Generosity – Matt About Money Simple. Meaningful. Success. Tue, 28 Jan 2020 19:35:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 9092505 One of the Truly Great Financial Adventures Tue, 28 Jan 2020 14:30:00 +0000

When my wife, Jude, and I got married, I was making almost three times as much as she was (she worked in full-time ministry while I had a corporate job), and yet she had more money in savings, more money in investments, a paid-off car that was two years newer than my paid-off car, and she was giving away a higher percentage of her salary. 

Some of this could be explained by the financial crash and burn I went through some years earlier and the four and half years I spent shoveling lots of money toward creditors to get things cleaned up. But not the generosity piece. Even though I’m eight years older, she was simply further down the road in the journey of generosity.

I think that’s the best way to describe generosity, as a journey. While I know of some people who became Christians as adults and suddenly started giving away a high percentage of their salary, for most of us, generosity is something we grow into.

What contributed to my slow start were all the years I spent unaware of the importance of generosity and then, after becoming a Christian, misunderstanding generosity as mostly an obligation.

Obedience is certainly part of generosity. After all, the Bible instructs us:

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops.” – Proverbs 3:9

However, the joy my wife experiences in being generous has shown me a whole different side to biblical generosity.

We were designed to give

Secular researchers have found that generous people are happier than those who aren’t generous. That makes sense when you consider that we were made in God’s image and God is endlessly generous. 

Generosity is part of our spiritual DNA. When we live generously we live in concert with our design, and in doing that, things go well for us. It’s like eating healthy and getting exercise. That’s how our bodies operate best. 

Our hearts follow our treasure

In Matthew 6:21, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When I first read that, I thought it should be the other way around, that what we set our hearts on is where we put our money. But I’ve come to see that the Bible is saying something much more powerful. Giving to Christ-centered initiatives is a proactive step we can take to build our relationship with God. 

I remember a time when Jude wanted to support the missionary work a friend was involved in through a ministry in Bolivia. At the time, I had approximately zero awareness of anything going on in that country. But once we started sending some money there, my heart went there. I took a lot of interest in the newsletters my wife’s friend would send and I was drawn in to the powerful gospel-centered work happening there.

Giving is an act of worship

I really like Howard Dayton’s advice that when we give we should imagine we are giving directly to Jesus. Yes, you may be giving to your church or another ministry, but there’s something about imagining giving directly to Jesus that makes giving a more worshipful experience. It brings to mind David’s words about the gifts given toward the building of the temple.

“’But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.’” – 1 Chronicles 29:14

There’s a humility in those words, a recognition that it’s only because of God’s provision and grace that he and his people were able to be part of such an initiative. It has taught me that whenever we give to thank God for his provision.

Giving leads to blessings

Jesus explicitly told us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). And many secular studies have affirmed this, demonstrating that generous people are happier than those who are not generous.

“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” – Proverbs 11:25 

There are numerous verses that say there are blessings that come from being generous. It’s a little tricky teaching on this topic, though. You don’t ever want to come at generosity from a “give to get” perspective. That, I’m convinced, is unbiblical. 

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” – Romans 11:35

However, there are blessings that come from living the generous lives we were designed to live. Far better to come at it from a “give because” perspective, though—because of God’s goodness toward us, because God designed us to live generous lives, because generosity enables us to live “the life that is truly life.” 

The best return on investment

My day job is very focused on investing. It’s often a world of looking at rates of return or return on investment. It isn’t unimportant. But honestly, when I read updates about various ministries that we get to play some small role in supporting, those are far more exciting than any brokerage statement.

I remember reading the conclusions of one of today’s foremost secular researchers in the field of what’s known as positive psychology. People in this field study what makes for a meaningful, joyful life. He said, “A meaningful life is one that attaches itself to something larger than we are and the larger the entity to which we can attach ourselves the more meaning in our lives.”

That’s about as close as you can get to talking about God without talking about God! And it expresses very well why the journey of generosity is one of the truly great financial adventures.

