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Entries in wealth (9)

Thursday
Apr182013

opportuniticity

Last night, in week four of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, one of the things we discussed was "opportunity cost." I've heard of the concept before, but in light of the things that have been on my mind lately, and the changes that are happening in my life, it struck a chord with me on more than just the level of financial education.

Here's a simple definition to start with:

Opportunity cost  n. The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

In other words, what are you giving up when you make the decision to buy or do something else? 

From a money perspective, this is a handy way to talk yourself out of making a significant, pricey purchase of something that doesn't add value to your life. "If I buy this television, I lose the opportunity take a trip to Disney World." Or maybe "If I buy this car, I lose the opportunity to put a down payment on a house." Or maybe "If I spend $30 on lunch at this restaurant I'll lose the opportunity to take my wife to a movie tonight." 

This idea makes great sense to me. I'm a "consequences" kind of guy. I know that every action has a consequence, and the secret to having a good and happy life is to decide, in advance, the types of consequences you want to cultivate. So thinking in terms of opportunity costs works well for me.

It isn't limited to money, of course. Everything in life is an opportunity, and most of the time accepting one means losing out on another.

If you date this cute girl, you miss out on the opportunity to date her best friend—so which girl do you like or connect with better? 

If you choose to gossip about someone, you miss out on the opportunity to build a strong friendship with them—so do you want to be their friend?

If you choose not to exercise, and instead eat lots of junk food and do nothing but watch TV, you miss out on the opportunity to be fit and attractive and have lots of energy and strength—so do you care more for chicken wings and the latest episode of "Complete Trash: The un-Reality Show" than for your own body? 

If you cheat on your wife, you miss out on an opportunity to have a loving and trusting marriage—so do you love your wife more than the affair?

Looking at life from the perspective of "opportunity cost" can change your perspective on daily decisions, big and small. This is long-tail thinking, far-reaching perspective. This is you looking ahead at the life you want, rather than the life you have.

I'm a believer, so I see this from the perspective of God's will for my life. I think that one of the best ways to weigh opportunity costs for my daily decisions is to pray for wisdom and increased faith and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. With God's Word as my guide, I have something to weigh my choices against. It gives me a compass point, a life to aim for.

Maybe for you, that isn't the case. Maybe you value family values or professional success or personal integrity more. I respect that, because I know how powerful those things can be as motivations. I think, personally, you'd get all of those as part of a strong relationship with God, but I understand if you see it differently.

This is life-changing advice, and it's advice I'm following myself. Look at every decision in your life from the perspective of opportunity cost, and ask yourself if what you're choosing is leading you away from or toward your goals.

Which begs the question: Have you set any goals?

You can't weigh your opportunity costs without knowing where you're trying to go. This tool only works if you have a plan. So sit down, right now, and jot down three things you want to accomplish with your life. They can be anything, from "Lose 20 pounds in six months" to "Win a Pulitzer Prize before I turn 30."  Just make sure they're specific and that they have a timeline for completion. 

Once you have those three goals, use them to determine the opportunity costs of your decisions. Will Choice A get you closer to or further away from your goals? Will Choice B? Go with the choice that gets you closer, and you'll never regret the choice.

Last parting advice—choose the opportunity God has opened up for you. This is a chance to have a life that outlasts your time on Earth. It's a chance to have joy that makes your best memories seem like the least of your good days. It's a chance to experience love that goes deeper, farther, higher, and wider than any you've ever experienced, or ever thought you could. 

If you need help or advice about reaching this opportunity, let me know. I want to help you see it, if you're curious. And maybe I can help you see some other opportunities in your life, too. Sometimes we need someone who loves us to point out what's right in front of us, hiding in plain sight.

Thursday
Apr042013

budgeticity 

Last night was "Week 3" of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. In general, the message for the evening was "Tell your money what to do or you'll wonder where it went." We learned about the importance of sitting down and planning a budget, finding an assignment for every single dollar that comes into your hands, and doing that every month for the rest of your life.

Sounds kind of scary when you put it like that.

