Christians and Money – Plenty

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written two post related(ish) to money. The first one, was about giving/charity and the IRS, as I had just finished doing my taxes and was giving a warning that my donations were suspiciously high. The second one, was supposed to be about what to do with excess money, but I felt I had to start with the fact that most people are bad with money and inexplicably, very few people budget. So, today, I’ll jump back on track with what to do when you have plenty.

Before discussing plenty, you have to figure out, what is enough? My granddad is old enough that he was never caught up in the religious right or Republican Christianity, and therefore takes the Bible seriously about money, believing that greed is a sin. Growing up, he always told the story of a reporter asking the richest man on earth how much money he needed, and the rich many responded, ‘just a little more’. The exchange is attribute to Rockefeller, but I couldn’t actually find anything that confirms this.

Either way the point remains, the concept of enough is a moving target. As I wrote some last week, it is also almost impossible to discuss with some people. I know people, who make more than I do, who eat out 4-5 times a week, have a $150 cable bill will also having Netflix, Hulu, Prime, and still go out to movies. He tells me they are almost paycheck to paycheck, and don’t have enough. No, they have enough, they are just wasting it.

For the sake of discussion, let’s say that enough is covering the bills/expenses of living, saving 10%, giving 10%, with some emergency savings and then a little extra cash every month for fun (this is a category for going out to eat, booze and expensive dinners are not bills). So, you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck, and you are doing the right things with you money and have some left over, that is enough/more than enough. I know this is a basic and peoples’ living expenses can vary dramatically, some places have a high cost of housing, some people buy too much house, many people have car loans they shouldn’t, and of course you can always lower your bills (you don’t have to keep your house at 72 degrees year round).

Certainly, if you have a decent sized discretionary or misc. portion of your budget you have enough. I guess a quick and easy definition of plenty would be if that section of your budget is larger than your saving and giving; definitely plenty if that budget item is your largest.

Maybe you’ve never bothered to budget and when you do, you end up like my buddy at work or other people I’ve talked to and find out that discretionary part of your budget is quite large, hundreds to even over a thousand dollars is what I’ve heard of from people ‘finding’ money in the budget when they actually put it on paper. Alternatively, you have the scenario like the Monday Morning Wife and I had where we both have new (promotion) jobs at new companies, so we received a substantial bump in salary. Or finally, say one spouse had been laid off or taken time out for babies and is not back to work. For these last two scenarios, you were already responsible and smart, so you had a budget and are now, clearly in the plenty category.

So now what?

I’ll admit I have no idea. I’ve struggled with this and have been wanting to write about it for almost a year. I’ll confess I’ve spent too much time thinking (obsessing) over what to do. In some ways, it is simple, right? For example, you have the raise/new income/’budget find’ scenario discussed above of say, $600 month. There are only three places it can go, savings, givings, or discretionary. This even works for just a one time bonus or tax return, as well. If you start budgeting an extra $60 a month to giving, that still leaves you with over $500 in new money and no particular place to go. Say you save have of it, now you are down to an extra $240 a month. Should you really spend all that on yourself?

This is the kind of thing that I struggle with, not the spending so much, because I just don’t buy many things, but can you justify saving 50% of new money, will keeping giving to 10%? Especially as your income and plenty grows? Dave Ramsey recommends saving 15%, and giving 10%, as a starting point. However, if you get that big bump, or just expect a good amount of growth in income over time, how much do those two numbers need to align? Can you save 30% and keep your giving at 10%? Should it be 25% and 15%? I actually had this discussion with someone yesterday. I told him I do feel compelled based on God’s blessing, to give more. He points out that Paul tells us to give what we decide and not from compulsion because God wants a cheerful giver. That makes sense on the one hand, but on the other, I don’t really want to give any money. Right? That’s the problem most people have, I’m selfish and would much rather keep all my money.

I want to quickly discuss two solutions I’ve heard that takes you away from the percentage focus I’ve discussed. I’m sure I overthink all of this and focus too much on the percentages because I’m such a strict budgeter. I’m sure many of you reading this might say, give your 10% and if there is an additional need, give to it. That’s where my obsessive compulsive nature comes in and says, yeah, but it isn’t in the budget. Back to the two methods, they are both numbers based. One number, is your income, you pick the number you want to hit, then give away 100% of every dollar thereafter. The second is your savings, same deal, pick a number you want to hit, then give away everything else. All this assumes a solid budget that already accounts for a 15/10% savings/givings.

