Crackerjack Greenback Prudent Advice for a Prosperous Future

November 30, 2008

Personal Finance Bible Study: Contentment (Part 4 of 12) – Getting God’s View

Filed under: Contentment,Personal Finance Bible Study,Personal Finance in the Bible — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

       Last Sunday, we began looking at the solution to the problem of The World’s message. We’re continuing that discussion today and over the next two Sundays. We’ll look at God’s View of the world, money, and our lives so we can start to focus on serving Him instead of serving Money.

       In Luke 18:18-30, we see the story of the rich ruler. The ruler asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Here is Jesus’ response:

       18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

       19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good-except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'”

       21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

       22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

       23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

       26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

       27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

       28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

       29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”

Luke 18:18-30 (NIV)

This story is also found in Matthew 19:21-30 and Mark 10:17-27.

       When this rich ruler approached Him, Jesus knew that his heart was still focused on his wealth even though he had kept all the commandments since he was young. Earlier in our Personal Finance Bible Study, we learned that focusing or serving Money keeps us from serving God. When Jesus answered the ruler’s question, he quickly honed in on this fact and challenged the rich ruler to give up his wealth if he truly wanted to serve God and inherit eternal life.

       But we see the rich ruler’s response. He was saddened at the thought of giving up all of his wealth. What would we do if Jesus told us to sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow Him? Would we be so attached to our material possessions and wealth that we wouldn’t give it up for Jesus?

Green My Apple iPod by Brianfit on Flickr       What if Jesus asked us to sell our iPods so we could feed the hungry? Or buy a smaller home so we could give clean water to those in third-world countries? Or forgo a new car and get a used one instead so we could give medicine to the weak? These are small things in comparison to selling everything we own, but there’s a good chance we feel resistance at the very thought of those actions.

       Naturally, we hold the Things of This World very dear to our hearts because we clearly and plainly see them every day. We easily understand the necessity of some things, and we enjoy the convenience and fun of others. But our focus on This World keeps us from seeing the necessity of God’s viewpoint-of realizing that love and relationships matter much, much more than iPods, big homes, and new cars. We can take nothing with us when we die, yet look at how we strive to accumulate so much Stuff all our lives! This is exactly one of the reasons that Solomon said everything under the Sun is meaningless.

       But if it is so natural for us to be attached to the Things of This World, how can we be saved if the salvation Jesus offers requires us to give up that very attachment to our natural world? We can try to remind ourselves that eternal happiness with God in Heaven is worth more than anything The World can offer, but we cannot completely remove the attachment to The World without God’s help. What is impossible for us on our own is possible with God. Through prayer and a close relationship with God, our hearts can be changed so we focus on God’s World and not ours.

Hot Meal by Ordered Chaos on Flickr       The reward of contentment is very great. Our lives are made easier and much more joyful here on Earth because contentment makes the smallest things very great. A hot meal, warm clothes, or a soft bed-all are great wealth to the person who is content. We also get the eternal reward of communion with God and everlasting life in Heaven. How can any benefit of the world’s wealth be greater than the benefit of God’s rewards for us?

       So this is the first part of God’s view we must begin to take on for ourselves. Our attachment to This World keeps us from fully receiving God’s gifts and fully serving Him. We must give up this attachment if we want to truly receive eternal life in Jesus. And we cannot do it on our own-we must ask God to change our hearts and teach us His ways. If it seems impossible, remember you are not alone. God can do it through you!

Want to read the entire Bible study series on Contentment? Download your free copy of Contentment Is Wealth: A Bible Study on Contentment now!

November 29, 2008

Do It Yourself: Why Your Time Is Not Worth As Much As You Think

Filed under: Earning,Frugality,Saving Money,Spending,The Basics — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

       J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly has some good articles on how to figure out your real hourly wage. The first one titled “How to Compute Your REAL Hourly Wage” is a good start to calculating this number, but it leaves out taxes. The second article titled “Beyond “Real Hourly Wage”: How Much Time Does Stuff Actually Cost?” gets closer to a more accurate number, but I personally think you should do it a little differently.

