Listen to Me

Remember Darla?  She married Quasimodo, who is one of those people who is good at everything.  He always wants to compete in as many things as possible and doesn’t understand why nobody else wants to join in.  It’s because he’s the only one in the group who would be good at it.  It’s so miserably annoying.  I honestly don’t know what she see’s in him.

Just kidding.  He’s alright.  He’s actually one of my best friends, that Quasimodo, and it’s his fault I even started a blog.  So… he can stay, I guess.

Now, Quasimodo got his first credit card when he was in college, an acquisition I do not recommend at all under any circumstances.  His thoughts upon acquiring this devil tool?  I can golf whenever I want.  I can eat Wendy’s every day.

He, like the stereotypical credit card getter, ended up accumulating a very significant amount of debt.  He has grown up since then (sort of), but this type of behavior transcends age, gender, race, social class, and education.

Sort of like the black plague.

As I’ve said before, there is one way and one way only to use a credit card.  I cannot stress the importance of doing exactly as I say in every single category listed below.  I know many experts would say to never get a credit card.  I was once on board with them, and I still agree to some extent.  It is safer to not get one, period.  But there is a way to do it.  It is just imperative that you LISTEN TO ME!

Smokin’ Hot Wife and I made it through our debt without a credit card.  We built up my credit without a credit card.  We bought two different vehicles and got excellent interest rates without a credit card.  We bought a house and got an excellent interest rate without a credit card.

Nobody needs a credit card.  You can do without it and be just fine.  More than fine.  You can be better off than most.

I’m not telling you to get a credit card.  I’m telling you how to use it if you get it.

Before I begin, an important Disclaimer:  If you are currently in debt, do not get a credit card.  If you currently hold other credit cards with a balance on them, do not get another credit card.  Pay them off, cut them up, start over if you must.  Do not let the world’s way sweep you off your feet and drown you in it’s pictures of wealth and prosperity that only lead to ruin.

1.  REWARDS

If you don’t already know, rewards, or points, are accumulated according to how much money you charge to your credit card.  Your points can then be used in place of money on later purchases.  Ours converts 100 points to 1 US dollar, or more in certain situations.  For instance, if we use our credit card towards travel expenses, 100 points is like 1.5 US dollars.  But it never drops below 100p=$1.  AND, if you want to, you can shop for different things through the credit card’s website and find products that will reward you greater than they would in store or elsewhere online.  Pretty neat.

There is no point in getting a credit card that does not offer rewards (Yea, I know.  Raise your credit, blah blah blah.  Gold Credit, Green Credit…).  If you have a card now that doesn’t offer rewards (I don’t even know if they exist), pay it off and shred it.  It’s useless.

Shredder.

There are many rewards cards out there; you can search for which one best suits you.  If you travel often, get one that offers double points on travel, etc.  We got the exact one Quasimodo has (he’s now free from credit card debt) because I didn’t feel like searching for the “right” one.  And he got like 10,000 points/100 dollars just for referring us through email.  Kinda selfish.

Most of these rewards cards will have an annual fee, but the first year is normally free, and if you do it right, you can just use your points to cover the yearly fee and never have to pay a dime.

Well, you will.  But they will be free dimes that you got from your rewards.

If you listen to me, you will receive free money from your credit card.  Actual.  Free.  Money.

2.  DON’T SPEND WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE

You’re familiar with using your debit card for every purchase.  It’s the only card you have in your wallet, and you wouldn’t dream of over-drafting your bank account.

What?  You still carry cash?  I don’t believe you.

Keep that mindset when using your credit card.  You’re already budgeting (if you aren’t, you need to get the eBook; it’s on my website; just do it).  You have a limit on what you can spend every day or every week.  Don’t lose that mentality just because you get a credit card with a $5000 limit.  DO NOT SPEND UNLESS YOU HAVE THE MONEY IN YOUR BANK ACCOUNT!!  That $5000 limit doesn’t mean you all of a sudden have $5000.

