Crackerjack Greenback Prudent Advice for a Prosperous Future

January 18, 2009

Personal Finance Bible Study: Contentment (Part 11 of 12) – The Results

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

       Last Sunday, we finished talking about practical applications when we take on God’s View of the World, Money, and our lives. We looked at how we should act and what we should do when we take on God’s View and live out His will. Today, we’ll start talking about the results of following God’s teaching on contentment. How will contentment benefit you, and what kind of effects will it have on your life?

Delighting God

       When our focus is no longer on wealth and material things but fully centered on God, we can begin to please Him. It’s amazing to think that despite our weaknesses and shortcomings we can still manage to please the Creator of the entire universe by simply learning to be content and center our lives around Him.

   23 This is what the LORD says:
       “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
       or the strong man boast of his strength
       or the rich man boast of his riches,

       24 but let him who boasts boast about this:
       that he understands and knows me,
       that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
       justice and righteousness on earth,
       for in these I delight,”
       declares the LORD.


Jeremiah 9:23-24
(NIV)

       It’s nearly unthinkable that we can delight God, but we really can delight Him when we talk more about His goodness and our relationship with Him than our wealth or accomplishments.

Enjoying Life

       In Ecclesiastes, Solomon experiences all the things the world tells us will make us happy—power, wealth, and pleasure. He reflects on his experience and realizes all the things the world recommends are quite meaningless. He also reflects on what he sees in the world, and most of his learning about the best things in life is summed up by Ecclesiastes 8:15.

       15 So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 8:15 (NIV)

       Now, Solomon is not recommending that we all “eat, drink, and be merry” as the world understands it. He’s commending the enjoyment of life, which is really what contentment boils down to. When we’re content in any situation and learn to value God and His ways above all else, we can find true joy in life that will stay with us always.

       The joy of contentment in God can keep us happy and optimistic no matter what happens to us because it’s founded on Him. The eternal power and truth of God can overcome any situation, allowing us to fully enjoy life and realize our blessings even in the worst circumstances. And learning to be content in every situation can give us joy that lasts throughout our entire lives—unlike wealth, which is so uncertain and may not last through tomorrow.

A Strong Tower

       Throughout the Bible, we see a continual reference to God as a strong tower and mighty fortress. He protects those who trust in Him, and His strength overcomes all obstacles. When we are content with God’s provision, blessing, and His gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, we have the ultimate protection from any worldly disaster. Poverty, sickness, economic depressions, death, stock market crashes, natural disasters, job loss—none of them can hurt us because we will always have eternal life in Jesus. Despite what the world says, it just doesn’t matter what happens to us in this life. Nothing can ever separate us from the love of Jesus.

       Do I mean that God will protect us from all these things? Not at all. Terrible things happen to Christians all the time and they really test our faith. But if we weigh the worst tragedy against the fact that we have been saved by Christ, we’ll always see that we are truly blessed. God keeps us safe through all things because He has given us eternal security through Jesus. Wealth can never do that.

   10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower;
   the righteous run to it and are safe.

   11 The wealth of the rich is their fortified city;
   they imagine it an unscalable wall.

Proverbs 18:10-11 (NIV)

       We like to imagine wealth will protect us from all the bad things in life and give us access to all the good things in life. What we don’t realize is that we are just imagining that it can do all those things. Wealth can only protect you so much, and it can only give you the things that the world says are good. But there’s no guarantee that your wealth will be there when you really need it.

       There is only one guarantee, and there’s only one way we can find true safety in life. Trusting in God and finding contentment in what He’s blessed us with—whether little or much—will provide us with a strong tower capable of withstanding anything that might come our way. Contentment in God gives us joy that lasts as long as we live rather than a little pleasure for a fleeting moment.

       The truth is that money and things can never give us the happiness and security we’re seeking. God has already given us all the happiness and joy we could ever need—we just need to look at our lives through His eyes. Once we start doing that, we’ll see how truly rich we already are.