We Still Work by furryscaly on Flickr       J.D. talks about deducting your fixed expenses to calculate your real hourly wage to figure out how many hours things cost in terms of your disposable income. I think this is a good number to keep in mind, but you should also consider your hourly wage in terms of net income as well (income minus work related expenses and taxes). This net income hourly wage can help you see how much of your time is spent paying for your necessities and put those costs in perspective. This is mostly just an interesting experiment, but it can help you realize that your time is worth something and spending money means giving up your time.

       However, what I really want to talk about is the discussion that came up following J.D.’s article about Things It’s Cheaper to Do Yourself. Some commenters contend that if a task would cost less per hour to outsource than you can earn in an hour then you’re better off paying someone else to do it for you. However, this logic is often flawed once you consider reality. This is a topic that’s been on my mind for a while, but J.D.’s article and the discussion prompted me to go ahead with my post.

What Are You Doing Instead?

       When I pay someone to change my oil, what do I do while I wait? I’m usually stuck sitting in a waiting room or browsing through the store (if I’m at Pep Boys or Walmart). I don’t earn any money while I’m waiting, so I can’t say I’m saving money or time by paying someone else to change my oil for me. If I can drop my car off and go do some income-producing activity, then it might be better for me to outsource the oil change. Even then, I need to make sure that my net after-tax hourly rate is going to be large enough to offset the cost of paying someone else to change my oil. If it’s not, then I’m better off changing the oil myself.

       The same can be said of many other activities we outsource. It’s easy to say, “Yeah, I’ll pay Jim $30 to mow my yard because it would take me 3 hours and I can earn $10/hour.” But this logic only works out if we take the time we would have spent mowing the yard and use it to earn money or provide ourselves with some other sort of value. This could mean enjoying a leisure activity or spending time with family. If mowing the yard would have prevented us from those (non-income producing) activities, then paying someone else to mow our yard might make sense depending on how much we value that time.

Sometimes It’s Better to Hire a Professional

Beautiful Tools by geishaboy500 on Flickr       Another exception would be projects that are better completed by a professional. If you do not have the ability to complete a project, then it’s probably best to pay a professional. You’ll save more money by having someone do it right the first time than having to go back and fix the mistakes you made trying to do it yourself. This can also be true if a project requires very specialized tools that we may never use again. This is the same logic we apply when we realize it’s better to rent a bulldozer to dig a hole than to buy it if we’re probably not going to use it again.

       However, it’s sometimes better to do a job yourself because you’ll know the quality of your work. When you hire someone else, you can get unlucky and end up with a “professional” who does shoddy work. With careful research and good referrals, you can usually avoid such misfortune. But if you know how to do a project and can do it well, you’re likely to get better results by doing it yourself than by hiring a “professional”.

What’s It Worth to You?

DoItYourself.com       My point is that most of the time it makes sense to do it yourself. There are a few exceptions where this is not true, but simply valuing our time based on our gross hourly wage is flawed. We have to look at the value of our time spent in the replacement activity (the thing we’re doing instead of the DIY project). If the value of our replacement activity outweighs the cost of outsourcing, then we can safely say it’s better to outsource. This still neglects the benefits of learning new skills and the satisfaction that many people experience when they do something themselves, but that’s a very subjective benefit.

       Just as every other personal finance decision needs to be considered in light of your personal situation, so does weighing the option of doing something yourself or paying someone else to do it. Depending on the value of your time, the activity you’ll do instead of doing it yourself, your skill set, and your desire to do it yourself, it may or may not make sense to outsource a project. Be sure you consider these factors before you say you’re saving yourself money or time by outsourcing.

November 28, 2008

What Asset Allocation Should I Use in Retirement?

Filed under: Investing,Retirement Planning — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

       During retirement or any other time we’ll be withdrawing from our investments, it is important to make sure we have a portfolio that will beat inflation and allow us to reach our goals without taking on unnecessary risk. To determine what percentage of a portfolio should be in stocks during retirement, I researched safe withdrawal rates over different time periods using a variety of portfolios.

