Learning Money

Summer 2002

On a warm and humid Pennsylvania summer afternoon, I was alone in the living room when my eyes fell on a book entitled Debt-Proof Living written by award-winning author Mary Hunt. I was puzzled by its presence on our bookshelf since most of our books cover topics like music, literature, theology, or fiction. Seeking desperately to understand the why behind the presence of a financial book in our home, it finally dawned on me it was a book we had acquired by pure negligence.

Three years prior, I had been a member of a book club that used to ship four to five books monthly to its members for a small fee of $1.99 per package. “Wow. What a bargain!”, you say. Well, yours truly didn’t pay close attention to the fine print stipulating the club would automatically charge full market value to the member’s account unless the whole package was returned in its entirety within four weeks. As it turns out, Debt-Proof Living was one of far too many books I had failed to return during the financially ignorant stage of my life.

Curiosity may have killed the cat but it did quite the opposite to my fiscal life. It led me to pick up the book and read what I was sure was going to be the epitome of dryness and boredom. I could not have been more mistaken! For the next several hours, I parked myself on our celadon futon and devoured this page-turner of a book until the wee hours. Upon finishing the book, I kept counting the hours until it was a decent enough time to call my pregnant wife (visiting her folks in SoCal) and share my news. My excitement about and newness to fiscal responsibility didn’t translate well at first but she and I quickly admitted we were in serious need of a money makeover. We just then and there decided  we’d give some of Mary Hunt’s concepts a try:

1. Pay first; Play later.

That means, focus on helping others, then focus on securing your future, only then can you “play” with the money at your disposal. With this idea, Mary Hunt champions the 10-10-80 budgeting formula representing three main categories of money usage:

  • Give 10% to charities
  • Save 10% for the future
  • Live on the remaining 80%

I have since learned the 10-10-80 formula is not a solid enough foundation for how we need to interact with money. However, as a newbie in the world of money management, I gratefully learned the importance and necessity to give away a percentage of my money, to save a portion of anything that comes in, and to WAIT until I have accumulated enough money before making purchases or going on trips in order to avoid debt.

2. Keep a detailed record.

I began actually balancing a checkbook the day after reading the book. For the first time, my eyes were open to scrutinize every expense and every financial decision—big or small, life-altering or mundane. A daily, detailed record, far from turning me into a miserly bean counter, brought me instead a clear picture of our financial position.

There are numerous resources available (software, online programs, apps, etc) to help track financial activities. Yet, there’s something to be said for an old yet excellent way to do it: using a pencil, a calculator, and a regular notebook that can be used as a journal, and entering what comes in (income and miscellaneous monetary gifts) and what goes out (expenses, including bills and purchases).

Some takeaways:

  1. Humans make mistakes (as in the case of my having forgotten to return the books to the club) but often, if you live long enough you’ll see how those very mistakes can take you to a place of freedom and abundance if you truly learn the lessons embedded in them.
  2. As long as there’s breath in your lungs and nostrils, it’s never too late to acquire new skills and to reject enslaving habits. Be it food, money, sex, career, and relationships, take the time to learn to say no to the habits that hamper  your fruitfulness and life energy.
  3. “Pay first, play later” calls us to count the cost before any decision we make. Most decisions made in life are emotional in nature and motivation but, get this: every decision we make has a financial impact.
  4. Keeping a detailed record is akin to feeding ourselves daily. Just like the body is nourished by food, our financial IQ grows as we learn to monitor bank statements, insurance papers, investment decisions with “freedom” eyes. A detailed record provides financial accountability for every member of every household, 76735457-997E-4EF4-92A0-03A30EA831DEalerts us to potential disasters, curtails any inclination to overspend, nips in the bud impending conflicts between spouses, saves time when documentation is needed for tax purposes and budget planning, and much much more.

A Portrait of Financial Ignorance

If you read the previous post, you learned of the predicament in which I found myself at the age of 20. I was in unwanted consumer debt after a short two months of having a credit card. It wasn’t a huge amount to the average Joe but to me, it really needed to go because … Continue reading “A Portrait of Financial Ignorance”

0A09AD73-ACD7-4206-AA31-649A26EA1174If you read the previous post, you learned of the predicament in which I found myself at the age of 20. I was in unwanted consumer debt after a short two months of having a credit card. It wasn’t a huge amount to the average Joe but to me, it really needed to go because I was already craving freedom. So, I focused my energy on paying off the $382.37 balance that stood between me and freedom, and I swore never to touch a credit card in my life again.

Fast forward a couple of years, I graduated college with no student loan debt (thank God!) and moved from CA to PA to join my brand new bride. She and I were having the time of our lives. It truly was pure bliss to be able to work on advanced degrees AND earn decent incomes as freelancers. Still, as far as money was concerned, we were still living separate lives—bills and purchases were not addressed from the same marital pot.

One day, something rocked our financial boat just enough to get our attention. The credit card I had sworn never to use had indeed come back to haunt me, er, us. Unable to ignore what had happened, we met in our living room and had our first true money talk as a couple. Other than paying bills and acquiring special accessories, we had heretofore never quite discussed financial goals. So, when we sat down to talk in the cramped living room of our tiny grad apartment, I really had no real sense of where to start or where to end up.

But, as I later learned from a dear mentor in grad school, the best way to start is to actually start. I’m grateful we did.

“So, money, do we need it?”, I quipped.

A bit of laughter ensued; the air was cleared.

We talked and talked.

We soon realized there was much for us to discuss:

  • kids
  • debt
  • house
  • careers
  • insurance
  • retirement
  • automobiles

and so much more . . .