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

January 11, 2009

Personal Finance Bible Study: Contentment (Part 10 of 12) – Practical Applications

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

       Last Sunday, we continued talking about practical applications when we take on God’s View of the World, Money, and our lives. How should we act and what should we do when we take on God’s View and live out His will? We’ll finish that discussion today, and next Sunday we’ll start talking about the results of following God’s teaching on contentment.

       Proverbs has tons of great personal finance advice, but Proverbs 23:4-5 has a very practical application for our lives—especially today.

   4 Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich.
   Be wise enough to know when to quit.

   5 In the blink of an eye wealth disappears,
   for it will sprout wings
   and fly away like an eagle.

Proverbs 23:4-5 (NLT)

       When we look at the world around us, we can see people everywhere wearing themselves out trying to get rich. And how many families have been torn apart because of an obsession with work? How many people have committed suicide because they lost their wealth? We have to be wise enough to know when to quit—when enough is enough.

Bald Eagle by Velo Steve on Flickr       Worldly wealth can be quite fickle. It’s temporary (even if it lasts your entire life), faulty, and can disappear very quickly. I’m sure we all know of cases where money has come and gone quite easily. That’s the problem with worldly wealth. While we think we’ll get security if we have enough of it, the truth is that it’s built on a weak foundation and can’t provide the things we really need. Even if it gets us through our old age, we can’t do much with it once we’re dead.

       This is why Jesus tells us to focus on heavenly treasure and God’s kingdom. Unlike worldly wealth, these things are permanent. They’re built on a foundation stronger than any we’ve ever known. The lasting treasure we pile up in heaven will always provide for us during this life. And when we’ve passed on, we’ll still have all of it. No matter what happens to us, we can never lose the treasure of God’s love living in us. We might not be rich and famous, but will always have the invaluable gift of eternal life.

       Paul mirrors the wisdom of this proverb in his instructions to Timothy for the rich:

       17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NLT)

       Wealth makes it easy for us to become arrogant and stop trusting in God. We gain a false sense of security, because the truth is that worldly wealth is very uncertain. But when we place our trust wholly in God, He provides everything we need. God can give us joy that we can’t get from anything else on Earth. His joy lets us see the true value of things in our life, and His love working through us makes our lives much more valuable than any amount of money ever will.

       Paul’s very practical advice is that we should use money to do good—not to store it up and trust in it. We should focus on doing good things for other people in the service of God. We should be generous and always ready to share. This is the essence of God’s view on contentment—that we should not be obsessed with things or wealth or status, but that we should always be ready to do good, to love others, to share what we have, and to always trust that He will provide everything we need.

       Contentment means that we stop being obsessed with buying that new iPod, but instead we give that money to the hungry.

Give us this day... by Mr. Kris on Flickr

(Click the picture to read about the tragedy of hunger in our world.)

       It means that we drive our old car a little longer, so that we may be able to give clean water to the thirsty.

Woman with child collecting water by hdptcar on Flickr

       It means we live in a smaller home, so that we can provide shelter for those that have no place to stay warm or out of the rain.

Homeless by Henrique Vicente on Flickr

       It means that we stop spending so much time working and pursuing wealth, so that we can spend time building relationships with our family, our friends, our neighbors, complete strangers, and even our enemies.

Relationship by Smile My Day on Flickr

       Fully pursuing contentment means that we totally trust in God for His providence, and we stop worrying about what’s going to happen in the economy.

       And what do we get for all of this? A good foundation of heavenly treasure that lasts for eternity, and the ability to experience true life rather than that illusion of the “good life” that’s fed to us every day. Contentment allows us to live out a true life in Jesus and to fully experience His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

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

January 10, 2009

Weekend Reading: Carnival of Personal Finance #186 – Fairy Tale Edition and Weekly Roundup

Filed under: Random Stuff — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

       My article on The Benefits of Premarital Counseling was included in this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by Clever Dude. He put a lot of work into making this week’s carnival read like a fairy tale instead of a list of links. Take a few minutes to check it out. I’m sure you’ll find some other interesting articles while you’re there!