First, income, this one is interesting, probably more Biblically sound, but harder to follow. This one should be pretty relevant for anyone who expects large growth in income over life times. Assume you and your wife make about $50k, but know in 20 years, you each could easily be making $100k (well keep all money in real dollars for ease), which isn’t that far off a scenario. You set your budget at the combined $100k mark, leave room for some growth in savings, income, and discretionary, and then pick your number. Call it $150k. When you hit this point, you’ll be giving 10% already, but will then give 100% of ever new dollar. By the time you hit that $200k line, you’d be giving away an incredible $65k (well, I guess less taxes, so call it $55k), somewhere around 25-30% of your income.

I like this idea. It is simple, and I can’t really think of any reason from the Bible to not do so. However, it is scary. It would be incredibly hard for me to give away that much, and keep savings at the relatively safe rate of 15-20%. While, I’d be sure that I’d probably be fine in the future, it seems much easier to trust money than it does God. You never know what emergency may hit – housing, job layoff, or especially in America, a medical issue. But clearly that is trying to serve two masters, it seems.

So, that leads to the other method. I heard about this from a friend who was a financial adviser and it is something he recommended. Unfortunately, he died last year and we never had the chance to discuss further. The idea is straight forward, you save/give your 15/10%, then as income rises you increase your savings rate, then once you hit your target number, you stop saving and give the rest away. I really like this idea, because it plays in to my need for safety and comfort coming from something I can ‘control’. However, I can’t think much about the method without feeling like all I am doing is ‘building a bigger barn’.

Obviously, there is some nuance to each of these situations (if you are going with the nest egg method, but you are offered a 401(k) match, do you keep saving a little?), but as general guidelines, I find them compelling. This has gone long, so maybe I’ll do yet another post, but I haven’t even touched on some even more compelling and interesting situations such as financial independence, moving to ministry/changing careers later in life, and the craziest of all, retirement (having a pension is simple, you can give off of your income, but if you only have a nest egg, how do you give?). Admittedly, I overthink it, but how about you? Do you under-think it? See any major pros or cons for either method, or thing focusing on percentages is the way to go? Please leave comments if you have them, I’d love some input.




Charity & IRS Audits

I recently finished reading Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, which I may review later, but I thought there was an interesting anecdote in one of the last chapters, one of them relates a story of man he new that was audited by the IRS due to the amount of money he gave to the church. His point being, what if all Christians gave so much money that tax auditors had to give it a second look.

I thought, man, how much is this guy giving as a percent of his income that would make the IRS suspicious? I could imagine a situation where giving goes up dramatically in one year. Say someone started a new job with a bigger salary, or took a big promotion/made partner, or something along those lines. If you are living on the fixed budget, then you’d have more money to give. Just because you have a raise, doesn’t mean you mortgage or groceries go up.

This is actually what happened to Mrs. MMT and me. Last year(ish) we both took different positions (that were promotions) with new companies. You almost always get a bump in salary if you go to a new company or get a promotion, and we did both, the both of us, so it was kind of a double double raise. However out expenses didn’t move up in the same proportion as our income, obviously, so we were able to increase our giving rate. We also spent a little more on ourselves and dramatically increased our savings rate, but overall we felt like, when faced with the question, ‘what should we do with this nice bump in income the Lord has blessed us with?’ part of the answer has to be to give more, and not in the total amount.

Clearly, if you make $50K and your salary goes up 10% to $55K, if you are holding to a 10% giving, then your giving would go from $5K to $5.5K. But like I mentioned earlier, if you have a handle on the rest of your expenses, you should be able to give more than 10% to church and other charities. It is not like the tithe is a hard and fast rule. We, as Christians, are not bound to 10%, and we can give more. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:7 – Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

We were more convicted of this during the summer when our pastor did two sermons (Part 1 & 2) on generosity as part of a large series on Money, Sex, and Power. It is also something I had been thinking about since we started our new jobs. We know we are ‘supposed’ to give 10% and we are supposed to save 15%. But if you have a large salary increase, what would it look like if you saved 25%, but still only gave 10%? That can’t be right, right? So, that is a point that the pastor was pointing out, what do your percentages look like. But, I digress too much, maybe I should make that into another post.

