Monday, April 1, 2013

Back to the Beginning

I want to take a minute; slow down from what I am doing; pause and reflect. I would ask you to do the same. I started getting serious about the study of money after I turned 50. I wanted to learn how to invest so that I could afford to retire. Over the next few years I was given a number of opportunities to help counsel some folks in the basics. As the years passed, I continued the drive towards retirement with a monomaniacal intensity that would have made Captain Ahab proud. I also learned to give and receive, offering Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at my church and writing this blog for a small but growing number of readers.

I find I have become a part (howbeit a rather insignificant part) of the personal finance (PF) industry. Like any other human endeavor, the PF industry has its problems. PF teachers range from solid to outright charlatans. All of them who have at least published a book have something to sell. That is OK. This is America. Some of them are very good, but have troubling conflicts of interest inherent is giving advice on particular financial products that also line their own pockets. Some financial advisors are nothing more than commission salesmen. It is unlikely that such a person would be capable of giving completely objective advice to a client. Can you imagine an annuity salesman telling a potential customer, “Take your money to Vanguard. Put it in a diverse group of low cost index funds. You could significantly improve your returns over our annuities with only a slight increase in risk. Let me suggest some possible options, but remember, it’s your money. Ultimately, you are responsible for your decisions.”

Personally, what bothers me the most about these writers, at least the serious responsible PF gurus is the one size fits all approach to personal finance. One size does not fit all. Every person has their own story, their own relationship with money. It was built, not just over their lifetime, but each story is imbedded in the story of parents and grandparents, in some cases centuries of cultural experience and values.

Gaining control of your finances is not always easy. Life isn’t fair. Some of you face problems I can’t even imagine. Bad things do happen to good people who are trying very hard to do the right things. If you have lost your job due to a medical emergency, it is hard to even think about balancing a family budget.

Take a minute…. Stop…. Breathe in…. Breathe out…. Relax….

Ask yourself some questions. Don’t make things worse than are or try to sugarcoat the truth. Just look into your own heart. Accept what you see there. If you have made mistakes, forgive yourself. If you face problems that are not of your own making, just accept that they exist. Resolve to always take the high road; accepting responsibility for improving your life; leaving justice in the hands of your higher power.

I told you, this isn’t going to be easy.

Do you know what you want? What you really want? I don’t think most of us have really spent the time necessary to separate the noise of our culture and a thousand different ads from the deep desires of our heart.

Is money your friend or your enemy?

Does money control you or do you control it?

Do you hate money?

Do you fear it?

Do you lust after money?

As you spend time unraveling your relationship with money you will discover your path. It will be your own unique path. Yes, there are principles that are unavoidably important. Debt is a curse not a blessing. A household can not continue to spend more than it takes in over an extended period of time. Giving is the way we say thanks to the universe for everything we have been given. Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow. These are just a few examples of inescapable truth.

Now you are ready to begin your quest. Each time you make a decision involving money, make a conscious decision. Stop. Reflect. Ask God for guidance. He gives wisdom generously, without ever finding fault. This is a promise from his Word.

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