Robust Thrift

Thrift doesn’t start with seeking sales and clipping coupons, but with a character of contentment.

Disasters strike, both in nations and in families. Hurricanes happen, jobs are lost, and terrorists crash airliners into buildings. Our first reaction is disbelief and disorientation. On 9/11/2001 many Americans spent the day staring at the television, unable to accept that such an attack happened in the USA and uncertain of what the attack meant for our future. On any day, when a family member is diagnosed with terminal cancer, a friend dies in an accident, or a husband loses his job, our normal reaction is stunned silence, fear, sadness, and stunned silence again.

Our second reaction depends on the individual. Some people sink into despair, others begin frenzied work, and still others lash out at whoever or whatever they think is responsible for their pain. Over time, those who are psychologically healthy transform their hardship into a new way of looking at the world, adjust their actions, and resume a normal if inexorably altered life. Those who cannot end up getting help from health care providers and ministers to help them reassemble the pieces of their shattered soul.

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Why We Buy

We often buy not to enjoy our purchase or meet a physical need, but to fill a hole in our hearts, a lack in who we are. 

The Christmas season has just ended, and people worldwide have been evaluating the effects of the holiday. Some people do not celebrate Christmas, and so whatever effect the holiday has on them is indirect. A Buddhist in China, for example, may not believe in Jesus Christ, but may be employed manufacturing toys or clothes given as gifts by those who do believe. A Muslim in the Islamic State may hate the very idea of Jesus Christ, but realize that his American and Western foes are less likely to attack him on December 25th. A Western secularist may scoff at Christianity, but still take advantage of Black Friday shopping bargains and deal with holiday traffic. For many in the West, and in other parts of the world, Christmas is a social rather than a religious holiday.

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Consumer Product Safety

In my grandfather’s childhood in rural Arkansas, most of the food that he ate and the clothes that he wore were produced at home. His ancestors had built their own houses and furniture for generations, and store-bought goods were rare and expensive. While people knew little about foodborne illnesses and other hazards, they knew where the food and other products in their lives came from.

Such is not the case today. Our plates are filled with Indian rice, Honduran bananas, Japanese fish, or American wheat. We buy shirts from Mexico, cars from Germany, shoes from Italy, or electronics from China. Imported consumer goods are only as safe as the governments and producers in their country of origin require. A report in the New York Times stated,

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Values-Aligned Investing

Put your money where your heart is, and live your conscious with your finances. 

Christians often have a conflicted relationship with money. On one hand, Paul was a tentmaker who supported himself in ministry, and he tells Timothy that “a man who fails to care for his family is worse than an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8).” Many saints in the Bible were wealthy, from Abraham to Joseph of Arimathea, and they used their wealth to further the Kingdom of God.

Simultaneously, the Bible speaks often of money, and warns repeatedly against pursuing wealth. Paul says, “the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10).” Agur advises “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain (Proverbs 30:8-9).” Jesus Himself warns, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24).”

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Christians and Payday Lending

Is payday lending a scourge to the poor, or is it a chance to help them past a tough financial spot? Are people responsible and capable of making the best decisions for themselves may be the real question.  

I recently attended a conference in which there was a debate on payday lending, a hot button issue. One side argues that payday lending violates Biblical restrictions on rates of interest and oppresses the poor. The other side contends that payday lending provides small, short term albeit expensive loans that provide financial flexibility for people without credit cards or bank accounts, and that ultimately such flexibility helps borrowers. At the conference, payday lending was defined as follows:

“The practice of lending small amounts of money, usually $350 or less, to individuals for two week periods (i.e. until the next pay day), potentially trapping borrowers in an endless cycle of two week loans, often at an annual interest rate up to or exceeding 360%.”

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Getting Rich vs. Growing Rich in Investments

Reliable wealth grows like an oak tree…slowly.

King Solomon once noted that there is really nothing new under the sun. Others have opined that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Acquiring wealth is no exception.

Getting Rich Quickly?

People have been trying to “get rich quick” since the dawn of time, and the vast majority have been wiped out, physically or financially, as a result. In antiquity, defeating your enemies in battle and plundering them was a great path to violent death for most, but great riches for a few.

In later times, the Dutch economy foundered under the frenzy known as Tulipmania (1636-7), British investors went broke in the aftermath of the South Sea Bubble (1719-1721), and the French lost heavily investing in the Mississippi Company (1719).

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Confidence in Hard Economic Times

Hard times are inevitable in every life, but their are ways to weather them.

The chattering class in Washington DC and elsewhere is abuzz with concern about the “fiscal cliff”, involving legislation passed in the summer of 2011 requiring tax increases and spending cuts to decrease the exploding US Federal deficit. The Washington Post suggests that this “fiscal cliff” would raise taxes over $2,000 per year on many middle income families, decrease spending, fray the safety net, and push the US economy into another recession. The “fiscal cliff” is simply the latest in a series of financial troubles that have plagued man throughout history, including such the Dutch Tulip Mania of 1720, the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Great Recession of 2008, and countless others. As always, the media is convulsed with worry, ordinary people differ in their responses, with some feeling helpless, others ambivalent, and a few confident.

Though I have not done formal interviews, those who feel helpless seem to believe that they will lose their jobs, their expenses will skyrocket, and there is nothing that they can do about it. These people wring their hands in fear and impotence and find it harder to function in their day to day lives. Those who are ambivalent usually don’t know what is going on. A few have confidence based on their assumption that everything will turn out fine because it always has in the past.

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