Thursday, January 31, 2008

FPU Session 3: Cash Flow Planning

This was the session I was most looking forward to. I am a believer in the effectiveness of consistent budgeting and cash flow planning. At the core I think cash flow planning makes or breaks a financial plan. Successful businesses always focus on day to day cash management (Where's cash at?). Why not apply the same principles to personal financial planning? My belief in practice though seems to be an inch deep.

Going into this session my expectations were not to really learn anything new in the way of techniques but to catch a vision. Yes, catch a budgeting vision. I feel as though I have a lot of knowledge in how to create a budget and how to work it. Where everything falls apart, when money is tight, is my ability to re-focus and laser in with motivation and discipline in order to keeps things form getting worse. In other words, I tend to fall off the wagon, a lot . I wish I could apply the same drive I have for working out and lifting weights to my financial situation. I recognize I think differently in that I have much less hope for success in my financial life than I do in exercise and fitness. The solution is to change my thinking and achieve small steps to success so that confidence increases, motivation deepens, and the drive to persevere becomes top priority. Successful personal budgeting requires perseverance. These were my thoughts going into Session 3.

Session 3 was definitely typical in the way of Dave presenting principles so that the participants get motivated. This session was not much detailed how-to's as it was big picture: 1) Why you need to budget, 2) Why you don't want to budget, 3) How to get started creating a budget....etc. The how-to was a very basic introduction to very basic budgeting forms. There was even a very, very basic discussion on how to balance a checkbook. This is all great information and certainly required learning. Dave teaches a principle of baby steps and the ins and outs of personal budgeting in this session were presented as the first few essential baby steps to take. Good, but I was left wanting for more. I've been in this spot before with other venues into personal budgeting.

If nothing else, listening to Ramsey explain concepts that I think I already know, it forces me to consider then...deeply, what the heck is wrong with me! I am understanding more and more how deep, or rather how shallow my thinking is. Techniques do not change me. Techniques do not motivate me although learning new ones provide a spark. In the end, my thinking is even more messed up than I want to admit. Budgeting is a means to an end - to put more cash in my pocket, to get control over my spending and save more. Great stuff! But ultimately...not the greatest way to view budgeting. Budgeting is not a means to any of my personal ends. How I live out budgeting principles on a day to day basis exposes where my heart is at in relationship to God on a day to day basis. The money that comes in and out of my hands is from the Lord, right? That's what I believe. But functionally, I am not living it out. How aware I am now of the tension between what I want to be verses what I really am. If I were living out what I want to be, my motivation to diligently keep a budget would be rooted in biblical stewardship and thus the promises of God. But instead, I think to shallow and focus only on getting a little bit more excess cash in the checkbook so that things don't seem so tight.

I will persevere though. In fact, one spark from this session was when it seemed like Ramsey spoke directly to me. He gave me permission to struggle with a budget for at least three months. He told me to drop all expectations of success of failure and just work the system. I can write more about this in another post but in my black-or-white-all-or-nothing world hearing Ramsey's encouragement to start again and press on is very motivating to me. I know the system and I have decided to just put my head down and press on - work the plan and in that I will be honoring God!

Next week is Dumping Debt.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

FPU Session 2

I am a week behind in blogging about my time at Financial Peace University. Last night was session three and I have yet to post about session two. So here goes it.

Session Two is titled Relating With Money, Nerds and Free Spirits Unite! The main theme for this session is the difference between men and woman and nerds and free spirits. The idea is to recognize that tension points exist between men and woman simply because they are different and this deeply effects how money is handled in the family. Also, to add more fuel, Ramsey points out that usually in regards to finances a person takes on the role of the nerd or free spirit. The nerd is detailed oriented and operates very much out of a system that he or she created. The free spirit He/she does not like budgets, does not want to be tied down and told what to do with money. The free spirit is not necessarily destructive but rather is not so concerned about the "minor" details. The nerd thinks the free spirit acts irresponsibly. The nerd expects the free spirit to comply with the financial plan and "be more disciplined". The nerds posture can make the free spirit feel not cared for. Typically in marriage one spouse takes on one characteristic and the other spouse takes on the competing role - this is just another expression of the differences between men and women. I liked this identification because it seemed accurate and I can see it in my marriage. When it comes to writing a budget I am the nerd and my wife is the free spirit. However, when it comes to living the budget in everyday life, I am very much the free spirit and my wife is a perfect nerd. She is so disciplined - this is a blessing to my family.

