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Do you have more or less than enough?

“There are two ways to get enough;

one is to continue to accumulate more and more.

The other is to desire less.”

G.K. Chesterton

More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger is an excellent resource to learn about the numerous ways we can live a generous lifestyle.  In this quick and moving book, Mr. Shinabarger helps to challenge our American lifestyle in a non-threatening, but compelling way to move us to realize our excess and to inspire us to give our excess to those in need.  The author challenges the reader to evaluate their lifestyle and determine if they have more or less than enough.  After we make that personal decision, he challenges us to give out of those areas that are more than enough.

Some of the important resources he uses to help us realize how much the Lord has blessed us is introducing readers to the Live Below the Line Challenge, Global Rich List, and his “You might be rich if…” series.

Finally, he defines a person committed to a generous lifestyle as being:

  • “Generous People Have Possessions They Own but Rarely View Them as Only Theirs to Own.”

  • “Generous People Never Speak about Their Generosity, but Others Do.”

  • “Generous People Are Thankful People.”

More or Less is especially good book to read with a small group.  The multiple ideas and challenges he provides would be important for a family or small group to discuss and adapt.  Pick up a copy today and let’s start living a more generous lifestyle today.

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CALL TO ACTION:

How does this book impact you? What do gain from this book?

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Helpful Resources:

The Story of Stuff Book Discussion Guide

Giving Generously Wiki

Giving More Discussion Group

 

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Living #BelowTheLine

For the past week, my family and I have “Lived Below The Line.”  It was very meaningful and powerful experience.  This experience was recommended by the people at The Global Poverty Project.  Their mission is to see extreme poverty eliminated by 2030.  One way they created to help people to understand the problem this world faces with poverty is to challenge people to live “below the line” of poverty for one week.  Living below the line of poverty amounts to about $1.50 a person per day.  The campaign consists of donating the money you would have spent on food that week to their organization and to encourage your social networks to donate as well in order to help The Global Poverty Project fight extreme poverty.

This week of living below the line helped me to experience the following meaningful and powerful reactions and revelations.  Eating only $1.50 a day meant:

An appreciation of the food choices in a first-world country.

Living on only $1.50 a day means no juicy hamburgers or a convenient soda when I need a pick me up.  My family and I had to be very smart on what exactly fit into such a small budget.  We mostly ate rice, beans, oat meal, and cheap vegetables.  Living below the line helped us realize that those in extreme poverty had a significant loss of choices to their diet.  It gave us a great appreciation of the blessings and choices God has provided us by living in a first-world country.

A sensitivity to the term “I’m starving.”

I’ve been known in the past to have complained that “I’m starving.”  The term is used my many people and children in our first-world country signifying that our bellies are feeling a bit empty.  However, living on only $1.50 a day has given me a new appreciation and sensitivity to that term.  Given my lifestyle and built up reserves in my body, we are in no way in threat of starvation.  It is surprising how resilient the body is when it is given a reduced calorific diet.  From this experience, I will no longer allow myself or my children use that term, because we understand it is a slap in the face to those in extreme poverty who really are starving.

An admiration for the vitality of unskilled labor.

I work in an office exerting very minimal calories every day.  While living on $1.50 a day I noticed many times throughout this week where I was tired and sluggish.  I could not imagine eating so little and still having to work a physically demanding job that so many in extreme poverty are forced to do.  This week gave me a true admiration for the discipline of these people who work physically hard day after day in possibly hot climates, while on such a reduced calorie intake.  No wonder, in some cultures it is normal to take a “siesta”.  It takes a lot out of you doing real work with so little to eat.  Your body naturally shuts down and goes to sleep.  These people are not lazy, they are literally exhausted.  This was such a revelation to me and my previous first-world world-view.

During this past week of living on only $1.50 a day, I experienced a rush of emotional and physical states.  Here is a small list of things I experienced a some point during this diet:

  • grumpiness
  • hunger
  • tiredness
  • sleepiness
  • loss of sexual appetite

Overall, this week of “Living Below The Line” was meaningful and powerful experience.  It truly gave us a real appreciation for all that we have and a true desire to assist those in need.  I can’t imagine people living like this all day, everyday.   What little I can do, as one family, I will strive to do to assist those in extreme poverty.

I will continue to learn to Give More, Save More, and Spend Less.

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CALL TO ACTION:

Will you take the Live Below the Line Challenge?  Will you help eliminate extreme poverty?  Go to Live Below The Line to learn more.

