Matt About Money Simple. Meaningful. Success. Tue, 13 Nov 2018 14:48:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 9092505 The Master(’s) Principle Tue, 13 Nov 2018 14:30:55 +0000

There are countless tips and “tricks” you can use to speed up the process of getting out of debt, save money at the grocery store, and invest more for the future. But if you really want to get the money thing right, you have to cultivate certain inner disciplines. And there is one that rises above all the rest.

At first glance, it will sound completely unappealing. And you’ll find virtually no support for it in our culture. But because it’s so incredibly helpful, I strongly encourage you to find the patience to read on.

One now, or two later

In the late 1960s Stanford University researchers conducted an experiment among hundreds of four-year-olds. One at a time, the children were brought into a room and told they could eat one treat such as a marshmallow right away, or if they could wait until the researcher returned from a brief errand, they could have two.

A few kids couldn’t wait at all. Before the researcher had even finished giving the instructions, the treat was gone. The majority of kids held out for an average of… wait for it… 3 minutes. 3 minutes!

But the remaining 30 percent were able to hang in there, resist temptation, and wait for what turned out to be 15 minutes in order to get the better reward.

Some 12 years later, when the kids were in high school, lead researcher Walter Mischel tracked the kids down to see if there were any discernible differences between the kids who could wait and those who couldn’t.

He asked parents, teachers, and academic advisors about the kids’ ability to plan and think ahead, cope with problems and get along with peers. He also requested their S.A.T. scores.

And what he found was remarkable. The kids who could wait had noticeably fewer behavioral problems at school and at home. They were better able to handle stressful situations, did better at paying attention, and found it easier to maintain friendships.

As for their S.A.T. scores, the kids who could wait scored an average 210 points higher than the kids who couldn’t.

Clearly, good things really do come to those who wait.

A character trait unlike any other

So helpful is the ability to delay gratification that psychologists call it the master principle. They say it’s the most essential psychological skill for effective living.

Think about the financial benefits of patience. Those who routinely save for what they want instead of impatiently buying today on credit can save thousands of dollars on interest. Those who patiently invest over long periods of time stand a much better chance of being able to help their kids pay for college or having enough money for their own retirement.

The marshmallow experiment kids who could wait were the ones who clearly saw that their future reward would be much better than the immediate reward. Having no doubt that the waiting would be worthwhile motivated them to be patient.

The ultimate form of delayed gratification

The Apostle Paul said something very similar about heaven. He said everyone who has placed their faith in Christ has “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” meaning that the presence of the Holy Spirit gives us a glimpse of heaven. And he said this taste of our future inheritance naturally leads to two responses: A yearning for heaven and the patience to wait for that reward (Romans 8:22-25).

Do you yearn for heaven? When I first thought about that, I had to admit that I don’t. When I’m away from home, I yearn to see my family. Every spring, I start yearning for our summer vacation. As for heaven? I’m thankful that it’s real, but I can’t say I’m in any hurry to get there.

If it seems that you don’t yearn for heaven either, consider this: Maybe you actually do.

Think about something you love to do—your favorite hobby, perhaps, or a place where you love to vacation. C.S. Lewis said our longing to spend more time doing what we most enjoy is an expression of our ultimate longing for heaven.

…it (is) not in them. It only comes through them and what (comes) through them (is) longing…For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.

That’s why even the best things of this world only leave us wanting more. As Lewis wrote,

If I find in myself a desire which no experience of this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

The realization that the things of this world will never completely satisfy our deepest longings is not bad news; it’s good news. It can help us stop looking to them for what they’re incapable of delivering, and it can free us to enjoy them for what they are: Good gifts from God, but not the basis of our identity, security, or ultimate happiness.

The patience to wait for our ultimate reward in heaven is what turns the master principle into the Master’s principle.

As John Eldredge wrote, we express our longing for God best when we “enjoy what there is now to enjoy, while waiting with eager anticipation for the feast to come.” I love that.