This session felt very much like an over-hyped "special breakout" at a Gary Smalley marriage conference. Nothing against Smalley but you know what I mean if you've ever attended one of his events. Most of the information provided is directed at getting you motivated to change through "essential" techniques rooted in behavior modification theory. Essentially - stop doing these behaviors, start doing these, and your life will be better and you'll be happier and you'll get along with your spouse perfectly. Also, recognizing the differences between men and woman is key to understanding why they each behave differently. If you know why then that helps with knowing what to do. I don't agree. It is too formulaic. Yes, coming together on money issues in a marriage is critical I agree, but I don't think it is as ever as easy as what was outlined in session two. There is just simply too much that goes on in the human heart and desires, regardless of the gender, you can't narrow the scope of motivation and change to just behavior modification. I have a feeling I am complicating the basic ideas of session two but I am describing some of the underlying issues I knew I would encounter when I signed up for the course.

With that said, I did take away a few things I will use in my own financial life:
  1. Schedule a regular time for a family budget committee meeting.
  2. Follow the rules of the budget committee meeting designed to focus on the strengths of the nerd and free spirit instead of the weaknesses.
  3. Be much more intentional in teaching my children about what I am learning in this class. Create a legacy of financial knowledge for them.
I am looking forward to next week Cash Flow Planning. Now that is strange to write that being that next week was last night.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Office - Full Episodes online

Full episodes of The Office are now available.

There are also plenty of bits on youtube like this classic where Micheal obeys his GPS device no matter the cost:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

FPU Session One

Dave Ramsey's high energy story telling and the excitement of this being the first night of FPU (i.e. seeing who's in the class, anticipating the unknown) helped keep me awake and focused in both the video session and small group interaction. Seven to Nine o'clock in the evening is generally a tough time for me. Because I get up each morning at 4:45 am, I am generally sleeping at 9:00 pm each night.

I was also very excited about the FPU package we received at registration. The contents included a workbook, audio cds, a book by Dave, and several other items that will be used in the budgeting process. Furthermore, each participant has full access to online resourse galore throughout the 13 weeks of the program. I love information and so I'll be sifting through it all online.

To me financial planning is just like exercising and eating right. Essentially both disciplines are bloated by information overload and yet all the "best ways" and "top 10 things to do now" ideas can be paired down to critical principles that everyone needs to follow to progress to success. The knowledge is abundant but the key aspect is always much more personal because it involves heart and behavior changes. There is always some deep motivation that drives human behavior and unless that drive is retooled, all the information in the world is useless.

Its obvious Dave seeks to motivate people to change behavior regarding how they handle money. His principles in this session are common but he does a fantastic job articulating a compelling vision of success. I tend to quickly grasp hold of another's enthusiasm and passion and so Dave's personality served me well in this session.

The topic was all about identifying baby steps and committing to movement toward the first step of building an emergency fund of $1,000. As soon as possible. One month is what Dave pushed a bit. Set aside $1,000 asap! I committed to this step.

My ears were especially tuned into how Dave used Scripture in this lesson. There is no mistaking where Dave places God in his life - its obvious Dave seeks to glorify God with the work of FPU. But slight proof-texting was also obvious. For now I am still listening as the references were not all that out of place. But, my guiding presupposition is the fact the scripture refers to money over 2,000 times and Jesus taught more about money than heaven and hell. The purpose of all these teachings about money is to point the student to his/her own heart - how one handles money exposes what a person really thinks about God's promises. With that said, the meaning of some of the scripture references used was cut short by only pointing to proof of the principle Dave was describing. It really is not that bad yet so I'll keep an eye on it.

There is homework. Establish a quick budget and read four chapters in Dave's book. With that said however, it was a good opening night.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Blog Series on Financial Peace University

Problem: My cynical attitude toward participating in Financial Peace University

Solution: Blog About It

I must deal with my pervasive bad attitude about Financial Peace University (FPU). I've already admitted the problem so I don't need to go there. Tonight is the first class and they've already cashed my check for the $99 registration fee.

I have nothing (major) against Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University. I actually think the man is a great communicator. At face value, I believe a majority of the success stories I hear from FPU graduates.

What's my problem? I am so stinking cynical about the commitment I made to attend FPU with my wife for the next (16?) weeks. I look forward to the precious time with my wife but I am rolling my eyes at everything else.

Basically, my attitude revolves around the following thoughts:

1) My family lives off a budget I have in my head. It works. When it doesn't, it's because we don't bring in enough income, and our single income lifestyle is 100% our choice.
2) I have not charged a single penny to a credit card in 3 years. We are currently on a plan to pay off all our credit card debt in the next two years. That day will be a great day, but for now, it is what it is.
3) How will FPU help me improve my financial situation? I feel like we are doing all we can.
4) I was employed in the financial world for 8 years so I know all about investment strategies and insurance requirements - they both take extra money we certainly do not have.
5) I do have specific financial goals for my family in 2008. I welcome advice on how to implement and stay consistent with these goals but based on talking to other FPU graduates I don't think we'll be dealing with my goals in any of the courses.

Obviously God is going to do a great work in my heart. I am ripe. My expectations are all messed up.

