Insisting on Balance

Guess what’s coming soon?  Christmas!!  Even though it’s the same date every year, it sure can sneak up on us!  Christmas is a wonderful time, full of joy and celebration.  We give gifts to each other in honor of God’s gift to mankind:  the baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem, that we might be reconciled to God.  It’s good to get carried away in the spirit of the season, but one area we must work hard not to get carried away in is our FINANCES.


Say Yes to Great Gifts

Before you call me Scrooge, let me say that I do want you to have a wonderful Christmas, to make a special time for those you love, and to elevate the day through special activities and make great memories.  I just don’t want you to experience the January hangover that so many of our friends will have once the presents are all opened.

When You Are Blessed, Bless

If you are experiencing financial success this year, don’t be afraid to spend a little more money on people this year.  In particular, do you know anyone who may be struggling to make ends meet this Christmas?  Why not bless them with a big gift or a big check?  You could even give it to them anonymously for an extra bit of fun!

Borrowing Is Not For the Wise

If, on the other hand, you didn’t experience an overflow of income this year, you may be like many across our country—facing the temptation to go big on Christmas with money you’ve borrowed on a credit card.  Like many short-sighted solutions, this decision would be easy on the front end, and hard on you in the months to come.

Think of it this way:  if you can’t afford to pay cash for presents now, how will you afford the full amount, plus the interest?  Or, put another way, what choice will lead you to have the best gifts for your family for Christmas 2014?  Racking up debt now?  Debt that will deplete your resources from January through July?

Solutions Are Out There

Something funny happens when you insist your budget must balance.  Your brain goes to work.  Once you’ve made the decision that you won’t go negative in December, your eyes suddenly see opportunities all around you.  You notice that stack of DVDs that you haven’t watched lately and you decide to put them up for sale.  You see the snow fall outside and take a few hours to shovel driveways in the neighborhood.  You eat peanut butter and jelly instead of fast food on your lunch break.  All these things may seem small, but when you add them together, you’ll be amazed:  you really can make things balance.

Supernatural Gifts

Another funny thing happens when you make a commitment to keep your budget in balance, particularly when you commit to prayer for the Lord’s help.  God loves to reward those who trust in Him, who rely on Him, and who live His way.  Call on the Lord, and keep your eyes open—you will find Him when you earnestly seek Him, and He is more loving and gracious than you can possibly imagine.

Making a Plan That Lasts

Why make a plan  for your money?  Isn’t it more fun to just grab what you want whenever you want it?


Growing Up

Living your financial life with the foresight of a 3rd grader may be fun in the moment, but to have what you want next week and next month, a longer term vision is required.  Problem is, even when people become convinced of the value of budgeting to their peace and financial freedom, their first attempt to make a budget sets them up for failure.

Make it Today, and For Today

If you’re like most people, the first time you sit down to work up a budget for the coming month, you try to create a generic, one-size-fits-all budget that will represent all future months.  You’re planning for the perfect month from heaven, problem is, that month never really happens here in the real world!

The key in building a successful cashflow plan is to spend this month’s income on this month’s expenses.  Some expenses will be nice and consistent, such as your house payment or water bill.  But if you make your budget too generic, it won’t work in real life, and you’ll be tempted to just give up money management altogether.

Get Started

Today’s always the perfect time to start planning your budget for the coming month.  If you haven’t tried the latest version of ThriveWealthy, click the tab above to find the page and download the tool.  Read over the instructions briefly, then start entering your expected paycheck amounts and dates.  Allocate how you’ll spend all of next month’s income in the different categories provided, changing category names as needed to make the budget fit your life.

Enlist Our Help!

Don’t be discouraged when things come up and you have to revisit your allocations several times throughout the month.  As you continue to plan your spending before the money is spent, you’ll improve at predicting your actual expenses, and you’ll also notice that your money will start to be spent on those things that are important to you–with less “falling through the cracks” or getting spent on things that don’t really matter to you.  Feel free to post successes, hardships, or questions to the comments section below; we’re all in this together, and we are all here to help each other thrive!

Get Your Money’s Worth

Thinking of making a big purchase soon?  How can you get the best deal and have a great time, simultaneously?  Today we’ll explore a few best practices for buying big ticket items like a car or a new appliance, to ensure that your dollars work as hard for you as you worked to earn them!  🙂

Honda Magna

Use Your Own Money

The first step to any big purchase is saving up the money!  Obvious as this sounds, it is a rather uncommon practice today.  Many retailers make big money selling financing, and therefore market it heavily.  They don’t usually have a tough sell either, since by nature we tend to want the nice things now, and patience isn’t usually too fun!  But if you will slow down and consider it, I think you’ll realize that by nature debt reduces your options and inhibits your freedom.  There’s a reason that it feels so good to pay cash for things, and this is what wise and wealthy people do.  In fact, it’s habits like these that typically made the wealthy wealthy in the first place!  For more on that, check out “The Millionaire Next Door,” a great, fact-based book that will likely surprise you in more ways than one!