Are you looking to something of this world to deliver what only heaven can deliver?

How might your use of money change if you were clearer about what the things of this world can deliver and what only heaven can deliver?

]]> 6 1570
Profitable Ideas: Managing Your Kids’ Expectations, You Need an Estate Plan, and More. Fri, 09 Nov 2018 14:30:48 +0000

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

Managing gift expectations with your kids during the holidays (Marriage, Kids and Money). The earlier you start, the better.

Is pet insurance worth it? (Washington Post). In two words, probably not. Here’s why.

A teacher defaulted on $55,000 in student debt—loan rehabilitation offered hope, but now he owes $130,000 (CNBC). Horror stories like this should provide added motivation for parents to do all they can to help their kids avoid borrowing for college.

Why are so few using 529s? (The Belle Curve). Even parents who are saving for college seem to be going about it in the wrong way.

Tiny improvements, big results (A Wealth of Common Sense). “Pay yourself last doesn’t work very well.” Indeed.

Black Friday isn’t what it used to be, forcing retailers to adapt (CBS Money Watch). Do you usually try to take advantage of Black Friday sales? Are you planning any changes this year?

Being generous makes you happy—and makes your kids generous, too (Fast Company). Setting a good financial example is the best way to raise wise money managers.

Estate planning isn’t just for millionaires (A Teachable Moment). Especially if you have kids, you need a will.

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

Interested in more ideas and encouragement for using money well? If you haven’t done so already, why not sign up for a free subscription to this blog?

]]> 0 6491
How’s Your Financial Health? Tue, 06 Nov 2018 14:30:46 +0000

There’s a new report out that says very few Americans are financially healthy. Working with researchers at the University of Southern California, the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) developed an eight-question survey that was taken by a representative sample of U.S. adults, leading to what it calls the U.S. Financial Health Pulse. Its results were not encouraging.

According to CFSI’s analysis, just 28% of Americans are “financially healthy,” 55% are “financially coping,” and 17% are “financially vulnerable.”

Survey questions asked how people’s spending compares to their income, whether they pay their bills on time, how long they could live off their savings, how manageable their debt is, and more. For the most part, they were good questions, but the survey seemed somewhat incomplete.

If I were to develop a survey to assess people’s financial condition, I’d include the following 10 topics. As you read each description, rate yourself on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the most positive score.

Biblical financial worldview. How well do you know what the Bible teaches about money and to what degree have you put biblical financial principles into practice?

Income. While there’s no such thing as guaranteed employment, evaluate your employability. Are your skills up to date and in demand? Are you taking steps each year to hone your skills? How’s your network? Unless you’re independently wealthy, your ability to earn income is the foundation of your financial life.

Planning. Do you use a budget to proactively manage your household’s cash flow? Some people say they have a budget, but really what they have is a big picture idea in their head of how much they can spend. What I mean by a budget is a written plan that allocates your income toward giving, saving, investing, and spending.

Giving. Are you giving at least 10% of your monthly gross income to Christ-centered causes? I know some people get uneasy with specific generosity guidelines, but I believe 10% is the biblical starting point.

Saving. Would you be able to live off your savings for three to six months if you lost your job tomorrow? If you’re single and rent an apartment, you’re probably fine with three months’ worth of savings. If you’re married with kids and a house, you have what I call more breakable moving parts and should have at least six months’ worth of essential living expenses in savings. This emergency fund should be in a dedicated savings account, not mingled with your checking account money.

Also, do you save for periodic expenses, such as an annual life insurance premium, Christmas gifts, or other expenses that aren’t paid every month but will need to be paid at some point in the year? And do you save for the replacement of big-ticket items, such as your car?

Debt. Are you debt-free, with the possible exception of a reasonable mortgage—one that requires no more than 25% of monthly gross income for the combination of your mortgage, property taxes, and homeowner’s insurance, and preferably no more than 20%?

