Wednesday, April 27, 2011

To Give or Not to Give

In these tight economic times, charities from around the world are feeling the pinch of people tightening up their wallets. Charities are failing to raise enough money to accomplish all their goals. As we receive weekly letters from charities asking for more money, I have begun wondering why we support anybody at all. Does what we give do enough good to "bother" doing it? Is there truly any joy in giving? What gives (bad pun, I couldn't help it)?

First off, my husband and I are Christians, so we put a lot of stock in what the Bible says. Since God and Jesus mention giving/supporting each other pretty regularly throughout the Old and New Testaments, we feel we have a responsibility to give. Our money is not our own, but God's, and God calls us to give to Him and to give to others. So we do. At first, it wasn't cheerful giving, as called for in 2 Corinthians 9:7, but as we "got used to it", we began looking forward to other opportunities to give: to support visiting missionaries, to buy groceries to keep in the car and hand out to people begging on the street, to help fund a youth scholarship, etc. It makes us happy to be able to be a part of extending God's kingdom.

Learning to budget for giving was a little hard at first. We created a "test" budget when we went through pre-marital counseling and added tithing as a permanent portion of our budget. It was a little difficult (what isn't at the beginning of a marriage?), but after a few months, we were completely used to it. We started with the recommended church tithe of 10% but have been trying to expand our giving in the past few years. We've realized that we should give above and beyond the 10%, and we do our absolute best to exceed it. Currently, we have automatic payments set up to give to a variety of different Christian charities, and we support our church regularly. Then the fun part of giving comes in: We try to find different ways to help locally (as exemplified above). It feels so wonderful to be able to give when God opens our eyes to a need, much like in Brandon Heath's song "Give Me Your Eyes".

Brandon Heath - Give Me Your Eyes from Brandon Heath on Vimeo.

A few years ago, my husband became very strongly convicted about getting our family out of debt. He examined our finances, and within a year and a half, the only thing we owed anyone else was house payments. So now, we have some wiggle room in our budget. Every month, we do our best to be disciplined and stick to our financial plan. When the opportunity to financially help someone arises, we take it. I am firmly convinced that we would not be able to do so if we still had our former debts dictating our financial habits. It is good to be out of debt so we can give!

Give more, save more, spend less (on ourselves). This is our financial tenet. We aim to please God with it. He blesses us richly when we trust Him to provide, and He has always given us more than enough to fulfill us. God is good, and obeying Him is the best way we can show Him how much we want to return His love.

Challenge: Find new ways to give (in addition to any giving you're already doing).

-Domestic Goddess out.

Image by: Mr. Kris

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

College Loans: Good, Bad, or Just Plain Ugly?

I've had education on my mind for the past few weeks. We are moving very soon, and I'm torn whether I want to put my eldest in the new location's free public pre-school program or drive to my current location and keep on with our current, private pre-school. I've been reading up on local public and private schools in both locations, examining statistics and curriculum (when possible). It's dizzying.

Naturally, this all leads me down that long, dark road called College Drive. (Yes, it's obnoxious, as my kids are all under five, but hey, it's never to early to start planning, right?) Will I encourage my kids to go to college and take out tons of loans to pay for their educations? What about encouraging my kids to go to a technical school where they can learn highly valuable skills that are always in demand (e.g., mechanic of any sort, health technician of any sort, cosmetology, etc.)? Although these jobs probably won't allow my kids to become millionaires in seven years, they will all but guaranteed a job in most economies.

The New York Times just published "Burden of College Loans on Graduates Grows". This article depressed me even further regarding College Drive. The author, Tamar Lewin, tries very hard to present the good and bad side of college loans, but in the end, I only saw the ugly. Case in point: the Obamas had at least $120,000 in student loans when they got married. It took them nearly NINE years to pay off this sum, and it only happened that quickly because Mr. Obama earned quite a lot in royalties from his bestselling books. How many college graduates end up with high-paying careers like the Obamas' and then write a hugely popular book on top of that to supplement their income? Not many, folks!

Here's another jewel:
Susan Dynarski, a professor of education and public policy at the University of Michigan, said student debt could generally be seen as a sensible investment in a lifetime of higher earnings. “When you think about what’s good debt and what’s bad debt, student loans fall into the realm of good debt, like mortgages,” Professor Dynarski said. “It’s an investment that pays off over the whole life cycle.”
Really? Buying a house is a good investment? Let's talk to the average American whose house is possibly only worth 5% more than what he or she initially bought it for. Buying a house is a great idea if you are in a stable job that isn't going to move you or if you really like your area. The tax perks see to that. But as an investment, houses are just as risky as anything else. The market fluctuates, and anyone who doesn't think so should look at all the foreclosures being picked up by the Chinese. Banks are selling homes that cost the initial buyers $450,000 for "only" $200,000. Good investment? I think not! So Prof. Dynarski's comparison falls flat on its face for me, making it less likely that I encourage my kids to take out tons of debt for an education that may not pay itself off.

Besides, doesn't anyone realize that the only job market currently growing is that of service? Restaurants, stores, movie theaters, etc. continue to expand despite the recent recession. Who do you think is filling those jobs? Former executives of large companies? Nope. Recently graduated college students who want to get started on paying off their huge debts. Naturally, that isn't reflected in the statistics that say x% of college students have jobs after graduating. Nobody ever really asks what kind of jobs those are. Let's examine that whole picture carefully!

So what is my plan? Well, my husband and I have 529 accounts for each of our kids, and we contribute rather meager amounts to them monthly. Our kids will be encouraged to work in high school and to save a large percent of their income for college. They will also be encouraged to pay up front with real money up front for college classes, should they desire to pursue an academic route. My brother-in-law worked his way through 4.5 years of college with a loan of only $1,500. If he can do it, I know average Joe or Jane College Student can, too. My b-i-l had drive, passion, and a very real sense of personal responsibility that allowed him to accomplish this. God bless my mother-in-law for teaching it to both of her sons!

College isn't the end-all-be-all, folks. It's a great tool for getting ahead, but there are lots of jobs that need to be filled. As long as my kids are living honest lives, not doing anything illegal or immoral, and contributing positively to society, I am a pretty happy mama, regardless of what their chosen professions might be.

Challenge: Make a plan for your kids' college. If your kids are of age, discuss various options with them. They may come up with something even more creative! Remember the Seven P's: Proper Prior Planning Prevents P!$$ Poor Performance.

-Domestic Goddess out.