Thursday, May 21, 2015

Do Something. Bring Justice. Help Iraq.




I was going to write something today about leaving work. Or about how worried I am about my daughters who are on a trip together. Or about life here in the suburbs.

But I’m sitting in a coffee shop that employs third culture kids as a ministry, and I’m thinking about how difficult it must be for them to be away from home, to be away from their parents for sometimes years at a time while they come here for an education. That’s hard.

My leaving my job isn’t that hard. It’s a little hard, but it was my decision. Completely under my control.

My concerns for my kids are just that—concerns, not true, outright fears. They will be fine.

My life? Couldn’t be cushier.

So I’m sitting here sipping my tea and listening to music and enjoying my suburban life when I read this. And this. And this from Ann Voskamp.

Suddenly, writing about my cushy life seems thoroughly unimportant. Insignificant, even. Almost bordering on sinful, if I’m honest.

Last month, Ann went to Iraq, despite her father’s pleadings and her children’s fears. She needed to see for herself what was going on, and, oh boy, did she report.

Let me tell you, CNN’s got nothing on Ann Voskamp. In fact, if you listen to the news these days you get a picture of some savages running around the Middle East, cutting off a few heads, and generally running amok. Oh yeah, and kidnapping girls. Hundreds at a time.

But CNN and Fox and ABC and all the others seem to report and rarely follow up. I’ve found myself wondering, “What happened to those 300 girls?” Hardly a word. We did hear last week that some girls were released, but were they the 300 we heard about a few months ago or were they others? We don’t know.

And now that ISIS is spreading throughout the region, running faster with their swords wielded, do the news outlets tell us what’s happening to families? Maybe a word here and there, but nothing in depth.

So Ann went to see for herself. And she reported back. In depth.

Girls? Well, the situation for girls in the Middle East isn’t so good. Rape, torture, trafficking—these are real things. Girls as young as nine. years. old. are having babies just so Islamist extremists (and that’s exactly what they are, Mr. President) can progenate and continue their horrors.

Education? If you’re being raped and having babies at a young age, the hope of another life, a better life through education, is pretty much gone. When you’re on the run for your life you pretty much can’t think about school.

Families? Fathers and sons are being shot at a frightening pace; girls are safe, for now. They are needed. For now. But families are being torn apart, either because of death, violence, or terrible choices that have to be made by parents.

Years ago I read Night by Eli Weisel. In this very moving book, Weisel describes the choices that he watched as train cars crammed with Jews were loaded up and taken to concentration camps. Sometimes the cars would be so full that mothers had to leave children behind, never sure whether they would see their babies again. The pain and fear were palpable.

What I read this morning on Ann’s blog reminded me so much of Weisel’s book, and I found myself wondering, Could this be happening again? Silly question—it IS happening again. Only the dictator, the one running the show, isn’t one insane person—it’s a movement of evil forces like a wind blowing hard across the region. It’s a spiritual fight.

Friends, I don’t know why I’m writing this—I’m not an activist. But when I read Ann’s words this morning I was captivated, so moved that I had to do something. Maybe this is just a start. Who knows? Maybe just letting you know that this thing that gets about a minute and thirty seconds on the news at night is much bigger than we can even imagine is enough. If even one person reads this and starts praying, maybe that’s enough.

Here’s what I know. Earlier this week on an average Tuesday I read these words and stopped. And I read them again. And again. And I was so convicted.
“The LORD looked and was displeased to find there was no justice. He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed.” Isaiah 59:15-16.

There is was, right in front of my eyes. And in my heart. What have I done for the oppressed? What will I do?

What will you do?

I often feel helpless. I don’t know the needs. But now I do, and I must do something because God will hold me accountable.

My cushy life here means nothing—nothing—if I’m not using what I have to help the oppressed. Here we are, confronted with our generation’s holocaust. What will we do? How will we fight?
  

Friday, May 15, 2015

How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don't Have a Clue :: Part 6 - The Launching Years


One year ago this week our oldest graduated from college. She had already been offered a job. Soon after that, she moved into an apartment with some friends from college. She bought her first car. 

This past week, our middle graduated from college. Soon that daughter will begin applying to graduate schools and all that that kind of life entails. She's taking a gap year, so her life post-college will look a little different from her sister's.

Can I just say that this is all happening so fast! Too fast! 

I woke up on Monday morning, and the first thing that came to my mind was, "How do I already have two college graduates?"

If you've been following along in this series, undoubtedly some posts made more of an impact on you than others, depending on the ages of your children. But can I just tell you right now that you should really go back and read all of these posts carefully because before you know it, it will be the Monday morning after graduation and you'll be wondering, just like me, where the years went?

