Updates and Human Capital

Seems last entry was October 2016…believe it or not, I have an excuse.

Since my entry last Fall, Karen and I have succeeded in taking our “Bologna Holiday” which cost a couple of tanks of gas and sodas. In addition, we survived Christmas financially by staying on a pretty tight budget. We also successfully raised a substantial amount of cash so I could take a mission trip overseas, thanks to good friends who saw the need!  We had to withdraw from our emergency fund to have the air conditioner repaired in Karen’s car. We’ve had a slew of birthdays that have come and gone, and now, here we are almost feeling Fall again.

Our bank account is still growing, although painfully slow. I know of no one who climbs a mountain as slow as we do. We have finally managed to save that $1000 emergency fund, and now, because we know another car is going to be needed in the not too distant future, (another teen will be turning 16) we are finally saving for that. No going into debt for vehicles! Mom and Dad will get the new car, the kids get to buy the hand-me-downs at a discounted price, just in case you are wondering. We are also not having to live from paycheck to paycheck, which is nice.

While all this has been going on, I have been in pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, and am scheduled to finish around this time next year. This is taking a ton of time, and consequently, why I haven’t been journaling and sharing all the financial lessons I’ve learned lately. I had a break between the riveting subjects of “Creating an Income Statement” and “Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows,” so I decided to take a break and endeavor to persevere in the area of writing. Liabilities are always more fun to write about when you find the only debts you owe are your mortgage and student loan.

A while back it occurred to me, if I’m ever going to get a little further ahead with our bank account, I was going to have to invest in my education. There was no way I was going to make more money without a formal education of some kind.

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Human Capital, written about in many an economics class, is the “skills, knowledge, and experience possessed by an individual or population, viewed in terms of value or cost to an organization or country,” according to Dictionary.com. Presumably, one’s investment into his Human Capital will pay off in terms of his productivity, which should lead to more net income, assuming that is the purpose for investing in himself. For us..it is.

We have tried not to go into a great deal of debt for this degree. I’m currently attending Western Governor’s University, which is an online college with course material that is no joke. For those interested in possibly pursuing their education further, check out www.wgu.edu. Let me know if you decide to go for it! Last I checked, because of financial aid and pell grants, we were only about 10 grand in debt. Seems like a lot as I write, but I am also looking at what the future might bring. I do not think it unreasonable that this degree could bring an extra 10 grand per year into our pockets once obtained; therefore, I do not think it unreasonable to have it paid off in a short amount of time, a year or a little more, should our standard of living not increase, and then enjoying the benefits of the increased income afterward.

Although increased income is a great benefit, there is also the benefit of knowing that it was done….period! It’s not been an easy ride to be a student and also be a working husband, daddy and friend. Karen sometimes has to put the princess in bed after I’ve studied or taken a 3 hour test. Family and church gatherings have been missed because I’ve had to study. Sons have had to wait for that video game or not have friends over because Dad needed the quiet for a night. It has taken sacrifice and grit to see this through to the end, and it will continue to do so until I’m finished, but we’re almost there. I’m not sure I will ever be able to take seriously those who say the market is flooded with qualified candidates who have bachelor degrees because “bachelor degrees are a dime a dozen”or a “master degree is the new bachelor degree.”  I know what it costs and am determined that it is not undermined, I don’t have to settle. For some companies, working experience and grit will count for something. For me, it will be the pride that I stuck with it through tough courses I sometimes failed, the personal knowledge I will apply to my life because of the material learned, and the fact that when it is finished, it’s finished. Until then…

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The Rich Man’s Dilemma, Trump, Hillary, and Anyone Else’s Need

One night, not long after my wife and I decided that our financial mountain climbing needed to begin, and a pretty tight budget had ensued, I noticed a change in Karen’s demeanor. When I asked her about it, she said she just felt “blah.” Understanding that feeling more than I’d like to admit, I left her alone, but her soberness continued. She wasn’t being moody or irritable, but as a husband I could see there was something that wasn’t quite right with my wife. There was an uneasiness I couldn’t put my finger on.

