Giving Freely versus Suffering Want

Giving Freely versus Suffering Want

This month’s newsletter is from April 2018, but we see the principles as timely.

There’s a story about a rich man whose land produced an abundant harvest. He was posed with a dilemma as he already had more than enough, but he didn’t have a place to store these additional crops. His solution was to tear down his existing barns and build bigger ones. He even imagined what he’d say to himself once done with this work: “Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!”

So how do think this story ends?

“God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods – who gets it?’ That’s what happens when you feel your barn with Self and not with God.”

If you’re a Christian, this story may be familiar as it’s found in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:16-21. If not a Christian, you may wonder what does this story have to do with you? A lot, I’d say.

We’re often asked at Rivertree, “What do y’all (or “you all” for my northerners) actually help people do?” We may answer that we help plan for their retirement. Isn’t that contradictory to the story above? It could be if we left out some essential pieces of the full process.

One of these “essential pieces” is us asking, “When you retire, what are you planning to do with your time?” A myth is the joy of the “couch potato retirement.” Now there’s nothing wrong with relaxing more and catching up on some shows. But is that your full-time plan?

I’ve read a book about those who bought into this plan. Their main purpose became themselves. Sound familiar? (Reference paragraph 1). What does the book say happens to these folks? They die sooner than statistically expected. Why is that? They lost purpose. Is there a better way to “retire,” you might ask? We’d say so. Insert “generous living.”

“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.”  (Proverbs 11:24)

Listen to Tim Keller’s reflection on this verse:

“The more you scatter your wealth, the more you gather it, and the more you try to keep it for yourself, the more it dissipates. How could that be? Think of farmers. The more they scatter seed, the more they will reap. And keep in mind that the seed comes back in better form, as harvest you can eat and sell. In the same way, spiritually wise people realize their money is seed, and the only way for them to turn it into real riches is by giving it away in remarkable proportions (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6).

This is not a promise that the more you give away, the more money you will make. Rather the more you give away wisely to ministries and programs that help people spiritually and physically, the more your money becomes the real wealth of changed lives in others and of spiritual health in yourself. And you will be walking in footsteps of the one who was literally broken and scattered so he could gather us to himself.”

See the difference in self-living vs. generous living? It’s suffering want vs. gaining more. That “more” isn’t money. It’s joy.

There’s a quote from Randy Alcorn that has stuck with me: “The only antidote to greed is giving.” When we are tempted to clinch our fists around money (or build bigger barns), give it away. This breaks greed’s power, whether you’re a Christian or non-Christian.

Closure for 2020. Hope for What is Ahead.

Closure for 2020. Hope for What is Ahead.

Has there ever been a year more than this one where people have been so ready to kick it to the curb? “Tying a bow on it” might be a softer approach, understanding that most would not consider any part of 2020 a present. However, I do think it’s a healthy habit to seek closure for different seasons of life, especially the hard times.

Below are some brief reflections as we wrap up 2020 and head into a new year.

What’s Taken for Granted

How often have we heard or said the phrase, “Don’t take it for granted!” I certainly have. At moments I take this challenge to heart. But if I’m honest, I feel it’s impossible to live each day in this manner. We are human. Unfortunately, we have to learn lessons over and over again.

So what did you take for granted prior to the pandemic? I’ll name a few for me:

  • Handshakes
  • Hugs
  • The gift of slowing down, smelling the roses (or allergens), observing nature
  • Church worship
  • Walking and gathering in public freely

Certainly, my list could go on. The reality is that much in my every day life that I took for granted was taken away at least for some time.

Challenges and Joys

So how have you responded to the challenges of 2020? Perhaps you have experienced heartache, loss, anxiety or depression. Have you said goodbye to dear loved ones, tragically without being able to hug their necks or hold their hands one last time? How can we find closure here? It’s hard (a massive understatement).

