Friday, April 17, 2015

How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don't Have a Clue * Part 2: The Early Years


I’ll admit, I walked into parenthood with blinders on. In fact, I probably wasn’t just wearing blinders—I was wearing one of those full on face masks that you wear when you want to block out the light so you can sleep.

When my sweet bundle of firstborn joy was handed to me, thick shock of dark hair and all, I honestly had no clue what I was doing. And I had no idea what I was supposed to do to get her to full adulthood. (She made it! Only by the grace of God.)

As Christians, B and I knew we wanted to raise our children to love God and to serve Him well—that part was a given—but what else? Were there other life lessons we needed to impart beyond this one most important thing?

Let me say this clearly and at the outset: loving and serving God was then and still is our most important goal for our children. Anything else that we have taught them or any other virtues that we may have instilled in them are secondary to that One Main Thing.

But there was more. In fact, there were many more life lessons that we found we needed to impart beyond the One Main Thing. Very quickly we realized that teaching our kids about money would be one of the hardest, yet most important life lessons of all.

Thank goodness, B and I have never fought about money that I can remember; we count this as a huge blessing in our marriage. (Now, who’s going to change the toilet paper roll or empty the dishwasher? Grounds for a knock-down-drag-out if there ever was one.)

We realized that in order for our kids to live lives free from as much financial stress as possible, we would have to teach them how to handle money. It wouldn’t matter if they had a little or a lot—knowing how to handle the money we have is the key. So the discussions began early.

First, because loving and serving God was the One Main Thing, we wanted to make sure that our kids understood that even the way we use our money relates to Him. See, God has given us some guidelines about money, and one of those is that we should be giving back to Him some of what He’s given to us. This is called a tithe, and it’s usually ten percent of our income.

(I’m not going to get into a discussion about whether this is gross income or net income or whether the ten percent is negotiable—that’s between you and God. Let’s suffice it to say that God wants something back, and He deserves it because it is, after all, His.)

Giving to God has always been high on our priority list. In fact, just a week or two into our marriage, B and I sat down to pay the bills together, and he started out by writing a check to church. I must have questioned this reasoning because we were young and poor. Very, very poor. Couldn’t we just wait and see what we had left after all the bills were paid?

B looked at me and said words I’ll never forget: “The church check is always the first check we write.”

Priorities, man.

We wanted our kids to take hold of that same priority, so the first lesson we taught them, beginning around age four, was the God gets His portion first.

B had grown up with the saying, “Give 10%, save 10%, and spend the rest with joy and thanksgiving.” We liked that idea (even though it doesn’t always work out quite that way in real life), so we decided to start there and make it easy for the girls.

Giving. Saving. Spending. But how do we get our kids to understand this concept of splitting our money three ways? This is where the jars came in.

You’ve probably seen the same concept online. It’s not that new. Except back in the early ‘90s we didn’t have Pinterest to show us how to make our jars pretty. We just took three Mason jars, slapped some masking tape on the side, and labeled them “God,” “Saving,” and “Spending.” No fancy lids. No color coding. Just three jars scattered across the top of our refrigerator.

Every Saturday night, B or I would sit down with the girls and dole out four quarters. One quarter would go in the God jar, one in the savings jar, and two in the spending jar. (I know, I know, it’s not the strict give 10%, save 10% thing. Bear with me here.)

Pretty soon they had a mantra:

“One for God. One for saving. 
Two for spending.”

Every week it was the same. “One for God. One for saving. Two for spending.” After a couple of years (around age 6) we raised the amount to eight quarters, but we still counted four at a time. Around age 10 we changed from quarters to dollar bills, but we still used the same method of counting.

Here’s the important thing about the jars: we always, always, always started with the God jar. We set the expectation early that God gets the first part. The rest is left to do whatever we want, but the first money we get goes back to God.

Some might say this sounds a bit legalistic. Maybe it does, but here’s what I know: our girls are almost grown (two are adults now) and they are some of the only young people I know who take tithing seriously.

Here’s something else I know: it’s really, really, really hard to back into tithing if you haven’t been doing it. Lopping off 10% of your income if you haven’t been doing it for a while is like lopping off your right arm. It feels wonky. Hard, even.

But if you start early, set that expectation, it’s just what you’re used to. Like you never had that right arm to begin with—you’re just left handed.

My suggestion? Start talking to your kids now about giving to God. Tell them about your own giving practices. Tell them what you think about tithing, and if you’re not sure about the whole concept, look into it. Make it a priority to teach your kids to be givers, to hold their money loosely, because this will make them generous adults.

