A Blessing Beyond Our Own Lifetime

A popular radio host used to say, ‘Blessed are those who give without remembering; and blessed are those who take without forgetting.’ 

Do you know why you are blessed with the things you have? Is it so that you can boast and live a comfortable life of convenience? No, we are called to be a blessing to the nations; essentially ambassadors for Jesus. We are called to be distributors of God’s wealth. We are called and blessed to actively demonstrate the love of Christ through our living and through our giving. Or, to echo the words of a young minister, ‘We can give without loving, but we cannot love without giving.’ Yes, indeed, we are blessed to be a blessing which means we have access to various resources for the purpose of helping elevate others in different aspects of their lives. Consider the words of the Lord Jesus himself: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35 ESV).

Blessed to be a blessing is about more than just money. When you are blessed with health, favor, prosperity, and abundance, you are a source of encouragement to others that they too can overcome the challenges and hardships of life. When you are blessed with a quality education, it empowers and motivates others to pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge, advancement, and mentoring the next generation. When you are blessed with a loving family, it provides a model for others to emulate and to also surround themselves with love and support instead of toxic, negative, and unhealthy relationships. When you are blessed with a spirit of giving and gratitude, it compels other people to follow your example and give to those less fortunate. When others see love in action, it inspires them to act in a like manner. 

As believers we should follow the examples routinely demonstrated in scripture. In the Old Testament, when God bestowed blessings upon an individual, He blessed the entire household, blessed the ancestral lineage, and then rained blessings upon the family for multiple generations. When the Bible speaks of savings and inheritances, it instructs us to be a blessing beyond our own lifetime – to think in terms of perpetual blessings, hence, our “children’s children.” When Jesus returns in full glory to restore His kingdom on earth, it will be for eternity; for those who have accepted Christ and received eternal life through His gift of salvation. God’s ultimate plan is to bless us eternally so that we can in return bless and worship Him through our life, love, and service.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

How many times have we heard someone say, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail?” Well, in actuality, there is a lot of truth in that statement because not having a financial plan is the equivalent of throwing darts in the dark or basically leaving your financial future up to chance. 

My experiences as an athlete and as a college basketball coach have enabled me to learn and develop skills that I have been able to use on the court and in real life situations. It was during my coaching years that I realized how the lack of a plan or being ill-prepared can be detrimental to your future. Knowing what play to call when you are down by two points with eight seconds to go in a double overtime game does not matter if you have not practiced (planned) a play to run for that very situation. 

Perhaps the most important part of any type of plan is the goal-setting process. Our goals provide a mark to aim towards, or better yet, a direction to advance. They also bring about the structure that is necessary to plan successfully. When I was a college basketball player, every year I knew that our coach would call a team meeting prior to the season to make sure we were all mentally on the same page. As a team of players and coaches, we would write out our goals and the objectives that it took to reach each one. Our coach would then copy the goals and post them on our lockers so that we could see them and be reminded daily of what we were planning to do. It’s amazing how the basic tenets of goal-setting can be used in sports, academics, and with your finances. What’s even more amazing is how the Bible similarly used an example of an athlete in scripture to help me apply these same principles to my own life. 

First, you have to have a goal to work toward. Having no goal is like walking in the dark with a blindfold on. It’s not possible to see in the dark even when your eyes are not covered, but when you don’t have any directions or plans to get out of the dark, then you choose to cover your own eyes (blindfolded) and you choose to continue to wander aimlessly. We have to follow the example the Apostle Paul set for us in 1 Corinthians 9:26, “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air.” Second, your goal(s) must embody the principle of sowing and reaping. Simply put, you will get out of something what you put into it. 

I like the way the Message version of 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 communicates this principle: “I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.” 

And last, your goal(s) should always put you in a position to be successful. 1 Corinthians 9:24b tells us to “Run in such a way that you may win.” What is the purpose of setting a goal if you do not have plans to attain it in the first place? Why set a goal if you don’t expect to be successful?”

Follow the Money

There’s a great quote by Mahatma Gandhi that says, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We submit to you that real change only comes when you allow God to change you too. And the only way to truly accept change in yourself is to know exactly what you’re dealing with by taking a good, long look in the mirror. The majority of people we’ve counseled over the years are living a double life. We’re not talking about a secret agent, hidden agenda, and clandestine type of life. We’re talking about something less sinister, but equally as damaging because they are living lives they cannot afford built on lies they cannot sustain. Most people live the life they want other people to see, and then build a reputation on it. Then there’s the life representative of who they really are. In most instances, those lives are vastly different, and the common denominator is money.