If you don’t listen to me here, I will be angry with you.  If you do not use a credit card my way, you are losing.  My way is proven.  Listen to me.  Your credit card isn’t with you so that you can go buy whatever you want.  You have it so that you can obtain a little bit of free money and raise your credit WITHOUT adding to your debt.

The way your credit card provider wants you to use your credit card is NOT the way you need to do so.  Listen to me.

I don’t think I’m making myself clear enough.  If you only had a debit card last week, and you were scared to spend $100 throughout the week, be equally fearful of spending $100 this week even if you have a new credit card.  You do not have free money just because you have a credit card.  Listen to me.

Home Slice, you have to pay that money back.  And just in case you weren’t paying attention when you signed up for it, you have to pay it back plus 25% interest.  No, I’m not exaggerating.  And they’ll make your minimum payment low enough to make you think you’re doing just fine.  Nope.

If I haven’t already told you, if you pay your credit card bills the way the credit card giver wants you to, you’ll never pay it off.  They know that.  They don’t care.

Oh, you have a family?  They don’t care.  You’re behind on bills?  They don’t care.  You didn’t realize what that $5000 limit was?  They don’t care.

They.  Do.  Not.  Care.

Listen to me.  If you miss this point (point #2: don’t spend what you don’t have), just don’t get a credit card.  Ever.  And, please, don’t associate your recklessness with Screw Debt.  I don’t need a bad reputation.  Let me actually have a reputation before there’s a chance to ruin it.

3.  DEFINE EMERGENCY

Unfortunately, many a person will consider an emergency as a new dress or golf club set that’s on sale.  Terrible, terrible ideas…

How you gonna play golf in a dress?

Even a doctor bill or a trip to the ER isn’t an emergency, monetarily speaking.  Hospitals set up payment plans like it’s going out of style these days.  AND THERE’S NO INTEREST!

Don’t use a credit card for an emergency.  I’ve found that the best place for an emergency fund is a simple, fluid account of some sort.  Yes, I know they don’t always accrue you a bunch of interest.  Yes, I know you want to invest.  Blah blah blah.

How much money are you saving?  If you have 50 thousand dollars, go for it.  But why the heck are you reading this?  If you invest $3000….. I mean do whatever you want with that, but it isn’t worth the effort.  That 3 grand is tied up; you can’t retrieve it whenever you want, and I doubt your return is as much as you think it is.

But what do I know?

Your savings account isn’t there for getting rich.  It’s there to be safe and ensure that you have money for a true emergency.  I realize that there are better options than a regular savings account, and that’s fine.  Use it.  But make sure your money is fluid and that there is no risk involved.  I’m not telling you not to invest.  Just don’t invest every penny you have and not be able to grab some when you need it.

I’ve heard some money folks say it’s good to have 3 months of whatever it takes to live for 3 months saved up for an emergency fund.

Well… I’m not so sure how doable that is.  That’s a pretty significant amount of dollars for most people.  If you or you and your other have steady careers, and you know exactly what your income is and how much it takes to live month to month, then I can understand this method.

But if you’re like me and my wife, who do not have guaranteed money and were once at a point where our savings account had $5 in it because that’s what was required to open one, this method certainly isn’t a set in stone approach.  Gotta get creative.  Discuss and determine how much you need for an emergency fund, and decide what  a true emergency is.

For those of you keeping count at home, I’ll offer my own definition of an emergency:

A payment for myself or an immediate family member that MUST be paid in full and at once to avoid any and all types of interest or late penalties.

You’re welcome.

4.  USE IT EVERY DAY

Again, this credit card is your new debit card.  Use it for everything.  You may not ever need to use your debit card again.  In our case, our stupid credit union requires a whole bunch of stupid stuff every month in order to not have a $5 fee charged to us for using their debit card.

Most people don’t have that issue, and we will change our situation soon.  We have to use our debit cards at least 10 times per month.  It used to be 5.  Apparently it changed to 10 without me knowing about it.  There’s a way around it.  We just use them on purchases that are less than $5, but it would just be so much easier to only use one card at all times and not have to think about it.  If you are in the same boat, follow our method if you must.  Just beat the system.

