Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Faith Works 10-4-08
Jeff Gill

Uh-oh, They’re Talking About It Again

Fall is usually the season for financial campaigns in local faith communities, sometimes called a “stewardship emphasis” or “pledge drive” or almost anything but fund raising.

The awkward fact is that avoiding the term “fund raising” makes sense, because the problem is less that there needs to be an annual emphasis on giving from participants, than that these matters should be discussed year ‘round, but rarely are.

Once a year is better than never, though. One time a year is sometimes as often as church leadership’s nerves can take the strain of talking out loud about one of the few no-go-zones left in a culture where sexual habits and personal failings are the stuff of reality tv and coffee shop unembarrassed conversation, but wallets and income and spending are kept in secret.

Check out Mark 4:22 on that.

Here’s what is important for religious people in general, Christians in particular, and potentially of benefit to anyone about the practice and discipline of stewardship. Stewardship, or care for what we’ve been given, is not just what you call the little tablet of envelopes you get when you join.

The Lovely Wife and I have had a practice since the beginning of our marriage. We have a budget, based on projected income. That budget starts with giving 10%, saving 10%, and then we look at what’s left.

What’s left is shaped by the fact that almost 30% of our “gross income” goes to taxes, the good and worthwhile work of larger institutions, and a bit of waste here and there (yes, some, but that’s not our topic today). When our household adds up income and payroll taxes, my self-employed quarterly estimated to SocSec and various local taxing bodies, our property taxes, and the chunk of spending that goes to sales tax, just under 30% of our income goes to local, school, county, state, and federal taxes.

Since most years we actually put more than 10% in savings, that means, if you’ve been doing the math, that we live on less than half, under 50% of what we earn. My point is not that we’re dreadfully frugal (we are, but not so terribly), but the order you figure this out in, and the fact that the last thing this method takes you to is how much you can spend on whatever.

The budget, with that 48 or 49% we’re looking at in the final stages, has to list house payment and utilities and groceries and some clothes and such, the Little Guy’s amusements, and . . . there’s usually some amusements left for us, mainly aimed at a vacation trip or two.

If you start with that, and work backwards to how much you can “afford” to give, I can pretty much guarantee you the number will be 1 to 2%, tops. Given that our national savings rate is effectively in negative numbers these last few years (the hidden engine of our current economic mess), unless you give to your church on your credit card, it won’t be there.

So starting with what you give isn’t about how much more your church needs the money than you do. It’s about how much you need to look at your income more as gift and opportunity and responsibility than as “what I earned,” which is why I know most folks would flip out at the idea of living on less than half of “my income.”

A gift you can give yourself is to stop seeing it as “my income,” and seeing yourself as a steward of what comes into and through your household at any given time. I’m willing to bet most of my readers aren’t paid what they ought to get, and who of us says “no, I haven’t earned it” to a raise? Pay is rarely equal to value, or daycare workers and kindergarten teachers and OB/GYN nurses would make more than anyone.

Start with giving, which says to God and your own heart and anyone else paying attention (like the children in your family who don’t miss a thing), “this is just what I get to manage for a season.” Prioritize some savings, which says to a future you and yours “I know that me, right now, isn’t all there is.” Write down your fixed costs, and make sure to account for taxes, because sooner or later you’re gonna pay ‘em.

And have fun with the rest; if you do those other things first, I’m not really all that worried with the choices you’ll make with what remains. For many of us, there’s not much trouble we could get into with that amount, anyhow!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he likes Dave Ramsey, but he’s no financial adviser. Tell him where you find fiscal wisdom at
What a President should be reading (1903 edition),M1

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Market explosion, fueled by mortgage gasoline . . .

Here's the fuse being lit in 1999 --

Read it, and see how obvious it all is now.