Thursday, January 29, 2009

Surviving Financial Meltdown

Our last book for January is Surviving Financial Meltdown -- Confident Decisions in an Uncertain World, by Ron Blue and Jeremy White, CPA.

Most of us are wondering how our current economy will affect us. This book promises answers to our most pressing financial concerns -- and a long-term strategy for financial health.

Text on the back cover:

Increasing layoffs, rising food prices, a stagnant housing market, an
erratic stock market. Surely these jeopardize your family's financial future,

They don't have to, say trusted financial experts Ron Blue and Jeremy
White. They'll show you how to take charge of your family's financial well-being
-- no matter how bleak your situation appears right now.

Surviving Financial Meltdown answers the questions that keep you up at

  • What should I do if my job seems to be in jeopardy?
  • Should I take my money out of the stock market?
  • What steps should I take if I'm behind on my house payments?
  • Where can I save money as the cost of living keeps going up?

This indispensable guide also offers a six-step plan that will lead your
family to economic health. Based on scriptural wisdom and time-tested truth,
these principles transcend the gloom and doom of TV and Internet pundits and
give you proven strategies to strengthen your family's number one economic
indicator: your own checkbook.

Learn why you don't need to fear tough economic times -- and why there may be
no better time than now to take control of your family's financial


Ron Blue has been a financial planner and consultant for over 30 years. He currently leads an international effort to equip and motivate Christian financial professionals to serve the body of Christ by implementing biblical wisdom in their lives and practices, resulting in financial freedom. Ron has appeared on national radio and television programs and has authored 13 books on personal finance, including the best-seller, Master Your Money.

Jeremy White has been a Certified Public Accountant since 1988 with financial experience in public accounting and industry. He's currently practicing as a partner with Blythe, White & Associates, a certified public accounting and consulting firm in Paducah, KY. Jeremy is a qualified member of Kingdom Advisors. He has coauthored or assisted with four other best-selling financial books including The New Master Your Money, Splitting Heirs, and Your Kids Can Master Their Money.


Surviving Financial Meltdown is designed to address many of the fears people have when managing their money. It provides practical assistance in understanding biblically-based financial principles and establishing financial goals. It also includes an appendix with money saving ideas.

In the first chapter, Ron and Jeremy introduce the four principles of financial success: thinking long term, spend less than you earn, maintain emergency savings, and minimize the use of debt. They are simple concepts that often get overlooked, but they have stood the test of time in famine and in times of plenty. The principles are easy to understand, but are often difficult to follow. The authors are encouraging and positive that each of us can learn to manage our finances wisely, regardless of where we are financially today. By implementing these principles, the authors can teach us how to make financial peace of mind a reality.


Chapter 1: Riding out the Economic Storm -- How to Prepare for Economic Uncertainty

Chapter 2: This Economy Is Unique, Just Like Every Other One Before It -- Dealing with a Challenging Economy

Chapter 3: No Sense Being Pessimistic -- It Wouldn't Work Anyway! Dealing with Financial Fears

Chapter 4: This Isn't Going to Hurt a Bit...Step 1 Take a Financial Physical

Chapter 5: Aim at Nothing and You'll Hit It Every Time ... Step 2 Think Long Term -- Set Goals

Chapter 6: I'm Stuck in a Traffic Jam on the Road to Riches ... Step 3 Spend Less Than You Earn

Chapter 7: I'm Having an Out-of-Money Experience ... Step 4 Build Emergency Savings

Chapter 8: I'm Being Eaten by the Borrow Constrictor ... Step 5 Avoid Debt

Chapter 9: Honey, I've Shrunk Our Portfolio ... Step 6 Think Long Term With Investing.


Each chapter has personal stories of financial situations and their implications. Bible verses and concepts are introduced to strengthen the reliance on God, not finances, as the rock by which we stand. The chapters are easy to read, and they are divided by descriptive subtitles. There are sidebars and boxes with specific research or advice pertinent to the topic of the chapter. Chapters are short, approximately 10 pages, making this an easy book to read in one setting if you choose.