And yeah, when the class started I was a bit intimidated by the whole concept. Budgets, for me, have always felt like shackles. They were something used to limit me. Whatever I wanted out of my life, it definitely did not involve allocating every dollar to a task, every month, forever.

But then, what exactly did I want out of my life?

See, there's the problem, right there. I have had no plan for forty years. No real goals. Yeah, I've had a list of wants, things I was keen to accomplish. Wealth has always been on that "list." I've even gone so far as to figure out my own definition for wealth:

Wealth is the freedom and ability to do, have, or be anything I want, including the ability to give to others and to help others achieve a wealthy lifestyle.

That definition changes all the time, actually. I modify it as I learn more. You should have a definition of wealth of your very own. Just keep this rule in mind: Wealth is about more than money. 

Having a defintion is great, but the problem is I had no plan. How, exactly, did I intend to get to wealth? I know the destination, but I don't know the route. I haven't sat with it, written out a plan of action, set milestones and goals that will continuously get me closer.

That's the biggest reason I enrolled in FPU in the first place. I recognized, eventually (FINALLY), that I lack a financial education. Or, at the very least, my financial education has some major gaps in it. I understand business, I understand strategy, I understand marketing and consumers and how industries and markets can move and grow. I don't understand money

And even though wealth and money aren't the same thing, you're going to have a much easier time achieving wealth if you have control of money. Money is a resource, a tool, that helps you achieve your goals faster.

Think of building a skyscraper. 

In theory, you could start searching the Internet for everything there is to know about building a skyscraper, from building techniques and materials to local laws and restrictions. You could go and interview people who have built skyscrapers, from contractors who put up the support beams or dug holes or laid tile in the lobby, all the way up to the guy who oversaw the entire project, from blueprint to majestic tower, rising into the sky. You can learn everything there is to know, and then move on to gathering materials. Mining and then smelting iron into beams. Making your own cement from scratch. Building a factory that churns out any and all materials, from floor tiles to window glass to the flag that will wave from the building's roof.

That's a lot of work. So yeah, in theory, you could get it all done, and nary a penny might leave your pocket. You may also be the approximate age of Methuselah by the time you turn that first shovel-full of dirt for starting the foundation. 

But let's say you have a few hundred million dollars at your disposal. Wouldn't that speed things up a bit? Pay an architect to design the building. Pay a builder to oversea operations. Pay contractors to do the labor. Pay for materials. It all happens so much quicker with money. Money is like a time accelerator for getting stuff done.

Common sense, I know.

And yet, this is not how we tend to think about money in our personal lives. We think of it as the end, not the means. My own theory on this, from my own experience, is that we don't have plan for how to use the money we make. If we have a plan, a budget, money stops being the end in and of itself, and starts being the tool we use to get to what we really want.

We tell our money what to do, instead of wondering where it went.

My skyscraper analogy isn't mine. It actually comes from the Bible. Check it out:

28 Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

Luke 14:28-30

Whaaaaaat? The Bible is telling me to plan how to use my money? Set a goal? Manage things? 

And look at what you can accomplish when you do that. You can build a friggin' TOWER. If that's your thing. Or a small business. Or a large business. Or a house. Or a vacation to Europe. Or college for the kids. Or a debt-free life. Or steak dinners every night. Or a million other things that all add up to ONE thing: Wealth.

I haven't done this. I'm doing it. I can't tell you it works for me personally, but I bet I'll be able to soon. I do believe, though, that telling your money what to do is what God wants from you, as a good steward.

Be faithful with a little and you'll be entrusted with a lot. That's from the Bible, too. 

 

Thursday
Mar282013

wisdomification

I'm 40 years old, and I'm pretty sure I haven't done my best at being a steward of the gifts I was given. Some, yes, maybe. I've definitely nurtured skills such as writing, marketing and strategy, self improvement, knowledge about innovation and technology and leadership thought. My education in those areas isn't "complete." There's always more to learn and more ways to grow, but that's true of any field of expertise. I spend a lot of time growing in these areas.