* brief interlude while I choke back sobs *

As I said when I started this series, I really didn’t have a clue how to teach my kids about money. I still don’t know much, but I have learned a few things along the way.

From the outset, my husband and I had a conviction that it would be important for our kids to know something about handling money—that their futures would be healthier (and, yes, maybe a little happier) if they learned how to control money rather than letting money control them.

So we made it a priority to teach them some things.


And that saving money for the future should take precedence over buying what you want right now.

And that it’s OK to spend money as long as you don’t go into debt to get what you want.

Today is the last post in this series, but it doesn’t mean I won’t write about kids and money any more. That’s because the conversation shouldn’t end. Just like other discussions with our kids that are ongoing, our talks about money should continue as well.

So let’s assume your oldest child has graduated from college. She has landed a job, secured an apartment, and bought a car (a used car for which she paid cash). Things are looking pretty good for your child, and you’re feeling pretty proud of her.

You might say your job is done, right?  Your child is launched, ready to go out and tackle this great big world. Right?

In many respects, yes. Your child has many of the necessary tools to make it in this world—a job, a home, a mode of transportation.

But does your child have the financial skills that are necessary in this complicated world? Have you talked about budgeting? Insurance? 401(k) plans? These are all important decisions that your child will need to make when they start their first job.

Maybe you’re really feeling out of your depth here—I know I am. I mean, I can handle the three jars—giving, saving, and spending—but to tell my daughters how to save in their 401(k)? Um, no.

Except to tell them that they should do it. From Day 1.

Here’s where you might want to suggest a little help to your child. There are millions of financial help books out there—suggest that your child read one or two. Here are a few you (or your kid) might find interesting:

The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley

Financial planners are now creating plans for recent college grads, often at a much lower fee than their usual customers. A financial planner will really get him or her to start thinking about their overall financial picture in a way that parents might not. Besides, your child might take advice from a third party more readily than he might from his parents. (*wink wink*)

Think of the year or two post-college as the launching years. The letting go years. Years that might be some of the hardest of all, but years that are so important.

Even as you begin to launch your formerly little person, you have to realize a few things:

1. Your child is no longer “little” and should not be treated as such. If they have a job, they have an income and, hopefully, a budget. Yes, that budget may be tight, but it’s not your job to bail them out and buy their groceries for them. Co-dependence is not attractive.

2. Your child might make some decisions you don’t like, even financial ones. But guess what? It’s not your business (or problem) anymore. If your son wants that brand new Corvette, and, assuming you’ve giving him some good financial principles (i.e. "debt is not your friend"), then bite your tongue and don’t get involved.

3. Your opinion doesn’t count any more. Unless you are asked, you can probably assume your child doesn’t really need or want your financial counsel. As I’ve said, the conversations about money should continue, but your opinion about how your child spends what they have earned is moot. You’ve laid the good foundation; it’s time now to trust their judgment.

4. Letting go of their financial future might be one of the hardest things you are called to do as a parent, but do it anyway. Nobody wants to see their kids struggle—in any area—but sometimes struggle is what makes them stronger.

Remember when you were first out of school? Maybe married? In grad school? Perhaps with a kid on the way? Remember how tight finances were? Me too. But B and I always say that those were some good, good days. Don’t deny your child the opportunity to struggle. It might be in that struggle that they learn to rely on the Lord even more.

And isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

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A few weeks ago B had the opportunity to share some financial principles with some soon-to-be-college grads. The ten financial principles he shared with them were so good that I asked his permission to share them here. Hopefully these will help as you launch your own children into this world.

Ten Personal Finance Principles 
1. All resources belong to God – Don’t wait to give.
2. Save 10%, Give 10%, and spend the rest with joy and thanksgiving.
3. Make debt go away as quickly as possible. It’s not just a monthly payment, it’s a dream killer.
4. Keep student loan debt in check relative to your future income (8% of income).
5. Build an emergency fund as quickly as possible (3-6 months expenses).
6. Take advantage of your company’s 405(k) plan (at least enough to take full advantage of the company match).
7. Spend less than you earn over a long period of time.
8. Two can live as cheaply as one – get a roommate.
9. Don’t buy a new car unless you can pay cash for it (used cars are much more affordable).
10. Grocery stores are cheaper than restaurants.

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I sure hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as I have. I really believe that aside from their spiritual growth, our kids’ financial understanding is one of the most important lessons we can teach them. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

So now, tell me . . . what is one financial lesson you will take away from this series?