Tomorrow we will look at some of the chapters in more detail!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Economic Parables -- Post 3

This is the final day we are looking at Economic Parables by David Cowan.

It is a little more difficult to summarize the key principles of money management from this book since each chapter is diving deep to understand Jesus's perspective on finances. The chapters double as a Bible study tool.

Let's look at one chapter in more detail. Chapter 14, How Much Do We Need To Live On, focuses on the parable of the lost coin from Luke 15:8-10. In two short verses, Jesus provides an important story for managing our finances. This is the parable of a woman who has ten coins and loses one. She desperately searches her home until she finds it, then she calls all her friends and neighbors together to celebrate.

Cowan mentions the absurdity of this parable in context of losing a penny, or even a dollar coin. However, he explains, in Bible days this silver coin was the equivalent of a day's wages. The value of money depends on how much we have in the first place. What if you lost 10% of your entire savings (and how many of us have actually lost that much of our retirement funds in the recent market downturns)?

So often we look at the wonderful things others own and get discouraged by what seemingly little we have. Yet if we compare our lives to the approximately one billion people who live on less than one dollar per day, we are rich beyond belief. How much do we actually need to live? And what should we do with the rest of our money?

This chapter takes a turn to look at poverty and our individual and collective responsibilities. Cowan states that "it seems that we wantt eh economy to do that which we personally do not want to do: to serve or be charitable." In essence, we spend to the max (or beyond) of our ability on ourselves, with little thought to the family across town who can't afford to turn the heat on. Do we have a responsibility to manage 'our' money in a way that impacts them?

This book is written for those who want to relate Jesus's teachings to our current world economic system...a much more difficult task that relating these teachings just to our own stewardship. It is full of complex concepts and thoughts that may seems simplistic at first read, but cause you to really think about our way of life for a long time after you put the book down.

This is not a book to help you get through the current difficult time in our financial world, but to help you understand how to approach big picture financial concepts in a Biblical way. In doing so, you may decide that your personal approach to finances can be revised to be more Biblical, too.

You can purchase this book at Amazon if you are interested in a challenging read!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Christian Writers’ Market Guide 2009 by Sally Stuart

I'm going to step out of our finance focus for one post to introduce the new copy of the Christian Writers’ Market Guide 2009 by Sally Stuart

The Resource Guide to Getting Published
For 24 years running, the Christian Writers’ Market Guide has remained the most comprehensive, complete, essential, and highly-recommended resource for beginning and veteran Christian writers, agents, editors, publishers, publicists, and those teaching writing classes.
This year’s Guide is even handier with a CD-Rom included that features the full text of the book for easy searches of topics, publishers, and markets, as well as 100 pages of exclusive content including indexes and writing resource listings.
This is the resource you need to get noticed—and published.

Completely updated and revised to feature the latest on…
more than 1,200 markets for the written word
416 book publishers (32 new)
654 periodicals (52 new)
96 literary agents
100 new listings in Resources for Writers
226 poetry markets
316 photography markets
25 African-American markets
and 166 contests (29 new)


This is by far one of the most helpful books I own. If you want to write for Christian audiences, this book will provide everything you need to be successful except inspiration. It is the most comprehensive compiliation of Christian markets for writing...actually it's probably the ONLY one.

In addition to listings of all publishers, It has a fabulous section called Helps for Writers. This includes listings of conferences and workshops, Christian writers' clubs, editorial services, agents, and contests. Sally Stuart has included a CD-ROM with resources for writers, including business and legal matters, freelance jobs, research helps, website development, software, and writing instruction tools.

Every Christian writer should own a copy of this book!
You can get your own copy at:

Author Bio:
Sally E. Stuart is the author of thirty-six books and has sold more than one thousand articles and columns. Her long-term involvement with the Christian Writers’ Market Guide as well as her marketing columns for the Christian Communicator, Oregon Christian Writers, and The Advanced Christian Writer, make her a sought-after speaker and a leading authority on Christian markets and the business of writing. Stuart is the mother of three and grandmother of eight and lives near Portland , Oregon .