Three jars (then six; then nine) scattered across the top of our refrigerator. The God jar emptied right away because the girls would then take their quarter to church with them and place them in the offering basket in Sunday School. But the saving jar and the spending jar began to collect quarters.

Next week I’ll talk about what we did when they collected a good number of quarters.

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Just in case you missed the Intro to this series, you can read it here. Be sure to sign up for email updates so you won't miss a post!

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OK. Your turn. What have you taught your kids about giving? What about this post seems like it might work or not work for you? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What I Learned at the Redbud Retreat



There we sat, thirty-five women in a circle. Now, that alone is enough to make me break out in hives, but these were mostly women I had met only two hours earlier. Oh, a handful I had met before but didn’t know well, so basically I sat in this circle feeling completely alone.

More hives.

And our “task” for the evening was to share what we were working on. We’re writers, after all, members of the same writers’ guild, so we should actually be able to share what we’re, um, writing.

Did I say hives? Huge. Hives.

Situations like this—large groups of women, writers, retreats, vulnerability—are all triggers for me. Competitive triggers. And this situation immediately brought out my worst sense of competition.

“I hope they don’t start on my side of the room. I need time to think of something to say.”

“Maybe their ideas aren’t as good as my idea. What if they’re better?”

“What if someone is already writing about my idea? I sure hope nobody takes my idea!”

My mind started to whirl and twirl and spin around so fast that I could barely concentrate. I needed to figure out what I was going to say. Which project should I talk about? How can I put myself in the best light possible in front of all of these women I had just met?

My sense of self-protection was huge. Overblown, really.

Thankfully, they started on the other side of the room, so I had some time to think. Once I figured out what I would share with this room full of female strangers (hives, remember?) I settled in and started to listen.

The group was comprised of women of all ages. Women with different passions. Women from various church backgrounds and walks of life.

And passions. Wow. Every woman in the room was filled with passion (we’re writers, after all), but the passions around the room were varied.

Some had a passion for theology. Others had a passion for music or art or creativity in worship. Some had a passion for evangelism; others had a passion for social justice.  

And our writing? As varied as our passions. Some had already published several books; others were at the very beginning of their writing journey. Some wrote poetry, others wrote memoir, still others wrote fiction.

As we shared our writing projects with each other, I suddenly realized that God was there, in the middle of it all. It was like He was sitting in the middle of the room orchestrating all of the writing that would go from it.

“You over there? You’re going to tell your story of seeing your husband through cancer right after having a baby.”

“And you? You’re going to write about how I help guide yourdesires.”

“And you? You’re going to write a fictional story about a bakery.”

“You? You’re going to write devotionals that help women pursue me every day.”

So many projects. So much passion. And God, sitting right in the middle of it all, orchestrating how those projects and passions would go out into the world.

As I settled in and listened to the women share their stories, I marveled at this God who would use words to make Himself known. I worshiped, silently, this God who called Himself the Word made flesh. And I began to get just a small glimpse of how He uses the passions of His people to make Himself known to the rest of the world.

All of a sudden I realized that I get to be a part of this too and that my story, my projects, are very different from those of the other women in the room. There would be no need to compete because we were all trying to do the same thing, only with different means, different circumstances, different stories.

By the time it was my turn to share my project with the group, nobody had taken my idea, nobody had had the same experiences I had, and nobody had stepped on my toes. There was no need for competition here. God was going to use all of us in different ways.

Yes, I was sweating. Yes, I was nervous (I’m always nervous when I talk about writing). Yes, I felt insecure. But I also felt confident that God had shown me something very important about His work among us.

Competitiveness is an ugly beast. It will kill your creativity and destroy your desires.

Facing my fears at the Redbud Retreat made me see that God is not in the business of setting us up against one another. He wants to take us just as we are and use each of our individual gifts for His glory.

We just need to shed the hives and get to work.


Friday, April 10, 2015

How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don’t Have a Clue



Most of us would agree: money is an uncomfortable topic to talk about. It creeps into our marriages, causing tensions we didn’t even know existed. It snakes its way into family relationships. It even comes between friends.

With a topic so volatile and with such potential to ruin relationships, you’d think we’d spend more time talking about it, figuring it out, working on it.

And you’d really think that we’d want to prepare our kids to handle money so that they can avoid potential pitfalls in the future. Yet I regularly talk to parents who ask how we did it. How did we raise three girls (a first, fairly obvious question) and how did we teach them about money (a second, less obvious one)?