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Other posts in this HTTYKAMWYDHAC series:

Friday, May 8, 2015

How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don't Have a Clue :: Part 5 - The College Years


Once upon a time there was a young family with three little girls. Dad worked long hours growing his career in banking; Mom worked part-time as a college professor and stayed home with the girls. Their expenses were many. Their budget was tight.

Taking three girls to the grocery store was stressful because not only were groceries expensive, they also had to pass the Barbie sticker books at the check out. These sticker books lured children in with their shiny pink cover and simple drawings of Barbie princesses.  Hours of fun were promised inside the pages of the beloved Barbie sticker book.

The catch, however, was that the stickers were sold separately in packets, kind of like baseball cards. Inevitably at check out (the most stressful time for moms on a tight budget, am I right?) someone would cry out, “Mommy, can we get some Barbie stickers? Pleeeaaassse?

“Mommy” would, at that moment, have to decide whether to exercise extreme discipline or to cave and buy the stickers. It was a constant battle. Was she helping her kids see the value of the stickers in any way when she just coughed up the money to buy them without a thought? Was she just being mean when she didn’t pay the extra $.50 to buy the stickers?

An inner (and outer!) struggle ensued every time they ventured to the store.

Eventually the struggle subsided because the family started a little allowance program involving three jars. Once the “Spending” jar got some money in it, the girls finally had some money to buy their own beloved Barbie stickers.

And Mommy finally got some peace.

***

Sort of.

The story of teaching our girls the value of a dollar is much longer and harder than that, but this is just an early example of how we started teaching our kids about money. Little trinkets, like Barbie stickers, were paid with quarters that had started to add up in a jar, and the girls started learning how to pay for things by themselves.

***

Soon these little girls grew up (too soon, might I add?). They started thinking about college, as did their parents.

Even though college was an expectation for our daughters, we wanted them to know the value of their education, just like the Barbie stickers. Granted, a college education is something much more valuable, but the principle is still the same. Kids have to have some “skin in the game” so that they don’t merely throw away the most valuable and expensive four years of their lives.

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A Note about Planning

Obviously, B and I had planned for our kids’ college fund from pretty much the first day that each of our girls was born. For us, paying for our kids’ college education was a priority, so we started saving early.

Now, I understand that others have different thoughts about paying for college, and I’ve seen it done successfully in many other ways than what we did. We have friends who are making their kids pay for one full year of college, no matter what, and these kids have done a fantastic job of creating business opportunities for themselves from an early age so they could save money for college. Others opt for community college for the first two years. Still other rely on loans and scholarships and are grateful for the help. Most of us work with a combination of these options.

Every family’s situation is different and that’s O.K. The point is that you have to decide early on how you are going to handle paying for college if college is an option for your kids. Whatever you do, DO NOT wait until their senior year to figure it out. By then it’s way too late.

***

O.K., back to our expectations for our kids. As I said, paying for our girls’ college education was a major financial priority for us, so we started saving early. But we wanted the girls to also value the (incredible, amazing, startling, . . .) high cost of their education as well, so they had to contribute something.

Throughout their college years we continued to give them an allowance for their necessities—clothing, entertainment, etc.—but, as I mentioned last time, it wasn’t much. They still needed to work in order to buy the things they wanted.

We also expected our girls to pay for their books, which has taught them some very creative ways of obtaining their outrageously expensive textbooks (some cost over $200!). Just ask any college student and they will tell you the cheapest ways to find books, and it probably isn’t the college bookstore.

We had other expectations, too. One is that we would pay for four years of an undergraduate education, but not graduate school. That is up to them. Again, creative financing will come into play here.

A second expectation is that this undergraduate education is meant to prepare them for real life (i.e. a job) and that, unless some extraordinary circumstances became clear, they should be able to live independently upon graduation. Enough said about that.

As I said earlier, everyone does the paying-for-college thing differently, and expectations for what happens after college vary as well. My point is that you can’t make these decisions or set these expectations during your child’s senior year of high school. Talk to your kids about college very early in their life. If higher education is an expectation in your family, set that expectation early on. If you will contribute something to their education, or even if you can’t, let your kids know that as well.

Talk to your kids about college and how it will be financed. Talk to your kids about life after college and what you expect from them then. Just talk to your kids so they don’t feel blindsided when the day comes and you haven’t prepared them for the financial realities. Talk to them so that they understand that a college education is something of great value and should not be taken for granted.

