About once a year I go through a phase—a deliberate phase—in which I evaluate our family finances to see where we’re doing well and where we aren’t doing so well. I especially look for places we are spending money we don’t need to spend—bills that are too high, subscriptions we no longer need, and all of those little money-wasters that eventually add up. And over the years, I’ve collected quite a list of ways that we, and perhaps you, waste money. Here are some of them:
THE DAILY LATTE
I read quite a few books on personal finance and there is a trend I have noticed in recent years: Every book now uses Starbucks as the negative example of financial management. The math really is that simple: $5 per day for that latte, multiplied by 365 days in the year, adds up to an extra mortgage payment or two. And if both of you go every day, the damage is doubled. Consider brewing at home, or at least sticking with the brewed instead of specialty coffees.
There is something in all of us that longs to keep up with the neighbors—to have the things they have and to do the things they do. But it’s a fool’s game, of course. Envy and jealousy are never satisfied, and the more you have, the more you’ll need. It is far better to learn contentment and to stop fooling yourself into believing that more stuff will bring more happiness. A quick audit of your finances may show all the different ways you are trying to keep up and get ahead of your neighbors. It’s wasted money.
CLUB PACKS AND JUMBO SIZES
Club packs and jumbo sizes offer great value, but only if you can consume it all before it expires or is otherwise ruined. The stores have a knack for knowing exactly what products you are likely to buy in such quantities that you cannot possibly get through them before they go stale (or melt or wilt or grow mold or…). Buy the toilet paper, but be careful of the crackers, flour, or vegetables.
Just like jumbo sizes, coupons can offer great value. Who doesn’t want to save a few dollars or even a few cents, just for waving that little piece of paper? But coupons fail you when they are for something you are buying only because it seems like a shame to miss out on such a good deal. If you wouldn’t buy it anyway, your savings come to exactly nothing. If it’s brand name but still more expensive than the generic, the same is true. It’s important to be honest with yourself: Sometimes you just can’t afford to save any more money. And while I’m on the subject of shopping, don’t buy the licensed shampoo or toothbrush or band-aids—you are paying extra for the picture of the princess or superhero.
KINDLE BOOKS YOU WON’T READ
I’m all for buying Kindle books at a discount, and there are plenty of phenomenal deals on phenomenal books. But if you buy those books and then never read them (or never even open them up to refer to them), you are getting precisely nothing for your money. Collect them if you know you’ll read them or are certain you’ll want to use them in the future. Otherwise, take a pass on them. It’s only $1.99 each, but that still adds up to a lot over a year.
Sometimes you can save money by investing a little more up-front. Those dollar store toys may mimic the brand name, but if they cost half as much but break on the way home (which they always did for my kids) you aren’t any further ahead. Electronics, pots and pans, and even contractors—through hard experience we have learned it is better to spend a little more at the beginning to get a lot more in the end. Financial stewardship doesn’t always mean spending less.
We need to be careful with this one, as some people, by wisdom or necessity, force themselves to hold to a cash budget. However, for those people with good habits and financial self-control, credit cards offer points or cash-back—a sweet little bonus for those things you would buy anyway, or those things you can use to treat yourself. Play your cards right, and you may be able to begin saving for that vacation, or enjoy a bit of free cash, just for using your credit cards wisely. I’m bringing my family to the Ligonier conference this year, and I owe it all to points.
It seems appropriate, after pointing out the potential value of credit card points and perks, to speak to another massive money-waster: Credit card interest. Credit card companies are betting that they can get you to over-spend so they can charge you their exorbitant interest rates. Don’t ever carry a balance! Play the game right and you can have all the benefits without any of the drawbacks.
FAILING TO MEAL PLAN
Meal planning is a practical way of stewarding the responsibility of caring for a home and family, but there is financial value to the practice as well: Meal planning allows you to know what you should (and should not buy) and pushes you to ensure that you use every bit of food in the fridge and pantry before it goes bad. We have wasted far too much money by throwing out food that we should have eaten while it was still edible. The better our meal plan, the less we waste.