Dan's Retirement by Scubabix on Flickr       Using the Monte Carlo method, I found the optimal portfolios and safe withdrawal rates we should use over different withdrawal periods for a 90% probability of success. (This means you’d have a 90% chance of not running out of money before you die.) The safe withdrawal rate represents the percentage of your portfolio that you can withdraw at the beginning of the indicated time period. I assumed after the first year you would increase the dollar amount you withdrew by a 3.8% inflation rate every year. You can read more about safe withdrawal rates during retirement by clicking here.

       The chart below shows the time period (years left in retirement), safe withdrawal rate, successful portfolio range, and the recommended portfolio for someone with average risk tolerance. If you have a high risk tolerance, you could increase the percentage of your stocks to the upper end of the successful portfolio range. If you are risk averse, you could use a lower percentage of stocks as long as you do not go lower than the bottom of the successful portfolio range. If you don’t keep enough in stocks, you run the risk of not meeting your retirement goals because of inflation.

       Finally, it is very important to note that all of my simulations were completed using a diversified portfolio of index funds. You can read more about what a diversified portfolio looks like by clicking here.

Portfolios for a Successful Retirement

       My next project is looking at how much you need to save so you can even get to retirement. This is more complicated because you have people starting at different points in their lives with differing amounts of money already invested. I’m also looking at the savings rate in terms of your target retirement income instead of the income you’re earning right now. This makes more sense because saving 10% of your current income isn’t a very accurate rule of thumb for the majority of people. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have enough saved up to meet your retirement goals—your savings should be based on how much you’ll need in retirement and not how much you’re making now. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below!

November 27, 2008

Gobble Gobble

Filed under: Random Stuff — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:30 am

Happy

Thanksgiving!

Turkey by Swami Stream on Flickr

The Way to Wealth – Nuggets of Wisdom from Benjamin Franklin: Time Management

Filed under: Earning,The Basics,The Way to Wealth,Values — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

       Last week, we talked about Wasting Time in Benjamin Franklin’s The Way to Wealth. Part of the solution to wasting time is time management. Here is today’s quote:

       Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy, as Poor Richard says; and he that riseth late, must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night. While laziness travels so slowly, that poverty soon overtakes him, as we read in Poor Richard, who adds, drive thy business, let not that drive thee; and early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

The Way to Wealth – Benjamin Franklin

       By carefully managing our time and working hard, we make it much easier to get things done. If we get a late start to the day, we can hardly catch up. Keeping a schedule and giving time to the tasks we need to accomplish helps us avoid wasting time and get more done in a day than if we wander around aimlessly.

Time by John-Morgan on Flickr       Having control over your business and keeping track of your plans is important to successful work. If you let emergencies and interruptions dictate your activities for a day, you’ll probably find it difficult to do any of the stuff you wanted to. Distractions destroy our focus and make it tough to do anything very well. This is part of the reason why multitasking is a myth.

       Finally, we have one of Franklin’s most famous quotes. Getting enough rest at night is very important to keeping our bodies healthy and our minds clear. If we avoid sleeping in late we have more time to work, which invariably leads to wealth if successful. Franklin’s point in this quote is that careful time management makes our lives easier and less stressful, and hard work is bound to make us successful when combined with time management.

       If you have some time you’d like to spend learning more about personal finance, make sure you check out this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance. But make sure you don’t neglect the more important things you might need to do right now!

November 26, 2008

Personal Finance in the Bible: Proverbs 21:20

Filed under: Budgeting,Frugality,Investing,Personal Finance in the Bible,Retirement Planning,Saving Money — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       This week’s Personal Finance Bible Scripture comes from Proverbs 21:20.

   20 In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil,
       but a foolish man devours all he has.

Proverbs 21:20 (NIV)

       Same verse but in the New Living Translation:

   20 The wise have wealth and luxury,
       but fools spend whatever they get.

Proverbs 21:20 (NLT)

       I chose two translations this time because I think together they clearly tell us what this verse is saying. The wise save up some of their earnings, but fools spend everything they get.

       When talking about contentment and giving in the Bible, I’ve had people ask me if Christians should even save up money for emergencies or retirement. If we save, aren’t we relying on ourselves or our money instead of God? I think, as with many things, it really depends on the motives in our hearts.