On the flip side, have you’ve found hidden joys with much of every day life coming to a screeching halt? Were you reckoned with the busyness of life, rushing from one activity to another? I think many were initially relieved (in a surprising way) when all activities were cancelled. Family dinners around the table once again became the norm. Stories were told. Laughter unfolded. Politics were debated (okay hopefully not).

How can we reconcile these extreme experiences? I’d argue that we actually can.

An Ultimate Hope

A question must be asked: Where does your ultimate hope and security lie? Work? Stuff? Bank or investment accounts? Others?

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these. We were made to work. Buying a car (or adult toy of your choosing) can bring happiness. Saving and investing (rather than hoarding) can be good. Relationships with others can be life-giving. But let’s face it: None of these produces ever-lasting joy.

Work is stressful. Stuff breaks. Banks go under. Investments lose value. Others, including best friends and close family, can hurt or offend us. It’s inevitable!

And being this is a financial planning blog, let’s talk about a doomsday scenario: What happens if all banks go down and companies go bankrupt? There goes the U.S. of A. No companies mean no jobs. No jobs mean no taxes. No taxes mean no government. People, it’s farm and garden time! The money buried out back or in a fireproof safe is now just paper to start a fire.

Now that we have panicked some readers, do we honestly think this is where we are headed? No. We believe Apple, Google and Netflix are here to stay. We firmly believe the value of the companies our clients are invested in today will be worth more in 5, 10 and 20 years. Therefore, we invest with a long-term mindset.

Consider your alternatives: Cash? Gold? These can be good short-term vehicles for saving. However, you must consider the long-term effects of inflation. The purchasing power of a dollar decreases over time. What your dollar can buy today will buy less in 5 years. Therefore, long-term investing makes sense.

But investing is not our ultimate hope. These things do not last. But we believe there is something…Someone who does. Consider the words of Elisabeth Elliot:

“Where does your security lie? Is God your refuge, your hiding place, your stronghold, your shepherd, your counselor, your friend, your redeemer, your saviour, your guide? If He is, you don’t need to search any further for security.”

Rest easy, reader, especially this Christmas season, if God is where your ultimate security lies. He will not fail you. He will not abandon you. He is for you. He will not leave or forsake you. It’s His promise. And He remains true to His Word. Hear it straight from Him:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – Jesus Christ (John 16:33)

*For financial planning clients of Rivertree Financial Planning: Please contact us as soon as possible if you have had any changes in circumstances, objectives, goals or risk tolerance.

We Are Listening, and We Care

We Are Listening, and We Care

I am writing this morning with some fear and trepidation. That’s me being honest. “Will I say the wrong thing? Will I offend or hurt someone I care about? Will I not say enough? Will I say too much? Will I lose a client by speaking to things non-financial or even taboo?” Those are the questions in my head. Those are my fears. Would you read and extend grace to me? I am no expert on these matters. But I do care. We care.

A Discussion about Race

Around two years ago, I was invited by an African American friend to a broad discussion about race. One topic we discussed was police brutality. I listened as several African American fathers detailed talks they had with their sons about what do to if pulled over by a police officer:  All windows down; interior lights on; pop the trunk; hands 10 and 2 on the steering wheel.

I just didn’t understand. Why was this necessary? My father never had this talk with me. With time and further discussion, it started to make sense to me. I am part of the majority culture. This isn’t a “white guilt” thing…it’s simply a reality.

As I listened to dear friends and brothers share about their experience in today’s culture, my heart weighed heavily. I was brought to tears, apologized and asked forgiveness for not being more loving and kind to them as they grieved current events. I also made a personal commitment to not be silent the next time those close to me were grieving and lamenting.

A Phone Call

I did not want to watch the Ahmaud Arbery shooting video. But I also did not want to avoid engaging in something extremely hard to watch, especially when I knew my African American friends and brothers were watching it. So I did. And I was disturbed.

Then came the George Floyd video. Same feeling – don’t watch it. It’s too hard. But I did. And I was broken by it.

Remembering my commitment from 2 years ago, I picked up the phone and started calling those closest to me. Yes, I was nervous but refused to let fear reign.