Otherwise, just use your credit card.  They have chips these days which protect from identity theft more efficiently, they look cool, and they fit perfectly in your wallet.  Crazy, right?  Who knew?

5.  PAY IT OFF EVERY WEEK

Every week? you ask?

Yes.  Every week.  Or at least regularly and more than once a month.  There is a grace period of at least 21 days from the time you make a purchase on your credit card until it begins to accrue interest.  But we will NEVER ACCRUE INTEREST ON OUR CREDIT CARDS.

I will deny you as a follower and swear that I never knew you if you don’t listen to me.  You have my permission to make a payment every 2 weeks, but no longer.

Every Friday morning I pay off my credit card’s CURRENT BALANCE which will be everything I spent money on the past week less a few pending transactions.  Those will be paid off the following Friday.

Got that?  Every Friday morning, before work, pay off current balance.  Not minimum due.  Not other amount.  CURRENT BALANCE.  If you do this, you will not pay a penny in interest.  You also won’t overdraft because you didn’t use your credit card this week without having the funds in your bank account, right?

right? right? RIGHT!?!?

I’m telling you, people.  Do as I say.  Do it.

6.  USE YOUR POINTS

We’ve had our credit cards for such a short amount of time that we have not used our points.  But we certainly intend to.

You can do it however you like, rack them up and pay your bills for a month once a year, use them once a week on a meal out, use them for a new dress to play golf in, whatever you want.

There’s just no point in accumulating rewards if you aren’t going to use them.

The card we got actually allows the rewards to increase in value when used for travel.  So we intend to use it for trips that we haven’t taken in a while.  Fifth anniversary?  Credit card points.  Boom.

Also, don’t forget that you can also cash in your points and they’ll send you a check.  Mmm.  That sounds good.  I’ll have that.


Debit cards are sooo 2012.  All the cool kids are getting credit cards.  But they ain’t cool unless they win.  And they don’t win unless they

Listen.

To.

Me.

Do not conform.

Generous Living

Sympathy doesn’t exist anymore.  Instead, a “quit your whining” attitude is prevalent.

What happens when somebody vents about school?  About work? About taxes?  About their kids?  We don’t offer encouragement anymore.  Instead, we criticize.

Phrases like Oh, you just wait until… and You have no idea how easy you have it… or That’s the real world for you… are inserted into the conversation when they weren’t even asking for input.

Grandfather:  When I was your age, we had to walk to school bare-footed, uphill both ways in the snow!

Grandson:  …I said I was hungry…

One time I was searching online for any possible way to make $200.  In a hurry.  I was desperate.  I knew my parents didn’t have it, and even if they did, I was adamantly not taking that route.  I didn’t have a job, I was in school, and my refund check was a few weeks away.

The feeling that I recall the most is one of hopelessness.  I tried not to think myself pitiful, but pity overwhelmed me.  I didn’t like it, I certainly didn’t want anyone to know or feel sorry for me, and I was constantly questioning why God wouldn’t just help me and get me out of a hole.  I prayed the whole How long will You hide Your face from me? prayer.

What lesson could I possibly learn from this?  Patience?  I can’t tell the landlord to be patient.  I can’t tell the power company to be patient.  I can’t tell my car to hang on just another second before running out of gas.  What are You telling me?  I need money yesterday.

For the longest time I looked back on those days and wondered why in the world I had to deal with it.  And out of nowhere and all of a sudden, the purpose was revealed to me:

sympathy

Or empathy.  I don’t really know the difference.  I think sympathy means that I can relate because I’ve been there.  And empathy means to imagine yourself in a certain situation.  Both are good.  But the one I’m talking about is relating to a situation that you’ve been in before.

I hate looking back on those days.  I really do.  I do not like to dwell unless the moment was friendly, and I never want to be in such a situation again for as long as I live.

But someone else will be, regardless of how well-off I am.

Why, especially if I am able to relate to these guys, would I speak to them in a way that suggests they’re alone and weak for not pulling themselves together and just dealing with it?

Why, if I have been through the same crap, would I not offer up encouragement?

Why, if I have the proper resources available, would I not offer some relief?