I’m always surprised when parents of younger kids ask my husband and me to share what we did to teach our daughters about money. Usually, with a wry grin and a hint of embarrassment, they admit that they know nothing about money and don’t have a clue how to teach their kids about handling money either.

Actually, I don’t think this is anything to be embarrassed about—I was an English major and I pretty much don’t know anything about money either, so if I can do this you can too. That’s why I’ve titled this series “How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don’t Have a Clue,” because that’s me! I wouldn’t have had a clue if it hadn’t been, first, for my parents who did a lot of things right when they raised me, and, second, for my husband who is a finance person and thinks talking about money is fun.

(I've learned a lot over the years, but even so my knowledge is fairly basic. If you're in the "clueless" category, you won't have any trouble following along.) 

I’m always happy to talk to these self-named “clueless” parents because I think teaching our kids about money is one of the most important life lessons we can give them.

Here’s why.

1. We have a debt crisis in our country, probably even in our world. Somewhere along the way, we’ve bought into the idea that if we can’t afford it we should still be able to have it and that going into debt to get it is O.K. This wrong thinking has caused families to break up, taxes to skyrocket (I’m looking at you, U.S.) and nations to crumble (hello, Greece). And yet, we still hold on to this crazy idea that not being able to afford something isn’t a good enough reason not to have it.

2. Money can quickly become an idol. For many—both those who have a lot of it and those who don’t have enough—money has become an idol. And God warns us what will happen if we have any other gods before Him, hasn’t He? Learning how to treat money as a tool rather than an idol will free us up to worship and serve God in the right way.

3. Our world needs more productive citizens. It’s kind of a joke in our family, the “productive citizen” thing, but we’re serious—as Christians, we should be contributing to the lives of our society and of others. One way to do that is to be diligent to give and to save.

There are many other reasons to teach our kids about money, but these three probably more than any other, inform the way my husband and I have trained our daughters to use money.

Over the next six weeks (on Fridays) I’ll be posting my thoughts about teaching kids about money. We’ll cover: 
  • the early years and how to emphasize giving as a goal. 
  • the middle years and the importance of saving for what you want. 
  • high school, when we gave our kids a good deal of responsibility and freedom with money. 
  • the college years when our money talks continued and got deeper. 
  • the launching year, because even though college may be over, money talks take on a new significance. 

I hope you’ll join me through this series. No matter where you are in your parenting journey, I think you’ll find some interesting discussion on this important topic.

Now I’d like to hear from you: 
What challenges have you had as you’ve taught your kids about money? 
What successes have you had? 
And what questions would you like me to try to answer? 
(I know a finance guy who might be able to help.)


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Catching up: Easter Weekend; Our Big, Loud, Anglo Family; and a New Blog Series Starts Tomorrow!

Hey friends!

I'm sitting here on a rainy Thursday afternoon still reflecting on our fantastic Easter weekend. The girls were all home, along with Caroline's roommate, and we enjoyed lots of fun time together. Of course, Easter services at church were a highlight, as well as hosting thirteen people for dinner that day.

We also celebrated Kate's 23rd birthday over the weekend at our favorite French bistro in the area. We all sampled delicacies like short rib ravioli in a sherry cream sauce, mushroom soup, lobster bisque, whitefish, filet of beef with truffle sauce, and coc au vin. Mmmmmm.

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Every time we're all together I'm struck by so many things about our little group of people. So today I thought I'd share just a glimpse into our family life.

1. We're loud. Every time we're together the volume escalates to a point where the dog has to take cover, and someone (usually me) ends up "shush-ing" the rest of the group. Everyone talks over everyone else until you pretty much can't hear yourself think. It's really kind of embarrassing.

2. We laugh. A lot. I don't know what it is, but our family laughs a ton whenever we're together. Causing, obviously, a lot of noise. (See number 1)

3. We're opinionated. In order to survive in this family, you have to have an opinion and you have to be able to defend it. We sometimes disagree with each other, but we try to listen and understand. We should have all been lawyers.

4. We love to eat. Just ask my mom who regularly tells me, "Boy, you sure do know how to eat!" What can I say? We all appreciate a good meal, hence the French bistro. (And also, my Recipes page.)

5. We love to talk. (See numbers 1 and 3.) I'm generally a quiet person who doesn't talk a ton unless I'm with someone I know well or have something to say. I'm not a fan of wasted words. But when our family is together, I go to bed with a sore throat from all the talking. And I love it.

