Not Sure Where To Begin? Here’s The Starting Point For Christian Financial Stewardship

Photo by Kelvin Dickinson

Photo by Kelvin Dickinson

Making Plans

People have plans for lots of stuff in this life.

A woman who is about to be married spends hours flipping through wedding magazines, scanning websites, calling florists, and talking to caterers. She has a plan to create the most beautiful wedding known to mankind!

A professional executive in the workplace has a strategic plan and a daily task list. He has a plan to climb the corporate ladder and become a successful CEO one day.

Families often spend weeks planning out their ultimate summer vacation. Since they’re about to spend a lot of money, they want to get the biggest bang for their buck and have a great time.

But, these same people put together a financial plan? Are you kidding me? Nah, they would rather just shoot from the hip and roll the dice. They have thousands of dollars of income flowing into their bank account each month but have no desire to manage what is coming in. That’s too restrictive, constraining, and absolutely zero fun!

So, why do people spend so much time planning for special occasions such as weddings, vacations, or work projects but have no desire to put together a financial plan?

Because there is a sense of pressure and expectation for these other events.

A memorable wedding has high expectations all around it. The bride, groom, parents, family, and even close friends all have certain expectations wrapped up in a couple’s wedding ceremony.

A professional executive position has pressure and expectation from the first day he has been hired. This person is under the gun to perform at a high level to achieve success in their career not only for the company they work for, but also to provide for their family.

A big family vacation may only happen one time a year, but the parents and children all want the biggest return for their time and money. Plus, they want to outdo last year’s trip. They are expecting to have the time of their lives.

I find it interesting, though, that most people don’t put themselves under the same kind of pressure and expectation when it comes to money. And, I find it even more interesting that the majority of Christians have the very same mindset as the rest of the world.

But God has high expectations for those who claim the name of Christ to be excellent managers of money.

God and Money

So, why would God have high expectations for me and my financial life?

Because everything you have belongs to God in the first place. Your money, your house, your car, your career, your talents and abilities, your health, your spouse, and your children are all His, not yours. This is the starting point for an understanding of what Christian stewardship is all about.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” (Psalm 24:1).

You may be thinking to yourself, “Now, Larry. I worked hard for all I have. I went to college for six years. I climbed the corporate ladder. I amassed all my earthly possessions. I found my spouse and we created children, together.”

Yes, that may all be true, but according to the above verse, God owns everything. And because He owns everything, He is expecting you as a Christian to be an excellent manager of His stuff.

“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (I Corinthians 4:2).

Even Jesus taught His followers this principle in the Parable of the Bags of Gold in Matthew 25:14-30 (NIV):

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.  So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

From this parable, we see three servants who had plans for the money that had been entrusted to them by their master. Two of the three got the money plan right. The third servant got it wrong. The two servants who got the money plan right were rewarded. The one who got their plan wrong was punished.

Are You Even At The Starting Point?

In this post, we have seen that there are two parts to the starting point for Biblical finances.

First, you must a have a plan. Having a casual approach to money accomplishes nothing. You have to a vision of what you absolutely need to accomplish with the financial resources you have been entrusted with.

Second (and most importantly), you must acknowledge that God own everything that you have – your time, energy, health, relationships, abilities, and, of course, money. As a child of God, He is expecting you to manage His stuff with excellence.

Question: Do you have a financial plan and have you acknowledged that God is the owner of all He has asked you to manage?

Why Some People Have An Easier Time Giving Consistently Over Others

Photo by 401(k) 2012

Photo by 401(k) 2012

The Excuses

“Larry, I wish I could give more.”

“I wish I could give at the level of ten percent of my income, but things are really tight in my family. You know how I had to take a cut in pay last year? I’m also having to help out a friend in real financial need right now. That’s kind of like tithing, right? Me helping out my friend could count toward my tithe to God, couldn’t it?”

If I had a dollar every time I had a conversation similar to this, I could build up a sizeable love offering for my church!