Here are the words from one African American friend: “Scott, I didn’t just see George Floyd in that video. I saw myself. I saw my uncle. I saw my sons.” He then went on to tell me that he lost his appetite for 48 hours after this video surfaced. I thought to myself: “My gracious. My dear brother. I am so sorry. I have no words. But I am here with you. Thanks for trusting me enough to share.”

Our discussion was not, “Well all police officers aren’t bad.” In fact, this dear brother has many friends in law enforcement. He respects them highly.

I am thankful for every phone call I made. Each dear brother shared how they were processing these events personally. I strived to listen and not judge. And they each shared that they were thankful I called.

The Reality

The reality is this: We will never completely “fix” our problems with humanity on this side of eternity. Sin will always exist until the end of time. Humanity will wage war against one another. I am broken and saddened by this. But I also do not grieve without hope.

Something that has changed for me is seeing the difference between when my son leaves for a run or bike ride, and when one of my African American friends’ son does the same. It’s different. I am no longer seeing strangers in these brutal videos. I am seeing my brothers and friends. It has become way more personal for me. Yes, it’s harder. But it is necessary.

Considerations

Maybe you could think of an African American friend or co-worker that you could call? Ask them how they are processing our country’s current events. And then listen. Remember the ministry of presence. Be present with him or her. You don’t have to have the right words. What’s the opposite of judgement? Perhaps it is Curiosity. Be curious rather than defensive. Be open-minded that perhaps your worldview has been flawed. Be humble enough to repent and ask forgiveness from those you have hurt. Yes, it’s hard. But it’s worth it.

For Believers – Pray. Search the Scriptures to see what the Lord says about justice…about creation and life. Be open-minded and ask the Spirit to reveal any offensive way in you and lead you in the way everlasting.

Thank you for reading. And thanks for listening. We are praying for our country and world. We are praying for our people as image-bearers of God. We are trusting that God’s sovereign hand continues to rule and reign. We are committed to being the hands and feet of Christ with humble reliance upon Him as He leads us.

*For financial planning clients of Rivertree Financial Planning: Please contact us as soon as possible if you have had any changes in circumstances, objectives, goals or risk tolerance.

Jesus and Taxes (Ways to Pay Less)

Jesus and Taxes (Ways to Pay Less)

You may recall the story of Jesus being confronted by the Pharisees about whether or not to pay taxes to Caesar. This was not the first attempt to trap Jesus in his teachings. His response was surprising and enlightening. (And if you keep reading, you might find new ways to reduce what is “Caesar’s”…)

The Story

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.[a] 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[b] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” – Matthew 22:15-21

Mic drop. (Well, pretty sure He didn’t have a microphone at the time, but if he did, a drop would be appropriate.)

The Response

How we most likely respond to this teaching is that we should pay taxes. If you believe in the Bible as the ultimate authority, there is further instruction found in Romans 13:

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Now let me be clear: I do NOT like paying taxes. Period. However, I also prefer to not be in jail while my kids grow up into adults. Therefore, I pay taxes that are owed to local, state and federal government entities. I also constantly look for opportunities to reduce what is owed.

As one of my tax professors asked: “What is the difference in tax avoidance and tax evasion?” Answer: Avoidance = Legal; Evasion = Illegal.

Ways to Pay Less

So how can you pay less in taxes? If you’re a resident of the State of Mississippi, you have a newly established tax credit opportunity! A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of taxes owed.  A deduction lowers your overall taxable income. Bottom line: A credit is better than a deduction. You are redirecting tax dollars owed to the State to a select charity (or group of charities).

The Children’s Promise Act

The new credit allows for a State tax credit up to $400 (single) or $800 (married filing jointly) for donations made to a select list of charities. There is another $500 credit (single) or $1,000 (married filing jointly) for a separate list of charities. That’s a potential $900 total credit for single tax filers and $1,800 married filers! There is a $3 Million cap for the entire amount available. As of mid-November, there is approximately $2.8 Million still available! Click on this link to learn more. And of course, discuss with your CPA or tax professional to see if this opportunity works for your specific tax situation.