As a result, we saw the need for us to combine our finances and happily did. Yet regrettably, by doing so, my financial ignorance had a bigger opportunity to wreak havoc in our marriage.

See, I grew up with this erroneous idea: learning about money was not important. Many church-going friends had told me money was evil and, naturally, I knew zilch about it. I learned to trust all my needs would be provided by the Creator and indeed I was always fed and clothed. Sadly, I took that to mean I could just use money as it came, spending every dollar I earned accordingly. More income simply meant an increase of expenses and debt without any tangible plan of repayment.

Inserting that background into our marriage was the perfect financial storm producer. After completing both of our Master of Music degrees with no student loans (again, thank God!), we were expecting our first child when financial pressures began to overwhelm us. Perks we had enjoyed as free grad students were gone—health insurance, medical providers, a built-in network for freelance gigs, etc. Meanwhile, we had a growing stack of bills to pay.

For me, a soon-to-be dad, I began having a whole host of questions related to money:

What am I going to do?

How will I support a baby and provide for a whole family?

It was at that point it sank deeper into my mind that a credit card was not going to solve my problems any more. And soon thereafter I had an encounter that revolutionized my relationship with money and set me on a course to freedom.

Some takeaways:

1) Talking about money with your spouse should occur WAY before you get engaged even. Money troubles add a lot of stress to a marriage and so I recommend having that conversation early on if you know you’re interested in making a lifelong commitment to a potential spouse.

2) I am grateful to know money itself is not evil. As part of the created world, it has the potential to bless and curse. Therefore, it is crucial to learn about it in order to use it responsibly.

The Freedom Journey

Burdened? Joyless? Struggling?

Do you ever find yourself wondering why there’s too much month facing you at the end of your money? Do you ever find your job leaves very little room for you to enjoy the company of family and close friends? If a disastrous storm were to hit you — loss of employment, loss of property, loss of a loved one, etc — would you find it impossible to rely on your current savings to face a year’s worth of normal living expenses?

If you answered yes to one or all of the above questions, this blog is for you. Please know you are not alone. In fact, here’s a true story that is in many ways the all-too-common middle class American saga:

At 20 years old, I was walking on my college campus dreaming of the future when a voice interrupted my reverie. Turns out there was a career/business fair being held at school and several business booths lined the campus road on which I found myself. The voice I heard belonged to a spirited credit card company representative sporting the logo of the National Dean’s List. Having made the Dean’s list more times than I could count, I paused and listened to what he was saying.

Barely a moment passed and a credit card application under my name was already filled. I remember thinking at the time how great it would be to not have to use cash any more when going out with friends. Cash sounded so passé to me. “Get with the times!”, I’d say to myself.

Well, the glorious plastic soon came.

Silky black with shiny gold letters and the National Dean’s List fancy logo and a $500 limit.

Though it quickly found its new residence (my brown leather wallet), it was even more eager to be used. The sooner, the better.

Around the corner, a friend soon popped up and plans were hastily discussed. Hours later, after a scrumptious slice of pie, my bill came—$6.56.

Not too bad, I thought . . . except I stopped at Lucky’s (yes, that was a store in SoCal) for some peanuts. A week later, I charged a piano book and a novel and a notebook . . . and peanuts. Two weeks later, a belt, a pair of jeans, three shirts, and peanuts (always peanuts) joined the club.

At the end of the billing cycle when I opened my mailbox, an ominous envelope awaited me. I opened it and voilà!:

$ 297.68.

Whoa!!! How am I to repay such a big amount as a college student? Then, I saw the minimum required payment: $12.00.

What? Relief soon filled my heart. So, I can just pay $12 AND owe $285.68 AND have purchasing power left moving forward? What an incredible life!

The next billing cycle proved me oh so wrong. NO! Not just wrong but unbelievably ignorant in the credit department. When the bill came, the new total including an oil change amounted to $382.37.

OK, plastic. You got my attention. You’re not quite as slick and shiny as you were two months prior.

I went to see my grandparents who lived about 30 minutes away (in CA we talk about how long it takes us to get somewhere not how many miles). Grandpa was quick to show me the fine print including the astronomical interest rate on the remaining balance. And again to his credit (no pun intended), he didn’t bail me out (I didn’t ask him to) because he saw the benefit in my learning this most important lesson:

The credit industry is counting on you and me being ignorant and unaware. Sadly, you and I easily fall for it; we often fail to let them down. We charge E.VE.RY.THING (nothing wrong with that as long as replacement funds are in place) and find ourselves unable to pay the balance in full at the end of the month (uh, NO no no no). Doing that is a lethal injection sentence to your financial life.

The truth is, it’s not just financial lives that are so littered with burdens. There’s relational, professional, physical, and spiritual debt that seeks to squeeze life out of us on a daily basis.

Listen.

There is a better way to live. Say no to the burden of debt. Choose joy. Choose success. Choose freedom.

Join me on the road to freedom.

Some takeaways:

1) Whether young or mature, don’t let yourself be talked into financial (or other) ventures without really taking the time to think through their pros and cons. Filling a credit card application, or financing a large purchase, or embarking upon a new journey takes a lot of thought.

2) Great financial hosts like Dave Ramsey will tell you never to get a credit card because they wisely know how dangerous credit cards are. Since the purpose of this blog is to bring you to a place of freedom, my advice would be to increase your understanding of what credit cards can and cannot do so you can make informed decisions concerning them and not be enslaved to/by them.

3) Though I cannot offer you my grandpa, keep your eyes and ears open for a good mentor/coach who can help steer you in the right direction. My hope is this blog can coach you through some thorny matters if you need help.

Till next time . . .

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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