Eating out is just so easy, and sometimes so pleasurable. But it also tends to cost an awful lot more than eating at home. Not only that, but the nutritional value is usually much lower. Save eating out for the special occasions, and day-to-day, learn to pack a lunch and prepare dinner at home. If you do eat out, eat out wisely. Here’s an example: If we order two medium pizzas and have it delivered, it costs us $24 dollars, but if we walk-in and pick-up, the exact same pizzas cost us $10—a cost-effective, quick and easy dinner on a frantic night.
The guy at Best Buy has to offer you the extended warranty, and will give you a long list of reasons why you are utterly foolish to resist. But don’t fall for it. In almost every case, the extended warranty is a waste of your money, and especially so when you are buying quality products. And remember: That 3-year warranty overlaps with the manufacturer’s warranty, so it is actually only a 2-year warranty.
The freemium model is the new trend in gaming—to charge nothing (or almost nothing) for a game, to allow you to advance to the point where you are committed to it, and then to make the game agonizingly slow or agonizingly difficult unless you spend a bit of money on upgrades. Don’t do it! There are plenty of games out there that will treat you better, and you will almost always regret those charges when you see them on your credit card statement.
It always surprises me what I can get by asking. Cell phone bills, bandwidth overage charges, gym fees—many of these things are negotiable. We even asked our dentist if we could get the up-front cash rate for my daughter’s braces and he gave it to us just for asking, even though we will be paying in installments. Tell your doctor or dentist when you don’t have insurance and see what they’ll do for you. Don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be afraid to look for alternatives—it’s amazing what a customer-retention department will do for you to keep you as their customer.
And that’s our list. Where do you find that you are tempted to waste money?
I receive the emails often, the emails from the man who wonders how he, he of all people, could possibly lead his family. He has blown it. He has sinned too often, too flagrantly, too publicly. Usually it is porn: She found the stash on his hard drive or the links in his browser. Hard-earned respect was demolished in a moment.
Aside: Men, don’t you know what it does to your wife’s heart when she learns this about you? Don’t you care how it destroys your reputation in her eyes? Don’t you fear how it shatters her confidence in the man she married?
Or maybe it wasn’t porn, but years of apathy, of neglect. How could he lead after so many years of being so passive? Or maybe it is neither porn nor apathy, but fear, fear of a woman who is so much wiser and so much more knowledgeable, who knows so much more about the Bible and so much more about the God of the Bible. How is he supposed to lead his wife and family when she is the one who knows so much more?
Whatever the reason, he hasn’t led. He hasn’t given direction to the family, he hasn’t called the family together for devotions, he hasn’t prayed with the kids, he hasn’t stepped up and been a leader. And the longer he goes, the harder it gets.
This is the most difficult time to lead. The most difficult time to lead is when you have forfeited the respect of those who are meant to follow you, when your confidence, and theirs, is shattered. But this is also the most important time to lead. This is where a real man will, and must, lead.
No one leads because he is worthy of the honor. In all of human history there has only been one person who was a worthy leader, and only one person who perfectly succeeded in his leadership. The rest of us, the best of us, are unworthy. We fumble along. We lead and stumble. We lead and fail. We lead and lose our way. We lead and hope desperately to learn something from it all. In all of human history there has been only one person who was a worthy leader, but the call to lead goes to the unworthy as well. And so we lead. Like it or not, confident or not, skillful or not, we lead.
We don’t lead because we are worthy, but because we are called. You don’t lead because you are worthy, but because you are called. And, my friend, you have been called— commanded and called by God himself. If you are a husband, you have been called. If you are a father, you have been called. You have been called to lead—you and no one else. You have been called to lead despite your sin and your failure, despite your fear and apathy. There is no backup plan, there is no one to lead in your absence, no one better suited, no one better qualified.
It won’t be easy, but it will be right, and God always blesses when you do what is right. So ask forgiveness for your sin. Turn away from those failures. Put to death the doubt and pride that traps you in inactivity. And lead. Lead gently, lead humbly, lead prayerfully. But lead.