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Economic Parables -- Post 2

An interview with the author of Economic Parables:

Author David Cowan states, “The debate about the economy is more out of control than the economy itself. This talking down of the market is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.“There is an illusion that the economy will look after us. It is not a function of the economy to do this. Ever since God sent Adam into the garden and told him, ‘Life’s gonna be tough!’, we have had to find ways to negotiate conflicting wants and needs in the world. This is what the economy does. We need to use the good times - as a country, as households and as individuals - to prepare for the bad times. We have lost the habit of our grand-parents of doing this, which is why we have such a mess today. In downturns we can get economically punished, but remember that in the alternatives of Socialism and Communism, and in high tax regimes, we get punished ALL the time.”

Below, Cowan addresses questions that many of us are asking about the current economic situation:

Who is responsible for this mess?

We all are. The current crisis has to be put into perspective. In some ways, we have become a spoiled society, only happy in the good times and unprepared for the bad times. Unlike our parents and grandparents, we only think of things getting better, but this is unrealistic. The economy has its own rules of gravity, what goes up will come down. We didn’t hear complaints when it was easy to get loans, without backing it up with any assets, but now the markets have gone against us we don’t want to take responsibility.

Will the bail-out work?

The bail-out will have to work. Not because it is wise, sadly, but because that is what the loudest voices are baying for. On the plus side, there is an opportunity for government to make money and return a profit to the America taxpayer a year or two down the line. This was done back in the 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, and again in the 1980s with the Resolution Trust Corporation in the Savings & Loans bank failures. On the negative side, there is the possibility the profit could just get squandered by various lobbied interests and government bureaucracy.

Is this is all the fault of bankers?

It’s easy to attack the fat cats of Wall Street, and they deserve a lot of criticism. But what about the big pay-outs to sports stars, movie stars, celebrities and others? Isn’t it the case that we have a culture of greed? This is a tough thing to say, which is why you won’t hear the politicians say it, but we all share the blame. There is a gambling mentality in our economic behavior. We’ve all - not just the banks but all of us - been putting our chips on red and now the market has gone black we look for someone to blame. Too many of us, on Wall Street and Main Street, have been managing our desires unwisely.

Is this proof that Capitalism doesn’t work?

This is not the time to question the future of Capitalism. It is not a question of whether Capitalism works or not. It is not a time to go back to the tired old debates of the last century about Capitalism. The alternatives like Socialism and Communism caused oppression, and they were unsuccessful. We still believe in democracy, even when elected leaders have become dictators. Equally, we still have to believe in Capitalism, even when we see irresponsible leadership in the market.

What is the way forward?

This is the question to ask: what kind of market do we want? The answer should not be a kind of European Socialist-lite. It should be about robust Capitalism, made robust by effective regulation, increased individual responsibility by all, and greater accountability of financial institutions and businesses so that managers actually know what is going on in their organizations.

What should we do as individuals?

What is happening right now is a bleak message to us all; we know that. But there is a bleaker message when we do not listen to Jesus when he says in the parable “You can’t take it with you”. If you are hurting right now from this economic crisis, you have to ask yourself what you have left, and you should see indeed there is much left, for there is the love of Jesus in your life. Just like the economy, this is an opportunity for you show Him that you can go through the bad times with him, not just the good times.

What questions should I ask of myself?

Many people, as they find their material life difficult, will also find they have nothing left in the spiritual bank, because they have based their life on material things. If we base our life on the parables, we learn that Jesus tells us to use our worldly wealth wisely, so this is a time to ask, did we do that? Did we do that economically? And more importantly, did we do that spiritually?

I’m surviving, what should I do?

The faithful who have managed both their economical and spiritual wealth wisely, this is a time for you to reach out into your community and see how you can help people in trouble. Help people with debt counseling, and give people spiritual counseling. When 9/11 and New Orleans happened we knew we had to reach out. This is an economic storm we are in, we need the same approach, money doesn’t make it different.