       In other news, here are some articles from this week that I thought were worth sharing with you:

  • Trent at The Simple Dollar talks about Seven Huge Mistakes He Made During His College Career. I can identify with Trent here. I made some of the same mistakes during college. I could have made much more out of the experience. Take some time to read this if you or someone you know is preparing to go to college. I don’t know if it will help, but it might help some people.
  • Mike at The Oblivious Investor discusses How Portfolio Turnover Affects Mutual Fund Return. He does a great job pointing out the costs of owning a mutual fund with high turnover. It’s a good point to consider if you are investing in mutual funds (though the concept would still apply if you’re purchasing individual stocks – but I wouldn’t recommend that).
  • Wise Bread has some great frugality tips that were very common during the Great Depression. Frugality is a smart choice no matter what the economy looks like, but it’s especially important during hard times. I especially like the motto: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading!

January 8, 2009

Simple Ways to Keep More of Your Money in 2009

Filed under: Budgeting,Insurance,Retirement Planning,Saving Money,Taxes — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

This is a guest post from Trisha Wagner. Please take a minute to check out her bio at the end of this article.

       Did the state of the economy last year leave you wondering what 2009 might have in store for your finances? Are you, like the rest of the world, resolved to make some changes to keep more money safely in your pocket or at least your savings account this year? Here are a few simple, yet successful ways to cut your expenses and save more money in the months ahead.

  • File a new W-4 Form – Are you anticipating a tax refund for 2008? If so, it is time to adjust your withholding to match your tax liability. While it is a natural reaction to look forward to that “lump sum” payment from Uncle Sam, couldn’t you make better use of your money EACH month throughout the year? Locate a withholding calculator online to calculate the correct amount of withholding, and file a new W-4 today.
  • Bump up your retirement contributions – Don’t let the recent months deter you from continuing to contribute to your 401(k) or other tax favorable retirement accounts. 2009 brings increased limits for 401(k) contributions allowing up to $16,500 with an additional $5,500 permitted if you are or will be 50 or older by the end of the year. If you can’t or don’t want to contribute the maximum amount you should contribute at least enough to kick in the employer match.
  • Open an online savings account – With so many banking options available to you today, take a few moments and research the options available online. In some cases you can open a savings account with just $1 with no monthly fees or minimum balance requirements. While you are at it, set up a direct transfer from your checking account so that you don’t even have to “think” about saving money since it will be automatically deducted into your savings account. Remember, if you do an automatic transfer from your bank account you will need to mark the deductions accordingly to avoid mistakes that can lead to costly overdraft fees.
  • Raise your insurance deductibles – This tip is fairly straight forward—raise your deductibles on your auto and home owners insurance and see a reduction in your yearly premium putting money back in your pocket. [Paul says: This is a great tip, but make sure you have enough in savings to cover the increased deductible.]
  • Get a grip on your spending – If you still do not have a budget in place for your household finances, you really have to get on the ball to see savings in the new year. This advice has been told over and over again from all financial mediums, yet I’ve spoken to people who really don’t have any idea how much money they have or where it is going. You simply cannot cut costs if you don’t know where your dollars are going in the first place. Fortunately there are many online tools available that can calculate your spending for you making it easier to see where you can begin to cut back to save some cash.
  • Ditch your debt – This is great advice any time of year, but especially important during a rough economy. Credit card companies are tightening the reins on available credit and increasing the penalties for any transgression such as going over your credit limit or paying late. If you have previously faltered on your goal to reduce your debt now is the time to re-focus and implement an aggressive plan to get out of debt.

Trisha Wagner is a freelance writer for DestroyDebt.com, a debt community featuring debt forums. Trisha writes regularly on the topics of getting out of debt and personal finance.

January 4, 2009

Personal Finance Bible Study: Contentment (Part 9 of 12) – Practical Applications

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

       Last Sunday, we continued talking about practical applications when we take on God’s View of the World, Money, and our lives. How should we act and what should we do when we take on God’s View and live out His will? We’re still continuing that discussion today.