Investing. Do you know how much you should be investing to build a nest egg for your later years and are you investing that much? If you have kids, are you investing to help pay at least a portion of their college costs? And are you investing knowledgeably?

Protecting. Do you have adequate insurance—health, vehicle, homeowner’s, life, and possibly disability insurance?

Spending. Are you proactive about controlling your spending, being intentional about managing to the numbers in your budget?

Temperament. Especially if you’re married, knowing your temperament and your spouse’s temperament can be really helpful in managing money as a team. Even if you’re single, understanding how God has wired you up, and the financial tendencies that are associated with your temperament, can help you learn to play to your strengths. So, do you know your temperament and its financial implications?

Since there are 10 topics, there are 50 possible points. How did you score? While this is certainly subjective, I’d say if you got 45 points or higher, you’re in “very good” shape financially, 40-44 points means you’re in “good” shape, 35-39 points means you’re in “fair” shape, 30-34 means money is probably somewhat of a struggle for you, and anything less than 30 means you’ve got some work to do.

I know this list may feel overwhelming, but use it as a diagnostic tool that can help you develop goals for the next 6-12 months. Start with the topics where you gave yourself the lowest scores. Then search for articles about those topics on my site for guidance. Or if you’re part of a church with a stewardship ministry, see what classes are being offered and sign up.

Money is one of those things we never get fully right. We all have room for improvement. Hopefully by honestly assessing where you’re at with the 10 topics above you’ll be able to focus your financial improvement efforts in the right places.

]]> 0 6478
Profitable Ideas: How Money Really CAN Buy Happiness, Raising a Minimalist, and More. Fri, 02 Nov 2018 13:30:59 +0000

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

Here’s how money really can buy you happiness (Time). After decades of searching for a connection between money and happiness, here’s what’s been learned.

Buy it for life: Choosing quality over price (Get Rich Slowly). Spending a little more is often the most cost-effective choice.

No one is crazy (Collaborative Fund). A more compassionate view of those who buy lottery tickets, along with a look at our own decision-making biases.

How to raise a minimalist (Real Simple). It will require swimming against the strong current of our consumer culture, but our kids will benefit and so will we.

This simple hack can boost how much you save by more than 30% (Moneyish). It’s hard to envision the future, but it pays to try.

Three ways to become wealthy (Fervent Finance). One of them is well within your control.

Parents spend twice as much on adult children than they save for retirement (CNBC). This is what the authors of The Millionaire Next Door called economic outpatient care. It can be harmful to the giver and the recipient.

Bring gratitude first. A 30-day challenge (Becoming Minimalist). It’s the perfect month for cultivating such an enriching habit.

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

Interested in more ideas and encouragement for using money well? If you haven’t done so already, why not sign up for a free subscription to this blog?

]]> 2 6474
You Can Afford It, But Should You Buy It? Tue, 30 Oct 2018 13:30:24 +0000

How well we manage money has much to do with getting some of the big decisions right. How much should we spend on a house? Should we finance a vehicle?

Other financial decisions can be simplified by using a Cash Flow Plan and taking an objective look at how much a household of our size and income can afford to spend on this or that (see my Recommended Cash Flow Guidelines, Cash Flow Plan and Cash Flow Tracker forms, along with the Budget Quick Start Guide).

However, using money well requires more than sound economics.

Beyond the Spreadsheet

For anyone whose faith is at the center of their life, the overarching financial goal isn’t just to live within our means. It’s to use money in a way that’s glorifying to God and has a positive impact on others, which is what makes the words from 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 so challenging:

“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. – 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

If we can afford to buy a huge, lavish home, should we? Or, could living in such a home do something to our hearts? And could it put some distance between other people and us? On the other hand, could it be a blessing to others? Could it enable us to have a positive impact on people we might not otherwise have an opportunity to interact with?