I've fallen short in a couple of major areas, though. Money ... that's a big one. I had a lot of wrong-headed thinking about money, all through my 20s and 30s, and that has lead me to be deep in debt, with nothing put back for rainy days or long winters. I'm changing that now, growing in my financial education and developing the long-abused self discipline I need to be better with my finances, and to build a better future.

I've also fallen short on my health. I'm actually pretty "healthy," in that I'm not suffering from anything debilitating or inhibiting. I do have a pacemaker, but that's actually improved my health and physical stamina, rather than be a debit to my health account. Where I've fallen short is in diet and exercise, of course. I'm about 70 pounds overweight. I get winded walking from my truck to my office, or taking small flights of stairs. I'm chronically fatigued a lot of the time. I suffer from indigestion and other digestive irritations. In general, my energy and my stamina are low, and the way I look actually impacts my self esteem. I'm working to change these facts, too, by changing the way I approach food and by taking opportunities to move more, any chance I get. 

In both of those areas I have a ways to go. I have miles and years of damage and abuse to undo. Maybe some of it will never be undone, but I don't think that's true. I think that if I turn to the source of my strength, if I trust and rely on God's strength instead of my own, I'll be able to accomplish anything that brings good and joy into my life, and the lives of others.

The other area where I see need for change is my ego. I am utterly self-centered and selfish, much of the time. I know that my focus should be on loving and helping others, as often as possible. This is my mission from God, the commandment I can't avoid whenever I open my Bible or simply look around me. If I'm going to glorify God in all I do, I have to start with the one indomitable command He's given. I have to love others as I love myself. I have to help others the way I would want others to help me.

If I concentrate on that, it's possible ... more than possible, likely ... that the other areas of my life will fall in line, and even with all the work I'll have to put into it, they'll seem easy to me. 

This morning I started reading Proverbs (actually, I started listening to it from the Bible Gateway app ... worthy). I've read through it before, but this morning I approached it with new focus. I had read about Solomon, who was told by God that he could have any one thing he asked for. He could have asked for long life, or for all the earth to come under his command, or for more gold or more power, or for any number of things that might be attractive to anyone, even a king. But what he asked for was wisdom.

The result of that wisdom, beyond becoming a ruler who has become the benchmark for wise rulers throughout history, was the book of Proverbs. It's a treatise of Solomon's wisdom. It's written in simple language that, somehow, hides more truth than it reveals, and that can only be dug up through repeated reading and study. It's a guide for anyone who wants to improve his or her life, to get on a path that leads to greater life, to better health, the increased wealth. Looking for the ultimate self-help book? It was written a few thousand years ago, in the format of a letter from father to son. 

In Becoming a Millionaire God's Way, Dr. C. Thomas Anderson writes that if you want to improve your life in every avenue, if you do nothing else, read, study, and dwell upon Proverbs. Follow the wisdom there and you'll start seeing positive results in your life. I already am.

It's not all about money, obviously. Money is just a tool for reaching goals, helping others, serving God. It's not all about health, either. We need strong health to have the energy and physical reserves to do what's good for us and for others and for God. Really it's all about gaining wisdom, and using that wisdom to glorify God.

Pray for wisdom. Ask for it right now. I pray this prayer throughout the day:

Lord, change me. Give me wisdom. Increase my faith. Fill me with your Holy Spirit. Show me how to glorify you in all I do. Amen.

Pray. Study. Pray and study. 

And it's not just about the Bible. Solomon studied the literature and wisdom of Egypt and other nations. He wrote about it all extensively, along with his insights and interpretations and ideas. He used what I call the REAL Word of God.

According to John 1:1-5 The Word was with God in the beginning. It was God. Ultimately, the Word became flesh in the form of Jesus, the Christ. So the Word is more than just the Bible. It has existed, exists, and will exist in all of creation and eternity. Which means you can find the Word, and wisdom, anywhere you look. So look broad and wide. Think about what you're seeing, consider it through the lens of your faith, and suddenly Wisdom starts to show herself.

Wisdom is the path to wealth, health, long life, and happiness. Wisdom is the road to God's kingdom. Trade everything for it. Forget feeling low about the failures of your life. Learn from them, grow from them, use them to cultivate a nice crop of wisdom. Every garden needs fertilizer.