Retirement Accounts

Saving for retirement in tax-advantaged accounts continues to be a significant way to reduce your tax liability. The IRS recently released the new contribution limits for retirement plans and accounts. A highlight is that 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans allow for a $19,500 deferral, a $500 increase from 2019. Contribution limits for Traditional and Roth IRAs are unchanged at $6,000. However, don’t forget about the age 50 and over catch up contributions! (Click here for the IRS update on contribution limits.)

College Planning

Saving for college continues to be a struggle as college costs increase. Thankfully, there are several tax-efficient ways to save for college (and high school) for children and grandchildren, such as a 529 plan, Education Savings Account (ESA), Minor’s investment account (UTMA or UGMA) or a pre-paid tuition program. Each of these plans or accounts has its place in college planning. Deciding which one starts with the goal in mind. We would be glad to help walk you through the pros and cons of each option.

Hopefully, you have learned a new strategy or two that could help reduce your tax burden. The tax code continues to be quite complex. But if you look hard enough, you may find a way to better direct your hard-earned dollars.

*For financial planning clients of Rivertree Financial Planning: Please contact us as soon as possible if you have had any changes in circumstances, objectives, goals or risk tolerance.

Self-Awareness and Money

Self-Awareness and Money

I hope your fall season is going well and that you’re enjoying the cooler weather. Our newsletter topic this month might seem peculiar. What does money have to do with self-awareness, and self-awareness have to do with money? Quite a bit I’d say.

A Case Made

“Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God…without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.” Who said this? John Calvin, the great reformer! Now, we can take this quote out of context and too far by saying that introspection or self-awareness is more important than a knowledge of God. Calvin makes the case that these go together. We must see ourselves for who we truly are before a holy, righteous God. After true introspection should come humility.

But what I would also argue is that Calvin saw a place for knowledge of self. We often hear of self-forgetfulness – ignore our needs and only focus on others. But as I reflect on the life of Jesus, I can’t help but notice how many times he left the crowd to be alone. He recognized the times he needed to be alone with the Father, even though there were sick people to heal and lessons to be taught. Jesus had greater self knowledge and awareness than any other man who has walked this earth. He knew his calling, his mission, and his identity. And these impacted every decision he made.

And Money?

We all relate to money in different ways. Some of us never (or seldom) worry about it. Others think about it more often. And others are consumed by it. Where do you fall?

I would argue that first knowing how you personally relate to money is critical to making progress financially. If we know we’re prone to blow cash the minute it comes out of the ATM, then maybe that method is not best. Or perhaps it’s the opposite for you: cash gives you needed boundaries of when it’s gone, the spending stops. If it’s plastic, then spending continues.

We’re often asked by clients: Which budgeting system is best? We respond: “The one that you’ll actually do.” If a yellow pad and pencil keep you on track, then that’s best. If an excel spreadsheet, great. If an app, so be it! Ultimately, which system best helps you accomplish your goals?

What about investment account balances? TV financial pundits? Research online? Are these helpful for you, or do they create more stress? Perhaps you check your blood pressure next time you partake. Or maybe you already know the answer…you just don’t want to change. That’s okay for now. At least you know. But maybe change will come when “the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.” -Dr. Henry Cloud

Having self-awareness about your tendencies with money is critical.

A Helpful Tool

The Rivertree Team recently started the book The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Whew! We have already had some good laughs as we’ve discussed our types and tendencies (and some occasional grunts as we read about the not so good parts of ourselves). The goal is that we know one another and ourselves better to create an even healthier work environment.

And at the spiritual level, considering what Brother Dave said to Ian, the author of this book: “Just remember, it’s only one tool to help you deepen your love for God and others….There are plenty of others. What’s important is the more you and Anne grow in self-knowledge, the more you’ll become aware of your need for God’s grace. Not to mention, you’ll have more compassion for yourselves and other people.”