Take it to heart: Here’s the most generous act the world has ever known: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

Take action: Spend some time in prayer this week, asking God what next step he has in mind for you on your journey of generosity.

Read more: Living a Better Financial Story

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The Priorities That Lead to Financial Success and Satisfaction Tue, 21 Jan 2020 14:30:00 +0000

I’m fascinated with the process of life change. So many of us would like to make some changes — in our health, our relationships, our finances. And yet change seems hard. We might make progress for a while, but then we slip back into old familiar patterns. What does it take to make changes that last?

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the importance of identity. As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, puts it, “The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.”

As Christ-followers, we know who God made us to be. Financially speaking, we’re stewards or managers of God’s resources. We’re called to be wise builders, building our financial lives on the solid rock of God’s Word.

When faced with a decision, Clear suggests asking ourselves, “What would a person with the identity we aspire to do?” 

Because the Bible affirms planning (Proverbs 21:5), one thing a wise builder would do to manage money well is use a plan — a budget, or as I prefer, a cash flow plan. (See Building the Best Possible Financial Life — The Right Tool for the Job.)

How do you put such a plan together?

Putting first things first

There are five things you can do with money. You can: 

  • Spend it
  • Use it for debt payments
  • Save it
  • Invest it
  • Give it away

And that’s the order our consumer culture teaches us to follow. It says, “Great, you’re making $75,000 per year? That means you can drive this type of car, wear that brand of clothes, vacation over there…” 

Spending comes first, and when spending comes first, debt always comes along for the ride. If anything is left over after all that spending and after making all those debt payments, some might be saved, invested, and given away, but there isn’t usually much, if anything, left over.

The Bible suggests a very different order: 

That’s a really simple framework, and yet it’s profound. Deciding to arrange our finances this way is the first step in putting a cash flow plan together. It’s a huge strategic decision that orients our finances toward success and satisfaction. 

A little context

Are you giving generously and saving or investing adequately? More specifically, are you giving at least 10% of your income? And are you saving or investing at least 10%? Does that seem like a stretch?

Think of it this way. If you work a 40-hour week, giving 10% means the money you earn on Monday morning is going to the Lord’s work. Saving or investing 10% means the money you earn on Monday afternoon is going toward building a peace-providing reserve now and providing for your family’s later life needs. That leaves all the money you earn on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for spending. That doesn’t seem so unreasonable, does it?

And here’s an important point to know about life change. Just as identity shapes our behavior, our behavior shapes our identity. Doing the things you know a manager of God’s resources — a wise builder — would do, further molds that identity.

So, that’s the big picture. From a really practical perspective, a wise builder prioritizes money this way: Give, save, invest, avoid the bondage of debt, and then spend. 

Take it to heart: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” – Luke 16:10—12

Take action: Write down your monthly gross income on a piece of paper. How much is 10% of that? If you gave away that much each month and saved or invested that much, would you be able to live on the remaining 80%? If it doesn’t seem like it, don’t be discouraged (or upset with me for suggesting those amounts!). If you’re far from being able to do that, just starting to take some steps in that direction will be a win. We’ll take a closer look at why those are even good objectives, and how to pursue them, next week. 

Read more:  The Heart of a Giver and Saving Money is All About the Why

Profitable Ideas: Setting Yourself Up to Win, The Best Streaming Services, and More Fri, 20 Dec 2019 14:30:00 +0000

Weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles from around the web.

Try these five tricks to do a day’s worth in just a couple of hours (Fast Company). Multi-tasking doesn’t work. Here are better ways to set yourself up to win.

Why it pays to be a patient shopper (Wise Bread). The important difference between “satisficing” and maximizing.

Minimalism makes room for joy (No Sidebar). When clearing the clutter—whether from your garage or your calendar—be sure not to get rid of the good stuff.

Best video streaming services for your money (Clark Howard). Suddenly, there are more streaming choices than ever. Here’s how to weigh the options.

Exactly how to improve your LinkedIn profile to get more job offers (Fast Company). Are you planning to look for a new job in the new year?