To hold my self accountable to focusing on God's expectations, I've decided to objectively blog about my time at FPU. I promise to ring out my dirty attitude and I think what I encounter may be beneficial to others.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Family of 7 Living On $35k By Choice

Yesterday, linking around, I found this article on a family of 7 that chooses a frugal lifestyle and lives well on only $35,000 after-tax income. Here is their main site (how they earn that living): America's Cheapest Family

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Humility Lessons In Air Hockey Defeats

I played 15 straight games of Air Hockey last night. Ten with my oldest son and five with my middle daughter. My record: 0-15. That's ZERO wins!!! ZERO!! NaDa! Like my son kept saying, "They owned the table." We're working on the trash-talkin, squelching it that is, but last night, they proved the point.

We just got the table, these are my first games. This shameful start is pitiful! Tonight I seek to redeem myself and take back my self-granted throne of Air Hockey King, especially in my own house. I love playing air hockey! I am good at it! Really good! In college it was my thing (along with table hockey, floor hockey, video hockey, and badminton.)

Last night's competition was not a case of Daddy being a good Daddy and playing light, letting them win once in a while, restraining my skills, and teaching them about losing. Last night I played my heart out. Speed. Speed. Speed. Quick wrists. Killer instincts fully engaged. I was amazed at the intensity. I was also very impressed with my competition (yes, my precious children, but in the moment, they were a force to be mastered.) Tonight I will begin my comeback. My strategy? Play way past their bedtime and let fatigue set in.

What does this post have to do with Humility? Zero wins in fifteen games!! Geez, my loyal pet cat Griffen was even mocking me, grinning from his stoop on the stairs.

Powlison on New Years Resolutions

Another one of my favorite Biblical Counselors, David Powlison, posts on New Years Resolutions. It is a must read. Here are a few deconstructing quotes that gripped my attention:
"Some resolutions are petty, but most resolutions make a profound statement. They express a sensed need for moral reformation. “Lose weight, quit drinking, smell the roses, and treat my family better” are not trivial matters – when properly framed."

"That’s the rub: proper framing. Whether petty or profound, New Year’s resolutions as such merely express good intentions. They describe self-referential problems – “I find abc displeasing about myself.” They make no reckoning with the power of our passions, fears, habits . . . inner sinfulness, sin directly against God Himself . . . and with the power of outer evils (including enculturation) that allure and constrain us. They propose self-dependent solutions – “I resolve to do xyz to change myself.”"

"Furthermore, whether petty or profound, New Year’s resolutions express purely individualistic intentions."

"I might feel better about myself, but what is God thinking about the Better Me I have become? Am I becoming more integral to the Holy We that is His new creation?"

He then goes on to define what a resolution really is. He submits his own:
I now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that I will endeavor to live as becomes a follower of Christ.
And explains it:
"That resolution was not cooked up on some hung-over January 1st because I’d become dissatisfied with my life over the previous 12 months. It is a resolution expressing the mind of Christ, mapping out a new life through all my days and years. To live “as becomes a follower of Christ” takes very seriously many specific sub-resolutions."
Please, give Powlison's post a full read. What do you hear him saying? What do you think about what he is saying?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Ed Welch on Christian Identity Statements

Ed Welch is January guest blogger over at Society for Christian Psychology. Welch is one my favorite Biblical Counselors.

Check out his musings today on the effectiveness of christian identity statements such as "I am a child of God." Welch suggests why they are not all that helpful and how to think rightly about them - they are suppose to point to God and not to self.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Exciting News From The Inline Skating World

Exciting to me that is!

I'll spare all the reasons why this is really cool, great, awesome, fantastic, world-changing...and I'll spare you more superlatives. (I realize you probably did not read the entire story behind the above link. I am not offended if you did not because you probably only care somewhat about inline skating because you care about me, right?)

Seriously though, the news is world-changing in the inline community. Because it is something new and in the seemingly dormant sport of competitive inline skating, something new, especially if it has the effect of producing more non-pro fitness skaters, means the sport is regaining ground. The future is bright!

I plan to join this race series this year and so far two of the four races I want to compete in are part of the series. I expect the other two to be added soon.

Another item I caught from the linked story is the addition of a new division in the Hayward event. Up till now, participants are placed in divisions based on gender and age. But now, a new division, named Clydesdale, will be a place for "large-men" over 200 lbs. Hilarious! I've always joked about having finished 1st in my weight class in previous races.

My training plans include me getting under 200 this year. I am at 214 right now and I'll most likely drop under 2oo in the new few months. But should I now? Should I stay above 200 just to increase my chances of a top three finish...perhaps even a win? Will I really be a better overall skater at 200 lbs? No matter the questions...a Clydesdale division is creative and still very hilarious. I can't stop picturing a bunch a mammoth horses on inlines cruising in a paceline at 20 mph. Get the heck out of the way and look out ahead!