       If we’re saving up because we don’t think God can provide or we don’t trust in God’s provision, then we’re obviously serving money and not God. But God clearly tells us several times in the Bible that the wise save up some of their money. The wise do not spend everything they get, and the wise prepare for trouble they see coming ahead.

       God can take care of us in any situation, but He teaches us that it is wise to save up when we see that we’ll have a need in the future. This is why I don’t think God is against us having emergency funds or saving for a time in our lives when we won’t be able to work for pay. I’m not sure God wants us saving for things that don’t glorify Him, like a retirement where we golf every day or travel around the world purely for pleasure. It’s the same with anything really. If it doesn’t glorify God, there’s probably a good chance we should rethink it.

       The next time you want to spend all of your paycheck or when the money in your pocket catches fire, remember that the wise person saves but the foolish person spends everything.

November 25, 2008

Ripped Off: Can You Trust Your Financial Adviser?

Filed under: Investing,Retirement Planning,Saving Money,Spending,The Basics — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

       The financial services industry is great at making you feel good while ripping you off. They’re also great at confusing you so much that you can’t even figure out how badly you’re getting ripped off. To make smart financial decisions, you need to realize how your “advisers” are getting paid and how their pay structure may affect the advice they give you.

       These advisers can include stock brokers, bankers, realtors, financial planners, insurance agents, lawyers, and accountants. Different compensation methods can create various conflicts of interest—situations where your best interests are not the same as your adviser’s best interests. This is a long article, but what you’ll read here can save you many problems and oceans of money.

Commission-based Advisers

       These advisers get paid a commission when you buy a product. The products they sell can include stocks, bonds, mutual funds, insurance policies, annuities, real estate, mortgages, other loans, and much more. (When you take out a loan, you’re essentially buying a product and the banker typically gets a commission or bonus.)

Chris Gardener by dbking on Flickr       The problem with this compensation structure is that the advisers are influenced to sell you products that give them a higher commission. This could mean selling you inappropriate or sub par products with high fees, telling you that you need permanent life insurance coverage, convincing you to buy the most house you can afford, or encouraging you to take out the biggest loan the bank will let you. You often don’t realize the cost of these decisions because the commissions are rarely disclosed in an honest, upfront, and easy to understand manner. It may seem like you’re getting cheap or free advice, but you end up paying much more in the end because of the commissions that are built into the products you buy.

       Commission-based advisers are also much more likely to persuade you to make many transactions (buying and selling investments many times) because this increases their pay. There are strict rules against “churning” in investment accounts, so be sure to seek help from the government or a lawyer if you believe your account is being churned.

       While there are some commission-based advisers who are trustworthy and do give their clients good advice, you’re best served by steering clear of commission-based advisers whenever possible. If you must work with someone who earns their fees by commissions, make sure you get full disclosure on their compensation and always get a second or third opinion on their advice. Do your homework, and you can avoid getting ripped off by commission-based advisers—but there are often better ways you can get help with your financial decisions.

Fee-based Percentage of Assets Advisers

       Fee-based percentage of assets advisers are paid a percentage of the assets they manage for you. This business model is also called the assets under management (AUM) model. This is generally seen in the investment world, though it can crop up in other areas. The typical fee is about 1% of your assets, but this can vary wildly between advisers. It’s important to keep in mind that this fee is almost always in addition to the fees in the products you purchase.

       The first conflict of interest with fee-based AUM advisers is the fact that they get more money when they manage more of your assets. They’ll often encourage you to transfer more of your assets to them and justify the advice with some compelling reasons. However, it isn’t always best for you to move your assets to an AUM adviser. Additionally, when you take money out of your account the adviser’s fee goes down. If you’re weighing the decision to pay off a loan with money the adviser is managing, how likely do you think it is that he will tell you to pay off the loan? If you pay off the loan, the adviser gets a pay cut.