6. We miss each other when we're apart. I think that's why we spend so much time enjoying our meals together and causing a ruckus with our laughter and debating. It's called savoring, cherishing, enjoying. It's what our family is about.

I'll be honest, I really didn't intend to start writing about our family when I sat down today. It just happened. I guess I'm missing all of the commotion of the past weekend. *sigh*

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On to other business. . . .

I have a new blog series starting tomorrow that I'm really excited about. It's called "How to Teach Your Kids About Money When You Don't Have a Clue." 

(Hint: I'm pretty clueless about money, so if I can do this, you can too.)

From conversations I've had, it seems like many parents today really don't know how or what to teach their kids about money. But money is important--it affects so much of our lives--so it's pretty important that we pass along some principles for handling it to our kids.

I hope you'll join me back here tomorrow.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Walking Into Holy Week Looking for Peace? It's Here.



There are some days when I run from it, some days I try to ignore it, and some days I just have to say it.

I hate the devil.

There. I said it. Let the attacks begin.

You see, as a believer in Jesus Christ, I believe that there is also an opposition to him. In fact, His greatest opposition is Satan. Present tense. Because Jesus lives, Satan also lives. The Bible tells us that one day Jesus will return and Satan will be locked away forever (soon, please!), but until that day, we have to live in a fallen, fallen world in which Satan wields great power.

(Gosh, I didn’t mean to get so deep so fast here! Bear with me.)

I’ve been reading the gospels through Lent with Margaret Feinberg’s 40 Day Lent Challenge, and I’ve been struck by, well, lots of things. This week, especially, God has used His word to speak directly into some things in my life.

***

It’s been a hard week; I won’t deny it. As much as I’ve valued privacy, and still do, I just have to share a little bit of what’s been going on. I’ve been crushed by disappointment this week as a student I’ve mentored for the past two and a half years has just walked away. From school. From her life here. From relationships. From everything.

My head is still spinning.

And I can’t help but worry about the steps she is taking.

And I wonder what more I could have done to help her.

***

Back to the 40 Day Lent Challenge. (I know, I’m all over the place today. Sorry.) This morning I read John 10 and was especially struck, once again, by Jesus’s “I am” statements in verses 6-18.

“I am the gate for the sheep.”

“I am the gate.”

“I am the good shepherd.” (He says this twice, so he really must want us to pay attention to it.)

And then I read these words in John 10:10 – “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” – and I was reminded yet again of my student. What she cannot see right now is that what she thinks will bring pleasure to her life is really sucking her dry. That the people she thinks she wants in her life will destroy her. Because the enemy of our souls will do whatever he can and use whatever tricks it takes to make us think that a rich and satisfying life involves doing whatever we want without any answer to authority in our lives.

Jesus tells us the opposite.

Follow me, He says. Submit to MY authority. Seek MY kingdom and there you will find what is truly rich and satisfying in life.

Oh, sometimes it’s so hard to see, even in my own life. I want my own way. I want to control things. I want to be in charge of everything. I am a petulant child, stomping her foot to get people to listen to her. But when I try so hard to make my own way, things inevitably fall apart.

When I submit to Jesus, when I give up trying to do things my way, I find the deep, satisfying peace I’m looking for.

***

I read a helpful note in my Bible this morning.

“The world still lives in darkness and it cannot understand the realities of life or of God. Divine revelation is inaccessible to the world. In fact, when the light of God penetrates the darkness, exposing the ugliness of the world’s life, many people flee deeper into the darkness because they prefer it to the light. Only the transforming power of God’s Spirit can provide understanding and help people see clearly as children of God.”

***

So why do I hate the devil? Because he is a thief. He steals joy. He steals peace. He steals love. He steals understanding. He causes division and strife and makes us see the differences between people when we should be looking for anything, anything that will bind us together in this crazy fallen world.

The good news--the really. good. news.--is that Jesus came so that we wouldn’t have to fight against the darkness anymore. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

So this week is Holy Week. Lent will be over and on Easter Sunday we will celebrate the Light of the World who has come so that we can have peace and rest and a rich and satisfying life. I choose to rest there, in that peace that surpasses all understanding.

Because this week? This week I don’t understand much, but I do understand where my satisfaction lies.

***

Friends, forgive me if this post is hard for you to read. I just sat down and wrote what was on my heart this morning, and I’m putting it out there without much editing because I think it’s what God wants me to do today.


This Easter week, I pray that you will know the peace that Jesus came to bring to each one of us.