And while helping out friends in need is a noble deed, I can’t say that those financial gifts can “count” toward the tithe according to God’s Word. God makes it pretty clear that we are to bring His tithe and offerings into the “storehouse” [Malachi 3:10]. In the Old Testament, the storehouse equaled the tabernacle, temple, or synagogue. In the New Testament, the storehouse equals the local church that you attend.

An Easier Way To Giving Consistently

In the area of giving, some people seem to have an easier time giving consistently at the level of ten percent and beyond.

After counseling with people on personal finance issues over the last few years, I believe there are two main reasons some people have an easier time giving back to God and His church than others:

  1. They have a monthly spending plan. You know, the dreaded B word, a “Budget.” They give each dollar a name and tell each dollar what to do.
  2. They make giving to God and His church a priority in their lives. Their offerings are listed at the top of their budget form each and every month. They give God the very best of the “firstfruits” of their income [Proverbs 3:9].

I know in my own family, we have learned important Biblical financial principles – how to give, save, and spend – through ministry programs such as Financial Peace University and Crown Financial. God has blessed us in amazing ways as we have followed what His Word teaches us regarding financial matters.

All this Biblical financial stuff really does work!

In my own personal experience, giving at the level of the tithe can be relatively pain-free if you have a financial plan, if you make giving a priority in your life, and then if you follow through with your planned gift.

Execution of that plan is key!

A great way you can demonstrate your love for God and His Church is through having a financial plan and establishing giving as a priority in your life.

Isaiah 32:8 tells us, “But he who is generous plans generous things, and on generous things he stands.”

See my Giving Talk Video below where I addressed this exact issue:

Questions: Do you have an easy time giving consistently at the level of ten percent? If not, why not? Do you have a monthly financial plan? Have you established giving as a priority in your life?

Using Mint.com As An Excellent Financial Dashboard To Think And Act Like The Wealthy

Mint.comI’m A New Fan Of Mint.com

Several years ago, I heard about Mint.com but never really took the time to dig deep and discover what this website was all about.

So, why didn’t I?

Like many financial websites, I assumed it wasn’t really going to change much of my current financial process of budgeting, saving, investing, and debt-free living. For many years now, I have been disciplined in my finances, so I wasn’t seeing the need to throw one more layer of personal finance tracking into my current process.

But a few months ago, through the encouragement of some friends of mine, I decided to give Mint.com another look.

Now I get it.

I’m not sure why I didn’t understand the beauty of this site five years ago. Because we now live in the age of electronic banking, we all have website accounts that need to be monitored. These websites include multiple bank checking and saving accounts, investment accounts, credit card accounts, and perhaps other loan accounts such as student loans.

So, once I actually took some time and plugged all my electronic accounts into Mint.com, I began to see the beauty of the website. Mint.com became my own personal finance dashboard. Instead of visiting all of my accounts individually, I could have a snapshot of my family’s financial health in one convenient website.

As I was reviewing my financial dashboard the other day, I had this thought:

Used correctly, an account on Mint.com can help people to focus on three important principles of the wealthy.

3 Important Principles Of The Wealthy

Source Note: These three principles were taken from Rich vs. Poor People Principles by Harv T. Ekker.

  1. Rich people play the money game to win. Poor people play the money game to not lose. With the way the financial dashboard is set-up on Mint.com, it has a quasi-game feeling to it. And, if you are the competitive type, I can see the dashboard having a unique way to encourage you to pay off debt, save, and invest.
  2. Rich people focus on their net worth. Poor people focus on their working income. Due to the nature of this financial dashboard, you have a clear picture of your net worth. Mint.com automatically adds up all your assets and subtracts your liabilities, leaving you with your net worth at the end. Mint does a great job with this wealth principle. I’ve enjoyed watching my net worth grow each month. Thumbs way up!
  3. Rich people manage their money well. Poor people mismanage their money well. At the end of the day, Mint.com is a great tool to manage your personal finances well. Now, you still have to put work into your personal finance management. Mint doesn’t do this management for you automatically, but this website sure can help you become a better money manager.

I realize that not everybody out there is as detailed and compulsive as I am regarding stewardship and personal finances. I am always on the lookout for new ideas and great tools to give me an even greater edge in this area of life. Mint.com is one of those tools to give you an advantage in living out the principles of the wealthy.