Business Meeting by llawliet on Flickr       The next problem with fee-based AUM advisers is cost. When you pay 1% of your assets in management fees every year, the total cost can really add up. Let’s assume the adviser takes a 1% fee at the beginning of each year and your investment returns are 8%. Over 25 years, you’d pay $62,527 in fees for every $100,000 you had invested at the beginning of the 25 year period. Over a 65 year period, you’d pay $1,104,280 in fees for every $100,000 you initially invested. Most advisers will justify this cost by saying that you wouldn’t have received 8% investment returns if they hadn’t been there to advise you along the way. While this may be true, you can duplicate their results if you educate yourself enough about the long-term history of the markets and learn how to avoid stupid mistakes. You can also look into using an hourly or flat-fee adviser for a better deal without having to learn everything on your own.

       During retirement, these costs can be especially hazardous. My research has shown that a 5% withdrawal rate is probably safe for most people. If you have to pay an investment adviser a 1% fee to manage your assets, your safe withdrawal rate goes down to 4%. This means a $1,000,000 would only provide you with a $40,000/year income if you’re paying an investment adviser. Alternatively, you could have a $50,000/year income if you didn’t have to pay 1% of your assets to the adviser every year.

       The AUM model also isn’t very fair to the clients. If Bob has $100,000 and Joe has $200,000, Bob only has to pay $1,000/year but Joe has to pay $2,000/year. Why does Joe pay more? It’s only because he has more money. How is this fair for the clients? Having worked in the investment industry, I can personally tell you that not much more work goes into managing Joe’s $200,000 portfolio versus Bob’s $100,000 portfolio. Why should Joe have to pay twice as much for the exact same services? He shouldn’t, and that’s another reason why I am not too fond of the AUM model. Fee-based AUM advisers will try to justify this problem with different arguments, but there’s rarely a legitimate argument that would hold up when viewed by an unbiased party.

       Finally, fee-based AUM advisers are generally restricted to working only with wealthier clients. It’s much more profitable to spend 10 hours working with someone who has $1,000,000 than to spend 10 hours working with someone who has $100,000. This means young people and late starters with little money saved up are going to have a hard time getting a fee-based AUM adviser to work with them.

       Fee-based AUM advisers usually give much more appropriate advice to their clients than commission-based advisers, but there are still many conflicts of interest and problems with this compensation structure. Advisers using the AUM model like to advertise that their compensation structure eliminates many conflicts of interest present in the industry, but you should be aware that it does not eliminate all possible conflicts—no compensation structure can do that.

Fixed-fee Advisers

Good Advice by Gary J. Wood on Flickr       Fixed-fee advisers are paid a flat fee to provide certain services you agree upon. There are few of these advisers around, but their fee structure can eliminate many of the problems with commission-based and fee-based AUM advisers. You may also hear this fee arrangement referred to as a “retainer”.

       You’ll want to ensure that the flat fee you pay fixed-fee advisers is the sole source of their compensation. If the adviser still receives commissions for any products you may buy, then they will still have a conflict of interest in selling you the highest-paying products.

       You’ll also want to make sure you do not pay for more services than you really need with a fixed-fee adviser. Because these advisers are charging a flat fee, you can end up overpaying if you do not fully utilize the services and time included in the package. This is especially true for those who have a simple situation or for those who have the biggest areas of their financial plan implemented already. Since fixed-fee advisers often charge upwards of $1,500 or $2,000/year, it may not make sense to use them if you do not need much help.

       Since fixed-fee advisers are paid a flat fee, it is to their benefit to spend as little time as possible on any one client as this maximizes their hourly rate. While this is short-sighted, it is still a possible downfall of using fixed-fee advisers. If you feel your fixed-fee adviser is not providing the level of service you agreed upon, you should confront him or her to get an explanation. If you’re not happy with the service, you may want to change advisers.

       The major benefit of fixed-fee advisers is that they will not be tempted to advise that you purchase high-fee products or to put more money under their management. Since their compensation structure is separated from your assets, they are able to focus on your best interests when they provide advice. You’ll still want to make sure you’re not paying for more than you receive, and you should carefully consider any personal finance decision no matter where your advice comes from.