How to reset your life (Becoming Minimalist). “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Will 2020 mark the start of a decade when Americans finally ditch cash and use digital wallets, credit cards? (USA Today). Do you still carry cash?

Charitable children become happy adults, study says (Financial Advisor). One more reason to raise your kids to be generous. 

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Profitable Ideas: When Someone Asks You For Money, The ‘Free Shipping’ Myth, and More Fri, 13 Dec 2019 14:30:00 +0000

Weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles from around the web.

What should I do when people ask for money? (Chalmers). Ideas for handling what can be an awkward situation.

The mail crunch: Effectively handle damaged or stolen packages (The Simple Dollar). Stealing packages off of front porches has become unfortunately common. 

Stop believing in free shipping (The Atlantic). There’s an interesting psychology to “free shipping.”

Average start for 529 college savings (age 7) is costly, study finds (NY Times). Better late than never, but it’s even better if new parents can start saving right away.

5 things to know before you use Zelle (Clark Howard). Good advice for users of this and other money sharing apps.

Parents who pay for everything shortchange their kids (Kiplinger). There’s power and profit in saying, “no.”

I have access to a Roth 401(k) at work. Should I open one? (MarketWatch). This isn’t an either/or decision. You may be able to split your contributions between a traditional and a Roth 401(k).

How to take your career into the next decade (Medium). A collection of good career management articles—everything from finding a new job to dealing with a toxic manager.

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Profitable Ideas: The Master Life Skill, Inside the Credit Card Industry, and More Fri, 11 Oct 2019 13:30:45 +0000

Weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles from around the web.

True long-term career success depends on this most underrated aspect of talent (Fast Company). The ability to wait for a greater reward is considered the master life skill, impacting our careers, our investing success, and so much more.

I worked at Capital One for five years. This is how we justified piling debt on poor customers (New Republic). A disturbing inside look at the credit card industry.

America’s middle class can’t afford its cars (Wall Street Journal). Loans are getting longer, making them more like mortgages.

How to buy clothes that are built to last (NY Times). Tips for slow fashion, which is good for our wallets and the environment.

Don’t make major decisions on an empty stomach (Science Daily). You know you shouldn’t shop for groceries when you’re hungry, but that advice applies to many other situations as well.

When filling out FAFSA, the waiting is the hardest part (A Teachable Moment). A lot of people don’t bother filling out the form, thinking they won’t qualify for any aid. That’s a mistake.

How do we balance what Scripture says about saving with the biblical commands to give generously (Eternal Perspective Ministries). Ideally, this isn’t an either/or decision. It’s all about priorities.

14 wildly different allowance strategies (Budgets Are Sexy). Lots of interesting ideas here. 

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The Heart of a Giver Tue, 08 Oct 2019 13:30:49 +0000

It’s tricky business teaching about generosity these days. Preachers of the prosperity gospel are packing their pews and selling lots of books. Theirs is a “give in order to get” message, based on a misinterpretation of verses like Luke 6:38:

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Give in order to get” may be appealing, but that is not the message taught by the verse above or anywhere else in the Bible.

What Does the Bible Say About Generosity?

Here’s what can be confusing: There are many Bible verses that do say there are blessings that flow from giving generously. For example, in Malachi 3:10, we find the only place in Scripture where God said to test him, and it’s all about generosity:

‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’

In Proverbs 11:24, we read:

One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

2 Corinthians 9:6 contains these words from the apostle Paul:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

It’s How We Were Meant to Live

We all receive something beneficial from our giving because to live generously is to live in concert with our design. I’m sure that’s why researchers have found that generous people are happier than those who aren’t so generous. It’s like eating healthy or being honest. Life just works better when we live as we were meant to live.

Many years ago I heard someone teach that the best form of generosity doesn’t come from a heart attitude of “in order to…” — it comes from a heart filled with a “because of…” sense of gratitude. In other words, ideally, we don’t give in order to get something from God; we give because of all that God has already done for us.

