Is It Legit?

Beware ‘professional ‘ beggars.

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He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor. Proverbs 22:9

The United States of America is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and  more charitable donations per capita flow from the US than from other nations.  As a country we are blessed with both the largest percentages of Christians and millionaires. These two groups donate more money to charities than any other according to numerous reports. Because of this abundance of wealth, there are numerous scam artists who prey upon the charity and good will of the generous by flipping the script to take advantage.

Earlier this year, you may have heard this heartwarming story in the national news media about this poor woman who was trying to make it home,  but her car broke down when it ran out of gas on I-95 outside of Philly. A homeless vet gave her $20, enabling her to get the much needed petrol for her car. In gratitude, her and her boyfriend befriended the man and set up an online GoFundMe donation account to help this wonderful homeless veteran. As the story went viral, donations poured in and the account grew to more than $400,000. A wonderful story.

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Except that’s all it was, a story. The entire account was a fiction, and all three parties were involved in the scam. The vet was indeed homeless, but the couple Mark D’Amico and Kate McClure, conspired with homeless man Johnny Bobbitt  and solicited his help as the face of their campaign. The plan backfired when the amounts received from good-hearted donors spiraled out of control. Greed over the size of the split of the ill-gotten gains is what ultimately undid the trio. Bobbit felt all the money belonged to him, as he was really homeless. Mastermind Mark D’Amico believed Bobbit was only entitled to a portion of the money, so Johnny Bobbitt got a lawyer and sued.  As a result of the legal action and the resulting media attention on the high-profile case, the elaborate plot unraveled and all three were jailed and charged with theft by deception. GoFundMe has agreed to refund the donations collected.  

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“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

The Naked City was a TV crime drama broadcast  from 1959-1963 and based on a 1948 film of the same name. Each episode ended with the iconic line about the eight million stories, a reference to the location, set in New York City, and implying that everyone has a story to tell. As I stated before, the USA is the land of plenty, and we do have homeless and poor, but no one staves in this country except by choice, or by malice. There has never been a famine our country, but there are many stupid people who make bad decisions and then want to blame others for their misfortune, or at least make them feel bad.  It reminds me of a biblical account of a famine in ancient Samaria found in the second book of Kings.  

2 Kings 6:26-30

26 As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, “Help me, my lord the king!”

27 The king replied, “If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?” 28 Then he asked her, “What’s the matter?”

She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ 29 So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.”

30 When the king heard the woman’s words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and they saw that, under his robes, he had sackcloth on his body.

That’s a pretty terrible tale, but it points out poor decision skills, taking advantage of both stupidity and of wealth, and while you feel sympathetic for the victims there are some people that just can’t be helped. It’s not totally clear exactly what type of help the woman is soliciting, but it is implied that she is seeking justice against the woman who scammed her.

Jesus said we will always have the poor among us. I’m not into the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’ which preaches that God wants us to be rich and successful, because by becoming wealthy we are in a much better position to help others.  There is some truth in this logic, but remember that even the Devil can quote scripture and twist it’s meaning to suit his purposes. There’s a scam out there for every legitimate cause, and they prey upon your sympathy.  A ‘church by mail’ called Saint Mathews Churches of Tulsa OK is one such scam that sends out mailings splattered with scriptures and religious iconography promising great blessings in return for ‘seed offerings’.  Some televangelists also fall into this category.

stmatt

Sometimes it’s hard to separate ‘the wheat from the chaff’. Sometimes it’s impossible, so don’t feel bad if you gave in error to a fake one. Live and learn, and move on.  Good people want to help others, and every organization needs SOME funding for its own overhead.  Some organizations are just ‘squeaky wheels’ that exist to cry for donations while little of the funds reach their intended targets.  I’m a firm believer in supporting LOCAL organizations. The best nation-wide charities like The Salvation Army  https://www.salvationarmyusa.org   or Toys For Tots   https://www.toysfortots.org  can get by on a minimal razor-thin operating budget and have LOCAL offices that cater to the LOCAL community. 

