What Can You Do

What Can You Do

I hope you had a nice February. If you live in Mississippi, we had our usual volatile whether. You may need snow gear one day and a swimsuit the next (slight exaggeration but you get the point).

Personally, this February is certainly one to remember as I had hip surgery. Fast forward to today, I’m doing well thankfully. I still have a journey of recovery ahead of me. But, to say it has been a joy ride would not be honest of me.

I had a close friend stop by recently to check on me. He was gracious to listen to me share how hard things have been. We all need folks to just listen sometimes, right? And sometimes, we need a friend to challenge us.

After hearing me share about the things I couldn’t do right now, he asked, “What are things you can do?” I paused. That had certainly not been my focus. I reflected on his question that night and the next morning. I started thinking about not just things I can still do, but what are new things I can do? I mentally came up with a long list and took action on some immediately. My spirits were lifted and some contentment returned.

I’m not writing a message about the “power of positive thinking,” but I am challenging myself, and you, to reflect on this question: “What are things you can do?” More specifically, “What are things you can do to make progress financially?”

With financial planning, there are many aspects that we can’t control and are forced to use some assumptions: inflation, rates of return, life longevity, etc. However, there are many aspects of financial planning that we can control.

What are steps that you can take TODAY to-

  • Begin a debt elimination plan?
  • Implement a budget?
  • Call the lawyer to get your will completed?
  • Increase your life insurance coverage?
  • Increase your charitable giving?

Don’t be overwhelmed by this list. Prioritize. Need help taking steps and prioritizing? That’s exactly what we do. Give us a call. We’d love to help.

Spring is just a few weeks away which I always welcome (well, minus the pollen). Spring is a time of new life, and it can be a time of new hope and purpose.

Take a few new steps and see what happens.

Scott is the founder and a partner at Rivertree Financial Planning. Scott and his wife Helen currently reside in Jackson, MS with their three children Artur, Taylor, and Molly. They are members of Redeemer Church, PCA in Jackson.

Mississippi Is First

Mississippi Is First

It’s no secret that Mississippi generally ranks first in the bad categories and last in the good categories. But, in this article on MarketWatch, we finally show up first in a positive category! (please pardon the artwork in the article…it’s not ours).

I love my State. I was born and raised here. And after 4 years in the happening city of Nashville, we returned to Mississippi. Why leave Nashville, many ask? Simply put, it wasn’t home for us. After being back for over 10 years now, we don’t see ourselves leaving.

So is $1 million enough for retirement? The article suggests this amount of money will get the average Mississippian retiree 25 years and 6 months of living, almost double that of Hawaii. So forget the islands, folks, come to Mississippi for good livin’!

So reader, do you have a number? Is it $200k, $500k, $1 million, $3 million, or more? Some investment company commercials sell us (not “tell us”) that having a number is critical to your retirement success. I don’t agree. I’d argue that living on a budget and not owing money is more critical to accomplishing your goals than a specific number.

We see it week in and week out in the office with our clients: Those who don’t owe money and live within their means experience far more freedom and peace than those who are working towards a number. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with having savings goals. Just don’t forget the other “nuts and bolts” of financial planning which are critical to success.

Speaking of “success,” I’m reminded of Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods. Keller wrote this book in the midst of the Great Recession when many of our counterfeit gods were taken away, including money, power, and success. Consider the opening of this book (warning: it’s graphic):

“After the global economic crisis began in mid-2008, there followed a tragic string of suicides of formerly wealthy and well-connected individuals. The acting chief financial officer of Freddie Mac…hanged himself in his basement. The CEO of Sheldon Good, a leading U.S. real estate auction firm, shot himself in the head behind the wheel of his red Jaguar. A French money manager who invested the wealth of many of Europe’s royal and leading families, and who had lost $1.4 billion of his clients’ money in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, slit his wrists and died in his Madison Avenue office.” And the list goes on.

How can we come to this point when life is no longer worth living? Despair. Consider this:

“There is a difference in sorrow and despair. Sorrow is pain for which there are sources of consolation. Sorrow comes from losing one good thing among others, so that, if you experience a career reversal, you can find comfort in your family to get you through it. Despair, however, is inconsolable, because it comes from losing an ultimate thing. When you lose the ultimate source of your meaning or hope, there are no alternative sources to turn to. It breaks your spirit.

What is the cause of this ‘strange melancholy’ that permeates our society even during boom times of frenetic activity, and which turns to outright despair when prosperity diminishes? [Alexis] de Tocqueville says it comes from taking some ‘incomplete joy of this world’ and building your entire life on it. That is the definition of idolatry.”