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Helpful Resources:

Anti-Consumerism Group Discussion Guide

Keeping Pace Debt Prevention Group

What Would Jesus Buy? Movie Discussion Guide

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Like my Grandma always said…

A couple days ago, my friend and I were discussing the topics of government benefits, pension plans, and personal responsibility.  We had a deep discussion trying to determine if certain government benefits were a ‘right’, or if they could be modified or eliminated based on political or economic necessity.  Either way we discussed those issues, we found that it would affect people’s normal, expected American lifestyle.  His final comment to changes in government benefits resulted in the line, “Like my grandma always said,’it is God that provides, not us.

I thought that was a great comment, but also the beginning of a related conversation that I responded in an email as quoted below:

That is ultimately the question: when has God provided enough? When is enough?

I think if we are honest with Him and ourselves we will find He provides for every need. We don’t need to continually take from the system, as if we are in some rat race to get ahead. He has provided, so let’s be content.

However, ‘Christian’ America has blended capitalism with their religion and retold Jesus’ words from ‘Blessed are the poor and humble’ to ‘Blessed are the rich and proud’. That is why some strive to make more, so they can show off how ‘blessed’ they are. Blessings come from the fruit of the spirit, not the fruit of our labor.

 

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CALL TO ACTION:

What areas have Christians blended their religious convictions to maintain their lifestyle?

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Helpful Resources:

Keeping Pace Reduce Debt Plan

Giving Up Your Life[style] Group Discussion Guide

Popes & Bankers Book Discussion Guide

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Household debt grows first time in 13 quarters

Without much media attention, citizens broke a 13 quarter winning streak.  For the last 13 quarters, citizens were reducing their debt.  Everything from credit cards, auto loans, college loans, to mortgages, American citizens were discovering ways to reduce our national household debt.  Many could say that some of the figures were misleading because of the amount of bankruptcies and foreclosures that forced Americans to reduce their debt.  However, I would like to believe that there were many more that saw their debt as an anchor to their freedom and was slowly chiseling away at those chains.

On March 8th, the Federal Reserve reported the latest findings on household debt.  They found that Christmas time was very profitable for businesses.  It was reported that while mortgage debt continued to decrease by 1.5%, consumer credit went up by a whopping 6.9%.  That means many people pulled out their credit cards or signed up for an auto loan during Jesus’ birthday celebration season.

The paradox of this situation, since we are a debt based economy, is that though our choice to increase our debt hurts ourselves personally, in the short run it help us nationally.  As we accept increasingly higher amounts of debt our American lifestyle is able to be maintained and/or grow.  However, as we saw since the beginning of this 13 quarter winning streak, as we stopped taking out more debt there was much loss of our national lifestyle.  As the system cleansed itself from debt, there was much pain.  Just like a gambling or alcohol addiction, the road to recovery can be painful, but always worth it.

So what do we do?

Do we continue to accept increasingly higher levels of debt in order to achieve short term lifestyle benefits?  Or do we accept short term lifestyle losses in order to achieve financial freedom?

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CALL TO ACTION:

Check out the Household Debt Clock that is now going up for the first time in 13 quarters!

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Helpful Resources:

Debt is Slavery Book Discussion Guide

Debt-based economy Wiki

Do you shop responsibly?

Will you have a Debt Free Christmas?

When is your Debt Independence Day?

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Popes & Bankers: A Book Review

Popes & Bankers: A Cultural History Of Credit & Debt, From Aristotle to AIG by Jack Cachill is a deep, engaging historical description of how mankind has wrestled with debt. The author delivers a tremendous amount of research and stories of influential people that have molded our perception of borrowers and lenders.

The main contrast the author seems to expose is the difference between how cedit and debt was viewed before the 20th century and how it is viewed in the 20th and 21st century.  He reveals how many influential business people, scholars, and politicians have determined to persuade our acceptance of a debt-based lifestyle.  He also shows many examples of the 21st century effects of a debt-based lifestyle.

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Some of the notable quotes from the book are:

“We have developed a larger interest in redistributing income legislatively than in providing a rationale for sacrificial giving on the part of the laity.” — Gary Anderson (pg 18)

The author says that Savonarola understood “the synergy between usury and prodigality” (pg 48).

“The man who borrows in order to spend will soon be ruined, and he who lends to him will generally have occasion to repent of his folly.” — Adam Smith (pg 69)

The author quotes President Andrew Jackson as saying that the perpetuation of debt “has drenched the earth with blood” while a government that honored the right to be debt free offered “a salutary curb on the spirit of war” (pg 115).

