Monday, March 23, 2009

soul food: good cents

So, we've been going to church. Right?

At the risk of people thinking that I'm turning in to a religious fanatic, over the next few days - or weeks - or months (or whatever I can get around to), I'm going to be writing about some of the absolutely awesome services that we've been attending.

Now, because of my rather non-religious past, I'll admit that at first, I felt a little awkward whenever the minister would start quoting passages from the Bible. But after hearing various verses put in to context for life today, it makes so much sense to me.

I feel positively enlightened!!

This past month, the services that we've been hearing are focused on "Unchanging Wisdom for Changing Times." Each week, the message pertains to topics that are covered within Proverbs. Which, for those who don't know (including me, who didn't know this until recently), Proverbs are a section within the Bible that are essentially a collection of wise sayings.

Last week, the service was about money.

It surprised me to hear that approximately 64% of all couples argue about money and approximately 54% of marriages end in divorce because of money. It turns out instead of couples sticking together until death do them part ... they opt to go their separate ways when debt do them part.

With the economic hemorrhaging that has been occurring in our society over the past year, our minister outlined five principles for financial stability. As I was writing this out tonight, I realized that this is all common sense. But sometimes, it's good to be reminded.

1. Keep Good Records.

Riches can disappear fast ... so watch your business interests closely. Know the state of your flocks and herds. Proverbs 27:23-24

Get the facts at any price. Proverbs 23:23

Two thousand plus years ago - people needed to know the state of their flocks and their herds.

Today, it isn't any different.

For the past 10 years, Charlie and I have been tracking all of our finances in an Excel spreadsheet. Each month, I will add a new worksheet tab and reconcile all of our current expenses. I know exactly how much we owe - when it is owed - to whom it is owed - account numbers - how much was paid - the date it was paid - and any balances that are remaining.

Every so often, I will scan over the past 10 years worth of financial data and evaluate how we spent money in years past, relative to how we are spending it, now. One thing that I recently noticed is that even though our annual income has more than doubled from 10 years ago, we still owe approximately the same percentage out, each and every month.

Granted, we've added four new people to the mix, but it surprises me that our spending has easily kept up with our income. Although seeing as Henry recently slid my Visa credit card beneath our 5,000-pound wall unit, I suspect our monthly expenditures are going to take a rapid nose dive. Which is a good thing because financial freedom does not come from making more, but from spending less.

2. Plan Your Spending.

Plan carefully and you will have plenty; if you act too quickly you will never have enough. Proverbs 21:5

Stupid people spend their money as fast as they get it. Proverbs 21:20.

Over time, Charlie and I have really developed a much better handle on our spending tendencies. Although a few years ago if you had looked up a picture of an "Impulse Buyer" in the Dictionary, you would have seen our mugs.

When we were in graduate school, we used our first financial aid check to buy a brand new Sea Doo watercraft. Of course we bought the top of the line three-seater model that could tow a water skier. But then we had to buy a water ski.

And an inner tube.

And three matching life jackets.

And a tow rope.

And a trailer.

And with the second financial aid check, we bought brand new computers. One for Charlie and one for me. And with the third financial aid check, we used a chunk to put a down payment on a brand new car. And with the fourth financial aid check, we bought a new living room set.

Then we graduated.

And suddenly, all of our financial aid loans came due.

And we cried.

But did we learn from that experience?


When we were fresh out of school and working full time jobs, we were making more money than we'd ever made in our entire lives. So, we did whatever we wanted - whenever we wanted. We never questioned how much something cost. We traveled and we spent money in excess. At one point, we were paying out over $2,500.00 a month on car payments. But we wanted that convertible BMW. And loaded SUV. And limited edition truck.

Three vehicles that depreciated faster than a half gallon of ice cream in our freezer.

For two foolish people.

Impulse buying.

We were so good at it.

It seems a lot of people are. The minister gave the example of a couple who saved and saved for a vacation in Cabo San Lucas. When they returned, they owned a part of Cabo, via the beauty of a timeshare. And one afternoon of emotional buying.

Everyone should know what you owe; what you earn and where it goes.

And everyone should know that financial stability is not based on on how much you earn, it's based on how you spend it.

3. Save For My Future.

The wise man saves for the future. Proverbs 21:20

Money that comes easily disappears quickly, but money that is gathered little by little will grow and grow. Proverbs 13:11

We've been very careful to save for our retirement every month ever since we've been working. But only within the past few years, have we been diligent to save money in a separate savings account. Because we do all of our banking online, whenever I go online to pay bills, I will transfer money directly from our checking account in to our savings account.

Sure enough, little by little the money that I've been tucking away has started to grow. And it fills me with a sense of satisfaction - and security - to know it's there.

Although we haven't yet read this book, our minister suggested The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by David Ramsey.

4. Return 10% to God.

Honor the Lord by giving Him the first part of all your income, and he will fill your barns ... to overflow! Proverbs 3:9-10.

OK. So we don't tithe 10% to the church. Although, if we were to add up the money that we donate to nonprofit organizations (including charities and church) it would probably come close to 10%.

I think that the principle here is that people should be willing to give. It challenges us - because money is so important in our society. But money isn't everything. How much do people really need? Is it necessary to have two cars? A rented storage space stuffed with items you never see or use? Cable television that offers more than 800 channels?


5. Enjoy What You Have.

I love this one because it's the Principle of Contentment.

It is better to satisfied with what you have than to always be wanting something else. Ecclesiastes 6:9

Why spend money on what does not satisfy? Isaiah 55:2

Be content with what you have. Hebrews 13:5

Just today, we were talking with one of our neighbors that live in a five bedroom house, down the street. They have three small children and they recently bought a new five bedroom house in a different neighborhood.