I had decided to spend some time between my studies with a bit of  PS4, a habit that I’ve learned to reign in, as I know there are usually better things to do with my time. I put my controller down and asked her again what was bothering her. She then asked a very poignant question: “What if God doesn’t want us to have money?”

It’s a valid question, and one that I believe Christians should wrestle with more often than what they do. My wife was doing a bit of wrestling with this because of a few reasons.

  1. Christ wasn’t wealthy, not by any stretch of the imagination. When a scribe came to Jesus to pledge his loyalty, and to inform him he would follow Jesus anywhere, Jesus responded by stating “Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:19-20) Jesus depended on God to provide his every need and a roof over his head was no exception. The disciples and Jesus routinely depended on the generosity of others to shelter them.
  2. In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul wisely informs Timothy that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. Incidentally, if one would continue to read that verse they would find the love of money being the reason some have wandered away from the faith. If one needed any more proof that the love of money, or greed, caused people to do evil things, take a look at our current election season. Research the absolute gross disregard for moral living from the Republican and Democratic candidates and find that they would say or maybe even do anything for the next hundred thousand dollar “donation.”
  3. The Bible clearly draws a distinction between the Rich Man in Hell and Poor Lazarus being with Abraham after both men died. The rich man was in torment. Abraham and Lazarus were not. And in a very desperate conversation between the rich man and Abraham we find that Abraham reminds the rich man that he was given good things in life while Lazarus had not, and there was no way that the rich man would find relief. The rich man cries out in anguish, asking that Lazarus would rise from the dead and go to the rich man’s brothers and warn them of the Hell he was experiencing. The nearly damning bad news came to the rich man, “if they will not believe the Moses and the Prophets, they will not believe one who should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:19-31)

Almost makes you want to stay on the poorer side of life. I will focus on point three as it seems to be a hang up for a lot of people.

At first blush, it would seem money is something that one would want to stay as far away from as possible. To hear the repentant requests of a rich man in terror cry from Hell is not a pleasant sound, but we can imagine it, and maybe even make a collective hard swallow. Deep down, we ALL want more, and this is not the price we want to pay to get it.

Might I offer, that money is not the issue; but our problem, just as the rich man’s problem,  is the dogged pursuit of the things for this life, and the total disregard of riches for the next? There are a couple of things from Christ’s teaching of Lazarus and the rich man I’d like to point out.

  1. Lazarus was broken by the state he was in, his poverty was such that the dogs came to lick his wounds. What state would that put a man’s heart? What would it do to his mind, his soul? He longed for help, and I imagine his prayers reflected this. Money? Lazarus wanted food! He was desperate for help, and eternally, he found it. Just as he believed he would receive mercy from the rich man, he found mercy in God.
  2. Why didn’t the rich man help to feed Lazarus, to show him mercy in his time of need? Did he even think about it? Did he love his possessions too much to sacrifice them? Was he too prideful to even speak to the lowly Lazarus who begged at his gate? Regardless of the reason, he didn’t help, there was something lacking in his heart and spirit that enabled him to be generous with what he had. He was not looking for help, not in this life, or for the next.

The difference between these two men were the attitudes and motivations of their heart. One was apt to be in Paradise because he had little, he desired peace and looked upward for it, while the other, looked for nothing. He was content with the riches of this life. The rich man’s security and more than likely, pride, kept him from giving or getting help, for he had need of nothing. So Jesus says about the rich to his disciples, “For it is easier for a camel to go throughout the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

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It’s THAT difficult for a rich man to see his need….

So, does God want us to be rich in this life? I would say that if it keeps us from seeing our need for Jesus and his salvation, the answer is a resounding, NO. God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Is money inherently evil? No. A goal for this life for my wife and I is to give abundantly, to missions, to needy folks, to those with no hope, financially or otherwise. Ultimately, so others can see their need for the next life, and ask that Jesus would bless them richly with salvation and mercy.

