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Tim Tebow your finances

January 10, 2012

Whether you love him or hate him, Tim Tebow has been one of the most fascinating stories in sports this year.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a die-hard Seminole fan, and it’s been very difficult to root for Tebow.  However, I love what he stands for, how he plays the game, and how he handles himself off the field.  So, if you need a little inspiration for handling your personal finances in 2012, you need look no further than #15 for the Denver Broncos:

1.  Be tough – Tim Tebow is not a quarterback…he’s an NFL fullback who happens to play QB.  And he approaches the game like a fullback or linebacker.  He also gets hammered in the media for the things he can’t do well…but takes it all in stride.   Choosing to make the necessary decisions to get your financial house in order is difficult.  It might require driving a junker, downsizing your home, staying home while your friends go out, or taking a second job.  You have to approach it with the mental toughness of a linebacker.  You might also face some ridicule from friends and families for your “extreme” choices.  You just keep playing hard…at the end of the day, you’ll get the win.

2.  Make your money count – Tebow has the worst completion percentage among active NFL QBs. He’s not even close to 2nd to last…he’s dead last by A LOT.  But he makes his pass completions count, usually for big gainers.  Don’t think you have to be rich to win with money.  Don’t think you have to be rich to retire early and pursue your dreams.  You just have to be diligent about making every dollar count. Set up an account at mint.com.  Make a budget.  Stick to it.  Before you know it you’ll be connecting on an 80yd pass to Thomas in overtime!

3.  Limit costly mistakes – Tebow and the Broncos win because they limit costly turnovers.  You can get away with some small mistakes, but there are a few mistakes you can’t afford to make and still win with your money.  When it comes to the big ticket items of your budget, hold on to the football tightly! Don’t overspend in housing, vehicles, or food.  These are the three areas that pretty much kill everyone. AND AVOID CONSUMER DEBT – that’s just like turning the ball over in the red zone!

4.  Set an example off the field – In other words, be generous.  Don’t let your budget be all about you. Make a conscious decision that 10% of whatever you earn, you will give away.  Tebow is great about deflecting praise on to his teammates, and understanding that life is so much more than football.  Money is a tool to pursue the dreams you were created for, and those dreams should be centered in others.  If it ever becomes about the money, you’ve lost.

So, approach your budget like Tebow does football.  Who knows, you just might surprise a few people…including yourself.

Why your resolutions will fail…

January 5, 2012

“You know how to TAKE the reservation…you just don’t know how to HOLD the reservation.”  – Jerry Seinfeld upon learning the rental car company ran out of cars.

Most of us know how to MAKE the resolution, we just don’t know how to KEEP the resolution.  No better time of year than to make some financial goals for you and your family.  But not to be too much of buzz kill, most of us will fail.  You might have seen the acronym SMART for making goals:

Specific
Measurable
Achievable
Realistic
Time Measured

If you’re making goals or resolutions that don’t meet these criteria, then you need to work on TAKING the reservation.  But that’s easy.  MAKING the resolution, TAKING the reservation, doesn’t require anything but a little thought.  HOLDING the reservation, KEEPING the resolution requires work.  And this is why most of us will fail.  But with a few adjustments, you just might have that car ready when Seinfeld shows up:

1.  Write down your goals – There’s something about putting to pen to paper (or letter to screen) that forces our mind to engage on a different level.  Then display those goals in a prominent place so it stays in your mind’s eye.

2.  Share your goals – Whether it’s a friend or your spouse, give them permission to ride you hard about your goals.  If they are important enough for you to set, then you should be fine with someone who loves you and wants the best for you to keep you accountable.

3.  Develop a plan – This might be the most important.  How do you plan to save $250/month?  How are you going to lose 25 pounds?  You must develop a specific plan for success.  For instance, we’ll cut $50 out of our dining out budget, we’ll cut $50 out of our clothing budget, and we’ll skip our big vacation this year.  These are actionable steps you can take to achieve your goal.  This is you HOLDING the reservation.

4.  Be flexible, not lazy – You will have unexpected events in your life this year.  It’s okay to adjust your goals accordingly, just don’t use it as an excuse.

So be SMART in taking the reservation, but HOLDING the reservation is what matters.  What goals or resolutions have you set for 2012?  Write them down.  Share them.  Develop a plan.  Be flexible.  Okay…so maybe you won’t fail this year.

Get ahead with gift cards

January 4, 2012

The age old debate… 

1. Spend time searching out or making a gift that is meaningful, personal, and priceless.

2. Or get them a gift card.

Gift cards are awesome.  Maybe they don’t have the personal touch that other gifts might, but I still love them.  I love that I have the freedom to buy what I want, when I want.  I love that I don’t have to hurt anyone’s feelings by returning that ugly shirt they gave me.  I love that I can go out to dinner and order the big steak.  I love being able to shop online knowing what I buy will not come out of my budget.

