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Archive for the ‘Finance First Fridays’ Category

This month parishioner and retired Religious Studies Professor, Paula Cooey, shares her thoughts on and experiences with Theology and Finance.

Theology addresses questions of who God is and what God has to do with human life. These past few months we have focused on personal finance in a variety of ways. This week we look at a partial view of what God has to do with such matters. The Church rightly focuses on giving: giving time, material resources, self in service to others, not to mention God’s gifts to us daily in our solitude and in community. The God of scripture, history, and for many of us, experience focuses heavily on need, however, our own as well as that of others. From a Christian perspective God so focuses on need that God becomes incarnate, one of us, to suffer what we suffer, even unto death, with us. God’s economy places heavy emphasis on need.

In my own experience, I readily admit to spiritual impoverishment. I wouldn’t be at the altar taking the sacraments otherwise. By contrast, I find it almost impossible to admit to material need, not in this society, so defined by independence and self-sufficiency. Yet, in scripture, note the Gospel of this past Sunday, God not only values those in material need front and center, but places a heavy emphasis on the poor persisting to get their needs met. In Luke 18:1-11 even the judge who respects neither God nor people grants justice to the persistent widow (widows noteworthy for their poverty). My childhood experience further exemplifies how need and persistence in the face of need, God’s and ours, challenges today’s central values.

When I was a little girl, my mother—a dance teacher—and my father—a lawyer—prospered.  During this time my mother taught dance lessons all over the county to anyone who wanted to learn to dance. It didn’t matter whether they were any good at it; a desire to learn was all she required. She charged a dollar a class lesson and two dollars for private lessons. Her classes flourished though not everybody could pay cash. For them she worked out an alternative. One of the mothers dressed both my mother’s hair and mine once a month in exchange for a month’s lessons for her son and daughter. Another, who worked at the Lovable Brassiere Company, got lessons for all four of her children for making some of our clothes and for feeding my sister and me dinner once a week. In addition, we got produce. We got eggs. It was a wealth of material goods. For those who couldn’t pay because the father had been laid off by Lockheed, or there were unexpected medical expenses, well, she just carried them until things got better. If the mother of such a family was too embarrassed to tell my mother what had gone wrong, Mama just point blank asked when the child quit coming to classes. Mama and her clients operated on a mixed economy of money, bartering, and welfare, depending on need and ability to pay. Like the early churches of Paul’s time, they simply shared what they had according to what was needed. Growing up with Mama taught me to share, to enjoy giving, to want to give.pikwizard-bd495b667141dc6e5ad9c110420f8c24

Times changed for us. My mother’s classes dwindled almost to nothing as my father’s law practice dissolved into alcoholism. We lost our house, at which point my mother divorced my father (heavily stigmatized where I grew up). She was forced to beg her own parents who forked over their meager life savings for the down payment on a new house. She persisted in finding work until the Director of the YWCA hired her for a low paying job. We continued to live in debt. She was never able to pay my grandparents back; she was never able to finish her college degree in order to get a higher paying job. I had the good fortune to go to college on a full scholarship with part time work right on through graduate school. My siblings also worked, my sister who graduated from college at the age of 42, and my brother who now owns a successful business. My mother died debt free. We kids turned out fine over the long haul. Nevertheless, all three of us still remember the shame felt about the divorce of our parents, our father’s alcoholism, and the loss of our home. I also remember that had my mother’s poor, ageing parents not stepped up with all their savings, had my mother not persuaded the Director of the YWCA to hire her even though she had no college degree, had scholarships not come through for me, the story could have been more tragic. It was dependency, not prosperity, followed up by persistence in need, not pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, all the way down.

My mother taught me to give graciously. Our poverty, her persistence, and my shame have hopefully taught me empathy. I still feel the shame of our past need, but I recognize this as a symptom of the times in which I live that has no role to play in God’s economy. Were I to fall into poverty again, I hope I would have the courage to ask, to persist in seeking justice, not only for others, but for myself.