Questions: Do you use Mint.com in your personal finances? Why or why not? If you do use this service, do you agree with my assessment of the manner in which it helps you focus on these three wealth principles? Why or why not?






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Do Rich People Stuff And File Your Taxes As Late As Possible

Photo by Ken Teegardin

Photo by Ken Teegardin

Tax Season Is Upon Us

It’s tax season. Yippie!

(That was a touch sarcasm if you didn’t catch the tone of my writing voice.)

I recently finished doing all my family’s tax forms. I don’t really enjoy doing my taxes, but who does? This is mainly because I’m either really close to receiving a small refund or owing a ton of money. You see, I have the awesome privilege and responsibility of paying quarterly estimated taxes due to my status as an ordained minister.

My income taxes are not deducted from my paycheck each month, and I like it this way.

(And now, I probably just painted a bullseye on myself for an IRS audit.)

What this means for me, though, is that I need to plan, budget and save accordingly, so that I can pay my federal and state quarterly estimated taxes on April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15.

In paying my income taxes this way, I experience the financial “pain” of my taxes. Most people don’t experience this same pain due to tax withholding from each paycheck. Believe me, it’s a totally different experience. The government knows and understands this, too. They don’t want the majority of the population to feel this kind of tax pain.

For 2013, I messed up my tax calculations for a couple of different reasons. Now, I owe a substantial amount to Uncle Sam next week.

While I’m not thrilled with the thought of having to pay a substantial amount of money in addition to what I’ve already paid, I am okay with it.

And why in the world would I be okay with owing the government a bunch of money? Because I have a different tax season financial mindset than your average American.

Two Different Tax Season Mindsets

Poor and lower middle class families typically file early in the tax season.

Why do they file early? I believe this is due to the fact that poorer people tend to view tax season as an opportunity to “make money.” They have structured their withholding as such that they have been enrolled in a one-year forced money-saving program.

The funny thing, though, is that they have essentially loaned their money interest-free to the government for a whole year. They lost the opportunity of using that money for an entire year.

The poor usually have regular income from only one or two jobs. Their tax forms are relatively clean and simple. They can fill out the forms quickly and begin the process of getting their money back.

The sad reality is that the majority of Americans who receive refunds have no real strategic plan for this money once they get it back from the government. They tend to go spend it on stuff that they probably don’t even need, and then the cycle begins anew for another year.

On the other hand, wealthier individuals and families typically file as close to April 15 as possible.

So, why would rich people choose to file so close to the deadline? Probably due to the fact that they feel the pain more of paying taxes. Their tax forms are more complicated. They have a variety of income streams. They have investments. They own a small business. They have more of a producer mindset rather than a consumer one. They understand the value of every dollar they earn.

Rich people definitely experience the pain of paying taxes at a deeper level than poorer people.

And, I wonder what would happen if poorer families had to pay their taxes like wealthier families? My guess is that we would probably experience a tax revolution in this country!

Here are some thoughts on how we can all shift our financial mindsets during tax season.

5 Ways To Shift Our Tax Season Mindsets

  1. Consider tax strategy in your overall budget process. I know when I plan my monthly budget, I want the largest amount of monthly net income in order to leverage what I need leveraged in my family finances, such as debt reduction, savings, and investing.
  2. Give the government exactly what it deserves. No more and no less. Yes, we should pay our taxes. As Christians, we need to be obedient to the laws of the land. But, handing additional money over to the government for them to use interest free for a whole year is not wise stewardship.
  3. Structure tax withholding and payments for equilibrium. You don’t want to owe, but you also don’t want to receive a massive refund, either. Consider meeting with a tax advisor or financial planner to achieve this tax equilibrium.
  4. Start some type of small side business and see your taxes and tax forms become more complicated. If your business is even moderately successful, you will need to pay estimated quarterly taxes. You will now experience the pain associated with paying taxes at a new level.
  5. Create a wise financial plan for any refund money that you may receive. You might consider using the money for debt reduction, savings, or investing. Otherwise, that money is going to somehow wander into Wal-Mart and be gone forever!