Is it scary to think about life after college? Yes, sometimes it is. Sometimes you wonder if your child will be able to make it out there. But here’s what I’ve learned: the world isn’t such a big, bad, scary place. There are people out there who want to see your kid succeed. There is a place for them.

We just have to let them go and give it a try.

Next week I’ll wrap up this series about money by talking about letting our kids be financially independent. But I’d really love to know your thoughts and/or questions. Leave me a comment!


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Other posts in my How to Teach Your Kids About Money . . . series:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

When It Really Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life



The building where I worked is over a century old. Massive limestone blocks form its rugged exterior—a fa├žade from another time.

Everyone says it looks like a castle, but to me it felt more like a fortress.

I’d arrive in the early morning, one of the first to enter the building, to prepare for my classes. Sunlight streaming through tall windows always caught my attention, stirred my creativity, and reminded me that I was not alone in this solitary venture.

This fortress was, for me, a place of safety, but also a place of battle. A place where some students struggled to put words to ideas and others struggled simply to find their place.

It was a place where I, too, struggled to make sure every class was “just right,” and a place where I struggled not to beat myself up too much when that didn’t happen.

Yesterday I went to class, gave an exam, told my students to have a good summer, and left the beautiful, old limestone building for good.

(OK, not really for good. I still have to clean out my office.)

What has felt like a solid fortress for me suddenly offered no protection, and I walked out, alone. I made my way slowly to my car, sniffed the heavy perfume of the flowering trees, and asked the Lord, “Now what?”

“These are my people, Lord. This is my place. This is what I do. What’s next?”

I thought back over the past four years—four years that I could never imagine would happen after I left teaching the first time. 

Four years. Over 200 students. Countless laughs. Innumerable conversations. Too many papers. Abundant blessings.

The past four years have been some of the richest, most rewarding, most fulfilling and confidence-building years of my life. They have also been some of the challenging, bracing, and confidence-destroying years of my life.

To say that I have found a sense of worth, calling, and identity as a professor would be an understatement.

And yet, this is not where my worth, calling, and identity lie.

I’m leaving the fortress, unsure of what’s next. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what God will call me to. But I do know this: that I am trying my best to ask the right questions, to seek the right answers, and to be obedient in my calling. 

I trust God to take care of the rest.

The phrase “This is the first day of the rest of your life” keeps going through my head today. 

Probably because it is.


Friday, May 1, 2015

How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don’t Have a Clue: Part 4 – The High School Years



I am loving this series, you guys! I’m having so much fun with it, and I’m getting awesome feedback from you. Thanks for stopping me at church, at work, and at the grocery store (!) to ask questions about kids and money. So fun! Keep those questions and comments coming!

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So far we’ve talked about giving, we’ve talked about saving, and today we finally get to the fun stuff: spending.

Sure, sounds like fun in theory, but in real life the road to learning the value of a dollar is not always smooth.

Take, for instance, one family vacation when our girls were fairly young. B and I decided that in order to eliminate the “may I have some money for this ridiculous thing I don’t need?” problem, we would give each girl $10 for the week to spend in any way they wanted. We talked about this ahead of time and decided that we wouldn’t make judgments about what they bought, nor would we interfere with their purchase. We would just give them the money as a gift to use as they wanted.

Around the second day of vacation we strolled into a shop and Kate saw the toy of her heart’s desire—something she’d always wanted!, except that she had never seen these before: some teeny-tiny rubber duckies, all dressed up in various costumes. Hear me: these rubber duckies were tiny—miniscule, even. You could barely even see one if you held it in the palm of your hand.

All for the low-low cost of $2 each.

“I want to buy these with my money!” Kate quickly decided while I inwardly cringed.

I tried to question her, to get her to see that as soon as she spent her money it would be gone; it was, after all, only the second day, and if she saw something she liked better later in the week she wouldn’t be able to buy it. I tried not to judge, but really? Little duckies? She’d get them back to our condo and play with them for approximately 5.2 seconds before getting bored with them.

I could see the firestorm a’brewing.

My determined daughter, however, would not be deterred. She promptly plopped down $8 for four itsy-bitsy rubber duckies.

And immediately regretted it.

We didn’t even make it back to the condo before buyer’s remorse set in.

“I think I made a mistake.”

“These ducks are so dumb.”

“Can we take them back?!”

Nope. There was no going back. And there was almost no money left.

It took every ounce of determination we had not to laugh.

Today, though? We all laugh about those silly rubber duckies. In fact, one still sits in the windowsill above my desk as a reminder of that vacation, that situation, and that obstinate kid. (How I love her!)


