The Smartie’s Guide to Finances

 

When the financial and housing markets hit the skids recently, I said to a friend, “This sure came as a huge surprise, huh? I mean it’s not like we’ve been overspending or going into debt in this country. It’s not like we would spend money we don’t have buying things we don’t need to impress people who won’t even show up at our funeral. What do you think we are? Crazy people?”

          It was one of the most sarcastic remarks since Johnny Carson said, “Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas.”

Somewhere around third grade I received my very first allowance. I couldn’t believe it. My mother, a Scottish Presbyterian, doling out free money. Had she lost her mind? But I discovered quickly that there were chores attached, and that if I wanted the money I would have to listen to a brief speech right there in the kitchen. And so I tried to sit still as she offered me all the financial advice I would ever need. If I recall correctly, her little homily sounded something like this.

 

Say a prayer of thanks whenever you receive money. All that we have is on loan. Be grateful. And stop eating all the cookie doe, it’ll ruin your appetite.

Money will serve you well, just make sure you don’t serve it.

Always give the first part of it back to God. 10% is a great place to start. And smile when you drop it in the offering plate. It’s fun to shock people.

Remember that borrowing money is like wetting your bed. You’ll feel warm for awhile, but it won’t last. Hey, quit pulling the dog’s ears.

The Tortoise and the Hare is a book about finances. There’s no hurry. Don’t run after get rich quick schemes. Go slow and steady and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the ending.

If you can’t afford the donut, leave it on the shelf. Remember if your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall. If you want a 10-cent ice cream cone and only have a penny, come home and raid the fridge. But not right now. Right now you need to step away from the cookies and sit down and listen.

Enjoy things without owning them. We can’t afford a motorcycle, but Philip Dawson has one. Here, take him some of these cookies.

Saving money is like dessert. You have to wait for it, but you’ll be glad you did. Besides, you may need the money one day to help people who didn’t follow these principles. You may go now. Be a good boy.

 

          Other advice would come as I aged, and it would come from those more fiscally astute than my mother. (“Don’t pay interest on anything that loses value.” “Never co-sign a loan.” “If you need more money, go out and make some”.) But after heeding her simple advice these forty-seven years, I have discovered that I owe no one anything, that contentment has been my companion, and that during the recent crash, panic was something I only witnessed on television. John Wesley challenged Methodists to “make all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” and I imagine the emphasis may have been on the third syllable of that exhortation. The early Methodists lived simply. They dressed simply. They founded societies on frugality, not that they might hoard, but that they might give. 

In his book, The Decline of Thrift in America, historian David Tucker traces our cultural shift from saving to spending. He notes that throughout much of American history we saved up to 15% of our income. Then came the 1990s when credit came easy and borrowing became a way of life. It felt good for a few minutes, but did not last. Today the average American is buried under more debt than at any time in history. In fact, the average American now owes more to credit card companies than the average American earned annually in the 1970s. I kid you not. I researched this myself.

Following one of the most tragic days in U.S. history, the President advised Americans on how to deal with their grief: “Go shopping,” he said. After the news that unemployment was high, he reiterated: I encourage you all to go shopping more. We had no money for donuts, but who cared? Why worry when you can spend?

Perhaps one of the greatest blessings is a financial crisis. It can cause us to engage in activities we haven’t tried in years.

Yes, some are staying home talking with their children rather than going to the movies and eating out. Fathers have been seen throwing baseballs with their daughters, leaning over fences chatting with neighbors. Some have been caught riding bicycles and walking the dog. If this lasts much longer you'll find people with time to read a library book!

The very week I discovered that my RSPs had been devalued by 50 percent and that I would therefore have to work until I reached the age of 112, I wrote these words.

 

"Thank you Lord for this market crash. For too long we’ve been chasing things that have not kept their promise. For too long we’ve been sacrificing at the altar of stuff and it’s cost us our families and our marriages. We’ve confused our wants with our needs and bowed our knee to the god of Mammon. Forgive us Lord. Keep us ever mindful of the eternal. Remind us that this life is a short and fevered practice for a game we cannot stay to play. May we never again place our trust in limited resources, when a limitless God offers us the richness of his pleasure and his peace. Amen."

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