“The two words ‘charge it’ have done more harm than any other in the language.” — Irving Bacheller (pg 152)

“The program could not work because it tried to solve a problem of wealth creation through debt creation.” — Louis Hyman (pg 172)

Popes & Bankers is an excellent book for a deep perspective on where we gained our acceptance for credit and debt.  The book is highly recommended for the Keeping Pace Book & Movie Club.

 

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CALL TO ACTION:

Share one of the above quotes with your social network!

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Helpful Resources:

Popes & Bankers Book Discussion Guide

More ARM loans excite Real Estate Industry

Image by Howard Lake
Image by Howard Lake

A recent New York Times article by Lynnley Browning proclaimed that Adjustable Rate Mortgages, or ARMs, are having a strong comeback which is exciting the Real Estate Industry.  Leading up to the Great Recession, many people took on ARMs to help make their house choice initially more affordable.  ARMs are supposed offer a very low initial interest rate, but adjust after an agreed amount of time to an adjustable indexed interest rate.  For a time, ARMs were considered riskier than fixed rate loans.  But now “people are being persuaded to give the loans a try” says Lynnley Browning.

The Real Estate Industry (REI) understands the persuasion that influences citizens to take out an ARM is great news for their long term profits.  Customers who take out ARMs consider it a good deal, because it is a very low interest rate for the amount of time they will be staying in the house.  Even Lynn Mucken, an MSN Money contributor, recommends a person should get an ARM “if [they] are reasonably sure [they] will be selling the home before the interest rate starts climbing.”  That kind of advice excites REI because it encourages some people to find a way to purchase a house which in turn fuels all its trappings; i.e., new interior and exterior decorations and home improvement.

As people are persuaded to purchase housing with an ARM

more people will have incentive to move and fuel the REI complex in later years.

What benefits are there if more people are moving as a result of ARMs?

What consequences are there if more people are moving as a result of ARMs?

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CALL TO ACTION:

Commit to reducing debt by following the FF Reduce Debt Run Route.

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Helpful Resources:

Debt is Slavery Book Discussion Guide

Living Humbly

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Make Love, not Debt, This Valentine’s Day


Well, it’s that time of year again. Valentine’s Day. The time when I start to think about falling off my get healthier kick only to face massive amount of candy at every grocery store. When I’m glad I don’t have a TV to remind me “Diamonds are forever” or to hawk some celebrity’s new perfume to me. When I’m glad I’ve gotten to the chapter in Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff to dissuade me from wanting any new jewelry.

Valentine’s Day is a lot like Christmas, in my opinion. The whole reason for the holiday is completely forgotten. Even if you’re going the secular route for Christmas, at least you can tell the story of a man named Nicholas (now popularly known as Saint Nick) who disguised himself when he’d give poor orphans stuff they really needed to survive. How many people know who St. Valentine was or what he did to merit a holiday?

Here’s my take on Valentine’s-if you insist on buying something for your significant other, then please don’t use debt to do it. Have the money in your bank account before you use it. I’ve pledged to have a Debt Free Valentine’s Day. Will you do the same?

I digress. I’m really writing this because of this article and its related charts from the National Retail Federation.

The trends are pretty significant. If we can have a $20-cheaper V-Day in 2009 and 2010 with our relationships intact (based on divorce rates not fluctuating too much between the 2005-2009 period), then why can’t we stay frugal?

Check out this quote:

Couples this year will spend an average of $68.98 on their significant other or spouse, up from $63.34 last year…As usual, men will spend the most on Valentine’s Day gifts. The average man plans to shell out more than twice as much ($158.71) as the average woman ($75.79).

Isn’t that kind of obnoxious? Men are more or less expected to shell out more on their ladies than vice versa. What kind of equality is that? Poor dudes, especially since they don’t know the ecological and inhumane horrors required for the production of the jewelry they will almost certainly feel required to purchase.

On top of that, can anyone really afford to buy such expensive gifts just six or seven weeks after one of the most expensive Christmases on record? I know we’re officially out of the recession and all, but our national savings has plummeted while national use of credit is creeping upwards steadily again.

If you used credit to buy Christmas gifts, then you shouldn’t consider buying a Valentine’s gift. At all. Explain why you’re not spending money honestly (“Honey, I want to pay this credit card bill off so we can save money later and do something really special and create a memory that will last forever” should go over pretty well). If you absolutely must give a gift, then get creative. Make something for less than $10. There are tons of frugal sites that have great ideas.

