are cars you must avoid on the highway, and you must hop on logs and turtles to get you across the river.  The logs and turtles must be abandoned before they reach the side of the screen or you die.  The turtles have an additional peril in that they regularly submerge, and if you are on them when they do your frog dies.
All games have strategies for winning and so does Frogger.  One strategy is that sometimes the way to move forward is by temporarily moving backwards.  This aspect of the game is a great analogy of fiscal livelihood.  You must move forward through education, training, and hard work.  Sometimes you can look down into the future and you can see an end of a job coming (like the log or turtles) and you must alter your course.  Sometimes you must accept a short-term career path or job that holds you until something more stable comes along.  

Taking a low paying job may feel like going backwards, but that may be the best strategy for that moment.  You may look down the line and see that the job you have is about to become obsolete.  In this case you need to “hop off the log” and begin preparing for your next move. All analogies have their weaknesses and Frogger is just a game and not real life, but in life you will be blindsided occasionally.  Layoffs and health issues are two areas that catch people off guard.  It is very hard to recover financially when blindsided with something big, so preparation is the best measure. 

My son Bryce had a condition called Kawasaki’s Disease.  This disease is a temporary inflammation of the arterial system.  Since the heart is a part of this system, extended inflammation can lead to an aneurism or even a heart attack.  Bryce was very fortunate to have an alert doctor catch the subtle signs, and he was quickly medicated with two treatments of an anti-inflammatory called gamma globulin.   Bryce recovered quickly and had no major aftereffects of the disease.  When we got the bill in the mail we were blown away that each treatment would cost us $20,000!  

We had insurance and after a lot of calls, our insurance paid for all of it.  We were very fortunate to have insurance, but we had always made it a priority to make sure we had medical insurance and so should you.  Besides the importance of having medical insurance, this episode illustrated to me that there are events that can come along that have the ability to immediately turn your world upside down.  It is prudent to expect a couple of these events in your life and prepare to the best of your ability.

Another area where people get blindsided is a layoff.  Are there signs to look for to help you notice an impending layoff?  There are, and some signs can be seen years in advance!  When you are working, it is wise to take note to what is going on around you.  You will want to continually ask yourself if the company you are working for is healthy.  Is your position secure for the moment, and for how long?  Is there a skill you will need in order to progress or continue?  Is this job going to evaporate when a new innovation comes along, and how likely is that?  Am I getting positive feedback?  Are the things I’m doing relevant for this company, and could they decide that I’m not needed?  

Even with watching carefully, you may still get blindsided, but you should still watch carefully and make adjustments.  Using the Frogger analogy, use your footing in the current job to work on your plan to ensure you have current skills that are in demand in the marketplace. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Continual Pursuit of Digital Crack

ad·dic·tion:  the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma (

Image by Petr Kratochvil  
As a teacher at a school with a “no cell phone” use policy I have come to rue the moment that I have to ask a teenager to give up a cell phone (cue temper tantrum). For me, this reaction is proof of an addiction. Over the years, the social expectation among teenagers is that everybody has a cell phone and to properly interact with everyone a cell phone is needed

The reaction to losing a cell phone is so visceral, so intense. In my mind, it was unwarranted, but I didn't understand what was going on underneath.   I eventually came to understand the role of the cell phone in a teenager's life.  It is their connection to the social world, but it can also be a crutch that limits the ability to conduct true face-to-face friendships. 

Many of my  former high school students are now college students and the cell phone has moved to a different (although important) role.  It is the link to what was left behind in high school.  At some point the real work of developing new relationships must begin.

Loneliness is a top reason why people drop out, and I wonder what the role of the cell phone is in all this.  We need face-to-face friendships.

Our society is still "negotiating" the rules surrounding digital media, so there is a lot of disagreement regarding what is offensive.  To put it simply, our usage of digital media should not come at the expense of reality.  How often have you seen two people sitting next to each other texting away ignoring each other?  Pity the poor fool who has to stand there "looking stupid" while their companion texts.  Most likely the other will whip out their phone to look busy.  Texting is a way to look busy, but we don't need to be busy.  In fact busyness can cause us to neglect what is really important (Luke 10:41-42) .

If any activity hinders our true calling, than that activity has become a problem and should be jettisoned (Hebrews 12:1).  God has called us to love Him with true concentration.  It is hard to do that when we have filled every second with something.  There is opportunity in boredom and we don't need to be externally stimulated in every waking moment.   Pondering takes time and quietness.

""Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." 
Psalm 46:10. 

This post is one in a series with the Christian Writers Blog Chain.   This month’s topic is ‘Pursuit’. You can find links to the others in the blog chain in the link list to the left.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Spiritual Economics

There are two obvious and one hidden dimension of the financial equation. Income and expenses are the obvious ones, so what is the hidden one?  As long as we spend less than we earn we will build savings.  The emphasis on limiting expenses makes sense because when we want to change the situation it is easier to stop spending than it is to bring in more money.  Income can be raised through increasing your education. 
 Photo by Petr Kratochvil

It is possible to make more money but the options tend to take a lot of time.  It is appropriate to work on these long term fixes, but it is best to reign in your spending now.  So what are some ideas to make more?  Some jobs automatically pay more if you have furthered your education.  You can switch careers, but this may take going back to school.  A switch does cause most people to experience a short term drop in income because you move to a lower tier on the pay scale.  As a teacher my pay is entirely a function of time in service and education level.  

If a car mechanic making $52,000 a year goes back to college, finishes a bachelors degree and gets a teachers credential it will take roughly 7 years at my district to get back to the point of where they were.  Remember, that in those 7 years the auto mechanic would probably be receiving pay raises.  This doesn’t mean the auto mechanic should give up on the dream of teaching, it just means that switching careers can be time consuming and expensive.  If that same auto mechanic were receiving no medical or retirement benefits, switching careers would make sense in order to get these benefits.  This pay drop keeps many people from going after something they want. 

 Long term thinking always trumps short term thinking, but is generally more painful in the short term.  You can generate more cash by working overtime, taking a second job, starting a sideline business, but these options eat into your time.  Sometimes it is best to make do with what you have then to chase after more money.  This chase for money can erode other areas of your life, especially you relationships with God and the people you love (Mark 8:36).  It is not wrong to be rich, but the thirst (or lust) for riches, is a foolish pursuit (Luke 12:13-21).

By lowering expenses you will generate savings, allowing you to invest and build wealth.  The goal of wealth, is to allow you to be independent and not dependent on others (1 Thess. 4:11-12) while able to help others (Eph 4:28).  Most people when they take a good hard look at their spending can identify areas where they can cut.  The truth of spending cuts as a way to economic freedom out of debt takes us to the third dimension of finances.  There is a spiritual dimension to your finances and it must be taken into account (Luke 12:34). 

The above verse talks about the correlation of spending to thinking.  We think about the things that involve our money.  If our money is going to bills and ever increasing late fees we will only think about that.  This is the mental trap of debt.  The hard reality is that you do not control any of the important variables of life (Matthew 6:25-34).  You could lose your job because the company you work for goes out of business, gets taken over, or moves to a new location.  Companies know that increasing productivity allows them to produce the same or more products with less human labor.  

According to Steven Bragg in his book The New CFO Financial Leadership Manual human labor represents the single largest expense for most companies; therefore, companies are always searching desperately for ways to limit costs.  Lower costs equals greater profits for companies, so you just need to be aware that there is no loyalty within the context of the free market system, and you can essentially be let go for any number of reasons.  Even government agencies are working to limit labor costs. You will need to view everything as temporary and be ready to adapt or adjust if you see change coming.