Jesus lived a perfect life because we couldn’t, and gave his life as the perfect sacrifice for sin. He rose from the dead after three days to be victorious from death and Hell and prepares a place for those who believe he did all of this for them. Believe. It’s a need we have, and one that will only be offered in this life. Eternal life will be the riches that will never be earned through works, but given, freely, as a gift to God’s children, but only if they will believe.

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Pitfalls of the Climb

It’s interesting how just about the time a person thinks they are standing on solid ground and can breathe for a moment, the ground falls out from underneath their feet. That’s been our experience over the past few days.

'No. . . this isn't the fiscal cliff.'

 

Many companies do biometric screening for insurance credits as an incentive to keep employees healthy and well. It’s good for the employee, who can get a decent bonus to stay in shape; and it’s good for the insurance company, who doesn’t have to pay as many claims to employees who are staying well and away from the doctor. Such is the case with my company. Let’s just say, I wasn’t healthy enough to make the cut. It’s something that I am now making a full-time project and has lit a fire under me to change my habits, routines, and diet so next year the wellness credit will be mine. In the meantime however I found that the lack of said credit is more than likely going to eat up the money I save in carpooling, so there’s that.

Another challenge we’ve run across is a balance that has come due for my college course work. It was not a charge I was expecting to pay as I expected the Pell grant and student loan would be covering it. I received a refund not long ago for the amount of the balance due, so I assumed the balance was paid over and above and that was the reason for the refund. Turned out the opposite was true, the refund check they sent us was actually supposed to pay the balance that is now due and we simply had to “pay the refund back” as the good folks at the bursar’s office so eloquently put it. My eyes couldn’t roll back in my head far enough to accommodate the frustration I was feeling. In the end, we had to pay the balance due from our meager savings.

Ah yes, and to add insult to injury, my son’s “pay as you go” phone comes due every 30 days. Not every 31 days, every 30 days. Meaning that the amount is taken from our account a day earlier every month than it was from the previous month if the month had 31 days in it. Since there are several months that have 31 days in it, when that bill comes due is basically a moving target, this month it debited our account in the negative by $10.

I was hoping at the very least to have a positive balance to report once we were paid on the 15th….

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I must admit, a couple of days this week I wanted to throw my hands up, stick my head in the snow and ignore it all, or freeze to death of hypothermia. I grab the rope, ready to repel, or just jump off the metaphorical cliff face in frustration, harness or no harness (a bit mellow dramatic I know).

All of these things are annoyances. Pitfalls on the journey up the mountain. Nevertheless, we have to keep going, at a slow pace, even trudging if need be. IT’S GOING TO BE SLOW GOING. Pay more attention to billings, get out the paper, write it all down, and build the budget again. Hammer another stake in the cliff face and pull ourselves back up.

 

“It’s Not About How Hard You Hit, It’s About How Hard You Can Get Hit…and Keep Moving Forward!”

Since beginning to log our journey to keep ourselves accountable there have been several ups and downs emotionally, spiritually and mindfully, and it’s only been a week!

Starting good behavior does not negate the effects of bad behavior over years. My family and I are broke because we’ve been behaving how broke people behave for way to long. Spending more than we make, not sticking to a budget, spending money meant for savings or emergencies, eating out all the time and just not paying attention took us nowhere fast. Even though we are now seeing correct mindsets and practices toward financial changes, we are not seeing the immediate results that we would like. Saying you are saving $720 a year is noticeably different than having $720 in your bank account now. Duh…It takes a year!

Time isn’t the problem, time is going by whether we like it or not. Our attitude is the problem, and we know it. We’re impatient. Most of us, if we are honest, quit when we don’t see immediate results. We’ve all heard it before, we live in a microwave society; but it’s more than that isn’t it? We live in a wifi society! We live in a microprocessor society! No more dial up! I honestly believe as a youth it may have done my character good to see the little guy on AOL frozen in time for a couple of minutes as I listened to the irritating screech and whir and hum of a dial up modem trying to connect to my mom’s old phone line. Today…I would go bananas to endure that!