I'm working on those rough patches in my life. I'm praying for God's wisdom and guidance, and that I wil receive increased faith and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And ya know, I can see it happening. I'm making a lot of progress, every minute of the day. I'm already well beyond the man I was just a couple of months ago. I'm grateful for God's touch on my heart and my life. I feel sorrow for those times I let Him down, and grieve the Holy Spirit, but I feel joy in His mercy and grace, and in the wisdom I'm seeing build slowly in me.

Wealth, health, and happiness come from love, righteousness, and wisdom. God wants us to seek all three, and he wants us to help each other in the search. I'll help you walk if you help me walk. We'll make the trip together.

Wednesday
Mar272013

wealthitude

The two biggest management challenges for lifestyle design (Christian or otherwise), are time and money. Seems like we're always short on both, or otherwise they're freakishly out of balance. For most of my 20s I had more time than money. These days I find a shortage on both sides of the scale, but if you take debt out of the equation I have less time than money, overall. Them's the breaks, right?

I always thought so. But that's pretty much a wrong-headed way to approach either subject. Nothing is inevitable about time or money. Both are tools, and our job is to learn how to use them.

I'm working on my financial education these days, because building wealth is important. With wealth you can help people. You can be at peace about one of the most stressful parts of life. Most importantly you can do good and glorify God.

Part of our "charter" on Earth is to be good stewards of what we're given, to be responsible and increase what has been entrusted to us. Building wealth gives us more resources to use on our mission.

Time, though, is the other side of that equation. Most of us are short on it, because we're busily trading it for coins. Wealth may be part of the charter, but we have to remember that time is the commodity in our life that we can spend but can never increase. God wants good things for us, and wants us to do good. Both require time.

Wealth can help free up your time, this is true. But here we have to be careful, and look a little closer at the definition of the term. Wealth is different than money.

Money is a symbol—it stands for the value of something. And since value is negotiable, according to supply and demand, that means money has a variable value. 

Wealth, on the other hand, has a constant value. Wealth—true wealth—is the ability to choose. If you want to take a vacation, you can choose where and when, but also how long and how many people to take with you, how many fine restaurants you'd like to visit, which hotel you want, and a myriad of other choices that have less to do with what you can "afford" and more to do with what you "want." Wealth means you are able to operate above the level of "need," and in the domain of "want." 

That's why wealth is such a tricky and controversial subject. As a rule, we humans are pretty poor at choosing the right "wants." If we aren't diligent in our obedience to God's Word, our wants become entirely self serving. We think only about what we want, what we have planned, what we will do with our wealth. We become a closed loop.

You know where a closed loop leads? Nowhere. You just keep running in the same circle, over and over, getting right back to where you started and starting right back up again.

One way to veer out of that rut and run at angles to your closed loop is to start focusing on others. God's greatest command is to love others—love 'em like you love yourself. Love 'em like your momma and your granny. Love 'em like you love your kids. You'd do a lot for your kids, right? How would you feel if someone else loved your kids as much as you do? How much joy could you take from someone giving to your kids the way you'd want to give to them, if you could? How sweet would life be if you knew that someone out there was taking care of those you loved?

That's how God feels about it.

We're all God's kids. We're all God's loved ones. "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." (That would be Matthew 25:40).

You want true wealth? Start doin' for the least among us. Start focusing on finding ways to increase your reach and your ability. Build a store of tools and resources that you can use to help others, to do good, to glorify God.

I haven't been so hot at this plan in the past, but I am definitely starting to see it in action in my life. The more I get away from focusing on Kevin, and the more I focus on God, the greater my joy and the greater my wealth. Now it's time for me to start focusing on ways to help others increase. How can I use what God has given me to do good among my brothers and sisters on Earth? How can I glorify God with everything I say, think, feel, and do? 

That's the reason I've started writing about Christian lifestyle design in this blog. God gave me an ability—I can think and I can organize that thinking and I can put that thinking on the page or the screen. I've used that ability, that gift, all of my life. I've served myself with it. Now it's time for me to use it to its real potential, to serve and glorify God. And to do that, I love you by sharing what I've learned in life. 