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As you can see, we started teaching our kids about spending money—both the right AND wrong ways to do it—long before high school. But high school brought big changes and more responsibility with money.

One big change was the cell phone situation. We didn’t allow our girls to have cell phones before high school (we’re the mean parents, remember?) for lots of reasons that would take another blog post of its own. Suffice it to say, they really didn’t need it before then.

But with high school came more activities and more chances to need a parent, so we said, “OK, you can get a cell phone. But there’s a catch: you have to pay for it.”

Yes, you heard me right. Our girls pay for their portion of the phone bill each month. A non-smart phone only costs about $10-$15 on our plan, but a smart phone will set you back about $45 a month, so they had a choice: not-cool phone or cool phone? It was up to them.

How were they supposed to get the money to pay for said not-cool phone? We gave them an allowance.

Now, if you’re a Dave Ramsey fan, you’ll have to forgive me for what you’re about to read. If I’m not mistaken, Dave believes that allowances should be tied to chores, and this is where Dave and I part ways. B and I decided not to take that angle because 1) our kids are a part of this family and should do the chores we ask them to whether or not they are getting paid for it, and 2) see number 1.

So, at the beginning of high school, we sat down with each child and explained the Wildman Way with them. They would get a set amount of money (that B and I had determined should be fair and adequate) twice a month (pay day, get it?). From that money, they were expected to tithe, pay a bill (cell phone), buy all of their clothes, and pay for their entertainment (going out with friends, the occasional Starbucks run, that kind of thing).

And trust me, it wasn’t a huge sum of money. Budgeting and tough decisions would be required.

We still shelled out for the bigger ticket items—shoes, coats, special occasions, etc—but the basic, day-to-day wardrobe purchases were their responsibility.

This plan has worked for our family for so many reasons. 

1. They learned to wait for that “paycheck.” There were no cash advances in our house. The girls got paid when we got paid, so if they didn’t have the money at the moment they wanted to buy something, they’d have to wait.

2. They learned how to pay a bill. Sure, they were paying us for their cell phone bill, but still, payment was (and still is) expected. And because they know the bill is coming every month, they have to budget for it.

3. Rather than going shopping with Mom and expecting me to pay for the things they wanted, regardless of the cost, having to buy their own clothes forced our girls to actually pay attention to the prices of things. They had to weigh the options: $85 jeans at a department store or wait for the $15 jean sale at Old Navy? It’s up to them to decide.

4. This whole plan takes out the “can I have five bucks for ice cream?” scenario. If someone wanted to go out with friends, they knew they’d have to come up with the money—they didn’t even bother asking us for it. It also helped us avoid the “can I get this top?” problem when we were out shopping (see #3). I could simply ask, “Do you have the money for it?”

5. They learned the value of hard work. If the girls felt like they didn’t have enough money, they got a job. All three have had jobs since they were about 15, if not earlier. Some babysat, one scooped ice cream and later worked at the public library, but the idea is that they have to work for what they want. Welcome to real life, kiddos.

6. They figured out their own scale of needs vs. desires (this also sort of relates to #3). Some of my kids like "nicer" things and are willing to save for them, buying fewer items of greater cost. Some are happy shopping Target. It really doesn’t matter in the end. What they are learning is that everyone makes purchasing choices, and everyone is entitled to make the choice they want as long as they have the money to pay for it. (Because, remember? Debt is not our friend.)

You’re probably wondering if there were any drawbacks to our plan. I honestly can’t think of any except the ache in my own heart when I wanted to cave in and buy something when I knew I should let them learn the hard lesson. It’s tough to be a parent sometimes, especially when you feel like the “mean” parent. And it’s hard to watch your kids make mistakes with money.

But here’s the thing: these principles will be learned at one time or another over the course of a person’s life. Isn’t it better for them to make small mistakes with money while they’re still under our roof than when they are out on their own? The consequences only get bigger the older we get.

It takes nerves of steel to do this, parents. Trust me. More than once I have wanted to bail out my kids, slip them a $20, or let things slide. I have wondered a thousand times if we’re being too hard on them by making them pay for their phone bill. (Nobody I know does this!) I wonder if someday they are going to look back on all of this and resent the heck out of us for being so rigid about money.

But you know what? Now that I have a grown up kids, I’m starting to see the rewards of all of this. I’ll share some of those rewards at the end of this series.

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Now YOU tell ME. What has this series made you think about in terms of how you’re teaching your own kids about money? Anything you need to change? What’s working at your house? I’d love to know!
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Other posts in this HTTYKAMWYDHAC series (Gosh, that’s a long title!):



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