If you won’t lead, who will? If not today, then when? You know what to do. So do it.
t me tell you: It’s not easy being filthy rich. You would know, wouldn’t you? Most of us feel like we live in poverty, but that’s only because we restrict our comparisons to the people closest to us. When we elevate our gaze a little, we see that most of us qualify as being among the richest people in the world. Compared to the mass of humanity, we have fantastic wealth.
For many years Dave Ramsey has taught people how to manage their money well, and countless thousands of people can testify to his impact on their lives. While much of his effort has gone into helping people climb out of debt and live financially sustainable lives, he is now turning his attention to the matter of leaving a legacy.
In his new book The Legacy Journey he deals head-on with first-world wealth and a host of related issues. He builds this legacy journey around a 4-part framework: Now, Then, Us, Them. In the Now stage he wants you to focus on the most immediate issues like getting out of debt, living on a budget, and preparing for emergencies. The Then stage begins to look down the road a little, preparing for retirement, saving for college funds, and setting a future vision. When it comes to Us, it is time to begin to accumulate a generational legacy which will build wealth to leave to children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. And then, with those other pieces in place, comes Them, where you can look around the world and use your wealth to make a major impact on other people’s lives and well-being.
There is much in this book that is good and helpful. On the positive side, Ramsey pushes hard against simplistic financial thinking that owes more to latent socialism than to the Bible. He deals very well with the spiritual side of money, showing how money can be the best of servants or the worst of masters. He teaches that all money is God’s money and that we are to think of ourselves as stewards rather than owners of our wealth. He shows how building wealth and building a legacy of wealth is, and is meant to be, hard work, and proves the importance of properly training our children to understand money. And he provides sound counsel on thinking about the future and planning for it while avoiding the most common pitfalls. These are all the things he is known for and the things he does so well—they represent genuine strengths. But there are some weaknesses as well.
My most significant concern is Ramsey’s sloppy use of the Bible. Much of what he teaches is wise, but then he makes the unfortunate choice to back it with out-of-context Scripture. Here is an example: “Your goals must be in writing. Habakkuk 2:2 says, ‘Write the vision and make it plain.’ There is spiritual power in writing down your goals.” If there is, we certainly don’t learn that in Habakkuk 2:2! His misuse of Scripture weakens rather than strengthens his book.
In a similar vein, this entire book, and even the idea of the legacy journey, is premised on Proverbs 13:22 which says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” Ramsey takes this Proverb literally and universally and makes it God’s instruction to each of us, saying that as Christians we are to accumulate enough wealth that we can leave a substantial inheritance to our children and their children. But I am not convinced. Proverbs was written in a specific culture where land and inheritance had a very different meaning than they do today. While it may be good and generous to leave wealth to our children, I am not convinced it is a biblical mandate. This is especially the case today when lifespans are increasing and we now inherit our parent’s money in our 60s or 70s, typically long after we really need it. And even then, what is the purpose of stockpiling millions so I can leave it to my kids and they can leave it to their kids who can leave it to their kids? Why not put that money to work right here and right now? Ramsey counters this by looking at people like Bill Gates who mean to give away their fortunes: “On the surface, that may sound like a good or generous thing—and it is. The problem is, though, one of the biggest personal fortunes in the history of the world will totally vanish within one generation. Even though the money will be spent in wonderful ways, it will still be gone forever.” But that money is not gone—it has been converted to good purposes. If anything it has been elevated, not lost!
Ramsey also comes across as a little defensive about wealth. Much of the book deals with accumulating wealth and rewarding hard work with a comfortable lifestyle. That is a tension we all feel, I think, but I’m not sure that he does much to resolve it. His counsel generally leads away from generosity and toward comfort—perhaps not the Bible’s consistent emphasis. I understand the tension and understand his emphasis, but it may be too simplistic to say, “Our ability to build wealth, use wealth for the kingdom, and enjoy the wealth God gives us all boils down to whether or not we can keep that wealth in perspective. And that’s a matter of contentment.” Yes and no. But at some point we need to feel and deal with that difficult relationship between our comfort and the poverty of so many others.