People have either forgotten, or never knew, how to mourn with those who mourn, how to sympathize!

We all need to take a lesson from my grandmother.  I’m from Alabama, so she’s actually Grandmama.  And she believes that I and my brothers and cousins can do no wrong.  We are perfect “sweet angel boys” in her eyes (and one girl).

Rarely am I able to spend time one-on-one with Grandmama, but when I do I tend to whine and complain about whatever’s going on in my little world.  And she just soaks it all up.  Not once does she say you need to get over it.  Not once does she say just wait until this happens.  Not once does she try to compare her hard times with mine, even though hers were way worse.  Why?  Because she’s been there.  She knows how to sympathize.

Now, I want to take a stand against this apathetic world and present a solution.  We’ve all been through some stuff.  There’s no need to use that stuff to compare and accuse and say You think that’s bad?  You have no idea what I had to deal with.  Instead, offer up your advice.  Offer up your wisdom, your knowledge, your solutions and results.

I know there are many circumstances out there that I don’t know about and I’ll never know about and I’m just an idiot for treading where I’m completely ignorant.

Fine.  I’ll stick with what I know, and since this is a money blog and I’m the author…

Offer up your money.

Why?  Because your feelings, your heart, your intent, and your words mean nothing unless they’re backed by your actions.  And while there are many different resources that we possess that can be useful, money tends to be high on the charts.

CHURCH

In recent years, I hated church.  I got so sick and tired of pastors and preachers asking for money and using it on themselves.  Churches wanted to spend on junk that I thought was a waste of time and money.  They also didn’t have the funds necessary to pay for such nonsense.  They were all in debt and relied on the people of their congregations to “do their part.”  I couldn’t handle it.

I actually studied the tithe myself so that I could get a better Biblical picture of how it was supposed to be used.  Malachi 3:10 was all that churches would use to justify their seduction, and I knew there had to be more to it than that.

I searched for and found significant information that I didn’t know existed.  I used it to form my own opinions about how the church should go about asking for, receiving, and spending money.

I’m not a Bible scholar by any means.  I have no training in Greek or Hebrew or exegetical methods.  I am a simple-minded dingbat with very little knowledge of things beyond the written English translations.  I don’t know anything.

I used the Law of First Mention (what I thought was Abram and Melchizidek), I read all about the Levitical Priests (all throughout Numbers and Leviticus), and I knew all about how Jesus was supposed to have taken the place of those priests in all areas (somewhere in Hebrews).

For these reasons,

Malachi 3:10 just raised too many questions for me.

For starters, what is the storehouse?  Does it apply now?  Are these church buildings the storehouse?  Surely not.  Would the storehouse today be anything that could further the Kingdom of God?

Then, what do I tithe now?  Didn’t it mean crops and produce of the field back in Old Testament times?  What if I don’t have money?  What if I can’t afford to tithe?

And I sought council with men I trusted who I still do believe were in no way trying to lead me astray.

The response was always the same:

Whatever you give up that is over 10% is considered an offering.  Not a tithe.  And your tithe needs to go to your church where you are fed the most.

Well, what if I didn’t have a church?  And even if I do, where is that money going?  It seems like it needs to go to Jesus.  Will it go to pay a person’s salary?  To the new gym they want to build?  What about to missions?  What about to the family down the street who has no running water?  How much money is this church giving away?  10%?  10% of the 10% I gave you would be 1%.  I want 100% of the 10% I gave to make a difference somewhere.

However, I listened.

The first time I decided to tithe was in 2009 when I had a summer job making $7.25 an hour as pretty much a janitor at a middle school working about 20 hours a week.

I didn’t decide until after my first few checks that I should probably be setting aside some money for tithing, so I had to backtrack and figure up what I should have given to begin with.  I added it all up and gave it.  I did this purely out of a sense of obligation.

Then, I realized I messed up and had given way more than 10 percent and I was back to broke when I didn’t need to be.

Before I got married I didn’t want to tithe or give money at all because we seriously did not have a lot of it.  But Smokin’ Hot Wife didn’t like that idea and said we would always give at least 10%.

