Wandering into Trouble

I’ve enjoyed many hiking and camping trips since I was a young child.  Walking through the forest, listening to the sounds of wildlife and seeing the sun gleaming through the trees, I’ve had a chance to appreciate the beauty and creativity of our Father’s world.  Occasionally, my hikes have become extended for a bit longer than I was planning on, due to an underestimation of how long a climb might take or a casual disregard for things like maps and compasses…. 

Oblivious to the Peril

The funny thing about getting lost is that you don’t realize you’re about to get yourself in trouble until you suddenly realize that you are in trouble!  On a certain camping trip with a buddy of mine in Arizona, we hiked out into the desert loaded with many gallons of water.  We found a good site, set our provisions down, and trotted off in search of a good “sitting log” to place beside the firepit.  We found a good one a short while later, and began carrying it back to our campsite.  At first, we thought it was pretty funny that our campsite was taking so long to get to.  “Strange how it only took us 10 minutes to find this log, but we’re taking 20 minutes to carry it back,”  we laughed.  Slowly we realized that we were actually lost, and we’d been walking for so long because we didn’t know where we’d left our jackets and water!

A few hours later, tired and thirsty, we found our campsite as the sun finally set.  This set us up for a cold night (the coldest night of my life, in fact), since we’d wasted our afternoon and now had only a half-built shelter.  But we were thankful at least for the jackets and water that we had nearly lost.

This story is an example of how we can be walking along unaware, and suddenly find ourselves in an overwhelming situation.  We were too confident that we wouldn’t get lost, and by the time we recognized our precarious position, it was too late.

Common Financial Dangers

In a similar way, we can tend to be very blasé with debt in America today.  We look around at our friends and neighbors, and many of them have student loans.  Everyone’s got a mortgage, and some debt on their cars.  And of course we’ve all got to have our credit cards!  But even though we all know that people get trapped and pulled under by debt, we mistakenly think that this can never happen to us.

Confident of our ability to keep our debt in control, we walk right along the edge of a financial cliff.  We buy a nice big house, great new cars, and a brand new living room set—all on payments.  At the end of the month, we’ve got $25 leftover after all the credit payments are made, and we think, “All right! Everything’s going great!”  But then comes something unexpected, and all of a sudden we’re $175 under instead.  No big deal, we think, “I’ll just pay the minimum credit card payment this month, then get everything cleaned up next month.”  But again, something unexpected comes, and now the balance we carried last month is compounding on us.  On and on it goes, and the debt pulls us down deeper and deeper.

Recognize the Trap

This story has sadly happened to too many people who are able to escape only through a long and painful bankruptcy.  If you’re fighting this now, know this:  many have overcome this situation through wise money management, hard work, and tenacity.  If you’re still dabbling with debt and don’t think this could ever happen to you, think again.  Banks are not evil, but they are concerned with making money, not ensuring that you keep your head above water.  Knowing what you can afford and what you cannot is your responsibility, and you owe it to your family and to God to manage the money He’s given you wisely.

The most reliable way to make sure that you can afford something is to simply buy only with cash (or debit cards/checks).  The one exception might be a mortgage on a 15-year fixed rate with the monthly payment of 25% of your take-home pay, which can be a reasonable debt, provided that you have a substantial down payment.  And some financial experts would contend that there are a few other “reasonably safe” debts as well, but use these very carefully.  It is much easier to lose your way than you think.  Decide instead to take control of your financial life by eliminating debt and paying with cash.  The confidence and freedom that come with becoming debt-free will serve you well on your path to a thriving life.

How’s Your Foundation?

Here at TotalThriver, we provide tools and resources to help you thrive in many aspects of your life.  We’ve discussed how it’s very important to take care of your body through a challenging fitness regimen, and how this practice will bring positive effects to other aspects of your life as well.  We’ve also explored various topics on managing your finances, in order to be a good steward of your resources.  We’ve even provided ThriveWealthy, a free tool for managing your spending and savings.  But all of these resources are merely bricks that you can build your life out of.  The piece that is much more important than all these is what you build on.

The Wise and the Foolish

Jesus once told a parable about a wise man and a foolish man.  The wise man built his house upon a rock, while the foolish man built his house upon the sand (Matthew 7:24 and following).  When the rains came, the house of the foolish man was destroyed, but the wise man’s house stood firm.

Jesus explained how the man who builds his life upon the words of Christ is like that wise man.  While worldly people around us build their lives on fine possessions, power and influence, or friends and family, Jesus calls us to build our lives on Him.