Questions: What is your tax season financial mindset? Do you think more like the poor or the rich? Do you file your taxes early or as late as possible? Why or why not?






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7 Components For A Solid Financial Foundation

Photo by jonathanpercy

Photo by jonathanpercy

Big Buildings Require Massive Foundations

One World Trade Center, the primary building that is replacing the twin towers that were destroyed in the attacks on 9/11, has been under construction since 2004. The architectural planning started well before that.

This new 104-story super-tall skyscraper is now the tallest building in the United States and Western Hemisphere as well as the fourth-tallest skyscraper in the world by pinnacle height. Its spire reaches a symbolic height of 1,776 feet as tribute to the year of the United States Declaration of Independence. This is one massive skyscraper.

Get this, though. The foundation for this huge building took several years to complete.

The foundation for One World Trade Center is some 70 feet below street level and required dynamite blasting down into solid bedrock.

The symbolic cornerstone of One World Trade Center was laid down in a ceremony on July 4, 2004, but further construction of the tower was stalled until 2006. Then, on November 18, 2006, 400 cubic yards of concrete were poured onto the foundation of the One World Trade Center, carried by as many as 40 trucks. The first steel beam was welded on to the building’s base on December 19, 2006.

On January 9, 2007, a second set of beams was welded to the top of the first set. Later in that year, the construction company completed a row of steel columns at the perimeter of the construction site. Two tower crane bases were erected, and by the end of 2007, the tower’s footings and foundations were nearly complete [Source: Wikipedia].

Before the beautiful steel and glass structure could rise high in the New York City skyline, a solid foundation for this large of building had to be created to support it. It took a lot of time, energy, resources, and money to build it. This was a carefully executed piece of the building plan. In no way did it happen on accident.

The foundation is the most critical component for building anything of importance, including a financial plan for your family. Get this part right, and a magnificent financial legacy can be created to give financial life to your family for generations into the future.

7 Components For A Solid Financial Foundation

  1. Commit to a plan that you will build something amazing! When the City and State of New York, the developer, and the architect decided to build a new skyscraper, they just didn’t start digging a hole in the ground, lay some concrete and steel beams, and put a building up. No, they spent years creating various architectural designs, drawings, and models. They created the plan, first, before anything else took place. Then, they committed the time, energy, and resources necessary to execute an amazing plan. The same is true for a financial plan. You and your family need to spend time and energy creating a vision of what you ultimately desire before anything else takes place.
  2. Resolve that you will do rich people stuff. Assuming you desire to create an awesome financial legacy that will last several years into the future, then you need to plan the way wealthy people do. You need to do rich people stuff. Rich people make several wise financial decisions. They have cash reserves on hand for emergencies. They avoid debt. They do monthly budget planning. They ask questions like “how much?” not “how much per month?” and so on.
  3. Put your estate planning in place. None of us know when we will pass away, and it would be foolish to set this piece of planning off to the side until we have the rest of our financial plan is in place. This layer of the foundation is critical and needs to be one of the first parts completed. For the sake of your family, please, please, please, don’t delay doing this part. Hire an attorney and get a state specific will completed, signed, and notarized as soon as possible.
  4. Give strategically. Giving is a part of any healthy financial plan. As a Christian, I believe that God should automatically receive my first 10% that goes to my local church. After you have laid a solid foundation for your financial plan, then you and your family can discuss giving beyond the tithe and where that additional giving should go.
  5. Build up an emergency cash reserve. An emergency fund of 3-6 months of expense cash is your “insurance policy” of sorts that will help you through life’s financial up and downs, such as illness, accidents, unanticipated large repairs, and job layoffs.
  6. Pay off your debt ASAP. The majority of wealthy people do not do debt, especially revolving lines of credit. Commit to getting out of debt as soon as possible in order to give your family an amazing financial legacy.
  7. Invest in your retirement savings. The sooner you can begin investing in your 401(k) and Roth IRA’s, the longer these accounts will have to grow through the magic of compound interest. Get moving!