If we can afford to buy an expensive vehicle that turns heads, should we? Or, could the different way people treat us because of our vehicle impact the way we view ourselves? Could it negatively impact how others in our sphere of influence use money? On the other hand, could such a vehicle be part of the “everything” God provides “for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17)?

It’s good to ask such questions, but it’s best not to think we know the answers too quickly.


In Chip and Dan Heath’s excellent book, Switch, which is about how to bring about a desired change in our lives, one of their most interesting findings has to do with how identity influences our decision-making. They use the example of a chemistry professor:

Imagine…you had a lucrative opportunity to consult on the toxicity study of a new drug for a big pharmaceutical company. From a consequences point of view, the decision to accept the job would be a no-brainer—the work might pay far more than your university salary. But from an identity point of view, the decision to accept the job would seem less clear-cut. You’d wonder what strings were attached, what subtle compromises you’d have to make to please the client. You’d wonder, “What would a scientist like me do in this situation?

That question is so simple. And so helpful.

When making financial decisions, we would do well to stop and ask, “What would a person of faith do in this situation?” And, assuming it’s a permissible decision, “How might it impact the good of others?”

Questioning Financial Decisions Large and Small

It’s especially helpful to ask such questions when setting the overall financial direction of our household, and when making big decisions like what type of home or car to buy.

But what about other decisions, like choosing a brand of laundry detergent? Do we really need to wrestle with that? Is it good stewardship to buy only what’s least expensive? (See The Case Against Frugality) Or, could it be best to pay a little more for a brand that’s more environmentally friendly? And what about trying to avoid products made in countries known for their human rights abuses?

I can’t tell you exactly what type of home or car to buy, or which brand of laundry detergent you should choose. But I’m confident that asking questions based on 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 will lead to benefits that extend far beyond the bottom line.

How has the distinction between what’s permissible and what’s beneficial or constructive impacted some of your financial decisions? How might it impact any decisions you’re considering right now?

]]> 0 3329
Profitable Ideas: Raising Less Materialistic Kids, 75 Ways to Save Money, and More. Fri, 26 Oct 2018 13:30:37 +0000

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

This daily activity will make your kids less materialistic (Moneyish). How to move from “the gimmes” to grateful.

How to stay in the game (A Wealth of Common Sense). Words of wisdom for investors.

Finding a new voice (Becoming Minimalist). This one may not seem to have much to do with money, but I liked it and I think you will, too.

Why you have (probably) already bought your last car (BBC). An interesting look into the perhaps not-too-distant future.

75+ ways to save on the monthly bills you can’t run from (The Savvy Couple). You’re bound to find a money-saving idea or two here that you can put to use.

Nearly half the world lives on less than $5.50 a day (USA TODAY— Video). Helps put things in perspective.

15 clutter-free birthday party gifts for kids (Simple Families). Not necessarily super inexpensive items, but the recipient’s parents may appreciate that they won’t take up lots of space.

The hidden cost of frugality (Pretend to be Poor). Just as convenience usually costs more, saving money sometimes takes more time.

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

Interested in more ideas and encouragement for using money well? If you haven’t done so already, why not sign up for a free subscription to this blog?

]]> 0 6452
Navigating The Mixed Messages Of Our Consumer Culture Tue, 23 Oct 2018 13:30:20 +0000

If you’re really paying attention, life can be a very odd experience. Especially when it comes to money.

For example, in troubled economic times, front-page newspaper stories regularly quote economists expressing concern that the personal savings rate is going up.

I still vividly remember reading one such story during a previous recession. I had to blink my eyes and reread an economist’s comment. Sure enough, he was worried that people might start saving more.

Flip past the headlines to the personal finance section of your paper and you’ll find columnists regularly sounding the opposite alarm: Americans aren’t saving enough!

So, who do we listen to? The economists who seem to think it’s our duty to spend more for the good of the country? Or the personal finance writers who say it’s in the best interests of our families to save more?

A Simple, Radical Idea

A long time, I remember thinking that we would all be a lot better off if we would simply build a strong base of savings and then buy what we need and want out of that.