If you have any concerns about a charity, you can see how they rank up to similar charities by using the https://www.charitynavigator.org/  website. Charity Navigator is the largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities in the United States providing data on 1.8 million nonprofits.  

This doesn’t mean that every need has an accredited 501-c charity that exists to back it. Sometimes, legitimate needs do ‘pop-up’ unexpectedly, due to tragedy or stupidity, or both. Many of these hard luck cases turn to GoFundMe.com  There are many true needs out there that need to be met, but like the couple and the vet who scammed over  $400,000 some of these ‘needs’ might be fake. Whenever you donate money, never donate more than you can afford to, never feel bad if you have to say ‘no’, and never, ever, EVER donate money if you feel like you are being FORCED to give. Extortion is just as illegal as theft by deception. I have heard of people who used GoFundMe to raise funds for funerals, medical expenses, and because they lost their home in a fire. I once even donated money to a homeless Superman impersonator who had been mugged, had his teeth knocked out, and was robbed of his cape and super-suit. I have also heard of  people who used   GoFundME because they felt they were entitled to lots of money for their upcoming birthday, or who needed rent money because ‘they just didn’t have it’.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes people are just stupid and make bad decisions.  All things come from God and you are the steward  of the riches He has bestowed upon you. How you choose to distribute from your bounty is a matter of your heart, and only God can judge you because He knows the truth behind ever human heart. As always, I wish you success and happiness.  

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

A handout or a hand up?

brother can you spare a dime

A popular song  from 1930 was ‘Brother, can you spare a dime?’ sung by Bing Crosby.  During the Great Depression, many Americans were down on their luck and struggling to make ends meet. (The ‘Fellow American down  on his luck’ was later personified by Humphrey Bogart in the film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre 1948, later spoofed in the 1950 Bugs Bunny cartoon short  8-Ball Bunny.)  A dime doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but when you get enough of them they do add up. It was probably  a combination of this song on the radio, and the movie newsreel serial THE MARCH OF TIME that inspired Eddie Cantor to coin the phrase ‘The March Of Dimes’ to help raise donations for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, for his National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, to combat polio. The catch phrase eventually replaced the clunky name of the foundation, which has been know as The March Of Dimes ever since.  The poorly run charity still exists today despite the near extinction of polio, having changed its mission to fighting birth defects.   More than 80% of funds collected go towards overhead,  and the CEO of the charity  is paid over $500,000 annually. What started out as a good intention morphed into a bureaucratic nightmare that doesn’t seem to help anyone except the staff.

The American Dream vs. the Welfare State.

Americans are guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nowhere in the US Constitution is it listed as being the job of the government to provide any form of  social welfare assistance, cradle to grave healthcare, cheap housing, free phones, or free food.  

Following the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression, certain well-intentioned government officials began creating the modern welfare state that exists in our country today. The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt on August 14, 1935. The WPA, Works Progress Administration, put unemployed and unskilled Americans to work in return for temporary financial assistance from 1939 to 1943. For four years during the Depression, the first Food Stamp Program fed 20 million people at one time or another in nearly half of the total counties in the nation.  Food stamps were eliminated in 1943, but in 1961 they were revived when President Kennedy signed his first executive order bringing back the program. Food stamps would also eventually be re-branded as SNAP, a Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, with benefits being distributed electronically on a EBT card to reduce ‘social stigma’.     

Government entitlement programs account for more than half of the national budget.  Whenever we reduce taxes, we also have to make  corresponding cuts to the budget, and associated entitlement programs.  The problem is there is a large portion of the population that has become entirely dependent upon the existence of those same entitlement programs which must be eliminated.  Ever since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered Americans his New Deal, the cornerstone of the Democrat political party platform has been to eliminate poverty through widespread, government social welfare programs. As a result of the created dependency generated from these same welfare programs, poverty has actually increased while the Federal budget deficit has skyrocketed. We have also created generational welfare dependency with children living in the same housing projects on public assistance as their parents and grandparents.  It is impossible to eliminate poverty, and believing that poverty can be eliminated amounts to calling Jesus Christ a liar.