       How does God want us to deal with our circumstances? Paul provides us with some insight in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

       16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

       I’ve talked about 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 before, so I won’t go into as much depth here. This passage clearly sets out God’s expectations for how we should live, regardless of our circumstances. We are to always be joyful, pray continually, and give thanks no matter what. God wants our lives focused on the Gift He has given us, becoming closer to Him, and enjoying the good things He has blessed us with. There’s no room for greed or materialism when our hearts are focused on those things. That’s God’s will for us—that we’re focused on Him instead of this world.

       So we know by now we shouldn’t be focused on material things or amassing great wealth, but we still have needs while we’re living on Earth. What should we ask God for, and how much of it should we request? Agur gives us some good guidelines in Proverbs 30:8-9.

     8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
     give me neither poverty nor riches,
     but give me only my daily bread.

     9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
     and say, ‘Who is the LORD ‘
     Or I may become poor and steal,
     and so dishonor the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:8-9 (NIV)

Our Daily Bread by ms. Tea on Flickr       Agur asks God for his daily bread—just enough. If we have too much, we become inclined to believe we did it all ourselves and begin to deny even the existence of God. It is very easy to start relying on our wealth more than we rely on God. We get too focused on our material well-being and no longer see the need for God in our lives, so we disown Him and pretend He doesn’t exist. On the other hand, if we have too little we may become inclined to steal. This would dishonor God because it is sin—against God for not trusting in Him and against our neighbors for not loving them.

       This idea of our daily bread should be quite familiar to most Christians. It’s part of the Lord’s Prayer—Jesus’ example of how we ought to pray and where our hearts should be focused when we pray. Jesus wanted us to realize that this request for our daily bread is important. Asking God for just enough, being modest and content, and not letting materialism rule our lives—these are the things that allow us to honor God sincerely in our lives. It is such an important concept that Jesus included it in His example for prayer (not to mention all the time He spent telling parables and teaching about contentment and a focus on heavenly treasures).

       We see two main practical applications here. First, we should be content with our circumstances because it is God’s will for our lives. If we’re focused on the gift of eternal salvation, we don’t have to be as worried about the things of this world. We’re free to be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. Second, we should be asking God for just enough to get by each day—not for millions of dollars, or a huge house, or a BMW—just our daily bread. We bring nothing into this world, and we won’t take anything out when we leave it. This is why Paul says we should be content if we have food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8). That’s all we really need to get by (though a warm shelter is nice as well, it’s not completely necessary). When we start worrying about getting more than that, we take our focus off of God and put it back onto the World. And that’s a sure way to keep ourselves from fully serving God.

Note: I do not mean that we should completely neglect our material needs, but it’s all about where our hearts are focused. Wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be also. So if you’re consumed with thinking about material things and wealth, your heart can’t really belong to God. That’s the only true sin, because once God gets your heart He’ll get everything else with it. It’s all He really needs from us—and that’s why it’s so vitally important that we don’t give our hearts to materialism.

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

January 1, 2009

Personal Finance in the Bible: Contentment and Giving

Filed under: Contentment,Giving,Personal Finance in the Bible — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 6:10 pm

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       This is just a quick update to let you know that I have added all the verses I’ve found on Contentment and Giving in the Bible. You can find them on the Personal Finance in the Bible page. Just scroll down and click on either category to see the sub-categories. Then click on any of those to see the list of verses along with my short summary. Click the Scripture reference if you’d like to read the verse (opens in a new window).

       I’ll be adding verses about Prudence next. (I might call it Wisdom instead.) So far, I found 81 Scripture references about Contentment, which contain 278 verses. I’ve found 99 Scripture references about Giving, which contain 282 verses. That brings us to 180 Scripture references containing a total of 560 verses about personal finance—and that’s only for Contentment and Giving! It’s obvious there’s a lot in the Bible about personal finance, which is why I feel strongly called to keep working on this and share it with other Christians. God must be trying to tell us to pay attention if advice and guidelines about personal finance are mentioned so much in the Bible. In fact, there’s a very good reason:

       13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
       14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

Luke 16:13-15 (NIV)

December 29, 2008

Stop Driving Through Personal Finance Fog

Filed under: Goals,The Basics — Paul Williams @ Crackerjack Greenback @ 4:00 am

Through the thick fog. by redjar on Flickr       I had to drive through some thick fog Saturday night on my way to visit some friends. I realized I hate driving in fog (especially at night). Why is it so bad? Simply because you can’t see what’s ahead of you. It’s difficult to prepare for obstacles in the road, and you can’t see the potholes until you’ve already hit them.