Paul uses a similar metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3 to teach us what will become of our life’s work when we face the Judgment:

11For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

Enduring the Final Test

We may do some good things in our life, and use the “costly stones” of good money management, care of our bodies, and love and devotion to family, yet still be the foolish man whose life work is destroyed when the rains come.  Christ himself is the only sure and true foundation, and any other will be shown one day for what it is — sinking sand.

As you continue along the path to a thriving life, I encourage you to take a moment to pause and reflect on what is your ultimate foundation.  Are you seeking tools to live a thriving life in order to revel in your own glory?  Do you want to acquire wealth merely for your own comfort and convenience, or do you seek to use money as a tool for glorifying God and bringing others to a saving knowledge of Him?

Laying the Groundwork

If you’ve never come to a point in your life where you’ve realized your need for Jesus, I pray that you would take a moment now to reach out to God in prayer.  The Bible tells us that we are born sinners, in rebellion against our Maker.  Each of us defies Him when we desire our own way above His, when we violate His commands and spurn His love. But in Romans 5:8, we learn that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  He died that we might be born again into a new life with Him, and rose again to demonstrate His divinity and power over death.  If we will turn from our sin, turn to Christ as Savior, and trust Him as the only Lord of our life, He promises that He will blot out our sin, wash us clean, and enter our heart.  Will you relinquish control of your life to Him today?  Jesus is waiting to show you His love, and lead you in a thriving life with Him for all eternity.

Keys to an Effective Fitness Regimen

We’ve spent a good deal of time lately discussing the many benefits of a good fitness regimen.  Maybe some of these ideas have made you interested in fitness, and you’re ready to dive in.  But before you embark on a new regimen, it’s important to have a good gameplan as well as some strong support.  Without these, your fitness habit will struggle to pass the 3-week mark, and you’ll have lost the strong motivation which could have been used to launch you to a new level of success.

The following principles are vital to a sucessful fitness regimen.

Permanence

Just like with diet, it is absolutely essential that your fitness habits be permanent.  Your program can certainly change as you move through life’s different stages, but thinking of a fitness regimen as something that you’ll do for a few months, then go “back to normal” will not only lead you to disappointment and frustration, but can be hard on your body too.  Your body is made to move, lift, and run.  Consider exercise like food or worship of God–you need it perpetually to live life as it was meant to be lived.

Support

While it may well be possible to stick with a fitness program in isolation, I’ve not yet met someone who’s done well that way.  Even Rocky had Mick!  Give yourself the boost of a training partner.  Ideally, this person can work out right beside you in the same gym, but even a friend who’s far away can be a good training partner if you can push each other to get out there on the tough days when you don’t feel like it.  I also enjoy competing with friends who are of a similiar fitness level as myself, so we both always know that the other person is probably nipping right on our heels.  As the Good Book says, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

Intensity

Though some fitness programs can be useful without intensity, I find that most people who are truly successful in fitness incorporate high intensity training into their regimen.  And practically speaking, most of us simply to not have the time luxury to spend hours in the gym every day.  The good news is that you can achieve a remarkable level of fitness in 20 minutes per day, 5 days a week, if you will work at high intensity.  Do that calculation, and yes, I’ll bet that’s a good bit less than the number of hours of TV you watch each week…

Functionality

This principle was a component that I sorely missed in my early years of fitness training.  Like many others have done, I spent way too much time on 3 sets of 10 bench presses, lat pull downs, and machine shoulder raises.  While these movements aren’t bad, they’re not particularly useful in real life.

When I began my current program, however, I found a whole new world with barbell lifing and other functional movements.  For example, the snatch, a complex barbell lift, recruits large muscle groups and requires a great deal of energy, while simultaneously honing timing and balance skills.  Not only this, but the strength built this way seamlessly travels into real life, whether it’s carrying a suitcase up a flight of stairs or hoisting a child up to see a parade.

Functional movements like pullups, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and lunges work big muscle groups and the cardiovascular system.  Your body reacts to this by building more muscle.  The new muscle requires your body to expend more energy all day long to keep everything running.  Thus, in addition to the stronger muscles that you’ll have, you’ll also have a larger calorie gap (the difference between the calories you consume and the calories you require).  If you keep your diet under control, your body has no choice but to recruit energy from fat cells–resulting in a thinner, stronger, and happier you!

More to come

Much more could be said on this topic, but these ideas will get you started on a rewarding fitness regimen.  Check out the ThriveFit page for a few sample workouts to get you going, and let us know how you’re doing–we’re here to help you thrive!

But I’m special….

Ask five of your friends if it’s important to have money saved for an emergency, and you’ll likely get five affermative answers.  Now ask the same five friends if they have such an account, and you’ll probably get some resounding no’s.

Yeah, what do they know?!