You got it, Babe.

But the “compromise” was that we would rarely, if ever, give to a church due the reasons listed above.  We would give it to whoever and wherever we thought could make the biggest impact for the Kingdom of God.  Truly, my intentions were pure.  And I really believe God honored it.

THE SPIRIT OF GIVING

I never thought I was wrong in my studies.  I still don’t think I’m completely wrong.  I mean, I’m a below-average nobody and made a Biblical argument.

But the reasons I went about it were wrong; my heart was wrong, and that, I fear, is more harmful than anything.  The best way to sum it up is this:

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

I sought information about tithing only and failed to focus on the heart of why God was asking for it in the first place.  Ten percent, I thought, was the Biblical theme.  But as I learned much later than I wanted to, the true theme is of our first-fruits and cheerfulness.

This was a point I was missing terribly.

I was giving ten percent of my horrendous income to a church I didn’t even like, who brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars every year with nothing to show for it but a large, cathedral, family-owned and operated business.  I didn’t give because I thought it would please God.  I gave because I thought I could be scolded by men I respected if I didn’t, or because I thought I had to in order to ever be financially stable, or simply because I thought it was just supposed to be done.

Months — maybe years — later, when I learned of the true joy of giving, did I learn what Jesus really wanted us to do:  give freely.

And, sure, I think He did ask that we give up that first portion so that we can declare that God is more than all the riches we could ever hope to gain.  Can it be both?  Obligatory giving does not please God, but setting aside the first-fruits of our labor, knowing that the days of our vaporous specks of life are numbered, will fan into flame a joy-filled way of giving that was intended from the start of all things.

SPIRIT OF MAMMON

When Jesus said You cannot serve both God and money, what he actually said was God and Mammon.  Mammon is the love of money or the spirit of money.  Many read this and think money is evil, but it wasn’t meant that way.

I hate that we need money.  Really.  I wish it wasn’t a thing.  But it isn’t evil.  The whole concept of trading and bartering would exist whether we had a special currency or not.  It isn’t money that is evil but the spirit that rests on it that most (all) of us have experienced at one point or another.

This is what we cannot serve while serving God.  It is impossible.  We either consciously or subconsciously denounce one and serve the other.  The pull of Mammon manifests itself in many ways and will do so in any way to keep our eyes from being fixed on Christ.  This spirit is the opposite of how Paul described how we should give, freely and cheerfully.

Personally, I feel the pull of Mammon pretty regularly.  If work is slow or someone in my family is sick, I completely forget about the Sole Provider, and I focus on ways that can make things right.  I seek monetary solutions.  I even find security in my bank account.  If I could just have this much money, we’d never had to worry.

In doing so, I do not serve God;  I serve Mammon.

PERCENTAGE GIVING

Each one must give what he has decided in his heart.

This means that we should not be irresponsible in giving!  Crazy turn of events, right?  Now, I’m telling some not to give?

Well, in a way, yes.  The Spirit will nudge you now and again to give where you hadn’t planned, but as far as your first-fruits of labor are concerned, plan ahead as to what percentage you will give.

Honestly, I think it’s important that we do not dwell too heavily on 10%.  It is a good marker, and it is, in most cases, very doable.  But I do understand that it isn’t always possible.  I know a wonderful older couple, the same guy who told me Life is hard, then you die, who did not tithe in their young marriage because they couldn’t afford it.  They kept up with all that they owed and gave it when they got it.  The most important thing to understand is that God does not call down curses on the non-givers.  He is gracious, slow to anger, perfect in mercy, all that good stuff.

If He cursed those who didn’t give, why are there millionaires and billionaires around the world who publicly deny the existence of Him?!

Instead, He searches and knows the heart, and if your heart joyfully gives the only 2% that you can afford to give, how much more is your reward than that of the indignant giver of 10 percent!

(Now, if you can give 10%, give it.  Or more.  You’ll thank me one day)

When I got a new job, we bumped our giving percentage up to 11%.  When I finished my training months and started being paid on a per job basis, we went up to 12%.  When Smokin’ Hot Wife got a raise, 13%.  When we were out of debt, 14%.  Different situations allowed us to raise up the amount of money we were able to give.