Questions: How’s you financial foundation? Are you being strategic in laying a great one? Have you even given it that much thought? Is your current foundation strong enough to create and support an amazing financial structure in the near future?

You Might Be Out Of Debt If …

Photo by StockMonkeys.com

Photo by StockMonkeys.com

I recently put this list together for a financial article for a church publication. In a Jeff Foxworthy, “You might be a redneck if ..” style, this list reflects ten results of actually getting out of debt and staying out of debt.

Enjoy!

You Might Be Out Of Debt If …

10. You no longer have too much month left at the end of your money.
9. The IRS stopped making house calls at your home.
8. You no longer receive threatening, obnoxious calls from debt collectors or attorneys.
7. You no longer get horrible headaches or ulcers due to financial stress.
6. Your car drives better now than it ever has before.
5. You have money in the bank, and it can stay in the bank.
4. You can fully fund your retirement accounts.
3. You can help pay for part of your children’s college expenses instead of them racking up major student loans.
2. You actually enjoy hanging out with your spouse and working on the family budget, together.
1. You have a greater ability to give even more to God’s Kingdom work.

Question: What have you discovered to be the greatest benefit to being debt free?

When My Heart Is Right, My Money Gets Right

Photo by Thomas Hawk

Photo by Thomas Hawk

Do Versus Believe

I think many people believe that if they DO right things with money that their money will be right. If they and their spouse can get on the same page with their money, then they will enjoy peace in this area of money. If they can have a working family budget, then they will gain a sense of control with their money. If they can just get out of debt and stay out of debt, they will enjoy financial freedom. If they can get their retirement fully funded, then they will have financial security in the future.

While all of these concrete actions with money are certainly helpful, what people (especially Christians) BELIEVE about money will impact them in an even greater way, long-term.

Here are three areas where Christians struggle to get their heart right regarding money.

3 Areas Of Financial Belief For The Christian

First Area: Ownership. Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.”

Scripture is crystal clear that God owns everything.

But, Christians struggle with this ownership issue. The world’s money system tells us that we are in charge of our stuff. It’s really easy to forget that God has called us to be managers of what He has given us and not the owners.

When we fully understand that God is the owner of ALL things and we are simply the managers of what He has given us to manage, then we start making different, better decisions with HIS money. We don’t have such a tight-fisted stranglehold on money because we comprehend that it’s not our money to begin with. We can live our lives with open, generous hands when it comes to His money. We start making decisions based on what we believe God wants to do with His money through us as His servants.

Second Area: Contentment. Philippians 4:12-13 says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

The world’s money system tells us that we should be unhappy and dissatisfied with what we currently have. We need to go out and buy us some newer and better stuff. We will be helping the national economy if we go out and spend more. It’s a win-win situation all around.

What is contentment, exactly? Contentment is simply being satisfied in our current state. It doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t have goals or ambitions. But, what it does mean is that we can relax and be satisfied with what God has given to us today in regard to our finances. As a Christian, our ultimate source of satisfaction should be in Christ, not in our stuff.

Third Area: Purpose. Matthew 6:31-33 says, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

The world’s money system tells us that we need to chase after our basic needs with our money before anything else – stuff to eat and stuff to wear.

God flips this philosophy around and tells us that as His children, He will meet our needs in abundance. We don’t need to be concerned with the basic necessities of this life. He will take care of us. God wants our primary concern to be expanding His Kingdom with His financial resources above all else.

Questions: Many people believe that if they DO right things with money that their money will be right. And, while this is certainly helpful, what they BELIEVE about money will impact them in an even greater way. What do you believe about money in these three areas of ownership, contentment, and purpose? Do your actions with money line up with your beliefs?

A Financial Vision For America

Photo by Kyle Kim

Photo by Kyle Kim

The Problem

Our nation is in dire financial trouble.

The greatest nation on earth, the richest, most prosperous country the world has ever known, is on the brink of financial collapse. As of the date of this writing on July 4, 2013, the national debt clock is approaching $17 Trillion.

All political parties, all Presidents, all congresses, all state and local governments must be called to account.

For decades, our politicians have been intoxicated with power and vast financial resources they have confiscated from us, the American people.