It’s such a simple idea.

Save for a vacation and then take a vacation that we pay for out of savings. Save for a car and then buy a car with cash.

So simple, and yet so rarely practiced.

Instead, we’ve bought into the lie that we are consumers, and consumers can’t be inconvenienced by waiting. Delayed gratification? Too much work, and not enough fun. Besides, you only go around once, you know? Better grab for all you can right now. And look! As luck would have it, it’s all on sale. We can get the computer, the car, the cruise  — all for no money down and no interest payments until…

The Opportunity

Back when I first had my quaint little idea about saving and then spending, the economy was strong. I remember thinking that if everyone suddenly started saving more, the fears of front-page economists would, in fact, come true. We’d go into a recession. There would be some pain, but maybe it would be short-term pain that brought about long-term gain.

Once people had a healthy savings account and were in the habit of regularly saving a sizable chunk of their pay, they could use a portion of that savings to buy the things they had been putting off.

We’d go back to buying stuff again, but we’d do it differently. We’d go from wanting something, getting it, and then paying for it over the next several years along with a bunch of interest, to wanting something, saving for it while earning interest, and then getting it.

Our household finances would be much stronger, and I’m guessing our country’s finances would be stronger as well.

How to get there

On a practical level, one simple step I’ve found especially helpful in saving for big-ticket purchases is to use separate savings accounts earmarked for specific purposes. For example, for about three years now, Jude and I have been using such an account to save for a trip to Paris to celebrate our 20th anniversary next year.

We’re using another account to save for the replacement of our now 15-year-old van. Despite our kids suffering through the indignity of us owning the only van they know of with manual doors, we’d like to keep it another couple of years. (Actually, they understand that driving older vehicles is a trade-off we’re will to make in order to be able to afford nice trips and other experiences, which are more important to us than what we drive.)

How are you doing with the idea of buying stuff—even big-ticket stuff—with savings instead of credit? And what have you found helpful in being able to do that in the face of a culture that doesn’t seem to support such behavior?

]]> 4 3362
Profitable Ideas: Becoming a 401(k) Millionaire, 4 Ways to Avoid College Debt, and More. Fri, 19 Oct 2018 13:30:03 +0000

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

How to reach the $1 million 401(k) milestone (Morningstar). The advice in a nutshell? Steady plodding brings prosperity (Proverbs 21:5).

Pets are like family. But as health costs rise, few are insured that way (NY Times). Does Polly need a policy? Honestly, this is one of the things that scares me as we think about getting a pet. Pet owners, what’s been your experience with your fury friend’s healthcare costs?

Unexpectedly received an inheritance? 6 steps to take now (Castlebar). In two words, go slow.

Your work is the only thing that matters (Medium). It would be easy to misunderstand this headline, but don’t. This is a good read for anyone who wants to reach and impact a wider audience.

When the 80/20 rule fails: The downside of being effective (James Clear). “You get one, precious life. How do you decide the best way to spend your time?” Some intriguing answers.

Built to break (The Irrelevant Investor). Everyone’s investment portfolio will break at some point. The key is designing it to break in a non-catastrophic way.

The student loan debt crisis is about to get worse (Bloomberg). If you’re the parent of a college-bound kid, you should read this.

4 ways parents (and their students) can avoid the college debt trap (PBS). And this one, too.

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

Interested in more ideas and encouragement for using money well? If you haven’t done so already, why not sign up for a free subscription to this blog?

]]> 0 6446
The Most Underrated Type of Financial Knowledge Tue, 16 Oct 2018 13:30:20 +0000

When it comes to managing money, there’s a lot to know. Which retirement savings vehicle is best, an IRA or a 401(k)? Which type is best, traditional or Roth? How much should you spend on a house?

But there’s a type of knowledge that’s arguably even more important. Not having this knowledge can cause all sorts of problems—from settling for too small a salary to spending irresponsibly. It can spell the difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. And it’s at the heart of more financial disagreements between husbands and wives than most realize.