Fee-based Hourly Advisers

Good Advice by rick on Flickr       Fee-based hourly advisers get paid an hourly rate for the time they spend working on your situation. This time could include meetings with you, researching your situation, completing paperwork for you, or meetings with your other advisers. Most accountants and lawyers work under this compensation method, but you will hardly find this fee model in the investment, insurance, banking, or real estate industries. Fee-based hourly advisers eliminate many of the conflicts of interest present in commission-based and fee-based AUM models, but they are not without their issues.

       Because fee-based hourly advisers are paid for their time, they may try to give you complex advice to justify their fees and keep you dependent on meeting with them. If you feel like your fee-based hourly adviser is giving you the runaround, be upfront and let him or her know that you need a better explanation of why the advice is so complicated. If the adviser does not try to educate you, it’s probably time to seek another adviser. Any adviser should be more than willing to educate you about what is going on in your financial situation. If not, they could be hiding something or trying to keep you dependent on their advice.

       You may need to be more involved with your finances if you use a fee-based hourly adviser. Since you are paying the adviser by the hour, your costs will be lower if you can do as much as possible yourself. The fee-based hourly adviser should be willing to provide you with any instructions you need to complete simple tasks on your own. This could include setting up accounts, transferring assets between accounts, placing trades, purchasing products, or meeting with other professionals as needed. If you need help, you can always ask the adviser to assist you but your costs will be much lower if you do most of the grunt work yourself.

       With a fee-based hourly adviser, all clients are treated the same because they all pay the same amount per hour of the adviser’s work. These advisers can work with people who have few assets or people with a high net worth. As long as they only receive their compensation from you, they won’t be tempted to advise that you purchase high fee investments. On the contrary, they are likely to give you the best advice possible for your situation because they know that exceptional advice and education is the only thing that can really keep you coming back for their help.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Good Advice by cornflakegirl on Flickr       You might find an adviser who uses some combination of these fee structures. Proceed with caution! The more complicated the adviser’s compensation the harder it is for you to understand exactly how he is getting paid. With any type of adviser, make sure you get full disclosure of their compensation in writing.

       Never be afraid to get a second opinion on your adviser’s recommendations. You can easily go to a fee-based hourly adviser for a one-time project when you’re making a major decision. For a few hundred dollars, you can get this second opinion and avoid a much more costly mistake. Even better, you could do substantial research on your own so you learn in the process and understand the situation better.

       Always remember that your advisers should be teaching and educating you throughout the process. If the adviser is reluctant to explain his recommendations, I would be very wary of trusting him. By finding an adviser who is a true teacher at heart, you can be more confident that the adviser is honest and trustworthy. The best adviser should be working to make himself completely unnecessary at some point!

       Don’t fall for slick marketing, a round of golf, free dinners, or nice gifts! Advisers who spend a lot of money in these types of “client appreciation” or advertising areas are simply using the money you pay them to give you “free” stuff just to make you feel good about getting ripped off. You should remember that the adviser is not going to give you so much “free” stuff that they don’t make a profit. While it may feel good to get that “free” round of golf or gift card to your favorite restaurant, you should never forget that you’ve already paid for it when you paid the adviser’s fee. Don’t fall for the illusion that it feels good to get ripped off! If you really want those things, pay for them yourself and stop paying through the nose to get it from your advisers.

November 24, 2008

A Meaningful Christmas

Filed under: Consumerism,Contentment,Frugality,Giving,Saving Money,Spending,Values — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

       What if Christmas meant more than shopping in packed malls?

       What if you spent more time with your family than you spent trying to pick out gifts?

       What if you could wake up on December 26th with no debts from the day before?

       What if you could throw out all the stress, traffic, and shopping and just focus on worshiping Jesus, giving to the needy, and loving all people?

       What if we gave up Consumermas and went back to Christmas?

       The folks at Advent Conspiracy have a great little video (2 minutes and 39 seconds) about a meaningful Christmas.

       So why not make Christmas meaningful again? Why not do it this year? If you want to change how you celebrate Christmas, here are some good resources:

              Buy Nothing Christmas
              Alternative Christmas Gifts
              A Do-It-Yourself Christmas

       Finally, here’s “O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” as sung by the David Crowder Band. I hope it reminds us why we’re celebrating Christmas in the first place.

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