For too long, our local, state, and federal governments have paid for programs that are too expensive and just don’t work. For too long, we have run yearly deficits that have led us to unsustainable debt loads. For too long, we’ve been throwing money around we don’t have, at problems we simply cannot fix with money alone. For too long, we have kicked the financial can down the nation’s fiscal timeline, hoping for a miracle to materialize that never will.

For too long, there has been little to no accountability for bad fiscal policy. For too long, our politicians have been playing political as well as financial games with us.

For too long, many of our wealthiest citizens have been gagged and shackled, simply because they have incredible, financial savvy.

Spending money we do not have doesn’t work in our own households, and it certainly doesn’t work in our governments, either. There will be a pay-day, someday. It won’t be today and probably not tomorrow, but there is coming a tipping point, soon.

Something needs to change, today. Our nation must rise out of our stupor of financial insanity into a glorious new sunrise of financial responsibility, stability, and plain, old-fashion, common sense.

The Vision

I have a vision of American citizens who understand personal finances. They budget appropriately. They spend less than they make. They live debt free lives. They save a portion of their income for the future. They actually pay for their own food, cell phones, healthcare, college, and emergency expenses instead of relying on government handouts.

I have a vision of churches and para-church ministries who rush to give aid to our citizens, instead of Federal Government agencies.

I have a vision of a prosperous United States of America, a nation that encourages appropriate government budgeting practices, spending below our means, and paying down its debt load as quickly as possible.

I have a vision of politicians who are required to live under the same fiscal policy rules they enact on us.

I have a vision of local, state, and federal governments that encourage hard work, financial reward, business growth, innovation, wealth, investment. This means lowering personal and business tax rates to reasonable levels so that we actually encourage productivity rather than discourage it.

I have a vision of wealthy citizens who are applauded and thanked for their contributions to society, rather than demonized. They are encouraged to achieve great financial success, because they have worked hard and risked their fortunes in order to invest their finances, build amazing businesses, and hire us to help them.

I have a vision; no, I have a dream today.

The Dream

I have a dream that one day, all of us will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

Sweet land of financial liberty; let financial freedom ring!

And if America is to return to being the greatest nation this world has ever known, this must become true. So let financial freedom ring from the New York Stock Exchange to the San Francisco Transamerica Pyramid Center.

Let financial freedom ring from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to the Dallas Stock Exchange.

Let financial freedom ring at the IRS Building in Washington, D.C.

Let financial freedom ring in the US Treasury as well as Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Let financial freedom ring in the City of Miami Mayor’s Office to the Washington State Legislature.

Let financial freedom ring from every household, yea, from every institution, business, church, and government entity in this great land.

And when this happens, when we allow financial freedom to ring from every corner of these great United States, then we will truly achieve the unalienable rights outlined by our founding fathers: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Question: Will you join with me in this vision? If so, please leave a comment and then share in every corner of social media. Thank you!

17 Strategies To Be Successful In A Continuing Bad Economy

Reality Sinks In

Photo by Newbirth35

Photo by Newbirth35

I believe reality is finally sinking in for many of us that we are looking at several more difficult years of the “New Economy.” With the re-election of Mr. Obama, we will have at least at four more years of bad federal fiscal policy for any real economic growth.

We will continue to have rising gas prices and, in turn, a rising cost of goods and services. High unemployment will continue to drag on. The national debt will soar higher and higher. And, of course, we will have additional higher taxes in every area imaginable – income, estate, fuel, utilities, and healthcare. This will impact all of us, not just the super rich.

I don’t want to be Mr. Doom and Gloom here, but if you’re just hoping things are going to turn around financially and we’re going to be back in the “good old days” (financially speaking) of Reagan, Clinton, and the Bushes, then keep on dreaming.

If you want financial change, then you’re going to need to become the change you desire. You’re going to need to be way more proactive about money than you probably want to be. You’re going to need to work harder and smarter than ever to provide for your family. The sad reality is that the folks in Washington appear to want a bunch of mediocre wage earners. They have no real desire for you to become high achievers. Excellence and success are definitely not words in their vocabulary. In fact, they are punishing achievers more than helping them.