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We are taught in school that sums and products are immediate answers: 1 + 1 = 2, 2 x 2 = 4 and so on. I cannot remember a time however when someone taught me 1 + a month + a week + 1 = 2, or 2 + a day + effort x 2 = 4. Time was never factored into the equations we were taught in school, but there it is…time…staring us in the face. Ten years may as well be an eternity when a person thinks of the financial peace they would like to have when it ticks by mere seconds at a time. Those seconds are also the very thing that robs a person when they sit and wait because they feel powerless, or it takes to long. People are waiting for something to happen instead of making what they desire happen over time.

Inaction and time are a troublesome combination. Passivity keeps us from setting goals and pursuing them. Because no goals are set, when hard times happen, it’s easier to sit down, throw our hands up and say “I quit.” When the bill collector calls after the mind has been set to do better, it says, “sit down, take it easy, try again tomorrow.” It is the voice that whispers, “Monday is a good start day, do it then. For now, eat a taco, you deserve it.” Tomorrow and Monday will come! Is reaching the goal any closer?

Is the destination you’d like to be at nearer? No trip is taken without a person’s mind being fixed on it. When it’s written down with an expected time line it starts to become reality. How many places have we never been to, but because Maps had a documented route and how long it took to get there, we traveled with ease? How many times have we thought about going somewhere, but weren’t truly excited until we hang up the phone after making reservations? But did we sit down and wait for vacation time? No! The trip might be a month away but we automatically started preparing for the it! How? We ask questions of what we might need. We do our research to see what kind of help may be needed while we are there. We save money, we write down the activities we want to do on our trip. We don’t sit idle! When we do sit idle, we may miss opportunities to enjoy something we otherwise would not.

“What keeps me going is goals.” Said the late Mahammad Ali. Who better to understand that if a person has goals, they will strive to meet them? muhammad-ali-in-action.jpg

People who have goals will rise up in the morning to chase them, even when it doesn’t look like there’s any hope. They will run after it even when their legs hurt, when they are miles away from their destination, when they fall down, and when a mountain is in their way. They will fight for their goals even when that mountain is ready to crush them. They are unstoppable.

Just One More Level…(okay, maybe one more)

“Don’t waste your time chasing things that will never be beneficial to your future.”

April Mae Monterrosa

I used to consider myself a gamer. I love RPG (roll playing games) like the Final Fantasy series or The Legend of Zelda. Knowing this, my wife purchased “Twilight Princess” for Playstation 4 for me for Christmas one year. I thought it was a great gift, finally a game for Dad! I began playing immediately and was automatically hooked. Graphics were great, controls were easy to use, and the story line was exhilarating.

It was also LONG. I played this game every night for two to three weeks until victory was finally mine. The end of the game is always satisfying when it’s been challenging, and I considered that game formidable. I watched the cut scenes glassy eyed, satisfied with the long, hard, magical quest that Nintendo had programmed just for me and considered myself quite the champion. I could sleep knowing all was well with the world. Until….

Programmed into the game is also a timer to tell a gamer how long it took play to the end. Much to my surprise, my time came to a whopping FORTY HOURS! Reality suddenly started crashing down around me. I couldn’t believe it. An entire work week was spent after I got home from my real job to play a fantasy game that was both entertaining and fun, but didn’t change my life in the slightest. There was no education, no Bible reading, no growing closer to my wife and kids by acknowledging they exist, no contributing to the common good of man; it was just a bunch of pixels on a screen which fed some chemical high I had at the time. I don’t think I’ve played video games in quite the same way since.

I started this journey, by taking the time to look at my budget, and it revealed a couple of areas where I needed to spend some extra time. I was able to see exactly what my monthly costs were individually. Cell phones and car insurance were crazy high at $173 and $228 per month respectively. I needed to lower those numbers and I’ve covered cell phone charges in a previous post.