That seems to be where king David was coming from when he said to God,

Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. (1 Chronicles 29:14)

Paul made a crucial point when he asked,

Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? (Romans 11:35)

In other words, God is the giver.  He gave us life; he gave us his Son; he gave us all that we have.

Give in order to get? No. We give out of a humble, grateful, joyful response to everything that God has given to us.

What motivates you to give generously?

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Living a Better Financial Story Tue, 17 Sep 2019 13:30:00 +0000

In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller tells a powerful story he calls, “How Jason Saved His Family.” After returning from Los Angeles, where he took part in a storytelling workshop, Don got together with his friend, Jason, and learned of some trouble Jason and his wife were having with their 13-year-old daughter.

She was dating a guy who was bad news; she was even experimenting with drugs.

With the workshop fresh on his mind, Don made an offhand comment that Jason’s daughter “wasn’t living a very good story.” Jason was intrigued and asked Don to tell him more about the elements of a good story.

You Can Rewrite Your Story

A few months later, Don saw Jason again and things had changed. Jason said his family was living a better story. Now it was Don’s turn to be intrigued.

Jason explained that during their previous conversation he realized that his daughter wasn’t, in fact, living a very good story. And it dawned on him that he hadn’t mapped out a story for his family, so his daughter had chosen her own story, one in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used.

Jason decided to create a better story to invite her into.

Remembering that every good story involves someone who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it, one night he heard about an organization that builds orphanages. He found out that it costs $25,000 to build an orphanage and on the spot decided that his family would fund one even though they didn’t have the money.

It sounded like a story worth living.

It Won’t Be Easy

When Jason told his wife and daughter about it, they were so mad they both refused to talk to him. He realized, of course, that it was a mistake not to have included his wife in the decision. However, after explaining that they weren’t taking any risks – they weren’t helping anyone – and how their daughter was losing interest, his wife got on board.

Soon enough, his daughter got interested. So much so that she wanted to visit the country where the orphanage would be built, take pictures of the kids, post them on her web site, and see if others would help.

Then she broke up with her boyfriend.

As Jason explained it, “No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while.”

I love that.

Living for Something Larger

As I read that story, I remembered the words of one of the leading researchers on human happiness, Martin Seligman. He said a meaningful life is one that attaches itself to something larger than we are, and the larger that something is, the more meaning in our lives.

Donald Miller puts it this way: “People can’t live without a story, without a role to play.”

Recently over dinner with my family, Aziz came up in conversation. He’s a boy in Burkina Faso we sponsor through Compassion International. When we’ve sent him extra money in the past, he has sent back pictures of what he did with the money. One shows him with soap he bought for his family. Another time he bought extra rice.

My wife, Jude, mentioned that Aziz has a birthday coming up and one of our kids was quick to suggest that we all chip in to send him some extra money. They were all genuinely excited about contributing to the cause.

We’re not funding an orphanage (at least, not this year!). We’re just sending some money to one young boy who has so much less than we have. But it’s a good step, a very tangible way we can work as a family to invest in something larger than ourselves.

Is Your Story Big Enough?

If you listen to the chatter of our culture, it’s easy to think that our lives are mostly about cars and clothes and where we’re going on vacation this year. It isn’t that such things are unimportant or that we should feel guilty for pursing them. But I think deep down we all know who we are. We know we were made for a bigger story.

We just forget sometimes.

What is it for you?  What’s the bigger financial story you’re pursuing? And what story of making a difference in other people’s lives are you inviting your kids into?

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Profitable Ideas: The 7 Deadly Sins of Personal Finance, Americans’ Top Money Regret, and More Fri, 21 Jun 2019 13:30:07 +0000

Weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles from around the web.

The seven deadly sins of personal finance (Get Rich Slowly). What would you add to this list?

Teaching your kids to give their money away is one of the most important lessons  they’ll learn (Business Insider). Ideas for getting kids started on the journey of generosity.

Hidden college costs (Saving For College). If you have college-bound kids, budget accordingly.

The hot trend in smartphones? Not buying a new one (CNBC). This isn’t doing Apple stockholders any favors, but it’s helping a lot of families’ bottom lines.