So, DG, what are you doing for Valentine’s Day? I have no idea. I refuse to pay local baby-sitters the going rate of $10/hr/kid. That gets really expensive really quickly for three kids! I’ll probably swap a night of baby-sitting with one of my girlfriends and celebrate a week or four late. I’d like the hubs and I to DO something together. LivingSocial has a $20 2-hr painting class deal right now. Maybe we can take advantage of that. I’ll let you know whenever we get around to celebrating. At the very least, we’ll share a glass of white wine and a piece of “nice” chocolate (the “fancy” flavored stuff Aldi is selling right now). Without a doubt, our Valentine’s Day will be DEBT FREE.

Challenge: The whole idea of the holiday is LOVE. What does your sig o absolutely love, and how can you do something related to that inexpensively and sincerely? It’s a tough one, I know, but you’ve got a fabulous brain. I know you’ll come up with something fabulous!

-Domestic Goddess out.

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CALL TO ACTION:

Commit to reducing debt by following the FF Reduce Debt Run Route.

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Helpful Resources:

Debt is Slavery Book Discussion Guide

Living Humbly

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The challenges from Matthew West’s My Own Little World

Image by Ed Yourdon

Matthew West recently released his new record with a song titled, My Own Little World.  Many of the lyrics depict a realization that the world is much bigger than what he previously chosen to  experience.  His lyrics challenge us to seek out and be engaged in that world instead of our own little world.

The story Matthew presents is one who seeks out a comfortable life but never really feels fulfilled.

..I’ve never gone hungry, always felt safe
I got some money in my pocket shoes on my feet…
I throw a twenty in the plate but I never give ’til it hurts
And I turn off the news when I don’t like what I see. — Matthew West

But this safe life is questioned when he finally opens his eyes to the rest of the world.

Stopped at the red light, looked out my window
I saw a cardboard sign said “Help this homeless widow”…
So I rolled down my window and I looked her in the eye
Oh how many times have I just passed her by
I gave her some money then I drove on through — Matthew West

Matthew’s chorus challenges us to get out of the world that we are stuck in and see the world for what it is and make a difference.

What if there’s a bigger picture
What if I’m missing out
What if there’s a greater purpose
I could be living right now
Outside my own little world — Matthew West

From this song we can take a look at our own lives and how comfortable we try to make it.  We can take a hard look at how much we try to guard ourselves from seeing the real world that is portrayed on sites like GlobalRichList.com.  When we come to that point and find we were living in our own little world, we start realizing we need to change our viewpoint and the actions that follow from that viewpoint.  We might even decide that we need to live humbly and give generously to those in need realizing that we do have a very comfortable life.

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CALL TO ACTION:

How does this song impact you? What do gain from this song?

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Helpful Resources:

The Story of Stuff Book Discussion Guide

Giving Generously Wiki

Giving More Discussion Group

 

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Citizens are officially opening their wallets to buy more stuff

Shopping - Ecstasy by David Blackwell

“American consumers are finally opening their wallets again”

declares CNNMoney’ s Chris Isidore in an article that shows the progressive increase in spending throughout 2010.

The following are some interesting quotes from this declarative article.

‘There was a big release of pent-up demand in the fourth quarter that has been building up for a couple of years, at least,’ said George Mokrzan, senior economist, Huntington National Bank, who is forecasting that personal consumption jumped by 4.5% in the period.”

Do you have any pent-up demand to buy more stuff? Is this similar to an article from the past: Are you waiting to unleash any pent-up demand?

Improvements in the stock market have also helped give consumers more confidence, reducing the drive to choose saving over spending. The savings rate, which had climbed to 7.2% in early 2009, had fallen to near 5% by the end of 2010.

Does the rise in the stock market cause you to want to spend more to get more stuff? Is this similar to an article from the past: People open their wallets to push Dow to 10,000.

“People got bored with being frugal. It’s much more fun to go out there and spend money,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s.

Is being efficient with what you use from this planet “boring”?  Does the “fun” or high that comes from shopping and spending long-lasting?  If not, isn’t that the point?  Does marketers hope you get a temporary high from shopping, so that you will have to come back to the store to buy something to receive the temporary high, again?

So with all this exuberance in citizen spending, will this increase the Household Debt Clock?  Will this new spending come from a decrease in saving, increase in loans, or both?

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CALL TO ACTION:

Let’s show the world we do not have pent-up demand.  Let’s show them we are rational about our financial choices and focused on our goals to give more, save more, and spend less.

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Helpful Resources:

Giving Up Your Life[style] Discussion Guide

Staying Away From Debt Wiki

Money as Debt Movie Discussion Guide

 

 

Learning to give more, save more, and spend less together.