Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Hebron Crossroads 10-10-04 By Jeff Gill
Are You Financially Disabled?
Friends and folk about the Hebron Crossroads, we are less than 90 days out from that great festival of consumerism and self-indulgence called “the Holiday Season.”
Actually, all of the 90 days ahead are part of that new social construct, “the Holiday Season,” starting with costumed extravagance and culminating in a brief nod by some of us to a manger and the Child found under a star. But by the time we reach that evening to honor the Prince of Peace by candlelight, many more of us will have committed financial sins aplenty by stark fluorescent light in stores and malls and businesses near and (online) afar.
We're now up to over $8000 in average household credit card debt in America, and that's before gift giving and self-indulging this year potentially adds to the pile of financial burden. Jean Chatzky points out that we can make that go away in three years by just cutting an average of $10 a day of spending. . .but you've gotta put that $300 a month to paying off high-interest debt, not just shift it around to other outlays.
Now is the time, not in our 2005 resolutions, to stop and assess our personal and family financial fitness. Indeed, many of us who work with families in the Lakewood area – and far beyond – fear that there are many who are financially impaired, “disabled” in a manner of speaking, with no few even qualifying as “shopaholics.” Are you one? Well . . .
If you’ve held a yard sale because you had too much stuff and too little cash, and then went right out to buy stuff with the proceeds, you might be a shopaholic.
If you are unsure how many credit cards you have active currently, you might be a shopaholic.
If you can’t answer within $20 what your *unpaid* balance on credit cards is right now, you might be a shopaholic.
If you have your children (or grandchildren) answer the phone in case bill collectors may be calling, you might be a shopaholic.
If you have a closet, room, or garage full of packages mailed to you that are as yet unopened even though you bought them online or by phone with great anticipation, you might be a shopaholic.
If you got a home equity loan and spent it on stuff (clothes, computers, CDs, DVDs, sports equipment, or even eating out), you might be a shopaholic.
If you have declared bankruptcy once already, and are starting to build up consumer debt of any sort, you might be a shopaholic.
Somewhat less drastically, you may just be “financially disabled”: for instance, if you don’t know what percentage of your income goes to housing (rent/mortgage, utilities, annual upkeep costs), or what percent of your income goes to transportation (car payments, gas, annual maintenance like oil, brakes, tires), you might be financially disabled.. In fact, if over a third of your income goes to housing costs, you might be severely financially disabled.
Actually, if you don’t even know what your annual/monthly income actually is, you might be *very* severely financially disabled. Not “oh, I just don’t make enough to pay my bills!” OK, I understand, but how much do you bring in? Can’t make a budget until you know that number for the bottom of the page. No budget? You might be financially disabled.
If you don’t know what percent of your monthly income goes to paying off credit cards, you might be financially disabled.
If you don’t have three months living expenses put away where you won’t just spend it, but can get at it if necessary (so retirement funds don’t count), you might be financially disabled.
If you don’t have a budget figure for vacations (hey, I didn’t say this was a no-fun zone), you might be financially disabled. After all, if you don’t budget it, you’ll spend whatever is at hand, even if it was money that you had a “plan” for last month . . . like the money to pay off the credit card.
If you don’t have a budget figure for giving to causes you believe in – if only to remind ourselves that our money, no matter how hard-earned, is just a gift that we’re given for a brief time to use in making the world a better place -- you might be financially disabled.
So what do we do if we’ve honestly answered these questions, and have seen ourselves in a mirror?
First, ask yourself: can I stop on my own? If you’ve never done yourself the courtesy of asking that question, try it, and see what you say.
Second, ask a friend to help: always a good idea (we aren’t made to be alone, in problems or in celebrations), unless our friends all have the same problems . . . in which case you may want to branch out a bit.
Third, check in with a minister, counselor, or person you respect in your circle of activities. Trust this pastor: they won’t be shocked, and they will have heard it all before. Really. They may suggest a few non-fun ideas like slowing or stopping a $20 a week smoking habit (times 52, makes over $1000 a year!) or cutting out the daily latte ($3.50 times 250 makes $875!) but they will understand, and have constructive ideas to help.
And fourth, those same folk may suggest Consumer Credit Counseling, available in both Licking and Franklin Counties. They can take the big wads o’ debt and roll them up into a smaller ball that can be juggled successfully. They’re at 349-7066, and are ready to be of service to you now, let alone after “the holidays.”
Or check in with your local bankers. You may think bankers are all about getting your money, but they actually profit more from helping you keep your cash together than letting it be spread to the four winds. I happen to think well of Betty Green and her 50-plus years of experience in the Hebron area with Park National, but whoever your banker is, stop by and ask their counsel.
Whatever steps you take, you will find that your enjoyment of the holidays is much deeper and wider when your worries over finances are smaller and manageable. Let your memories be rich and your worries be poor when 2005 rolls around!
Jeff Gill is pastor of Hebron Christian Church and an advocate for financial literacy at all ages. If you have holiday savings tips or news of local interest, call 928-4066 or e-mail

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