What is this mysteriously powerful form of knowledge? Self knowledge.

Everyone is born with a certain temperament. It doesn’t change. Going through life without knowing your temperament leaves you vulnerable to being ruled by your tendencies.

On the other hand, knowing your temperament is like having access to the notebooks kept by an unbiased person who’s been observing you for a very long time. The insights will be invaluable.

At first, it’ll explain a lot. Why you’ve been having such a difficult time saving money. Why you love to give money away. Why you actually like using a budget, or why you can’t stand the idea.

If you’re married, and if you both take the time to understand each other’s temperaments, it’ll open up a whole new level of understanding. It’ll also give you an opportunity to divvy up financial responsibilities in a way that puts each others’ strengths to work while working around some of each others’ weaknesses. (Within each temperament, there are tendencies that tend to really help manage money well, and there are tendencies that get in the way.

I unpacked some of the financial implications of each tendency with separate posts about Sanguines, Melancholies, Cholerics, and Phlegmatics. A graduate level understanding of temperaments would look at the financial implications of the various temperament pairings. You see, each of us has a primary temperament and a secondary temperament.

You can gain some insights into all of this via a 1994 book written by Jerry and Ramona Tuma called Smart Money (Click on the hardcover or one of the used options).

For example, my primary temperament is Choleric and my secondary temperament is Melancholy, which the Tumas describe as “driven to achieve perfection” (yup), “among the most critical people alive” (I have to confess to a critical spirit; it’s something I’ve had to work on), and “they will finish projects simply because they need to be finished” (very true).

So let me ask you: Do you know your temperament? If not, I highly recommend that you begin exploring this topic. You should be able to identify your primary and secondary temperaments by taking a quiz put together by the Tumas, which is available for free in the Resources section of my site.

Understanding your temperament isn’t as simple as opening a savings account. It’s an ongoing process. First you’ll gain a basic understanding of some of the tendencies that come with your primary and secondary temperaments. Then you’ll notice more and more ways your temperaments influence your feelings and decisions. When you discover ways to put your natural strengths to work while working around some of your natural weaknesses, you’ll really be maximizing this knowledge.

Do you know your primary and secondary temperament? If so, how have you seen it impacting your financial beliefs and behaviors?

Profitable Ideas: Purchases That Get Better With Time, What to Tell Your Kids About Your Finances, and More. Fri, 12 Oct 2018 13:30:31 +0000

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

Why experiences (not things) get better with time, according to science (No Sidebar). I couldn’t agree more. Most of my favorite purchases have been experiences, which I spent a lot of time anticipating and have spent a lot of time recalling fondly. Have you set up your day-to-day finances to provide enough margin for experiences such as travel?

4 overlooked perks of a high credit score (CNBC). Make sure you pay your bills on time. It’s the most important factor when determining your credit score.

Want to save money on car insurance? Fix your credit (The Simple Dollar). A deeper dive on one of the perks mentioned in the CNBC article.

Financial education flunks out — and here’s what’s being done about it (MarketWatch). Good lessons for parents intent on teaching their kids about money — keep your teaching grounded in the real world.

If any of these habits seem familiar, now’s the time to change (CNBC). It’s not too late to end the year strong, financially.

Pick a better health insurance policy (Kiplinger). Open enrollment season will be here soon. Here are some recommendations.

How much should your kids know about your finances? (US News). I like this article’s emphasis on transparency and helping your kids know how you got to where you are—the tradeoffs you’ve made, the priorities you’ve followed, and more.

How to craft a life you don’t need to escape from (Becoming Minimalist). If you’re looking forward to the weekend or your next vacation a little too much, maybe it’s time for some changes to your Monday-through-Friday life.

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

Interested in more ideas and encouragement for using money well? If you haven’t done so already, why not sign up for a free subscription to this blog?