On to a different insurance broker to get a new rate quote on car insurance to save some money (I realize how much that sounds like a Geiko or Progressive commercial). All I needed was a declaration statement from my current provider to send to those providing the quote. Once it was sent, I was glad I did, because I found a local business that provided a quote that will save me not only $500 on my car insurance per year, but another $100 on my mortgage insurance per year (with more coverage). That’s an extra 50 bucks a month in my pocket! Changes will be made as soon as possible.

Most people, when they see their expenses monthly, simply see a number that is going to decrease their income and whatever is left is considered “mad money.” Money they can just spend. They’ve done their due diligence once, and maybe at one point in life the costs to do business to comply with the law, like car insurance, is acceptable to pay, so they do so happily, and that’s great. Then years slip by, as masses of people are being entertained, or chasing some high, like me, before they realize that there’s other companies out there that might give them a better deal.

Successful businesses understand time is money. Why can’t we as individuals? Every single day, countless numbers of people are zoning out through watching television, playing video games, trolling social media and not paying attention to what time it is, or how much time they’ve spent being entertained, rather than expanding their minds or doing something more productive. Turn off the TV. Make a budget. Call another company. You might be glad you did.

Staying Sane Through Saving

One of the problems in life is the perpetuity of it. We all have routines. Those who brush their teeth twice a day will continue to do so twice a day. If you chew with your mouth open when you eat, chances are it will take an act of God to keep you from noshing with annoying noises. Non-morning people have a hard time getting happy before 9 am, while morning people can’t stop annoying non-morning people. The circle of life seems to spin at a dizzying rate, while we continue to do the same things we’ve always done day in and day out. It takes conscious effort to change.

Karen and I woke up to this fact. It took emergencies to kick us in the butt and realize that one more and we were down to zero. So we changed our mind about the way we spend money on not only non-essentials, but also the essentials. It was time to trim any fat hanging out, and there seems to be plenty. An emergency won’t look so forlorn while trying to do something different. Doing the same things over and over got us into this mess, so we started looking at bills that didn’t have to be the same over and over.

Gas: it’s been the bane of anyone who has a forty-five minute to an hour commute or longer every day since 9/11. There just doesn’t seem to be any getting out of spending the same amount of money on gas week after week if you commute quite a distance between home and work. Or is there? Better gas mileage is what I need!

Many of us start thinking more efficient gas mileage means getting an oil change, or maybe a new car! It’s crazy how we can justify it, but we do. For some reason people think getting a new fuel-efficient car justifies the car payment; as if the $60 savings in gas every month will eventually pay the $230 car payment every month, but it doesn’t..the math doesn’t work. That’s probably an entry for another day.


Why not cut the gas mileage in half on a car I already own by car pooling with someone in my neighborhood? I’m not sure why I’ve never taken the idea seriously before, but I haven’t. “I don’t want to bug anyone.” I think to myself. FYI, if any readers out there want to bug me by telling me they can help me save $720 a year, feel free. By the way, that’s a calculation I figure I will be saving carpooling between me and my sister-in-law, who works across the parking lot from my office. I literally can throw a rock and hit her office window from the parking lot. We both need extra money, she gets off the same time I do almost every day and it helps take a whole extra car off the road (for all you environmentalists out there). I had to think really hard to find a reason NOT to car pool. I have to get up a little earlier, but I probably should be anyway. I’m one of those non-morning people.

Next up, phone prices. Yeah, if you have AT&T or Vorizon, you know what I’m talking about. They have good service, but they’re proud of it, and you’re paying for it. When my phone bill is higher than some car payments I’ve had in my life, there’s a problem. So my wife and I looked at some of that precious data and decided that we would be able to get by on 2 GB less. Shared data of 3 GB for us will save about 20 bucks. Since AT&T have put out a new promotion for no more overage charges, we are happy to let them help! So, multiply that by 12 months and we’ll have saved about $240.