       Trying to manage your finances without a good plan is a lot like driving in thick fog. If you don’t have a budget and track your spending, it can be very easy to spend too much money and forget about irregular expenses. If you don’t set specific goals for yourself, you have no destination. You’ll end up wherever the road happens to take you. While that can make for an exciting road trip, it’s not really the kind of thrill you want to have in your personal finances. Without a budget and clear goals, you can’t prepare very well for the obstacles ahead and you’ll often hit some big potholes that can send your finances reeling.

       Want to improve your finances next year? Focus on the basics first. Set some clear and specific goals, and figure out a realistic budget you can stick to. Then track your spending using whatever method works best for you. (The next logical step would be to build up an emergency fund. It’ll make smooth driving of those potholes I mentioned earlier.)

       These are not exceptionally difficult steps to take, but they do require time and commitment. Dedicate yourself to setting your financial goals, making a budget, and sticking to it. And stop driving through the fog!

December 28, 2008

Personal Finance Bible Study: Contentment (Part 8 of 12) – Practical Applications

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

       Last Sunday, we started talking about practical applications when we take on God’s View of the World, Money, and our lives. How should we act and what should we do when we take on God’s View and live out His will? We’re continuing that discussion today.

       Without God’s View, we tend to worry—a lot. Even after we begin to fully follow Him, we still worry. Why do we worry? Because we haven’t begun to rely on God and trust in His goodness. But in Luke 12:22-31, Jesus tells us not to worry about worldly cares:

Do Not Worry

       22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

       27 “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12:22-31 (NIV)

This passage is also found in Matthew 6:25-34.

Lily by Per Ola Wiberg (Powi) on Flickr       We can spend a lot of time worrying about the what-ifs in our life. What if I lose my job? What if I get a terminal illness? What if I can’t retire? What if I die? But do we help anything by fretting over these things that may never happen? Even if they do happen, is there anything we can do to stop them from happening? In truth, there’s little good that can come from worrying, so why do it?

       Instead of worrying about all possible future disasters, we should be focused on only one thing: seeking God’s kingdom. God knows what our needs are, and He will take care of us. Once we begin to rely on God and trust in His goodness, we can allow Him to provide the things we need. But until we let God change our hearts so we can fully trust Him, we will be so preoccupied with worry that we won’t be able to seek His kingdom and see His blessings in our lives.

       Does this mean we shouldn’t plan ahead for anything, or that we shouldn’t save for emergencies? Not at all. But it does mean that we shouldn’t be so worried about the cares of this life that we’re prevented from fully pursuing God’s kingdom. We should be so intently focused on serving God and serving others that our worldly needs rarely cross our minds.

       Once we fully trust in God’s providence, we can begin to see that we have nothing to fear in this life. There are no worries to concern ourselves with when we’re fully resting in the Father’s arms.

       5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
   “Never will I leave you;
   never will I forsake you.” 6 So we say with confidence,
   “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
   What can man do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6 (NIV)

       God has promised that He will never leave or forsake us. He is always there to help us, and He always will be. We may not always understand how He’s working in our lives, and we may not see Him when He’s by our side. But He has promised that He will always take care of us. With a promise like that from the Creator of the entire universe, what do we really have to fear? What can we possibly worry about? God is in charge, and He’s taking care of everything for us.

       So how do we use this practically? Realize that once you fully submit yourself to God and His will for your life, He will take care of all your needs. Plan for what you know (like retirement and random emergencies). Take control of the things you can actually control (like your spending and attitude, not the economy or the government). And leave the rest to God. If you belong to God, what can happen to you in this life that can ruin you forever? Even death has no power, because once you die you’ll be with God for eternity. The presence of God is the only thing we need ever concern ourselves with in this life.

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

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