But here’s the challenge.  It’s a new year.  Maybe you’ve decided to be a wise steward and stick to your budget.  Maybe this will be the year you actually make a budget.  Maybe you’ll reach your savings goal.  There’s no better month to get ahead than in January.  Instead of using your gift cards for “extra” stuff, why not use your gift cards to supplement your budget:

  • If you have a $200 dining out budget and $50 Darden or Outback gift card – lower the budget to $150 for January.
  • If you received Target or Visa gift cards, still buy something for yourself, but use it to help supplement your grocery budget for this month.

Listen, the first two months of the year are built to help you succeed at reaching your financial goals!  You have all this motivation from the new year, you have gift cards, and next month, you’ll have your tax return!  With some discipline and a little planning, you can begin 2012 like a financial genius!

Giving out of poverty

December 7, 2011

What are you willing to forgo to enhance someone else’s world?  Sacrifice might be the most honorable trait.  This is how Jesus measures your generosity.  This is hard in America.

Here is where I’d normally say something like…”You need to make sure you’re family is fed, housed, and clothed.  That’s your first priority – then you can be outwardly generous.”  Or…”Don’t be generous to a fault.”

Then I read this passage in Mark:

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

If I’m honest, I give out of my wealth.  I believe most of us would say the same.  Notice Jesus doesn’t condemn the rich contributors.  Amazing things have been accomplished through the generosity of wealthy men and women.  But neither does Jesus condemn the widow for giving all she has.  In fact, He says she’s given more.  The greater the sacrifice, the greater the gift.  I have a long way to go.  My guess is we all do.

Just jump already!

December 1, 2011

Following Jesus is hard.  Especially for the disciples he chose.  We have the benefit of the full story.  They didn’t.  Jesus rarely explained himself.  He demanded thought.  He demanded action.  He left them with unanswered questions.  He wanted them to figure it out.

It was no different on this day recorded in the Scriptures.  There is Jesus, teaching about 10,000 people.  It’s getting dark.  Everyone is far from home.  There’s no food.  Jesus’ disciples provide what seems to be prudent advise.  “This is a remote place and it’s getting late.  Send them home so they can buy food for themselves.”  I love Jesus’ curt response…

They do not need to go away.  You give them something to eat.

It’s as though they arrived at the edge of a 50ft cliff with the ocean below:

Disciples: Guess we should turn around now.

Jesus:  You should jump.

Disciples:  WHAT!  No, you jump!.

Jesus:  I asked you first

Disciples:  So. That’s crazy. I’m not jumping.

Jesus:  Alright.  I’ll jump.  (Jesus then jumps into the ocean below.)

Seriously, that’s what happened…ish.  Jesus, then realizing that his disciples weren’t going to jump, takes the 5 loaves and 2 fish and feeds everybody.

Excuses are easy…when I have more resources, the needs are too overwhelming, my contribution won’t make a difference.  None of that is necessary or true with Jesus present.  He doesn’t need us to give, but He wants us to experience what it’s like to peek over the edge, feel your stomach rise to your throat, then take a step back and go for it.  If your giving and generosity is safe and boring…you’re missing the point.  Just jump.

I got the moves like Jagger…

November 29, 2011

No.  No I don’t.  Not even close.  I secretly hope I’ll have access to some mad popper skills in heaven.  That would be cool.  (I also hope that song dies a slow, painful death, but that’s for another post.) But until then, me and the dance floor will maintain our awkward relationship.

Dancing is not my thing.  You have to be born with rhythm.  Yes, I can improve with practice, but I’ll never be a great dancer.  Most skills require some, if not a whole lot of, natural talent.  Very few people will have the moves like Jagger (on so many levels.)

But here’s something we all have the capacity to perfect.  We can all learn to give like Jesus.  As I’ve discussed before, giving and generosity are critical to creating margin in your life.  You’ll never master money until you bring the right perspective and motivation, and you have to look no further than Jesus for a road map.

As we approach Christmas, I’ll take the next few weeks to look at how, when, and why Jesus gave.  And these skills are not determined by our genes or pre-disposed physical abilities.  Jesus has given each of us what we need to be generous.  Some have more money, some have more personality, some have more time, but we all have what we need.

So, by Christmas, here’s hoping you have the moves like Jesus.

How long do your gifts live?

November 8, 2011

How much crap will you buy this year for Christmas?  How much crap will you buy for your kids this year for Christmas?  If you’re anything like our family…A LOT!  Although, we’re hoping to reverse the trend just a little.

Do a quick clean-out of closets, toy boxes, or the garage and you’ll find a graveyard of broken, unused, and forgotten toys.  These toys are like sugar – they provide a temporary high and then the inevitable crash, with no lasting or redeeming value.  Now don’t get me wrong…sugar is AWESOME!  I eat it.  It’s good.  But I know bread is better.