Between the two, I’m looking to save almost $1000. This will meet the first of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps for us. Have a thousand dollars for emergencies. It will mean scraping up and NOT SPENDING the amount that we save, but it will be there. I’m starting to get used to the idea that it will take a while, but I also know that it will be here before I expect it, because good behaviors like this will compound and have ripple effects. It won’t just be all the money we save, but the integrity we receive by continuing the fight this fight. To some, $1000 isn’t much, but for those who feel we are sacrificing our privacy on a ride after a long day, or a few pictures or videos of our favorite media, for normal people – like my wife and I, it will be well worth the saving.

Staying Constipated…I mean, Consistent!

Certainly constipation is what I would call my cash flow right now. It’s not going up, but most importantly, not going down. Part of what I’m learning through this fairly new process is that it’s going to be slow going. VERY. SLOW. GOING.

My problem is I’m too impatient. I mentioned in a previous post that my wife and I have been through Financial Peace University. Props to Dave Ramsey I give of course, his program was an answer to a prayer I had years ago. Again, I’m too impatient. K (my wife) and I were talking the other day, and I found that a big part of my problem is I want this hard, painful, not knowing what to do next part to be over. It feels like we’re starting all over again and we should be so much further than where we are right now. I’m finding the only thing I can do now is sit and wait on the next paycheck to come in so I can pay more bills, and try to maintain what I consider the meager balance that is in the account. Sitting around does little for one’s patience.

I have found that I am a highly analytical person, I find it difficult to move on to one task when another is left unfinished. A task unfinished, for instance, is not having enough saved in my checking account to cover an emergency if needed. I get stuck, and I pour over it and worry over it until it drives me crazy. So occasionally, I have to step back, sometimes I have to break down, or work out, or go running, or just have a good blubber on my wife’s shoulder. Stress relief I’m finding is a must these days, so I decided to write a blog about it.  It helps me analyze the situation and sets in concrete accountability to whoever may be reading this. It sounds like an analytical solution to me.

We do of course, in the midst of discouragement, have to move on. One cannot sit in the dark and pout, or drink, or take pills, or eat, or do whatever escape one craves. Life must be lived, money or not. So I have tried to start developing some habits that people who do have money have developed. Besides writing about it, another habit is to read or listen to some kind of instructional wisdom or advice, at least 30 minutes, or 10 pages, every day. It’s a habit developed by wiser men than I. A presidential hero of mine, Teddy Roosevelt, was hardly seen without a book during his administration. Dave Ramsey talks about reading nonfiction books consistently on his radio program. Even Mark Zuckerberg has set a goal of reading a book every two weeks according to Business Insider. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. The most recent book I have found is an audio book I listen to by Darren Hardy. It’s called “The Compound Effect.”

img_1821The premise of the book is that small, minute, almost minuscule good habits done consistently enough times over the course of time will lead to a person’s ultimate goal. Small steps like avoiding vending machines, not buying the kids McDonald’s for the fifteen hundredth time, and spending less than you make will eventually lead to a trimmer waistline and wealth. While if you did those same repeated habits negatively over the course of a lifetime, it could leave you fat…and broke. I’m closer to the fat, broke guy right now with my habits.

The catch for me: It takes a long time. It takes work that no one sees until it’s suddenly just there, but it takes a long time for that to happen! I’m impatient, remember?

This whole situation feels constipated, like nothing’s moving, “icky” as four year old daughter might say. Consistency, that’s key. I’m willing to take another rich guy’s word for it. My bad habits have gotten me where I am today. If I want out of the situation of living paycheck to paycheck, I have to do things differently. I have to start making better decisions and forming better habits to start building some kind of wealth for my family’s security and our dream of not only living well, but giving well. I have to do a mental flush if this constipated time of life is ever going to end.  Until then, I’ll just have to live life consistently well, maybe bloated, but consistently, for now.