“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me.”– Jesus Christ,  The Bible written in John 12:8,  Mark 14:7, and also Matthew 26:11

Charity begins at home.

​“With great power there must also come — great responsibility!” —Stan Lee

Besides being God, Jesus Christ was a rabbi, or teacher. By speaking that the poor will always be among us, He brings to mind other scripture verse.      

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be…For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deut 15:7-11)

Before the government social welfare reforms of the twentieth century were instituted, taking care of the poor was largely a function of the Christian Church. Churches had ‘poor boxes’ with the donations collected destined directly for the poor.  Even today, churches provide free meals, food pantries, and other donations for the poor. As Christians living in the most prosperous country in history of the world, it is OUR responsibility to pass on our blessings as we have been blessed. With all the opportunity and freedom abundant in the United States, there really is no reason to be poor unless we choose to be. According to motivational expert Brian Tracy, “The sad fact is that people are poor because they have not yet decided to be rich. People are overweight and unfit because they have not yet decided to be thin and fit. People are inefficient time wasters because they haven’t yet decided to be highly productive in everything they do.”

I grew up poor, both my father and step-father died when I was a young boy. My mother never worked to better herself and always relied upon social welfare programs.  As a result, I grew up in a roach-infested apartment in NYC, eating Government cheese, getting food with food stamps, and eating free meals at school. My mother died in the same poverty she chose to embrace, but I made a vow long ago to never be poor when I was an adult.  Success is always present, but never given, you have to work for it if you really want it. Doing so places you in a position to help the less fortunate, offering a hand up instead of a handout.  There are many worthy charities for every sketchy one that claims to help the poor, and if you do your research, by separating the wheat from the chaff your donations will do the most good.  A good rule of thumb is to focus locally and give what you are able to give freely and gladly. You should take care of your family, friends, and other people who live close to you before helping people who are living further away or in another country.  If every Christian in the USA did their fair share, there would be no need for government welfare programs. As always, I wish you success and happiness.

A Penny For Your Thoughts?

Making sense of cents.

cents

If you’ve ever heard the saying “Penny for your thoughts”, and thought a penny was such a paltry sum, consider that when the saying was first coined in the 1500’s, a penny was a pretty fair amount.  

I do a lot of walking during my day job. About five to seven miles. Not a day goes by that I don’t find at least one penny discarded in the street. Although there are some who superstitiously believe that a penny face down is  bad luck, I disagree. A penny found is a penny earned and the only luck a person has is the luck they make for themselves. I also use these found pennies as a reminder to say a quick prayer thanking God for all I have. 

Way back in the 1970’s when I was a young boy, there was still a few years when you could go to the corner Spanish Grocery store and buy penny candies. I remember one of the last times I lived in that neighborhood when I walked into store with a dollar and asked for one hundred Big Bols, which Patricia dutifully counted out of the candy jar, and then handed over in a paper bag. I felt like I was the richest boy in Queens NY.  Big Bol was a cheap wrapped penny candy that was sort of a gum drop with a hard candy shell. Honestly I can’t even remember what they tasted like it was so long ago, but if pressed I’d say guava. Sadly, those days are long gone.

bigbol

A penny doesn’t buy much these days.  You can still stumble upon an online deal for a one cent item with free shipping, but most places simply dispense with the penny all together, or change shipping. Last week, I found a website that offered TOTALLY FREE (including shipping) 300 printed business cards. The back of the card advertises the company and reads FREE by 4OVER4.COM This is a loss leader and an advertisement at the same time, because they can write off the promotional item as a business expense and get free advertising, all while creating good customer relations with potential new clients . Quite ingenious.