God’s economy places the dependent front and center—whether due to loss of material resources (the Prodigal Son), lack of sufficient material resources (the widow and her mite), loss of health (the woman with a flow or hemorrhage), or Paul, economically dependent, in order to do God’s work. As it turns out, God is all about needing, acknowledging need, and persisting in getting need met. As Mathew points out, it is in the faces of the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, and the outcast that we find God’s face. We as agents of God are called to recognize material need as well as spiritual from birth to death both in the lives of others and in our own lives for need, like gift, is crucial to Incarnation.

Finance First Fridays is a pastoral initiative here at St. John’s. Discussing finances can be difficult and bring up feelings of worry and shame. However, money is a real factor in all of our lives and an important topic to address. If you have a personal story you’d like to tell or a financial resource or article you’d like to share in a future Finance First Fridays post, please contact executive administrator Sarah Dull.

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By Gil Lautenshlager

MY STORY

I have been a member of St. John’s for approximately two-and-a-half years.

Ten years ago, I retired from a job where I had been able to secure excellent health coverage for myself, my partners, and my employees. I became an independent consultant.  At the same time, I went on Medicare, but I wanted to have more complete coverage, via a Medicare supplement policy.

For 30 years, I had been involved in buying group medical insurance for the companies that I worked for.  That didn’t make me an expert, but I did feel that I was at least knowledgeable about medical insurance.  WRONG!  The broad range of policies was overwhelming.

Fortunately, I still had contacts in the insurance industry, and they guided me through it.  I was fortunate to have these resources, but I was ashamed to ask for their help.  I took a deep breath and contacted the insurance people I knew.  Everything fell into place.   But I wondered how people who had to secure insurance for themselves managed to make good decisions.  And I realized that asking for help in financial matters can be embarrassing.  In our society, discussing our financial difficulties is a “no-no.”

All was great with my insurance, until about a year ago.  Changes in the Medicare regulations no longer allowed insurance companies to issue the kind of prescription drug policy that I previously enjoyed.  By spring of this year, I realized that I had a serious problem with my drug coverage.  I have significant health issues and I depend on prescription drug coverage.  It became obvious that I would have a major shortfall from what I had previously experienced.  I was blessed with a financial situation that enabled me to absorb the unexpected expense, but I wondered what other people who are not so fortunate do.  I knew I would be demoralized to ask for outside help.

At St. John’s, there are more and more instances of our members dealing with unexpected (large) medical bills.  This is particularly prevalent amongst seniors.  It can be quite unnerving to receive such a surprise.  Our executive administrator Sarah Dull asked me to research this and provide a resource that might help.  Follow this link to the advice of an expert:  https://www.moneyunder30.com/5-ways-to-handle-a-surprise-medical-bill

You should always research medical assistance programs available from local government (city, county, state) bodies.  We checked the Ramsey and Hennepin County websites.  Medical Assistance (Medicaid) is available to defined classes of people who have difficulties qualifying for and/or affording other medical coverage.  We spoke with a Minnesota licensed social worker.  He confirmed that this is the case.  But that doesn’t help when surprises rear their ugly heads after the fact  or when you don’t qualify for Medical Assistance.

My best advice is to make sure you understand your medical insurance coverage.  Be a pest to your human resources department or insurance broker.  If you can identify potential holes in your coverage, you can react to or plan for them before they become a crisis.  If you handle your own medical insurance, never purchase insurance directly from an insurer.  A trusted broker can help you navigate the wide range of coverages that are available.  And no matter what anybody tells you, it IS NOT more expensive to go through a broker.

KEEP FAITH IN YOUR FINANCIAL ACTIVITIES

There have been many times when I have surveyed my financial affairs and found them to be in disarray.  Surprise expenses or unwise spending put me in a position that seemed impossible to work my way out of.  This was particularly prevalent when I was younger, less disciplined, and void of significant backup savings.  I’d just walk away and say a silent prayer.  Almost every time, I’d come back to it a few days later, and everything worked out.  It was almost is if God had deposited money into my bank account.

A more recent example, occurred a few years ago when I was contemplating “full-time retirement” from the company in which I was part owner.  I had counted on the sale of my shares back to the company as a significant part of my retirement well-being.  I had prayed regularly that the Lord would get that sell-back accomplished.  It just never happened.  I had nowhere to turn; I was ashamed to seek outside assistance and I really didn’t know where to go for help.