17 Strategies For A Bad Economy

As I wrestle with the reality of the New Economy in regard to my own family finances, here are some thoughts on becoming successful in spite of the insanity:

  1. Take personal responsibility. Resist the urge to just give up and jump on the dole. The unfortunate goal of a bunch of politicians today is for you to take advantage of every available free money handout from the government. They want you hooked for life, and then they want you to vote for them because of their benevolence. I say, dare to be different and take personal responsibility. Avoid the handouts. In the end, you’ll be better off for it. It’s about character building, not easy street.
  2. Get out of debt ASAP. Definitely do not emulate the federal government in regard to debt! Start working your debt snowball, immediately. Unloading the burden of debt will free up your resources. You will be able to focus all your available resources on what truly matters as we continue in the new economy.
  3. Build up your emergency fund. In the new economy, this will be more critical than ever. Once you get of debt, be sure to build up an emergency fund of at least 3-6 months worth of living expense money. Having this stash available will help your family through any unexpected job loss or downturns.
  4. Grow in your generosity. Even in difficult economic times, we need to maintain lifestyles of giving. This will enable an attitude of gratitude. I’ve seen it in so many people. A generous life unleashes greatness and, of course, God’s hand of blessing.
  5. Brand yourself. No, I’m not talking about making marks on your body with a hot piece of metal. In the job market of the new economy, you have to stand out. You must be unique. So, what will make your name rise to the top of a stack of resumes? What qualities or characteristics do you possess that people want and need in their workplace? What niche do you cover better than anyone else? Once you figure out what makes you unique from everyone else, then you have to sell that uniqueness in anything that has your name attached to it.
  6. Create a platform. Related to #5, once you have figured out your personal brand, then you need to release your brand out to the world. You accomplish that through some type of platform. This could be a personally branded website (such as larrywjones.com), a blog, a book, podcast, or series of YouTube videos. The best book about creating a platform is Michael Hyatt‘s Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World.
  7. Create multiple streams of income. In the new economy, you must think multiple streams of income, so that if one dries up in these challenging economic times, you will have other sources of cashflow to get you through. Long gone are the days of one solitary income sustaining an entire family. Consider ways you can create residual income streams on the side in addition to the income from your day job. Check out this awesome resource from Pat Flynn: smartpassiveincome.com.
  8. Find a mentor. The fastest way to get where you want to go is to find someone else that has already been there. If you want to be debt free, then find a debt free family and pick their brain about how they accomplished that. If you want to brand yourself through a personal platform, then find someone who has done this and emulate what they are doing.
  9. Network. In today’s world, we have various ways to maintain and even expand our network. We can go out to lunch with friends and acquaintances. We can attend networking events, such as our local chamber of commerce. We can network through the various social media channels: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. The overall goal, of course, is to maintain a group of social connections that will help you long-term with business and job opportunities.
  10. Become a life-longer learner. In today’s ever-expanding Information Age, it’s critical to always be reading and learning. Paper books, ebooks, white papers, blogs, and more. Be well-rounded and think “generalist.” Know a little something about everything. This can make you a more valuable employee over the long haul. The best leaders are actually generalists surrounded by specialists.
  11. Short and long-term financial planning. More than ever, you need some type of monthly cashflow plan during these turbulent times. You also need to be thinking out ahead for the next several years. Got goals? Do your current plans line up with those goals?
  12. Hire financial experts with the heart of a teacher. Related to #11, an excellent financial expert can help you navigate both short-term and long-term money issues. Also, there is much confusion with all the new laws coming out of Washington, especially with the massive changes in healthcare taking place, today. It’s better to get help from people who understand these new laws than to figure it all out on your own!
  13. Embrace simplicity. The simple life is way underrated. Get rid of all the extra junk in your life. Have a massive garage sale. Give away all the leftovers to your favorite charity. Keep your life and your stuff as simplistic, clean, and organized as possible.
  14. Bargain hunting. Paying full price for stuff anymore is not very bright. Learn how to find great deals at great prices. Learn how to negotiate. Be a cheap skate, but always consider the quality of the product before purchasing.
  15. Discover ways to save in the areas of fuel costs. Due to current political policies, these costs are only going to continue to rise. Does that mean go out and buy a hybrid vehicle? Probably not, because the cost of a brand new hybrid vehicle still outweighs the cost of fuel long-term. In regard to gasoline, consider less driving. Make as few driving trips as you possibly can. In regard to home utility expenses, do an energy audit and see where you can make some reasonable home improvements in order to save on those bills long-term.
  16. Pursue a healthier lifestyle. With the Affordable Care Act going into full force over the next few years, here’s another area that will continue to grow financially out of control. If you aren’t healthy, you will end up paying higher costs, fees, and taxes in order to get healthy. Pay the price on the front end with a better diet, exercise, and clean living. If you don’t do it on the front end, you’ll end up paying through the nose on the back-end.
  17. Pray. Although I have listed this last, it really should be at the top of this list! As a believer in Christ, I believe in God’s protection and provision. I know that He owns all things. I know that He is crazy in love with me. He can and will provide for me during difficult times.