So, back to the present. I filled our taxes. I like using the H&R Block Tax Software. They have a cool feature that does an audit check for you and will tell you if something is really bad or just curious. Well, we were flagged. The system told us to double check out charitable deductions, because we had given a large amount. Of course, it wasn’t actually a large amount, just relative to income, it was a percentage they thought could raise interest for an audit.

I had just finished reading that book, so it made me interested. I’m imagining what it would look like to give 20-25% or more to the church, but I’m getting flagged for barley more than 10%. Why? Well, I looked into it. The average American only gives 3% of their adjusted gross income to charity. The most recent Pew study shows that 70.6% of American’s claim Christianity. So, if we all gave 10% and everyone else gave zero (which certainly isn’t the case, 1.9% claim Judaism, another .9% claim Islam, so there are a few more with the 10% guideline. Of course it would be ridiculous to think only religious people (or only these particular religions) give money to charity), then the average charitable giving of an American should be around 7%, not adjusting for things like income and religious affiliation, etc.

Maybe not surprisingly, the more money you make, the less you actually give. This article from Fool shows giving peaking at incomes of $50-75K with 6.8%, and then declines in every bracket until your income hits one million. Forbes breaks it down in even more specifically, take a look at your income and see how you compare. People start giving $3K once they make about $65K (notice, that is less than 5%), but don’t add that extra thousand to bring their total giving to $4K until they make almost twice that, at $125K (now we are closer to 3%). If you go from making $100K to $200K, you should be double your giving, instead you are going from $3.6K to $5.6K, at this point we are down to about 2.5%.

So, two things here, not only are we not giving more as a percentage as our income goes up, we are actually giving less, but we aren’t even giving close to 10%. No wonder it is a red flag that someone would give 10%. Imagine what it would look like if all Christians about a certain income gave 10%, and then as they made more that percentage increased? If we said from our abundance, we give even more back? What affect on society? Instead from more abundance, we become even less faithful. It is almost like we can only serve one master. It also frustrates me that so many Christians oppose certain types of welfare and government safety nets, claiming that charity should support people, not the government. While I don’t necessarily disagree, it is beyond hypocritical to claim that will not even giving 10% to your own church.

Anyway, this post became longer and less coherent than I intended. It was an interesting coincidence that I was challenged by this book with the example of the guy audited, only to then have my tax software tell me I needed to double check my own numbers, to then finding out Americans give so little as a percent of the income. Maybe I’ll break out some of these ideas in later post and try better next time.

In the News 11/17/17

Antarctica was once covered in forest, so that’s pretty cool.

Another ‘responsible gun owner’ accidentally shoots himself and wife, at church, will explaining how he would protect himself and others should someone attack the church. It is ironic, but it isn’t funny, almost like guns aren’t toys and this wanna-be hero complex might be dangerous. Hopefully, he and his wife will cover quickly.

FCC again trying to ban net neutrality. As a reminder, this means that companies like AT&T and Comcast could slow your internet down if you use things like Google or Netflix.

House passes a tax bill that along with ballooning the deficit that they supposedly care about will also repeal state and local tax deductions and limit the mortgage interest deductions.

As the article points out, “Repeals many other deductions: These include those for medical expenses, tax preparation fees, alimony payments, student loan interest and moving expenses.”

Not mentioned in the article, and just in time for National Adoption Month, the bill would also repeal tax credits that help offset adoption cost. Natalie has a good run down of why adoption is so expensive.

Hannity calls for a boycott of the sponsors that pulled their adds from his show after he should support for Roy Moore, who apparently likes underage girls.

Related, this article. The Evangelical response to Moore is going to be a huge point in our political history, I think. Then again, we screwed it up with Trump, so who knows? It has been well documented what Evangelicals thought about Bill Clinton in the 90’s and why he wasn’t fit for office. As the article points out, we’ve already given up ground on morality so that we could claim it was alright for ‘our guy’

 Between 2011 and last year, the percentage of Americans who say politicians who commit immoral acts in their private lives can still behave ethically in public office jumped to 61 percent from 44 percent, according to a Public Religion Research Institute/Brookings poll. During the same period, the shift among evangelicals was even more dramatic, moving from to 72 percent from 30 percent, the survey found.

Think about that, the number of people that basically said, ‘never mind, morality doesn’t matter’ went up almost 150%. Trump is the only reason. If we take the correct stance with Moore, maybe we can regain whatever little credibly is left of Christians to have in society.