As you do your Christmas shopping this year, I want you to ask one question…”How long will your gift live?”  Will you give gifts that will be dead and gone in a few months?  Or will your gifts be meaningful and have a long shelf life?  Actually, do both. Throw in some sugar, but be sure you include some bread.  Here a few ideas…

  • open an investment account and each year purchase bonds or stocks
  • blank canvas with art supplies (do this each year and set up annual art gallery in your home)
  • date night kit for kids or significant other
  • adopt a child through world vision or world help in their name
  • 2 gift cards – one for them and one they use for someone else

What other gift ideas do you have with a long life expectancy?

You can’t just BE content…

November 3, 2011

Show me someone who spends less than they make.

Show me someone who gives at least 10% of their income.

Show me someone who serves their friends and family.

Show me someone who lives simply.

Show me someone who works hard…and plays hard.

Show me someone who regularly exercises.

Show me someone who takes responsibility for their actions.

Show me someone who believes God created them for something great…but leaves the results to God.

And every time, I’ll show you someone who is content.

Contentment is not a state of mind.  It’s learned.  It’s earned.  Don’t just be content…live content.

Dressin’ up with your money

November 1, 2011

We had an awesome time walking around our neighborhood last night trick-or-treating.  Our kids are at great ages to enjoy the whole production of choosing a costume and dressing up.  Oh yeah, and the candy might be a motivator as well.

But let’s be honest, the cuteness wears off about age 12.  Maybe you can get away with it for another few years, but the group of 15 – 17 year olds that throw the mask on and think they’re geniuses because they just loaded up on smarties and dumdums…bravo.  Suggestion – go to Sam’s and buy a 24 pack of Snickers and leave the mask at home…we’ll all be better for it.

At some point we grow up and leave the masks and pillow cases at home.  And while it’s easy to see the lunacy of high school trick-or-treating, many of us are doing the same thing with our money.  We don’t act our wage.  We buy things we can’t afford.  We try to convince the world we’re someone else…someone who actually can afford that car or that house.  Someone who can afford that vacation or those clothes.

If you can, great!  If you can’t, then don’t.  It will leave you in a world of hurt in the long-run.  The two areas that tend to give people problems are housing and vehicles. If you can stay within your means in these two areas, it typically gives you more freedom and flexibility in the rest of your budget.

Remember, you’re an adult.  It’s time to make big boy decisions.  Your Freddy Krueger mask was really cool 15 years ago.  It’s not now .

College Savings – 529 Plans

October 28, 2011

Now things get a little more complicated, but just a little.  And don’t worry.  That’s why I’m here – to remove the complication, and leave you with answers.  We’ve already addressed Prepaid Tuition and the Coverdell ESA.  Today we close up with 529s.

529s are named after the equally numbered IRS code that allows for these plans.  They are savings plans developed by state governments or institutions to provide a tax-advantaged savings vehicle for higher education.  They are similar to ESAs in that they provide for tax-free disbursements for qualified higher education expenses, but there are a few differences…

The ESA would be my first choice if you qualify, but a 529 is a close 2nd.  Because 529s are offered by all 50 states, there can be a little confusion when choosing one.  Here are a few FAQs to help out:

1.  Do I have to invest in my resident state’s plan?

No.  You can invest in any state’s plan.  If your state has income tax, there is typically a tax-benefit for investing in your own state.  However, if you live in Florida, the choice is yours.  No state income tax means there’s no benefit for staying in-state.  Choose whatever plan you want.

2.  Does my child have to go to school in the state of the plan I choose? 

No.  Almost every college or university is eligible, regardless of what plan you choose.  So you can live in Florida, invest in Utah, and go to school in Connecticut.

3.  Who manages my money?

The state’s treasurer is ultimately responsible, but each state usually offers mutual funds from a respected investment firm, such as Vanguard, Schwab, T. Rowe Price, etc.

4.  If all 50 states offer plans (many more than one), how do I choose?

First, be sure to invest in a DIRECT plan, meaning you as the consumer are investing directly –  not going through a broker, therefore not paying additional fees.  Secondly, each state’s fees vary, so choose a state with low fees and good investment options.  There are a number of “rankings” out there, but the states that seem to consistently be at the top of the list are as follows (in no particular order)…

Utah, Virginia, Kansas, New York, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio.

5.  How do I decide which funds to invest in?

Many states provide an age-based option that will invest appropriately based on your child’s age.  For example, if you child is 16 with just one more year before college, you don’t want to be in 100% stocks.  If we experienced a market crash like we did a few months ago, your investment would take a significant hit.  However, if you’re opening an account and your child is 3, you can be more aggressive in your choices.  Allow the fund manager to do his/her job and manage this time risk for you.  **NOTE – This is one of the few areas I disagree with Dave Ramsey.  He would say to maintain as much control as you can.  Given college savings is a medium-term investment, the risk needs to be closely managed and I believe it calls for less aggressive investing. That being said, he does make a lot more money than I do.

So to wrap-up, remember…

1.  Investing in your child’s college education should NOT be in your top 3 priorities.

2.  Avoid pre-paid tuition plans

3.  If you qualify, start with an ESA.

4.  After the ESA, go with a DIRECT 529 plan.

5.  Go Noles!

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