Whew…this can be hard to read. But how can these writings be helpful? Keller gives some tools at the end of the book to help identify where we may have idols:

  • Imagination: “The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy daydreaming about? What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? One or two daydreams are no indication of idolatry. Ask rather, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?
  • Money: Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also. (Matthew 6:21). “Your money flows most effortlessly toward your heart’s greatest love…Our patterns of spending reveal our idols.”
  • For Christians: “What is your real, daily functional salvation? What are you really living for, what is your real – not your professed – god? A good way to discern this is how your respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes.”
  • Emotions: “Look at your most uncontrollable emotions. Just as the fisherman looking for fish knows to go where the water is roiling, look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those what never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong. If you are angry, ask, ‘Is there something here too important to me, something I must have at all costs?’ Do the same thing with strong fear or despair and guilt. Ask yourself, ‘Am I so scared, because something in my life is being threatened that I think is a necessity when it is not? When you ask questions like that, when you ‘pull your emotions up by the roots,’ as it were, you will often find your idols clinging to them.

Keller goes on to give tools for dealing with idols. I highly recommend this book for everyone, including nonbelievers. If you’re reading this and struggle with a belief in the one true God, I’d recommend The Reason for God by Keller.

In closing, we all struggle with putting our hope and faith in things that don’t last (if we’re honest). Don’t let your ultimate hope be in accumulating a certain “number,” because once achieved, your happiness and joy will be short-lived.

Scott is the founder and a partner at Rivertree Financial Planning. Scott and his wife Helen currently reside in Jackson, MS with their three children Artur, Taylor, and Molly. They are members of Redeemer Church, PCA in Jackson.

How to Change Your Financial Future

How to Change Your Financial Future

“A man is never more on trial than in the moment of excessive good fortune.”

— Lew Wallace

Regardless of our exact station in life or size of our bank account, the Bible instructs us to be good stewards of what is entrusted to us.

Scripture teaches us that the God owns everything. There is not in this universe that he can’t claim as his own (Psalm 24:1). Therefore, the ways we make use of our timetalents, and treasures are extremely significant.

The ongoing journey of “being a good steward” starts at home. As we examine our personal finances and spending habits, we discover what is really meaningful to us (Matthew 6:21). Most of us would be hesitant to let someone comb through our bank accounts. But if we did, we might find ourselves embarrassed by what is uncovered.

We Need Accountability

According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly 70% of all consumers live paycheck to paycheck. Perhaps a more accurate barometer, Oprah stated that according to her online survey, 70% of respondents had no savings at all.

These are pretty staggering figures. I would imagine that a common thread exists — without a “system” to help keep us on track, it’s all too easy to spend what comes in each month as opposed to directing money towards priorities. Just as we need accountability in our spiritual lives, we need accountability with our finances.

Personal finance is 80% behavior and 20% knowledge. We need to instill good behavior and work habits as we handle our personal finances. The younger you start, the better.

Shooting From the Hip

It wasn’t until more recent years that my wife and I adopted our system. I am proud to say, however, that in addition to regular living expenses, we can now recite much we spend on “Eating Out” and “Fishing.” Feel free to fill in your blanks here. I am being a bit facetious and certainly not suggesting everyone should be able to duplicate this same feat, but I am trying to highlight that for a time, my wife and I “shot from the hip.”

We spent, saved, and gave in a more impulsive, sporadic manner and mostly kept track of “budgeting” in our heads. Further, because we had no set routine or system for discussing finances, communicating about money was more difficult. I’m suggesting today that if you find yourself, “shooting from the hip,” there are things you can do that will change your financial future and better equip you to be a good steward of your resources.

You Need a Budget

Many programs or budgeting systems exist, but we encourage you to choose a system to your liking, make it your own, and stick to it. With our experience and regardless of age, those that use a budgeting system or software make better progress than those without.

We’re also referring to something more than a running tally of expenses each month. An accountability factor is an essential ingredient. At the beginning of the month you “open” your household books, and at the end of the month you “close” them out, thus holding yourself accountable in the process and planning for the months ahead.

Tips for Monthly Budgeting

  1. Must be written or spreadsheet based.
  2. Give every dollar a “home.” As income is received into your bank account, designate each dollar to a particular category—giving, savings, future purchases, and fun money all count! Spend and save with a purpose!
  3. Agree with your spouse. Remember, budgeting should not be a form of control, but rather an avenue for discussing priorities as a team.
  4. Give it three months. Starting a new workout can hurt a little. It takes some time to adjust to a new financial routine.
  5. Revise your budget each month. We all go through various seasons in life, and our finances will fluctuate. Your budget system should be forward looking and adjusted for the month ahead.

Ask For Help

When it comes to money, it’s hard to ask for help. We have a hard time admitting that we don’t know what we’re doing. But admitting a weakness it the first step to recovery. But there are resources available. If you need coaching in this area, please give us a call. We have a new program designed to help anyone overwhelmed by finances take control once and for all.

Jonathan is Executive Vice President of Rivertree Financial Planning.