To anyone who wonders if their giving matters (She Picks Up Pennies). A wonderful post. Read it and be blessed.

Americans’ top regrets all center on this 1 big money mistake (USA Today). To set yourself apart, save early and save often.

How much does it cost to buy happiness? (Advisor Perspectives). Latest findings from the endless quest to explore the connection between money and happiness.

Husbands ignore future widows’ needs (Squared Away). Even if you’re a long way from retirement, it’s important to understand this.

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Profitable Ideas: The Fifth-Grade Philanthropist, Closing the Bank of Mom and Dad, and More Fri, 08 Feb 2019 14:30:40 +0000

A weekly roundup of some of the best personal finance articles from around the web.

A 5th grader’s boredom while visiting her mom’s job led to $70,000 for the elderly in need (CNN). Inspiring story about the good that a young child can do.

Discipline equals freedom: The difference between deprivation and depriving yourself (Get Rich Slowly). One of them is a good thing—and an important key to getting to a good place with your finances.

Do money apps make us better or worse with our finances? (BBC). While a lot of apps can make life more efficient, some can do financial harm.

4 products on deep discount in February (Consumer Reports). Some fairly expensive items that typically go on sale this month.

House Rules (Humble Dollar). Owning a home can be a good thing—if you understand all that you’re signing up for.

Protection…or Overkill? Five Insurance Policies You May Not Need (The Simple Dollar). Some good advice to make sure you don’t overpay.

Q&A: Joshua Becker on keeping a minimalist home (Washington Post). Wondering what to do with all your books, pictures, and family heirlooms? The master of minimalism has answers.

How to wean grown kids off your payroll (USA Today). Saying “no” to your kids can be tough, but closing the bank of mom and dad will profit them in the long run.

What are your thoughts on any of the above? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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One Simple Question for Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude and Service Tue, 29 Jan 2019 14:30:09 +0000

Last December, I skimmed quite a few year-end personal finance articles that contained questions designed to help readers take stock of the year. For the most part, they seemed pretty typical. How did your financial situation change over the past 12 months? Did you achieve the goals you set for yourself at the start of the year? If not, what got in the way? That type of thing.

But then I came across a question that was refreshingly different. Who did you help this year? It was so simple, yet so powerful. Isn’t that an important way to evaluate a year—to think of who you might have helped in some way? I kept thinking about that question as I looked back on 2018. And then, over dinner one night, I asked my family the question.

At first, some of our kids said they couldn’t think of anyone they helped. But my wife and I challenged them to give it some more thought and they were able to come up with several names. Our daughter thought of a new girl in her class who seems really shy. Our daughter made a point of asking her questions, sitting by her in the cafeteria, and trying to make her laugh or at least smile. 

Each of them came up with examples, and as a family, we talked about Thanksgiving when we hosted a neighbor family that’s from another country. We knew they didn’t have any family in the U.S., and we found out they had never experienced an American Thanksgiving before. It wasn’t a service project. It was just an enjoyable way to connect with a nearby family that we didn’t know very well. But we think it may have helped them feel more a part of the neighborhood. 

What makes your highlight reel?

Every year, I put together a slide show of our family’s year—trips we took and other picture-worthy experiences from the year. It’s always enjoyable to look back on all that we did.

But I think this question—Who did you help this year?—will become part of our annual look-back from now on. And already it’s motivating us to more actively pursue opportunities to serve. 

It isn’t that we’re not serving. We are. My wife helps lead a women’s Bible study and serves in a ministry that works with refugees. I do some biblical money management teaching at our church. And we financially support a number of missionaries and other ministries, in addition to our church.

But there’s something about that question—Who did you help this year?—that’s stirring something in me. Maybe it’s a sense that service has felt compartmentalized—an event I participate in, but then it’s done until the next service project. Maybe it’s a desire to make service more of a lifestyle. And my hope is that if we keep the question in front of our family, it may help our kids think more outwardly on a daily basis, too.

Have you ever looked back on a year and asked yourself, Who did I help this year? 

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:4

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