Question: So, has it sunk into your brain that our current economic climate is going to persist for a while? What long-term strategies are you employing in order to survive and thrive going forward? Do you have additional suggestions to this list of 17 strategies?

6 Areas To Be A Better Money Manager This New Year

Photo by 401(k) 2013

Photo by 401(k) 2013

It’s A Great Time To Make Some Needed Changes

We’re at the beginning of a new year, and it’s a great time to make some needed changes in our lives. Personal finance is always one of those areas that needs regular attention and maintenance.

With a few tweaks, a few small occasional changes from time to time, we can all be better managers with the finances and resources God has blessed us with.

Here are six areas in which we can be better money managers this new year.

6 Areas To Be A Better Money Manager

  1. Always be working on two budget spreadsheets each month. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably having enough trouble just producing one cash flow spending plan a month. I’m always tweaking my current month’s budget based on any unusual changes in income or outgo. Plus, I’m usually doing some initial financial planning for the month that’s about to follow.
  2. Give at least 10% of your money away. Related to the first point, be sure to plan to give at least 10% of your money away. The tithe (10%) has always been a useful giving tool for the Jews as well as the Christian Church. So, if you’re Jewish, then you can give your tithe to your local synagogue. If you’re Christian, then you can give back to your local church. If you’re not a believer, though, then I would encourage you to give back to a charity or cause you believe in. The Law of the Harvest works whether you are a believer or not.
  3. Avoid debt at all costs. One of the ways rich people get rich is by avoiding debt like the plague. If you currently have some debt, then do rich people stuff this year and get your family out of debt as fast as possible.
  4. Be sure you have the proper insurances in place in order to protect your family. Did you know that the #1 cause for personal bankruptcies in the United States is due to medical expenses? The role of good insurance is to protect your family’s assets from a major financial life event, such as medical emergency, automobile accident, death, house fire, and so on. Make sure your “financial house” is in good order with quality insurance in all areas. You don’t want to become part of these statistics.
  5. Focus on both production and wise management. The people who make money and have money stashed away for a rainy day are focused on two main aspects of personal finance. The first is production. They understand the importance of having a number of personal income streams. They have 2-3 sources of financial income, which could include a full-time job or business, a part-time job, a side business, passive income streams, and so on. Second, wealthy people also do an excellent job of wisely managing all of their streams of income. They leave nothing to chance.
  6. Don’t leave “money on the table” that you can put to good use. My wife is really good at this. Here’s what I mean. Be sure to get the very best price on every good or service that you purchase. If there’s a rebate involved, then make sure you mail those in so you can get your money. If an item you just purchased goes on sale suddenly, then go back to the store and get a price adjustment. Be a firm negotiator in all your spending.

What Areas Do You Need To Focus On?

So, how are you doing in these six areas? Are you doing a good job in a few of these, but not so hot in some of the others? Are there some other important financial areas that I may have missed in this post that you are planning to improve upon this year?

Let’s all avoid any personal “financial cliffs” in this new year. Focusing time and energy in these six key areas will be a great way to do so.