Something we have learned about money over the years is that it tells the truth about who a person is. If you follow the money trail, you can learn almost anything and everything about someone that you need to know to better understand who they are, where they’re going, what they want out of life, and what their plan is to accomplish it. 

On the outside, many people live like their finances are under control and they have all the money they need to fund the extravagant and luxurious lifestyles they lead. However, on the inside, many of the people who have come to us for help are financially barren – practically destitute – and can barely afford the designer clothes on their backs, much less the luxury automobiles and huge houses they live in. 

How you spend your money is often a good gauge of where you are in your life. Something we say in our business is, “Follow the money.” When you identify where someone spends most of their time and money, you can learn a lot about them and find out what their priorities are. For some, it’s a matter of basic necessities like keeping the lights on and putting food on the table. For others, it’s a matter of appearances such as frequent trips to the hair and nail salons and sporting the latest designer bag and shoes – regardless of the fact that most of these expenditures are paid on credit and almost never paid off in full. For most, it’s keeping up appearances – and living up to the professional degrees, titles, and positions that have been acquired. It is often about joining the right country club, paying for private school, living in certain neighborhoods, dining at certain restaurants, and basically bankrolling the present while bankrupting the future.

Warning Signs

As with any type of failure, it is very difficult to point the finger at one particular cause. When I meet with couples after years of frustration in their marriage, there is never just one thing that caused the marriage to spiral downward – and ultimately out of control. After a long season of college basketball, there is never just one thing that caused the team not to win a national championship. Most likely, there was a series of errors; missed shots, poor passes, turnovers, and missed opportunities adding up to a loss. 

Likewise, if you are on the brink of financial failure, there is not just one thing that you can identify to be the root cause of your circumstances. There are probably several things including poor financial habits and training, inadequate financial knowledge, reckless spending habits, bad debts, mismanagement of credit, etc. Although there are many things that lead to financial failure, there is some commonality in each scenario. If there was ever a simple answer to the cause of failure in general, it would have to be poor financial planning and lack of preparation. Perhaps the best skill set to hone is that of preparation and planning because it can affect the outcome of every aspect of our lives. Preparation and planning do not require any type of educational degree, but they do require effort. They are not necessarily spiritual gifts, yet they do require wisdom. Careful execution can create the subtle difference between being rich and being wealthy. Christ also placed emphasis on the importance of planning. In Luke 14:28- 30 (NIV), His example transcends the barriers of time. The passage reads, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish…’” 

Isn’t this what happens when we fail to plan? When viewed from God’s perspective, the lack of planning seems to be quite careless, let alone costly. Later on, we will talk about the importance of setting goals as this is the all-important start to preparation and planning.

Assessing Our Needs

Without question, everyone needs somewhere to stay, but does each child really need his or her own private suite or wing in the home? It’s amazing to me to hear people that grew up years ago with four brothers and sisters in a 1,400-square-foot home now tell me they need a 10,000-square-foot mansion because they have two children and one on the way. As opposed to viewing a home as a dwelling place, many families bought into the idea that they would invest in their homes and use them for financial leverage. Unfortunately for millions of people, they didn’t do all the necessary research and legwork to make sure they could legitimately afford the house they purchased. There was no emergency reserve fund in place. There was no savings account, and there was no contingency plan in case one or both spouses lost their jobs. Though there are a thousand different variations of that story, the end result is often the same: failure to plan for the worst resulted in planning to fail the home ownership test. Who said that you have to own a McMansion? Who are you trying to impress… and why?

Wardrobe is another area where people tend to spend excessively. No one is questioning whether or not clean, warm clothing is essential, however designer labels are not necessities. Clothing can be a big budget buster. 

I have studied books about frugal millionaires who live like paupers; eventually growing too old or decrepit to enjoy their wealth. I’ve also read articles and books asserting that Christians are not supposed to have, enjoy, and maintain wealth. I disagree. I believe that Christians are supposed to have all that God has made available for us. We see examples from the Old Testament to the New Testament (from Solomon’s regal raiment to Jesus’ seamless robe) that indicate quality clothing is important, but it has its proper place. Yes, looking good and having nice quality clothing may not be cheap, but there are things you can do to minimize wasteful spending on clothes: 1. buy sale items. 2 clip coupons 3. save where you can by spending less on general items like socks or pantyhose, or purchasing them in quantity for discount savings. If you are willing to look for a solution, there is always a way to save more money.