Despite the fact that pennies don’t go as far as they used to and are often discarded, Americans still love our pennies and resist efforts to eliminate the coin. Our neighbors to the North abolished their penny in 2012. The Canadian penny coin was produced from 1858 until May 2012. Distribution by the Royal Canadian Mint ceased as of February 4th 2013. From 1982 until 1996, the shape of the penny was 12-sided rather than round. In 1997, the penny’s composition changed to 98.4 per cent zinc, with the rest copper plating. Since 2000, its composition has been 94 per cent steel.  Whenever I stumble upon a Canadian penny, it gets saved now in my ‘Canadian Penny Jar’.  I also save US Wheat cents and earlier, and I do have a few British large cents.

Production of the US penny coin has been continuous since 1793. Prior to 1856 pennies were produced in the large cent coin. There are not many of these in existence today because  many of these early coins were melted down as the copper was more valuable than the coin.  The US penny was made of mostly copper prior to 1982 when the mint switched production to the cheaper 97.5% zinc plated with copper coins still in use today. The US penny has been the same size since 1856 as it is today, but there have been some ‘cosmetic’ changes.

The two precursors of the modern Lincoln penny were the Flying Eagle (1856-1858) and the Indian Head (1859-1909) I once found an Indian Head Penny discarded in the ‘Need a Penny?’ tray at a Rutter’s convenience store in York PA when I stopped for gas. I couldn’t believe my good fortune at discovering the more-than-a-hundred-year-old coin sitting in the dish right on top, unnoticed by everyone except me!

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Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th President of the United States. Considered the Last Casualty of the American Civil War, Lincoln was the first Republican president. He commanded the Union Army in its victory over the South in the bloodiest war the US ever fought in. The victory ended slavery in the USA, preserved the Union, and Lincoln is recognized as the greatest president of the nineteenth century.

In 1909 to commemorate the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the US Mint replaced the  five decade old Indian Head cent with the Lincoln Wheat penny designed by Victor D. Brenner. A few early coins were produced with the designer’s initials VDB on the face of the coin. The front of the coin has the current profile of Lincoln, the obverse had two stalks of wheat, and read ONE CENT.   During WWII when copper was needed for the war effort, the 1943 steel cent was produced. Likewise I once found one of these wartime Steel cents discarded in the  ‘Need a Penny?’ Dish at a 7-11 convenience store in Reading PA.  The clueless clerk was rambling on about a person being dishonest and painting a penny silver in order to ‘pass it off as a dime’.  I nodded sympathetically while replaced the offending penny with a modern one, then left the shop with a huge smile on my face.

In 1959, on the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, the Wheat on the obverse was replaced with the Lincoln Memorial for the next fifty years.

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To commemorate the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, the mint issued pennies with four different designs on the obverse depicting scenes from the life of  Abraham Lincoln.

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Since 2010, the reverse side of the penny has sported the Union Shield.

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Yes, the US penny is a very common coin, but Abraham Lincoln was a very uncommon man. It’s quite fitting that even the poorest person in our great country can easily posses a coin bearing the likeness of this great man. As always, I wish you success and happiness!  

Are You Motivated Yet?

Are motivational courses and seminars worth it?

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“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.”– Earl Nightingale

We become what we think about.

You may not have heard of Earl Nightingale (March 12, 1921 – March 25, 1989) or his best selling work, The Strangest Secret. The Strangest Secret was a 1957 spoken word record by Earl Nightingale.  

Originally, Earl used to give weekly pep talks to his staff at the insurance agency he owned. Many of his ideas were inspired and influenced by authors such as Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie. During a vacation in 1956, Earl left a pre-recorded motivational record for his staff to listen to in his absence, and this message spread like wild-fire. Staff requested copies of The Strangest Secret, which they shared with friends and family, who also requested copies. Eventually The Strangest Secret sold over one million copies and received the first Gold Record for the spoken word, which helped launch the fields of business motivation and audio publishing. A written transcript was also published and Terry Savage has described it as “…one of the great motivational books of all time“.