As of this writing, we set aside 16% of our total income every month to be given in some way, and we really want to give more.

If you are adamant about 10% going to the church, that’s fine, but the best part about raising your percentage is that you now have  the ability to be creative with and help out families that are in need or are trying to make an impact across the world.

For the longest time, we gave to a family who spent all of their time helping children with cancer or to friends in Guatemala who started an orphanage from nothing!  If it wasn’t to them, we would search for a need and try to meet it.  It could be a family need, a friend need, or we’d have to search for a friend of a friend and keep it completely anonymous.

We always found someone or something to give to.

I don’t want you to follow my methods.  I want you to be convicted by the Holy Spirit and mediate on 2 Corinthians 9:7.

So raise it as you will.  Try not to ever lower it.  We haven’t lowered yet.  I hope we never do, but we have been able to avoid it by raising very gradually over time.  I wish I could just throw it on up to 30%, 50%, 80%, but that wouldn’t be wise at this time.

Remember, if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than the unbeliever.

Set a percentage, and make it your very first priority.

CHURCH OF THE HIGHLANDS

Let me be clear; I’m not telling you to shun the Church.  Good churches do exist, and there are leaders who are certainly capable of being responsible stewards.

It took 3 years for the likeness to grow into what it is now, but I LOVE Church of the Highlands, and I’ll promote them for as long as they continue in their ways.

The first characteristic that drew me in was the authenticity of Chris Hodges.  This is a 40,000 member church, so at this point in time, he doesn’t know me and I don’t know him personally.  But his demeanor screamed REAL from the very first time I attended.  And there isn’t much I appreciate more than an authentic person.

But the other thing that drew me in was the way that they deal with money.  Remember, I hated giving money to churches.  This church is not in debt.  AT ALL.  They are extremely cautious and they dream big, they do not purchase anything unless they have the cash readily available to do so, they disclose every single piece of financial information to the public, and they give MILLIONS of dollars away every year.

The 10% to your church is tithe + anything over that is a special offering method that I hated so much has even been used by us at times because of this church.  I don’t want them to change anything about what they do or how they do it.  They give away more money and impact more people than I could ever hope to dream of in a hundred lifetimes.  I have no problem with 10% of my income helping them function.

THE BENEFICIARY

1.  What do I gain from you giving?

Nothing.

That should make it at least a little bit more interesting for readers.  Why would I go through the trouble of advising you to live generously when I receive no benefit?

Exactly.  That’s the point.  Unless you give it to me, I don’t benefit.  And I’m not in need, so I couldn’t accept it from you.  Therefore, I don’t benefit!

2.  What does God benefit from you giving?

Throughout the scriptures, man and God are in conversation, and, in many cases, man pleads with God for mercy, forgiveness, guidance, deliverance, etc. all for His name’s sake (Psalms 23, 25, 31…. many more).

Obviously, God doesn’t need money.   What would he do with it?  Buy a boat?  An army?  A palace?  A gel pen?  He could at any moment do whatever he wanted to do and not need a single human hand included, not a finger lifted.  So why does he ask it of us?

Because He is a relational God who wants us to be His hands and feet.  No, He doesn’t need us.  He wants us.  He also wants us to live freely and to give freely.  He knows that once you give, you are the true beneficiary, which brings me to the next point.

3.  What do you benefit from giving?

It tends to be a tricky question, because the whole purpose of our giving is to be selfless.  But anyone who does it can tell you it’s just wonderful, and it goes well beyond a sense of accomplishment or a look at me attitude.

God asked for the first tenth in the law, yes.  But the pattern that I notice in the Bible is that He desires mercy, not sacrifice.

Now, when we take that first percentage and set it aside mercifully instead of sacrificially, the spirit of Mammon is bound and no longer has any hold on us.  A declaration is made that we trust in God for our provisions, and we do not need these worldly goods in order to receive peace and joy.  We are denouncing the hold of the love of money on our thoughts and minds.

We are free.  Do not conform.