Narrow the Field

Once you’ve saved the money, your next step will be to determine what models and features are available to you in that price range.  If you’re looking at a car, for example, you can use resources like Craigslist and to identify particular year/model/mileage combinations that are in the right range.

Taste and Sample!

Now comes the fun part—go looking!  Seek out at least three stores or individuals offering the model or models that you’re looking at.  Try out the features, and hone down your short list of models to the one you like best.  As you begin to settle on the particular item that’s best for you, take note of any optional features or upgrades.  In many cases, buying a higher-end model with extra features can offer more long-term value, but this is very dependent on what you’re buying.  (A quick aside, I’ve become convinced over the years that spending a little extra on leather seats for a vehicle is money very well spent!  Particularly if you have kids…  🙂

Fit and Price

After looking at the model you like at a few places, you’ll start to have a feel for what a good deal is.  Resist the urge to get in a hurry and instead remain calm as you seek for the ideal fit.  Once you’ve found a good price on your item, let the owner or salesman know that you’re thinking this item is a good fit.  I used to think that feigning disinterest in an item was a good way to get the seller to come down on price, but have learned from experience that this doesn’t work.  Instead, make the sales process into two steps.  First, decide if the item meets your needs/desires.  Once you’re convinced it does, let the seller know, but then go right into the price negotiation.  So, you might say something like, “This electric stove seems to be just what we’re looking for.  The price, however, does seem a little high.  How flexible are you on that figure?”  This is a useful tactic because it lets the seller know that there’s only one thing stopping you from buying the item:  price.

Have Fun and Be Creative

Now for the next fun part—price ping pong!  Let the seller make an offer, then counter with a lower one, have a good time (without insulting anyone).  Somewhere along the line, you’ll want to pull out your envelope of cash and start rifling through it.  I don’t care who you are—a stack of hundreds makes your eyes get bigger and your heart beat faster, and you can use this method to stir the seller into accepting a lower price.  If you’re starting to get close, a fun way to end the negotiation goes something like this:  “I’ll tell you what, I’ve got $4,700 right here.  Say the word and it’s yours.”

Sometimes, your man won’t be willing to come down as far as you’d like.  Don’t fall in love with a particular item and keep your walking away power—there are plenty other deals out there for you.  Or, if the price is still a bit higher that you’d like, but the particular item seems worth the extra, it’s ok to pay a little more than absolute bottom dollar.  Just have fun, keep your head, and enjoy the process!

Why Give Ribbon?

With Christmas just around the corner, most of us are desperately trying to keep up with all the hustle and bustle of the season.  Among the many other things on your list, you probably have some Christmas gift shopping left to do—some of which is for that relative who’s always hard to shop for.  How in the world can you give him (or her) a gift that he’ll like without spending hours searching every shop in the mall?  Easy—just give him 30 gifts to choose from!

The Gift of Choice

One of the amazing products available through our ThriveMart store is called the Ribbon Gift Collection.  It’s a little bit like a gift card, but far superior in many ways.  When you order a gift collection, a beautiful package will be shipped to you for free.  You’ll give this package to your family member or friend on the big day and they’ll open it to find a catalog and an access code.  At his convenience, your friend will browse through up to 40 incredible products on and choose his favorite. It will ship to him a few days later, also for free!  And unlike a gift card, a price is never shown, so no one will know how much you spent.

There are many gift collections to choose from, ranging from $30 to $1000, and including items like: a home theater system, outdoor fireplace, 12 MP digital video recorder, miter saw, cookware, wine cooler, and many many more.  Ribbon Gift cards never expire, and both you and your friend enjoy a full 6-month satisfaction guarantee!

Make Great Memories

So which is the better choice this Christmas:  braving the mall for a gift that might satisfy or giving Ribbon, the gift of choice?  Choosing a restrictive gift card that loses value over time or a Ribbon gift collection that never diminishes a dime and comes with a 180-day guarantee?

To learn more about Ribbon or to place an order, just send us a message or contact us through our ThriveMart page, which you can reach by clicking the link at the top right of this page.  And thanks for letting us help make your Christmas shopping simple and fun, and a memorable experience for your friends and family!

Treat Her Like a Lady

Although you should treat your wife or girlfriend like a lady, that’s not what today’s post is about.  🙂  Instead, since winter weather is coming fast, we’ll be identifying some of the most important things you’ll want to do to prepare your vehicle for the cold days ahead.  By taking the time and effort to address these items before they become issues, you’ll save time, energy, frustration, and quite a bit of money!