Economic Parables - Post 1

This week we'll look at a new book, Economic Parables -- The Monetary Teachings of Jesus Christ by David Cowan.


Ever wondered how to pay the next bill? Felt the world is unfair in economic rewards? Been indecisive about investing wisely? These types of fiscal questions are addressed from a Christian viewpoint in Economic Parables.

Using his vast experience in the financial world as well as church ministry, the author invites you to listen directly to the words of Jesus and reflect on a number of "economic parables" to understand life in an increasingly globalized economy. Some of the answers you'll find will be surprising, in part, because Jesus was a more sophisticated economist than he is given credit for. His words will shed light on many modern economic problems and decisions we may not think to go to the Bible about.

By taking this journey through the "economic parables," your response to finances and the global marketplace will be enriched from a balanced biblical approach. Each chapter contains a parable and reflection, followed by questions making this book ideal for group or personal Bible study.

David Cowan is a pastor, speaker, writer, and theologian. He holds a Bachelor of Theology and Master of Theology, both from the University of Oxford, and a Diploma in Ministry from Westfield House, Cambridge. For over twenty years, he worked as a journalist, editor, and bank executive in Europe and North America for organizations such as Financial Times, Euromoney, and the World Bank Group in Washington DC. He has written for the Washington Times, Financial Times, The Times of London, The Middle East and has been interviewed by major print, television, and radio media, including CNBC, Bloomberg TV, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and BBC Radio. He lives in Cluny, France, with his wife and two children.

In the Preface, David explains how his unique experiences as both a theologian and journalist in the finance industry position him to view both the Bible and world financial issues in a different light.

He states his hope that the book will spark debate within the Christian community about our responsibilities and responses it world economic issues.


1. To His Disciples He Explained Everything
2. Can we Use Worldly Wealth? The Parable of the Dishonest Manager
3. Do We Let Wealth Choke the Word? The Parable of the Sower
4. Do We Envy Our Neighbor? The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
5. Can We Invest Wisely? The Parable of the Ten Minas
6. How Should We Manage Our Debts? The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
7. The Things We Have, Whose Are They? The Parable of the Rich Fool
8. How Productive Are We? The Parable of the Tenants
9. Can We Forgive Debts? The Parable of the Two Debtors
10. Are We Storing Treasure on Earth? The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl
11. How Much Do We Give? The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
12. What Can We Do To Help Others? The Rich Man and Lazarus
13. How Charitable Are We? The Parable of the Great Banquet
14. How Much Do We Need to Live On? The Parable of the Lost Coin
15. The Gospel in an Economic World in Need of Faith

The first chapter provide key background for understanding the link between our economy and the life of submission to God's will that we are called live. Many times Christians ignore the world economy by thinking it doesn't have implications on theology or is based on the 'root of all evil'. But as we understand the implications of a global economy on our personal lives, we struggle with our ability to integrate our 'Christian' lives and with our financial dealings with income, debt, giving, and wealth.

Starting with Chapter 2, the format includes an introduction, the text of a parable taken from the NIV Bible, a Reflection, Other Biblical Texts to Study, and Things to Think About.

The next post will look more closely at a few of Cowan's assertions and will include an interview with the author.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Total Money Makeover Post 3

This is our last day to look at Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. Let's look at his overall process for revising our finances.

1. Be sure you are really going to make the change...that's the hardest part. Do not add ANY debt from this point on and shred all credit cards.
2. Create an emergency fund of $1000 to use ONLY for emergencies
3. Take all extra money you have to pay off your debt. Pay off as much as possible toward the smallest debt first, with minimal payments to everything else. As soon as the smallest debt is paid off, devote all the monthly money you were paying on that to the next smallest debt, working it off as quickly as possible. This is called the Debt Snowball, and it will allow you to see progress quickly as you become debt free.
4. Expand the emergency fund until it is big enough to cover 3 - 6 months of your regular expenses.
5. Save for retirement
6. Save for college for the kids (yes, this is AFTER retirement saving...Dave believes that we do not owe our children a college education, but we do owe them freedom from the burden of our debt in our old age!).
7. When all these things are under control, start paying off your home mortgage(s).
8. When you are totally debt free, build wealth so you can have fun, invest, and give!