I finally came to the point where health and other factors made it obvious that I needed to retire immediately.  I was most concerned that I would not be able to support myself on my social security and IRA.  God said no to my sale of my company stock, at least for the time being.  I was panicked!  But at the same time, He showed me a way to retire—not necessarily the way I wanted to, but enough to survive.

A few years later, God caused the sale to go through.  I’ve always thought there was a clear message, from heaven to me: “I’m going to bail you out one more time, but before I do, you’re going to have to learn to manage your finances more responsibly.”  Good advice!

 

Finance First Fridays is a pastoral initiative here at St. John’s. Discussing finances can be difficult and bring up feelings of worry and shame. However, money is a real factor in all of our lives and an important topic to address. If you have a personal story you’d like to tell or a financial resource or article you’d like to share in a future Finance First Fridays post, please contact executive administrator Sarah Dull.

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Finance First Friday – September 2019

By Sarah Dull

Jesus shared several parables about the different ways our tendencies towards money can take us away from our relationships with God, with each other, and with our true selves:

 

  • The Parable of the Rich Fool: Luke 12:16-21 (“So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.”)
  • The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant: Matthew 18:23-33 (“I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?”)
  • The Parable of the Prodigal Son: Luke 15:11-32 (“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”)

 

In her book, Integrating Money and Meaning, Maggie Kulyk encourages us to look at our history with money and identify the beliefs and behaviors we have formed along the way that make up our current tendencies towards money.

We’re all on a spiritual path, whether we choose to recognize it or not. And I’d say that money has been on that path too – leading the way for some, hanging around the shadows for others, or being dragged behind like a lead weight. It is critical to look back at the path on which we’ve been traveling – money and all – and be honest and compassionate with ourselves about what the path included. Only by taking stock of the past can we move on in a healthy way to the present and the future.

In this month’s Finance First Fridays we offer a summary of the 3 exercises, recommended by Kulyk, for examining our financial past. We encourage you to do these exercises without judgment or fear. “The point is not to criticize anyone – ourselves or those who parented us – but to raise our consciousness so we know what we are dealing with.” We are simply taking stock. A grocer who takes stock needs to know what she has in her inventory; she does not criticize herself for running low on items or try to figure out who to blame for what is on the shelves. Approach these exercises with compassion for yourself, and with clear-eyed honesty. 

 

  • Track Your Money Memories

 

Set aside some quiet time and grab something to write on. Settle yourself. Take three deep breaths. 

Scan your memories from early childhood to the present. Write down your recollections about money; a brief description of the memory, how old you were, any feelings you recall having about that experience. Keep going, record any significant money memories you can recall, including those pertaining to family and friends. Include how these experiences affected you and your feelings associated with each memory. 

When finished you may want to put your memories in order, creating your financial autobiography. Looking at your journey with money can be enlightening and influence your next steps.

 

  • Family Mirror

 

Set aside some quiet time and grab something to write on. Settle yourself. Take three deep breaths. 

One at a time, visualize your caregiving figures (parents, grandparents, guardians). For the first person, make a list of the words that describe the qualities, characteristics, and energy that you attribute to them, especially in regards to money. Do not censor or analyze this information; be completely honest about your feelings and experiences. Allow the words to flow until you feel complete and have nothing more to add. Repeat this process for at least one more significant caregiver. 

When you have at least two lists, ask yourself:

    • Who do I most resemble?
    • Which aspects of my relatives’ relationships to money come up in my life?
    • What perceptions do I have about my relatives in regard to money?
    • Which aspects do I openly embrace and which do I deny?
    • Are there aspects of my relative’s behavior I have completely rebelled against? Has this rebellion been beneficial?
    • What feelings came up for me while I was doing this exercise?
    • Did I notice any tendencies about myself I might want to change?

It’s okay if you don’t like your answers. Try not to judge them. Awareness of these trends and patterns is the first step to a new path.

  • Money Energies

After identifying our history with money, it’s time to look at where we are today. What are our unconscious tendencies around money? What energies arise in us around financial matters? 