The most important things to check are the:

  • Fluids (coolant, oil, windshield washer fluid, etc.)
  • Battery
  • Tires
  • Wipers

The Liquids

First, test and inspect your coolant and battery. Test your coolant with a hygrometer if you do not already know it to be good, and make sure all the other fluids are clean and full, or serviced if not.

Holding Your Electricity

A healthy battery is as important as the cooling system: one is like the skin, the other like blood. You can take and have your battery tested to be sure, but be careful, as you know there are plenty of places that would try to sell you a new one to replace your perfectly good old one. In general, you battery should be ok if all the following conditions are met:

  • It’s less than 3 years old
  • It looks good
    • not swollen (sides pushing out)
    • not leaking acid
    • not growing cauliflower on the terminals
    • it turns the engine over well after sitting overnight in the cold

If possible, it’s best to perform a load test on your battery, but if you can’t, these parameters should be a good rule of thumb.

Good Contact with the Pavement, Seeing the Road

Beyond that, a good pair of wiper blades, ensuring the tires are roadworthy (proper psi, tread depth) and a basic vehicle inspection are all any car really needs to survive the winter and its driving conditions. In my experience, there’s no such thing as too much maintenance, and your vehicle will thank you for it!

Be Prepared for the Worst

And finally, you need an emergency kit if you don’t already carry one–it’s always a good idea, and especially so if you’re traveling with kids.  Make sure your kit includes:

  • jumper cables
  • flares or warning triangles
  • blanket or sleeping bag
  • a warm hat and gloves
  • flashlight/lantern
  • first aid kit

Stay safe out there this winter, and make it a priority to get these things taken care of now, before it gets cold.  Your family and your pocketbook will thank you!

What’s Important to You?

What would you think if I told you that you have two sets of priorities?  Or that you have two sets of values?  Perhaps you will deny it—“of course not!  I know what’s important to me, and my values are clearly sorted in my mind.”  Maybe so, if you’re like many people, your bank statement will demonstrate quite a disparity between the list of priorities in your head and the true priorities according to which you spend your money.

Your Treasure and Your Heart

Jesus taught this principle quite clearly in Matthew 6:21 when he said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  For example, if I look at my bank statements and notice that I spend 5% of my household income on golf in an average month, this demonstrates that golf is important to me. Conversely, if I say, “international missions are very important to me,” yet none of my money is given to support international missions, I’ve demonstrated that my imagined priorities are quite different than my actual priorities.  Your treasure will go to that which your heart values.

An Eye-Opening Experience

Now, if you’re anything like me, the first time you sit down to look at where your treasure went, you will be very disappointed with yourself.  I remember the day, years ago, when I sat down to start getting my finances in order.  I first developed an imaginary budget, allocating something like 2% of my salary to entertainment.  This made my budget work out very well, apportioning a solid sum of money towards saving and paying off debt, which I thought were high priorities to me (my imagined priorities).  Then, I looked at the previous month’s bank statement.  To my chagrin, I found that my actions demonstrated a high priority of enjoying activities with friends and buying drinks at the bar.  Instead of working toward a place of financial strength, I placed high value on having fun with money now.

If you find yourself in a place like I did—with “real” priorities rather far from the ideal you imagine, take heart, for change is quite within your reach.  Start by creating your budget for next month, using your bank statement as a template.  Then, adjust down slightly the categories that you think are too high (entertainment, in my case) and increase other more desirable categories by the same amount.  The trick is to not go “scorched earth” in your first month.  If you try to reduce entertainment from 5% of your budget to 1% on the first try, you’ll be tempted to “forget the whole thing” a few weeks from now.  Instead, focus on incremental progress, one month at a time.

Some Practical Steps

Herein lies the beauty of a zero-based budget.  Before the month begins, spend all the income you expect to receive on all the categories of expenses that you will have.  Allocate every dollar to the appropriate category, then get several blank envelopes.  Write the category name on each envelope, and withdraw the appropriate amount from the bank after each paycheck is deposited.  Now, if you will restrain yourself to only spend from your envelopes, you have no choice but to follow your budgetted plan. 

Staying Flexible

When something unexpected comes, as it always seems to, you may have to go back to your budget mid-month and reallocate.  This is perfectly acceptable, so long as you reduce one category by the amount that’s needed in another category.  Just make sure to do this with all your numbers in front of you, so as not to start the month with 2% allocated to clothing and find at the end of the month that you gradually ratcheted up to 7% by not paying attention.

All in all, this practice of advance cashflow planning is a great tool for spending your money on things that are truly important.  The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes with switching expenses which bring you little value for those that you truly care about is magnificent, and will serve you well on your path toward the thriving life.

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.