My thoughts:
I know that people who follow Dave's advice will get out of debt and will be able to find financial freedom if they keep at it. I've seen people pay off huge debts in record time, and I've seen the stress just drain from them.

I've also seen people who have taken Financial Peace University or read Total Money Makeover. They agreed with Dave in theory, but refused to act in the difficult ways he recommends. Each and every one of them has ended up worse than before they started the course.

Like any other improvement program, this won't work if you don't do it!

We don't follow all of Dave's principles (we have one credit card which we have paid off in full each month for over 25 years, so we feel we don't have a problem with credit card debt). That said, we are very careful not to spend more with plastic than we would with cash. We do almost all of our in-person store transactions with cash, and it has worked very well for us.

If you are in financial difficulty and you REALLY want to change, this is a fabulous book/program to use.

Purchase the book and find out more about Dave Ramsey at his website,
In addition, there are a lot of tools, techniques, forms, and testimonials at the site.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Total Money Makeover Part 2

We have looked at the outline and format of the book, so let's find out what Dave Ramsey recommends as the key principles for personal financial succes.

The first step, according to the Dave, is to honestly face your current situation. Many people have no idea how far in debt they are or where their money goes each month. We think that all we need is more money and everything will be ok. That is a lie! The more money we get, the more most of us spend -- almost always spending more than we make regardless of that income level. Until we understand that the reason we have financial difficulties is related to the choices we make, we will not be able to change our behavior. It is very hard to change behavior, and you have to really want to change your financial situation because it won't be easy. It requires dedication, sacrifice, discipline, and a focus on the long term.

The book reviews money myths, which include:
- Everything will be fine when I retire. I'm not saving yet, but there's plenty of time.
- I can get rich quick if I join this group, buy this tape set, work three hours a week, or buy the lottery
- I don't have time to work on a budget, retirement plan, or estate plan
- The debt-management companies on TV or the radio will save me
- I'll just file bankruptcy and start over; it seems so easy
- I can't afford insurance

It also lists a couple of hurdles that people need to pass to be successful. The first is ignorance. None of us are born financially smart. Many of us have made a mess of our financial situations because we simply didn't know what we were doing. There is an easy way to overcome this...stop justifying your decisions made out of ignorance and learn! Discover where your money has been going and get firm with it...tell the money where to go instead of just letting it disappear.

The second hurdle is keeping up with the Joneses. We all feel a need to be accepted by the crowd we hang around with, and especially with our parents and in-laws. We want them all to think that we are doing well and are making smart financial decisions, but the way to make them believe this is usually based on lies. Having to buy the newest car, the biggest house, and the most advanced 52" TV don't show that we are financially often means we are in debt up to our eyeballs but we don't want anyone to know. So to keep the myth going, we take on more debt and actively live a lie.

One of the first actions couples should take together is to prepare a budget. Look at all the incoming funds and all the places where you spend money (other than charge card balances). How much do you spend each month on giving, savings, food, clothing, household maintenance, transportation, etc. The key here is that the amount spent is EQUAL TO OR LESS than the income! If it is not, figure out ways to either reduce your expenditures or increase your income! Use any excess to create your emergency fund.

Dave Ramsey insists that it is vital to collect $1000 before you take any other actions. This is an emergency be used only in the event that there is a certifiable emergency like a broken car or refrigerator. He is clear that Christmas, vacation, or that terrific couch you have always wanted are NOT emergencies! This fund should be accessible, but not too easy to get to, maybe in a second checking account. Then, when you are faced with a crisis that might have caused you to charge things on credit, you can use the fund to avoid more debt.

Tomorrow we'll talk about Dave's recommendations for becoming debt-free.