If you like online quizzes, Deborah Price, author of Money Magic, offers a free, quick assessment that can get you started: http://moneycoachinginstitute.com/understanding-money-types/. Kulyk cautions us not to take the results too literally. “Such designations are simply tools for awareness; they are not written in stone, and they can and will morph over time.” Think of the results as a temperature check; this is how you are reacting at this moment. When we take our temperature, it is important to look at other symptoms before making any diagnosis. Similarly, we recommend reading the attributes of each money type and note the ones you think are strong in you. How have these attributes manifested in your money life? 


Whether you do the quiz or not, set an intention to notice what energies arise when you engage in the monetary world: when you pay bills, make donations to charity, go over your budget, loan or borrow money, give or receive gifts, look at financial statements, charge for a service, leave a tip, make plans for retirement, talk to someone about money, etc. Ask yourself:

    • Which tasks do you truly enjoy?
    • Which tasks leave you feeling stuck, fearful, ashamed, or angry?
    • Can you embrace the feelings they bring up and recognize where they are coming from?
    • If negative feelings surface, is there something you can do differently to align these tasks in a new direction?

We hope these exercises help you find some insight and meaning regarding your current tendencies towards money. Having both an awareness of our attributes and an openness to change sets us on a spiritual path towards connection and wholeness. From here we can begin to restore our relationships with ourselves, with others, and with God. 

We would love to hear your feedback and ideas for future Finance First Fridays posts. If you’d like to share your money stories, tips, and resources, please contact the church office.

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Discussing finances can be difficult, some would even call it taboo. However, money is a real topic in all of our lives and an important topic to address. A look through the Gospels shows us that Jesus had a lot to say on the subject of finances.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” – Luke 14:28

Deliberating money often increases our anxiety. We have noticed feelings of being overwhelmed and hopeless regularly arise during pastoral conversations that include finances. In her book, Integrating Money and Meaning, Maggie Kulyk argues that recognizing and naming the power and influence of money in our lives helps us live in a more balanced and peaceful way, both physically and emotionally.

“It is possible to find meaning there; we are not powerless.”

As a Pastoral Care and Spiritual Life offering, St. John’s wants to open up a conversation around personal finances, Finance First Fridays. Today we will start easy, with some practical advice to get you thinking about your personal finances. Future offerings may include spiritual practices for recognizing our own perceptions and tendencies around money, and developing new ways of approaching our finances.

We would also like to hear your money stories, tips, and resources. If you’d like to share please contact the church office. We hope this new series will be beneficial, and lead us toward managing money in a way that glorifies God, is good for others, and good for each of us as well.

 

5 Keys to Successfully Managing Your Personal Finances

BY MIRIAM CALDWELL  

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a magic formula or simple trick that allowed you to never have to worry about money or manage your finances again?

While that may not be realistic, there are some simple things you can do right now to improve your money situation. Try these five steps for successfully managing your personal finances. Another bonus? If you stick to these five tips, your financial problems may start to diminish, and you can start reaping the rewards of lower debt, saving for the future, and a solid credit score.

Detail Your Financial Goals

Take some time to write specific, long-term financial goals. You may want to take a month-long trip to Europe, buy an investment property, or retire early. All of these goals will affect how you plan your finances. For example, your goal to retire early is dependent on how well you save your money now. Other goals, including homeownership, starting a family, moving, or changing careers will all be affected by how you manage your finances.

Once you have written down your financial goals, prioritize them. This ensures that you are paying the most attention to the ones that are of the highest importance to you. You can also list them in the order you want to achieve them, but a long-term goal like saving for retirement requires you to work towards it while also working on your other goals.

Below are some tips on how to get clear on your financial goals:

  • Set long-term goals like getting out of debt, buying a home, or retiring early. These goals are separate from your short-term goals.
  • Set short-term goals, like following a budget, decreasing your spending, paying down or not using your credit cards.
  • Prioritize your goals to help you create a financial plan.

Flesh Out Your Plan

A financial plan is absolutely essential in helping you reach your financial goals. The plan should have multiple steps or milestones. A sample plan might include creating a monthly budget and spending plan, then getting out of debt.