I'll need to go further, of course. I'll need to increase the wealth I steward, and then use that wealth to further the work. I'll need to use my tools to build and acquire better tools. That's the point.

Time and money. They run short. But humans—we have a remarkable ability to do a lot with very little. That's God at work in us. So let's embrace it, and use it to build something God will be proud of.



Monday
Mar252013

stressicity

Last Wednesday I attended the first of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University classes. One down, eight weeks and a sizeable chunk of debt to go. And judging by the sheer volume of resistance I've already met from friends and family, not to mention my own stubborn tendency to want to keep doing things my way, I'm guessing I'm already on the right track.

That's how that works. Have you noticed? The thing that does you the most good takes the most sacrifice, the most sweat, the most stress. If something is going to build you up, first you have to be torn down.

For a large chunk of my life I've lived with the belief that my biggest enemy, the guy who stands in my way most often, the fella who tears me down most without bothering to pick up the pieces—yeah, that guy is me. I could say it was Satan or sin or the nature of evil that tears me down. But the truth is that Satan, sin, and evil have only the tools I give them to work with. I've busily handed over custom-made Kevin-manipulating tools, and then raged at Satan's efficiency in mucking up my life. And all the while asking, "Why, God, why?!?"

A sure sign that you're doing something good for yourself is to guage how uncomfortable you feel. There's actually a word for that, though one you may not have heard before.

You've heard of stress. It's that thing you suffer when bills are due, when the car breaks down, when you have a test you haven 't prepared for. Have you heard of eustress

Eustress literally means "good stress." This is stress that builds you up instead of tearing you down. It's the stress of putting money into a savings account every month, even if money is a little tight. It's the stress of taking your car in for regular maintenance even though you're strapped for cash and/or time. It's the stress of studying for a test ahead of time, doing the assignments, asking for help in advance when you don't understand something.

Think of exercise. Nothing is more stressful than that first time you lace up and hit the street to get some miles under you and some pounds off of you. Your  muscles tense up. You sweat. You breathe heavy. Your lungs burn and your stomach churns and you end up feeling like complete garbage. And then there's the aftermath! Strained muscles, weariness, headaches.

And the time! Holy hourglasses, exercise takes up so much time! Changing into workout clothes takes time. Stretching takes time. Stopping to drink water takes time. Doing a cool-down takes time. Just showing up, day after day, to do this thing that isn't always all that much fun, and almost always hurts, takes time.

But when you keep at it for a few weeks, suddenly that time doesn't seem so big a cost. Muscles loosen. Breathing becomes regular. Sweat becomes less unpleasant. Pounds start to burn away as muscle starts to grow. Energy starts to increase. And the time suddenly isn't such a high cost any more.

Eustress is that stress that's ultimately good for you. Working out gives you benefits that outweigh the suffering. So the suffering, the stress, is building you up instead of tearing you down. 

That's the key to understanding the resistance I'm dealing with, both externally and internally, when it comes to getting my finances under control. I lack a financial education, so I have to pursue one. I lack self discipline, so I have to develop it. I lack a wealth mindset, so I have to build one. I have to work for it. I have to use muscles I haven't yet used. And that hurts. And it takes time. And it causes stress and headaches and nausea and tight feelings in my chest and stomach. 

But if I keep at it, if I keep carrying on, then I will eventually get past those pains. I'll cut debt down to nothing. I'll have money in the bank to support me and Kara if something goes wrong. I'll use money as it was intended to be used, to grow and support and promote and prosper me, but also to glorify God. I'll have true wealth. Wealth that isn't defined or limited to a number on a bank account. True wealth is freedom. It's controlling my resources—time and money—instead of letting them control me. 

So I'll take some flack from friends and family. I'll be laughed at because I'm forced to do some things I blatantly said I'd never do, like sell something I like that costs me a fortune to keep. I'll  have to eat a little crow, soak up a little humility, and suffer through a little indignity. That's stressful. But it's good stress. Eustress. It builds me up instead of tearing me down. 

So for that, I'm grateful.