Quickly, on Moore, he has done nothing illegal, it appears. I want to make that clear to start with, because there are people accusing him of being a molester or pedophile, and that is incorrect. The age of consent in most states, including Alabama, is 16, so the girls that he did interact with were of age. It just make him creepy and weird as man in his early 30’s dating high school girls. As a man in his early 30’s, this is really unimaginable, when I see high schoolers or even college students at church, I can’t believe how young they look. We just hired a guy in his early 20’s at work and another 30 year old and I swear we didn’t look that young. So, that is a bit repugnant and anyone violating the half plus seven rule is creepy to me.

Now, if he did have sexual contact with the 14 year old, then he is, in fact, either a child molester or statutory rapist, depending on how the law is in Alabama. Either way, if convicted (hypothetically, as the statue of limitations has run out), he would be a registered sex offender. Since he cannot be tried, you have to seriously ask yourself, do you believe that his plan was to hold this girls hand for a few years until she was old enough? To me, the answer is clearly no. So, is a potential sex offender who we want representing ‘evangelical morality’? Again, we have Trump, so what is the difference?

Two more thoughts, then I’ll wrap it up. I appreciate that a few people are at least willing to admit, that it is all still just about abortion. I disagree we should be single issue voters, especially when it means supporting a possible sex offender. I’d appreciate if some more people were even more honest and just say they only care about low taxes, drop the whole morality charade completely. That would at least be consistent.

My other, and final, thought is really more of a fisk of this quote by a Moore supporter (and Bill Clinton detractor) from the article:
“All of us have sinned and need a savior,” Floyd said.
Sadly, pastors discussing sin in public now only seem to happen when they are dismissing a sin.
“Of course, moral character is still important.
Obliviously moral character doesn’t matter, we have Trump (81% of Evangelical voters) and you are literally being interviewed about your support for someone who attempted statutory rape. 
But with Bill Clinton or Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby, we’re talking about something completely different.
In what way? 
You have to look at the totality of the man.
Exactly, he has a long history of dating teenage girls as a man in his 30’s. He attempted to date a girl that, had he been successful, would make him a sex offender. This is why people are saying he is unfit for office, the totality of the man. Speaking of which, he is also a man who said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to hold public office. 
That’s why I support Judge Moore.
Why again? I missed any actual reason.
I’ve prayed with him.
Oh, sure, that’s a legit reason.
I know his heart.”
No, no you don’t. No one knows anyone’s heart. You don’t even know your own. Jeremiah 17:9
“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?

In the News

Historical view on whether Trump is actually unprecedented in his actions.

A brief history on the social impact of front porches.

I guess Kelly is technically correct (the best kind of correct), but not in the way he might think – The north tried compromise.

The 2017 APA Stress in America survey is out, with 63% of Americans stressed about the future of our country. This is slightly higher than the two other main causes, money and work. The number one reason for the concern for our future is healthcare.

On Tuesday, we celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. It is a good time to reflect on the impact and importance of those events and remember how far we’ve fallen. You can check out Christianity Today’s write-up or read the study itself, but the worst part is only 46% of American Protestants believe that faith alone (Sola Fide) saves you.

Other notes include less Protestants (70%) knowing the ‘The Reformation’ is the name of the event in which we broke from the Catholic Church than Atheists( 85%), with 18% believing it was the Crusade. Similarly, only 71% correctly identified Martin Luther with the Reformation, with John Wesley coming in second with 17%.

This is another sad reminder of how little we know in our American version of Christianity, maybe if we spent more time actually reading and studying the Bible instead of fighting for political power, we’d all be better off.

Trump vows ‘extreme vetting‘ after terrorist attack. However, talking about guns after the Las Vegas shooting, which killed 58 people, is ‘politicizing’ the event.

Not sure really what to think of this yet. It appears I will either get a slight advantage or be neutral. Seems like a little bit more tax on the very wealthy, but also cutting deductions for the pretty wealthy in high tax states. Also, will blow up our deficit to unprecedented levels, which, supposedly, Republicans care about.

A write-up from November 1, 1913 on Notre Dame’s use of the forward pass. Not only is the style of writing awesome, but the imagery of the early use of the pass is hilarious. I imagine the guys running down the field and just standing there.

Dorais shot forward passes with accuracy into the outstretched arms of his ends, Captain Knute Rockne, and Gus Hurst, as they stood poised for the ball, often as far as 35 yards away.

Finally, as Mrs. MMT is successful and her mom reads this, I’ll leave this here with no further comment.