Once you’ve accomplished these three things and have followed through on your new plan for a few months, you may find that you have extra cash, and the money you free up from your debt payments can be used to reach your next round of goals.

Again, it’s key to decide what priorities are most important to you. Keep steadily working toward your long-term retirement goals, but also start to focus on the most important near-term goals you have set for yourself. Do you want to take an extravagant trip? Start investing? Buy a home or build your own business? These are all things to consider when deciding on your next step.

Your goals, along with an emergency fund, will help you stop making financial decisions based on fear and help you get control of your situation.

When creating a financial plan, remember these things:

  • Your budget is key to success. It is the tool that will give you the most control of your financial future. Your budget is the key to achieving the rest of your plan.
  • You should keep contributing to long-term goals, like saving for retirement, no matter what stage of your financial plan you’re in.
  • Building an emergency fund is another key factor to financial success and stress reduction.

Make and Stick to a Budget

Your budget is one of the biggest tools that will help you succeed financially. It allows you to create a spending plan so you can allocate your money in a way that will help you to reach your goals.

You can make your budget as high-level or detailed as you want, as long as it helps you reach your ultimate goal of spending less than you earn, paying off any debts, padding your emergency fund, and saving for the future.

A budget will also help you decide how to spend your money over the coming months and years. Without the plan, you might spend your cash on things that seem important now, but don’t offer much in terms of enhancing your future. Many people get caught in this quagmire and get down on themselves for not reaching the financial milestones they want for their family and for their own life.

Don’t forget to celebrate small victories along the way. For example, congratulate yourself once you pay off your debt, or reward yourself when you stick to your budget for three months solid, or when you successfully pad your emergency fund.

If you are married, you and your spouse need to work together on the budget so that it feels fair to both of you, and you both have the same level of commitment towards achieving it. This can go a long way towards helping you prevent money-related arguments. Below are some tips for married couples who want to create a budget together:

  • Consider switching to an envelope budgeting system that uses cash for spending areas that require more discipline.
  • Use budgeting software with a mobile app so you can enter spending in real time.
  • Plan ahead to avoid any overspending.

Pay Off Debt

Debt is a huge obstacle for many when it comes to reaching financial goals. That’s why you should make eliminating it a priority. Set up a debt elimination plan, to help you pay it off more quickly. For example, while making minimum payments on all of your debt accounts, pay any extra money towards one debt at a time. After paying off one debt account, move all the money you were paying on the first debt to the next debt and continue from there, creating a debt-paydown “snowball effect.”

Once you are totally out of debt, make a commitment to stay out of debt. Leaving them credit cards at home may be a wise strategy. Save up an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses so you aren’t tempted to use a credit card to cover them.

Try these tips to help you pay off debt more quickly:

  • Sell unused or unwanted items around your home to find extra money to add to your debt repayment plan.
  • A second job can help speed up the process and may be necessary if you want to make fast or lasting changes to your situation.
  • Look for areas in which you can cut your budget to increase the cash available for your debt payments.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Advice

Once you have grown your savings and want to begin investing to increase your wealth, speak to a financial planner to help you make wise investment decisions.

A good adviser will share the risks involved in each investment and help you find products that match your comfort level and investing return needs while helping you work toward your goals as quickly as possible. A financial planner can also help you with your budget, which is another plus.

Investing is a long-term strategy that helps you in building wealth. You can also find financial help elsewhere, such as:

  • A local church or community center that offers free or low-cost classes or workshops on personal finances and budgeting. Occasionally, banks and credit unions offer courses, as well.
  • A mentor that would be willing to help you formulate and work through your budget for the first few months. This can help you if you are overwhelmed by the budget process.
  • If your parents or other family members are good with money, consider asking them for help, and talking to them about what worked for them financially and what they would have done differently.

Getting debt paid off, money saved and progress made towards your financial goals doesn’t have to be a difficult experience. Invest in yourself and your financial future so that you won’t ever need to worry about your finances again.

 

https://www.thebalance.com/manage-your-personal-finances-2385812

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