And then there is my concern that this legacy journey essentially calls on people to spend almost all of their lives giving ten percent of their income to the Lord’s work, and to only really crank up the generosity in that fourth and final stage. Yes, we need to learn to live free from debt and prioritize caring for our families, but with the Bible’s constant calls for sacrifice and generosity, it seems odd that lavish generosity would be left to the end. Planning to be generous and accumulating wealth in order to be generous is not the same thing as actually being generous.
All-in-all, The Legacy Journey is a helpful book with many strengths, but it still left me unsatisfied. As an overall strategy for faithfully stewarding God’s money, I am just not convinced. I think there must be stronger, more biblical, and more satisfying answers.
George Clooney loses sleep over bad reviews of his movies.
Angelina Jolie is a “minimally talented spoiled brat.”
Tom Hanks checks into hotels as Johnny Madrid.
You know by now, I’m sure, that a group calling themselves Guardians of Peace hacked Sony’s computers, obtained a massive amount of private and internal data, and released it to the public. The media has had a field day sorting through it, digging up the dirt, and sending it out to an eager public.
The majority of this information is mundane, of course. But then there are the few pieces that are downright incendiary. I guess it is somehow entertaining to read about the foibles of the big stars and satisfying to see a massive corporation take a hit. But this hack should cause us all to pause and consider.
Sony’s nightmare proves one thing beyond any doubt: There is an imbalance between our ability to create digital information and our ability to protect it. We create digital data all day and every day. Every email, every Facebook update, every Tweet, every photo, every Google doc—it’s all out there, and it all remains out there. But there’s far more than that. Every Google search, every phone call, every Facebook profile search, every place you take your mobile phone, every purchase you make, every scan of your loyalty card—every bit of it is collected and stored somewhere. We trust that it is all stored safely. But what happens when it’s not?
When I think about all of this information from Sony, it is not the megastar temper tantrums that stand out, and it is not the details of new movies. What intimidates me most is the very ordinary people whose lives have suddenly been exposed. An article at Gizmodo (language warning) says it well:
The most painful stuff in the Sony cache is a doctor shopping for Ritalin. It’s an email about trying to get pregnant...and people’s credit card log-ins. It’s literally thousands of Social Security numbers laid bare. It’s even the harmless, mundane, trivial stuff that makes up any day’s email load that suddenly feels ugly and raw out in the open, a digital Babadook brought to life by a scorched earth cyberattack.
And that’s just it. The biggest victims here are the ordinary, low-level employees who represent the collateral damage—people who were doing normal things in the normal way, but who suddenly had it all laid bare. People who are just like you and me. Their shame has become our entertainment.
This digital world brings us some amazing new capabilities, but every big technological shift also brings us serious risks and vulnerabilities. You can see those vulnerabilities all over the headlines today. We need to decide whether information that has been made public should really be considered public. We need to decide what it means to think and behave as Christians in this area. Is it okay to declare open season on public information?
I have no skeletons in my closet. I have no deep and dark secrets that would ruin me if they leaked out. But still, the thought of my emails being made public, and the thought of you combing through them looking for dirt (because you sure wouldn’t go combing through them looking for grace, would you?) is terrifying. Too-quick comments, private jokes, thoughtless replies, unformed thoughts, out-of-context humor, romantic sweet nothings, bad days and ugly words—they would all be there, I’m sure. It is all there in the mundane day-to-day emails that receive little more than a moment’s thought and are immediately erased from my memory. I can barely imagine the sense of dread and the vulnerability that would come, knowing that people were clicking through one after the other after the other. I don’t need to have deep and dark secrets—buried in these tens of thousands of mundane messages would be more than enough to expose things I don’t even know about myself, and things you have no right to know about me.
It is only a matter of time before something like this happens to someone you know. At some point you may well be faced with the opportunity to go rooting through another person’s emails after they have been hacked and made public. So let me ask: Will you read those emails? Will you read your pastor’s emails if they are suddenly available to the public? Will you read your favorite celebrity preacher’s emails if they are just a click or two away? Will you read your least-favorite Christian celebrity’s emails if they are there for the taking? Will they read your emails?
The time to decide is right now, not in that moment. At that moment it may already be too late.