What used to frustrate us about ourselves and one another can hopefully be replaced with compassion…and some friendly chuckles. 

Now What

Have you taken this journey before? If so, has it been helpful? If you haven’t taken this journey, I’d encourage you to do so. I am confident you’ll find it worthwhile.

*For financial planning clients of Rivertree Financial Planning: Please contact us as soon as possible if you have had any changes in circumstances, objectives, goals or risk tolerance.

Rivertree Celebrates 10 Years!

Rivertree Celebrates 10 Years!

We often hear of celebrating milestones: victories, championships, new beginnings, births, etc. But I generally don’t associate milestones with defeats, losses, deaths, and other unfortunate events. Listen to what Tim Fortner says:

“A ‘milestone’ comes from the use in olden times of having stones which told the traveler how many miles it was to the next city. They were a reference point which reassured the traveler they were on the right path.  Milestones have also been used to describe significant events in one’s lives.  In the Bible, especially, the Old Testament, we see a heap of stones to commemorate a significant event in the life of an individual or of the nation or people.

Joshua and the nation of Israel were experiencing some milestone events. Milestone events can be wonderful or they can appear as trouble, a loss, a setback. Certainly the defeat at Ai was especially troubling for Joshua and the nation of Israel.

With the Lord, a setback is a set up for a comeback. Now in order for this to be true, we must learn from our mistakes. We must learn the lesson the Lord would have us to learn, don’t we? Or else we are doomed to repeat them.  And when we learn something, we can begin again, more intelligently.   After what had happened at Ai, Joshua and the Israelites were discouraged.  Let’s face it- discouragement over the past failure and fear of the future are two common reactions which accompany failure.”

Your Milestones

In light of Fortner’s words, how would you describe and document your milestones? Could you do it in the form of a story? I was challenged some thirteen years ago to document the “fence posts” in my life – the significant people, places and events that have most shaped me. If you had to list your ten most significant “fence posts”, who or what has shaped your life, for better or for worse, what do you think that would look like?

For me, this exercise was fascinating, eye-opening and sobering all together. Then came the harder challenge: sharing these fence posts (i.e. “milestones”) with others. But not just any others – safe, loving people whose undivided attention was listening to my story. Whew! I’m having to take a deep breath even now as I remember!

Financial Milestones

What are your financial milestones? First job, first house, first credit card, last credit card (better!), debt payoff, mortgage payoff (party!), retirement account balance, extravagant giving, etc.? The list could go on, but again, what are yours? We’ve discussed many times the importance of setting goals. You are far more likely to celebrate some financial milestones if you have a plan in place. Behavioral finance research (which we believe in and practice with clients) continues to show that having a plan in place alongside your goals gives you far more probability of achieving them.

Our Milestones

In August, Rivertree set a milestone of its own. We were thrilled to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Company! Wow, how the time flies! As often said (particularly about parenting), the days are long but the years are short.

We have many milestones here at Rivertree:

-Opening an independent shop in 2009 on the tail-end of the Great Recession

Amy joining the team (and taking a leap of faith in a young Company) in 2010

Jonathan joining the team in 2013

Brent joining the team in 2015

Phillip joining the team in 2016 and continuing in a consulting role after leaving in 2017

Valerie joining the team in 2017

Fast forwarding to today, we oversee approximately $140 Million in client assets and service over 500 households. We’re amazed and humbled at these milestones. And, they would never have been possible without the trust and confidence of our clients. We are committed to continually earning our client’s business as we walk alongside them and celebrate their milestones. From the bottom of our hearts, Thank you!

Now What?

Do you have the courage to document your milestones – the good, the bad, the ugly – that shaped you? Or better said – your personal story? If you do, I challenge you to share your story with a good friend. The outcome of this process may surprise you!

*For financial planning clients of Rivertree Financial Planning: Please contact us as soon as possible if you have had any changes in circumstances, objectives, goals or risk tolerance.