Their new house is more than twice the square footage of their current home.

They wanted to know if we would be interested in renting out their current five bedroom house. You know, seeing as we have one more child than they do and yet two less bedrooms in our home. Surely we could use the extra space.

It really surprises most people that Charlie and I have made the conscious decision to remain in our three bedroom house. Even though it's a buyers market and we could probably find a great deal on a much larger house somewhere else, we have developed a deep appreciation for our small, cozy shoebox space.

Yes, it would be nice if we could put the baby in his own room.

Or if we had a separate home office.

Or if we had more than one closet for children's clothes.

And if we had a playroom. And a guest room. And an excess of storage space.

But we don't.

So we are making do with what we have.

We are getting rid of a lot of things - that we don't need - solely so that we can remain in this house. This house that is small enough that we can clean if from top to bottom in a few hours. This house that allows us a lot of flexibility in our careers. This house that allows us to be home with our children. This house that we can comfortably afford on one income.

Of course there will always be things that we want, but we are trying to focus on that which we have and it is liberating in a simple way. Our four-year-olds, however, aren't yet at an age where they grasp the concept of simple appreciation.

Tonight as I was tucking the kids in to bed, I was informed that they really, really want a pool. A pony. Two new princess dresses. A Spiderman costume. A zookeeper outfit. A giraffe. An elephant. A ride on tractor. And a rocket ship. Then in case I had any question, my son added, "A real one, mom. NOT A TOY."

I'll need to look it up, but I'm fairly certain that'll cost more than a convertible.


  1. Great post - I really needed to read that. You're right, its already stuff I "knew", but so great to read it summed up that way and with those great verses.

  2. It always bothered me whenever the minister would start preaching on money - because I always felt so guilty (convicted!) when I wasn't able to (or rather, chose NOT to) give as much as God seemed to be asking.

    And now it seems that the months when I actually GIVE 10% at payday, there is some left over for me at the end of the month. Some to put into savings. And it doesn't disappear nearly as quickly throughout the month.

    God loves to bless us - and when we trust Him with what He gave us - joyfully and with love, showing true faith - He multiplies it and everyone is blessed. It's pretty awesome. I dare you to test it sometime.

    God is pretty awesome.

    - From a faith fanatic/Jesus freak (call me anything but "religious"...)

  3. I enjoy reading about people's spiritual journeys.
    We were the same way with money, spendy. We've come a long way and just like when you stop smoking, or start exercising or whatever, it feels so good!

  4. Jen, I don't think you look like a religious fanatic at all! In fact, at the risk of sounding patronizing (which is NOT my intent, so apologies if I come across that way) I've watched you grow the last few months in some really cool ways. Which has inspired me to take on new perspectives as well.

    What I like about you is your lack of judging others and your willingness to say that you don't have all the answers. To me, that's one of the biggest issues with Christianity: everyone thinks they KNOW. But if we have once ounce of humility in our veins, we'd recognize that we don't. We can know some of it, as it is revealed in scripture, through talking with each other, through revelation during meditation. But for everything? To think we have all the answers is really what I consider pathetic pride.

    One of my favorite bumper stickers: God, save me from your people. While I know it's tongue in cheek, it's one of those things I strive to never do: turn people away from God because of a know-it-all prideful attitude.

    As for the money thing...again, you're inspiring to me to be a better person: honor what God has given me! There will soon be 4 in our tiny...ahem...cozy 1500 sf home. If you can do it, we can too. I just need to change my perspective about what constitutes a happy healthy lifestyle. Thanks for that...

    (And sorry for the novella...)

  5. Dave Ramsey spoke at our church a few weeks ago - he was amazing, and very blunt. His book is eye opening on how to become debt free. I'm trying to follow his advice. Without stepping over any boundaries, if you are becoming more open to your faith journey, I would suggest the books written by Mike Breaux (Making Ripples is one of them) which are quick reads (since you obviously dont have much extra time on your hands!) and John Ortberg (which are easy reads). Those two authors (and pastors) make bible sense in todays world.

    Love your blog.

  6. Great advice. I especially like the last one, about being content with what you have. I am striving for that in my own life so it's nice to be reminded of all the good that comes out of it.

  7. Thanks, Jen, for a very thoughtful and timely post.

  8. Great post! Keep writing these so I won't feel guilty for not going to church! :)
    I've mentioned before that I would really like to find a church/minister like yours in my area~ it all makes sense to me when you relay the lessons you have heard. Very important lessons indeed!

  9. I have been working on these 5 rules myself. I have that book on hold at the library. I hope it helps this fool.

  10. I've heard only great things about Dave Ramsey's book.

  11. thanks for writing this post. we too are trying to follow these principles and it was great to have a reminder!

  12. Good info. Now if I can just follow through!!! yugh. Thanks. Marg

  13. Long time lurker here - Dave Ramsey IS tough but,oh my gosh, what you will reap from following his strategies! A good man with a greatidea.

    And, no, you are not a religious fanatic. Each person's (family's) spiritual journey is their own - youu have so much to learn and so far to go - enjoy the ride.

    God is good at all times and in all circumstances!

    ~Mad(elyn) in Alabama

  14. Another long time lurker here. I just wanted to say I love you blog and you should really consider taking up writing.
    Btw, we started following Dave Ramsey's advice about 2 yrs ago and will have our home pd in 2.6 yrs and also have the cash to pay for a new car. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.