Listening and Learning…

Notes from The Financial Shepherd: Why Dollars + Change = Sense

There are some people who just get it right. They read, study, listen, and learn everything they can about finances and then put that knowledge to work and allow the money they save and the power of compound interest to work wonders for them. 

One client in particular comes to mind. He is single and has saved on his own for years. He earns approximately $150,000 per year and saves 50 percent of his income. At age 40, he had already amassed more than $1 million. He invested most of his money on his own by reading various books about the “buy and hold” strategy and diversification. However, when the market dropped in October 2008, he sold at the market’s lowest point and didn’t get back in the game. When we met to discuss his finances, he shared with me that he knew that he should not have sold, but emotionally he could not stomach that level of risk. Fortunately, he gave me permission to take over his investments, since I had no personal or emotional attachments to his money. 

In March 2009, we noticed that the market was beginning to turn around, so we bought several investments on his behalf. When he received the online statement, he immediately called me to confirm that the information was accurate. It was. Six months later his entire portfolio had increased by 400 percent. While this clearly doesn’t happen everyday, listening and learning from others can certainly help. When you build your financial future on a solid foundation, the potential is unlimited.

The Power of Compound Interest

When it comes to money, think of it in terms that every decision you make in life is also an economic decision that can inflate or deflate your financial future. In the world of finance, it is often said that the greatest invention in mankind is compound interest, which is the interest calculated on both the principal and the accrued interest of an investment. Compound interest means that each time interest is paid, it is added to or compounded into the principal amount and thereafter earns interest also. The ability to have your assets actually work for you is amazing. One of many lessons we can all learn from wealthy individuals is how to stop working for money, and let our money work for us. 

I worked for a big financial services firm before I started Worth Financial. Next door there was a very successful mortgage company. I remember the senior broker/owner telling me that he made about $400,000-$500,000 per year in profit.  We talked from time to time, and he said he would use our firm’s services to do some financial planning, but he never did.  

One day we were having a conversation, and I remember he told me that he would never have a car note; rather, he would always borrow against his home. So he bought expensive cars by taking equity out of his home. In actuality, by doing this, he was unfortunately financing his car for 30 years. So instead of paying $84,153 ($60,000 purchase at 7% for 5 years—which is high enough), he ended up paying $456,735 ($60,000 at 7% for 30 years)! When I saw him a few years later, he informed me that he had closed the mortgage company and filed for bankruptcy because he didn’t save enough money and had taken on too much debt. It’s no surprise that the story ends that way because that is one of the familiar traps many people fall into without a solid financial plan. Personally, I don’t want anyone else to go through a situation like that. The key to unlocking the door of compound interest is to use it for good and not for evil (i.e., building a solid investment portfolio versus pouring money down the drain of depreciable goods).

New Purpose, New Relationships, & New Habits

Excerpt Adapted From: The Financial Shepherd®
Why Dollars + Change = Sense by Glen Wright and Sy Pugh

Without question, we know the key first step in financial planning is goal-setting. By setting new goals, one acquires a new sense of purpose. We routinely encourage our clients to consider and develop a plan for their life dreams – and most importantly – to dream big. As believers, when we put our dreams in God’s hands, we are able to observe and experience the miraculous.  

One of the other resulting consequences of setting goals is that we are forced to establish new relationships and develop new financial habits. New relationships provide us with greater opportunities and better results. I remember the first time I wanted to get in shape. I had never exercised a day in my life, but once I started, it felt great and I lost 10 pounds. I loved my lighter self, so I continued to do the same thing over and over until I hit a plateau. So then I decided that I needed to increase my goal and lose 10 more pounds. I didn’t know how I would do it, but I knew I wanted to do it because I was still vastly overweight. So I prayed about it, and literally the next week, a friend of mine who I considered to look like the Incredible Hulk told me he was moving to my side of town and asked me if there was a good gym nearby. I told him my gym was great, and I asked if I could train with him sometime. He agreed and three months later I lost an additional 25 pounds. I was in the best shape of my life. My friend gave me the support I needed to reach my new goals. The development of that new relationship forced me to establish a new routine and adopt new, healthy habits that helped achieve my fitness and weight loss goals. The same principles that applied to health and wellness also apply to financial fitness. 