We’ve all heard from financial experts over and over again how important it is to have an emergency fund.  “Three to six months expenses in a savings account or a money market account,” they say, and we think to ourselves, “yeah, that sounds like a good idea…”  But look at our accounts in a month or two and nothing has changed.  What’s the problem?

For one thing, saving for emergencies isn’t too exciting.  It’s much more fun to spend a few hundred dollers on a weekend getaway, new set of clothes, or a night out with friends that to put money into an account for “future unexpected expenses.”  Some of us also balk at the thought of earning a measley 1% interest in a money maket account when we could easily average 10% in the stock market.  Emergency funds aren’t slick, cool, or sophisticated, so we’re tempted to consider them optional.

The problem is, that unexpected things do tend to happen, and on a long enough timeline, they’ll happen to all of us.  Just think about this for a minute: do you know anyone who has been laid off from a job?  Or someone who’s gotten hurt or sick and required hospitalization?  Do you think that person expected those things to happen to them?

Knowledge gained vs. knowledge applied

Of course, we all know people in these situations, and we understand intellectually that having money saved is very important in such times.  The problem is, we just don’t connect it to our lives.  We assimilate the knowledge in our heads, but our hands never carry out any action to create change.  We delude ourselves into believing the lie, “that won’t ever happen to me,  I’m special!”

While every TotalThriver reader is special to me, you don’t have any unnatural abilities to avoid emergencies.  In the next several years, you’ll very likely encounter a layoff, sickness, injury, or family situation where a fully-funded savings account will be of great value.  Like our discussion regarding insurance, these financial foundations are often not appreciated until they’re needed.  And by that time, it’s too late to prepare.

A choice today affects life tomorrow

Those who succeed with life and money are those who understand the long-term consequences of decisions they make each day.  They realize that the decision they make today to forgo a trip to the beach to save money for an emergency will pay them dividends in the future when their house gets flooded and they have money to pay for a hotel room.

Will you apply these concepts to your life?  Will you commit to eliminating one fun thing from your expenditures this month, and put that money toward an emergency fund?  If you will set a goal that includes a total amount to be saved along with a timeline to meet that goal, you’re well on your way to financial security.  Not only that, but you’ll have put into practice the habit of acquiring knowledge and applying it toward long-term success, an ability that will bring prosperity and peace to many other aspects of your life as well.

Mortals Only

For those of you who aren’t invincible, today’s post will show you one vital practice for demonstrating your love to your family.  It is important that we express our love and affection verbally, but oftentimes it is our actions that truly show our hearts.

First some bad news:  you’re going to die.  You knew that, right?  Now, I can’t tell you when it will happen, but I will tell you  one thing–that day is one day closer today than it was yesterday!

Of course we all think that our final day is way off in the future, and for many of us, it will be.  The problem is that for some of us, that day will come quite soon, perhaps even before our kids are grown and our retirement portfolio is sufficiently large.  We need some way to guard our loved ones from the compounding diffiulty of a parent’s premature death and an impossible financial situation.

Thankfully, generations ago, our forefathers instituted insurance programs to protect their families as well as future generations like us.  Insurance companies collect premiums from large groups of people, most of whom do not die while the policy is in effect.  But for those few who die in the prime of life, the revenue generated by everyone’s premiums is paid out to the family of the departed.  And thanks to significantly improved technology and business models, today most healthy people can obtain this protection for next to nothing.

Between my wife and I, we have a 20-year term policy for close to $1,000,000 which cost us less than $40 per month.  For less than what many people pay for cable, we are protecting our children and each other in the event that death comes sooner than we expect.  Over the next 20 years, it is vital that we invest aggressively, building our portfolio to a large enough value that insurance is no longer needed.

For those who do not have the discipline to save an invest, insurance companies also offer “whole life” policies.  Unlike term policies, these insurance products do not expire at a set date in the future.  Rather, they are a policy that you plan to pay into for the rest of your life.  In addition to the insurance coverage built into these plans, they also have a savings account inside.  So instead of paying the $40 like in our example, you might pay several hundred per month.  Some of the extra money you pay goes into a savings account that you own, which grows over time.

Many people like the whole life policies because they have a built-in way of forcing you to save money.  However, these products often carry significant fees and underperform compared with a good mutual fund or a 401k.  Therefore, it is our recommendation that you purchase a sizeable (say $500,000 for an average person) term policy on a 20 or 30 year term.  Plan to invest at least 8% of your income into a 401k or Roth IRA during that time, so that at the end of the term you will have become self-insured and will no longer need life insurance.

Taking these few simple steps is the difference between leaving your family vulnerable and destitute or loved and financially secure.  Make the time today to investigate rates at a few different companies before purchasing, and rest confidently knowing that your family is being loved well.