Recently I spoke about giving at church. You can find the video here.
I’d like to add some practical tips for handling money because
Many would like to give, but feel they can’t afford to give.
Many of us need help handling our finances, even those who are giving.
The culture has given us a misconception about money and it’s purpose.
I want to share some basic principles that have helped us gain financial security and enabled us to increase our generosity. When Casie and I got married in 2006, we realized that we were both savers. We’d been saving money for most of our lives because we were raised to save. Many people aren’t, and I’d like to share with you how we saved, invested and utilized money. As a result of these practices we are able to free up our schedules and say yes to what matters most.
We always give and save first. We set aside 10% for giving and 10-15% for saving. We enrolled in every 401k match, company stock option, etc that we were offered. When we were in our 20s this meant making sacrificial decisions. We didn’t buy our dream home. We bought a duplex and rented half of it out. We didn’t buy expensive new cars. We bought dependable used vehicles. We learned to cook delicious meals and made eating out a special treat. Even now, we typically prefer the food we cook at home to what we find in many restaurants. Our vacations for many years were either camping trips or low cost destinations.
This is difficult if you’re not making middle class income. Our first few years together, we typically had extra jobs or income from side hustles. Casie went back to school to get a Master’s Degree in her field. You may need to finish a degree, become an industry apprentice, or save to start your own business. Many of times we struggle to save because we are over-spending or under-employed or we aren’t taking full advantage of their expertise and skills we’ve acquired. Nothing worth doing is easy or quick, but commit to the long process. Start making good decisions now, and they’ll snowball as your income and savings grow. By the way, I still work at FedEx part-time because of their benefits. We don’t need the income, but we enjoy the benefits. I don’t know that I’ll ever quit. Stop believing that you need to arrive at the top of some corporate ladder or save millions to live a generous life. You don’t need millions or a six figure income. You need simple principles and determined effort.
The reason we give and save first is to establish a line in the sand. I need to learn to say no because I’ve already invested or saved that money. I need hard rules that encourage wise decisions instead of frivolous spending. I need to commit to saving and giving as a discipline in my life that will lead to generous outcomes.
We purchase more assets than liabilities. An asset produces income or grows in value. Conversely, a liability loses value and typically produces little or no income. An asset could be a business, real estate, investments or a degree (depending on the institution and job sector). Liabilities include vehicles, boats, furniture, vacations, etc. You have to purchase some liabilities, no doubt. I need a vehicle, food and a home. However, I don’t need a brand new vehicle or a newly built 3,000 sf home. Over the years we’ve purchased assets and delayed the purchase of liabilities. I still drive the truck I bought in college for about $9,000. Last year we could have purchased a new truck. Instead we invested the same amount and purchased another rental property that produces income. Trucks lose value over the long term, real estate (typically) grows in value over the long term. By the way, that rental property generates enough profit to cover a truck payment if I really want one (spoiler, I don’t).
I’ll admit, liabilities are way more fun to buy. However, assets give you the freedom to decide what you do with your money and time. Let me put it this way. The rental properties we’ve acquired were difficult to purchase. There’s paperwork, proof of income, closing deadlines, etc. Liabilities (boats, cars, vacations) can typically be purchased in a few minutes or hours. However, our assets produce income and therefore give us freedom. We can decide to spend the money and time these assets have freed up however we like. Liabilities, on the other hand, tie a noose around your neck. You can’t take a week off because you need the overtime to pay the monthly payments and insurance attached to the liability. Avoid liabilities. purchase the cheapest liabilities you can. Don’t buy the most house or car you can afford.
We found free and inexpensive ways to enjoy ourselves. We love riding our bikes, hiking trails and spending time on the water. You don’t have to spend money every time you want to have fun. Lately, we’ve been running and hiking more often. Most of our favorite places to visit don’t cost money. Even our vacations are inexpensive. We typically fly (for free thanks to points and Southwest) to a city close to a National Park. We’ll camp for $15 per night in an amazing new setting for a few days. We bring our meals and supplies with us on the plane. We’ve been to dozens of amazing parks while spending only a few dollars per night. You don’t have to spend a fortune flying to exotic places and staying at extravagant resorts to unwind and relax. We save those rare occasions for big anniversaries or achievements (the assets give you the freedom to do that, but you don’t have to spend every dollar you make).
Lately, I’ve been playing more basketball. There are tons of good courts in my city where I can play pick up ball. No membership. No gym fees. Casie takes the dogs running and enjoys rollerblading (hello 1996). It says a lot about us, when we feel we have to spend money to have a good time. The culture has brainwashed us into thinking we can only have fun if we are spending money. You can enjoy the weekend without spending tons of money eating out and shopping. Our lives should be so much more than a receipt of purchases we’ve made along the way.
We keep an eye on our budget. You thought you’d get through this post without the b word didn’t you? We had a budget before we got married (it wasn’t realistic). We have been constantly adjusting our budget ever since. We have regular financial conversations to keep us committed to good habits. We have a plan for money. We tell it where to go and what to do. We never find ourselves asking, “what should we do with this money?” Your budget will tell you what you can and can’t do. We have our current budget, next year’s budget and our dream budget (once some of the rental properties are paid off completely). Too many people have a theoretical plan of how they’d spend $10M from the lottery, but no idea how they’re going to spend the money they’re actually making. If you’ve never been through Financial Peace University, I’d encourage you to consider attending. If nothing else, read the book Total Money Make-over by Dave Ramsey. Everything really comes down to a decision followed by determination. It took a decade for us to see some of our decisions pay off. Keep after it. Adjust the budget when you get a raise. Make changes when you pay off that debt or car payment. Ideally, every debt you pay off should free up money to be saved, invested or donated.
I want to remind you the why matters more than the what. I believe anyone can make money and create wealth. You have to know why you’re doing it. I’m not saving and investing so I can retire to a golf-course community (nothing against golfing). I’m not saving up for a yacht (my 13’ boston whaler is pretty dope tho).
We are making these decisions to create freedom for ourselves now and later in life. We use this freedom (time and money) to invest in our family, our church and our community. Money doesn’t dictate my life or my schedule. We get to determine how we want to spend our time and energy. This freedom allows us to choose how we invest our greatest resource: time. What’s your why? Are you trying to free up time during this season to be present in your kids’ lives? Maybe you’re trying to create space in your schedule to start a business or launch an initiative for your community? When you have time and resources, you can invest them in what maters most to you. Find your why.