The Total Money Makeover - Part 1

Before I begin reviewing this book, I want to be totally upfront. Doug and I are certified as financial counselors through Dave Ramsey's organization, and we have led Dave's Financial Peace University classes at our church for nearly 4 years. We selected Dave Ramsey's program over others because of the breadth and depth of the topics he covers. That said, we vehemently agree with approximately 95% of his recommendations...others we promote with a bit of reality and personal experience that offers a reasonable alternative.

Who is Dave Ramsey?
According to the bio in the back of his book, Dave is the best-selling author of More Than Enough and the enormously successful Financial Peace. His radio program, The Dave Ramsey Show, is heard on more than 300 radio stations throughout the U. S. and transmits Ramsey's inimitable financial advice to more than 3 million listeners each week. Many national corporations as well as hundreds of thousands of individuals have benefited from Ramsey's Financial Peace University program and his many LIVE events.

In the introduction to the book, Dave tells us that his book is NOT:
- Sophisticated or complicated,
- Something that has never been said,
- Going to mislead you on investment returns,
- written by someone with no academic credentials
- politically correct
- wrong
- the same as his other books,
- getting any complaints or criticisms from people who follow it.

Dave shares his financial background with us. He has a degree in finance and licenses in real estate, insurance, and investments. But he feels that his most important qualification to teach about money is that he has "done stupid with zeroes on the end!" He knows what it is like to be "scared and scarred" by poor financial decisions and to face potential divorce because of financial stress. He and his wife used the principles spelled out in the book to recover from the brink of bankruptcy to a position of personal wealth. He has been there and he has learned how to not only survive, but thrive.

Dave promises that if we "will follow the guidelines of his proven system of sacrifice and discipline, we can be debt-free, begin saving, and give as we've never given before. We will build wealth. He also promises that it is totally up to us...this is no magic formula."

A Look at the Contents:

1. The Total Money Makeover Challenge
2. Denial: I'm Not THAT Out of Shape
3. Debt Myths: Debt is (Not) a Tool
4. Money Myths: The (Non) Secrets of the Rich
5. Two More Hurdles: Ignorance and Keeping Up with the Joneses
6. Save $1,000 Fast: Walk Before You Run
7. The Debt Snowball: Lose Weight Fast, Really
8. Finish the Emergency Fund: Kick Murphy Out
9. Maximize Retirement Investing: Be Financially Healthy for Life
10. College Funding: Make Sure the Kids Are Fit Too
11. Pay Off the Home Mortgage: Be Ultrafit
12. Build Wealth Like Crazy: Arnold Schwarzedollar, Mr. Universe of Money
13. Live Like No One Else
Budgeting Forms

Book Layout:
The book is written in relatively large print (great for those of us whose arms aren't long enough to hold books so we can read them!) with lots of white space. There are a lot of personal success stories interspersed in each chapter that are both inspiring and tangible. There are meaningful sidebars and good use of highlighting to focus your attention. In the back, Dave has included simple financial forms for your use.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

January -- Financial Focus

This year my blog is taking a fresh focus. Each month we will look at a different critical life topic by looking at Biblical principles and new books which address the topic.

In January we'll look at personal finance, and area of crisis for many people. In our town alone, there are currently almost 700 homes going through foreclosure. That is more homes in foreclosure than are available for sale through normal means! This tragedy has a lot of causes and often no easy fix. The Bible has lots to say about the issue -- in fact God spends more time dealing with our finances than any other topic in the Bible!

I think it's important for each of us to look at our attitudes and behaviors regarding money. Whose is it, how much say do we have in how we spend it, and why won't things be better if we just have more of it?

First we'll look at one of my favorite books, however it's not a new one, Dave Ramsey's
The Total Money Makeover -- a Proven Plan for Financial Fitness
. Next we'll see what David Cowan has to say in
Economic Parables, The Monetary Teachings of Jesus Christ
. We'll end the month with
Surviving Financial Meltdown -- Confident Decisions in an Uncertain World
by Ron Blue and Jeremy White. We may look at a few more books, too, depending on availability.

I hope you'll join me on this quest for linkage between Biblical principles and current Christian teaching!