New personal habits allow us to obtain higher levels of achievement. By changing old habits, you tend to leave the old complexities of life behind. In order to work out with my friend, I had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning. I normally slept until 6:30 everyday, so this was quite an adjustment. After I decided to do that, I found myself benefiting in many other ways. First, I lost weight and I felt more confident. Second, I became more disciplined in other ways, like how I ate. It even enhanced my work ethic. I was now the first person at work every day and I really got a lot done before my employees arrived at the office in the morning. Previously, I had been working on weekends just to keep up, but now I was able to have my weekends to myself and not have to think about work. I didn’t make time to stop at the doughnut store before work any longer, instead I made smoothies and other healthy snacks at home. As a result, I saved money and calories. This extra time, energy, and confidence allowed me to be in places and meet people that I probably would not have encountered if I hadn’t set specific goals and then created a detailed plan to follow them based on renewed relationships and habits.  

When setting goals, we must be careful to avoid measuring our success against the attainments of others. In our respective practices, we counsel and encourage our clients to ‘Measure From Behind’ – that means to look back and see just how far you’ve come, and how far God has brought you, based upon your own accomplishments. Our recommended strategy is to measure your own progress by your own progress and growth – not by anyone else.

Be Prepared

Excerpt Adapted From: The Financial Shepherd®
Why Dollars + Change = Sense by Glen Wright and Sy Pugh

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my ax[e].” The point is that the will to prepare is as important as the will to succeed because success comes when preparation meets opportunity. 

Our goal through this book is to prepare you for your future role as a Financial Shepherd and to help you gain the following characteristics: 

a. Confidence- The ability to lead, and not just blindly follow; to finally feel refreshed and full of faith that your financial future will be better than it has ever been. 

b. Direction- For many this will be the first time that you are fully aware of where you’re going and how to get there. This financial map will provide direction and guidance and give instruction on how to navigate the hills and valleys that lead to success.  

c. New capabilities- Many people cannot obtain wealth because they are unaware of all the blessings of God. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. Stocks, options, derivatives, and mutual funds are available to God’s children to bless His people. It is time for us—that means you too—to openly receive this information and prosper. We believe that many millionaires will be created from reading this book.

The Road to Financial Independence

Excerpt Adapted From: The Financial Shepherd®
Why Dollars + Change = Sense by Glen Wright and Sy Pugh

Years ago, retirement was almost considered a time to die. Now it is considered the optimal time to live – and for much longer. According to the National Center of Health Statistics (2007 report), a child born in 1900 had a life span of 47.3 years versus a contemporary child born in 2007 now has an expected lifespan of 77.9 years.  Therefore, many people in professional careers will live just as long in retirement as they did in the workforce. The question is: How will they survive?

Word to the wise, retirement should be a major consideration from the first day you enter the workforce—or as one colleague says—begin with the end in mind. In mapping out a strategy for retirement planning, be sure to ask (and answer) the following questions in conjunction with a financial planner who’s qualified to advise you on various options for long-term retirement investment plans:

  1. When do I want to retire?
  2. What does retirement mean to me (full-time travel and leisure, part-time work, full-time volunteer/service/missions, etc.)
  3. How much money do I need to fund my ideal retirement?
  4. How will I pay for retirement?  
  5. How will I cover health care expenses or unexpected medical costs?
  6. What is my lifestyle going to be like; will I increase or decrease my standard of living? 
  7. Where do I want to live? e.g. closer to family, in a warmer climate, or near specialty medical centers?
  8. Do I want to keep my home, purchase my dream home, or downsize to something smaller and more economically feasible?
  9. How would I like to manage the estate planning process to bequeath my possessions after I die?
  10. What professionals do I have in place that can assist me with retirement and estate planning to accomplish my long-term financial goals?

As you think about how to answer these questions, keep in mind that there are three primary ways to pay for retirement:

  1. Employer-based plans (retirement savings plans, company matching retirement funds, etc.)
  2. Government-based plans (Social Security)
  3. Personal plans (independent wealth, residual income, inheritance, etc.)
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