If you’d like to listen to a recording of the Strangest Secret  you can Google it or click this link:

There is nothing new under the sun.

Motivational speeches and ‘pep talks’ are nothing new. They have been used for hundreds if not  thousands of years by parents to encourage their children, by generals to lead their troops, by pastors to encourage their flock to revival and by leaders to give hope to their nations. Sometimes you need someone else to encourage you to stop the pity party and get back to living an abundant life.

Back in May of 2003, I drove down to Baltimore’s First Mariner Arena to attend “The Challenge: A Call to Action” which was a conference for men held by a Christian group called Promise Keepers. The cost for the admission was $100.  10,000 men were expected to attend the 17 hours of sessions and entertainment. Dr. Crawford Loritts was one of the many speakers, and a free bag lunch was provided, It was crowded, and it was electrifying to be surrounded my thousands of like-minded men. Beyond that, I don’t remember much of the event. The message about God was something I already knew. The fact that I was not alone was something I already knew. Everyone on stage was selling books, CDs, T-shirts, you name it. I brought a few items on impulse. I was satisfied overall but if I had to do it again, I’d probably stay home.  

Motivation is motivational!

Brian Tracey once described motivational speaking as the highest paid profession in the world. Likewise, Earl Nightingale called selling the highest paid profession. This is not surprising because a motivational speaker is selling you a message you want to hear. The good news is that you desire to hear this life-changing information they are promising to impart. The bad news is that what they are selling you is something you could have found out for yourself for free. In the 1950’s people did not have the sum total of human knowledge at their fingertips as we do today. If you wanted information, you had to borrow the book from a library, or buy it outright. If you missed the TV show, you couldn’t watch it online, it was past tense, gone forever. Computers were the toys of mad scientists, no normal person owned one.  Knowledge was limited to time and opportunity. So attending seminars was a practical way to get the most amount of knowledge on a single topic  offered in a single location. BUT knowledge in and of itself is useless if you are unwilling to act upon it. You have to be motivated to make the necessary changes needed to improve whatever aspect of your life you are trying to change. 

Some people have been so beaten down during their life that they no longer believe that their goals are achievable, This is why the second job of the motivation speaker is to encourage and convince their audience that if they follow their method they will succeed. If you can conceive it, and you can believe it, then you can achieve it! Hint- being surrounded by thousands of enthusiastic, like-minded individuals helps. But when it’s all said and done, the hard work is all up to you. If you fail to follow though, and give up because ‘it’s too hard’ or ‘it doesn’t work’, then you are wasting your time and your money. The only one getting rich is the motivational speaker because you paid for his or her seminar, and the books and materials they are offering. No one can make YOU a success except YOU. If you truly want to succeed, success begins with YOU! If YOU want to become motivated, just start doing whatever YOU are attempting to achieve. Begin working and the motivation will follow because motivation is motivational! There is nothing as satisfying as seeing results.

SNAKE OIL!

A few months after the PK conference in Baltimore, I was visiting a local mega-church which shall remain nameless, and that pastor had encouraged his church members to attend a special financial service later that evening.  As money and  finance are of great personal interest to me, I decided to go to this free seminar. I forget the name of the speaker, he did not impress me. He was preaching a prosperity gospel and his program was called INCREASE. He kept going on about how God wants us all to be rich, and that if you followed all the information in his INCREASE program, you too will be rich. He was very enthusiastic, but at one point he used a ‘negative’ tactic. He told the audience that his program would not for 90% of the audience because they would fail to follow the instructions. Yet when he was done speaking, dozens of people were lining up to buy his $400 financial INCREASE program on 16 CDs. I did NOT give that snake oil salesman one penny, and I never set foot in that church again.

Everything is online!

Before you shell out your hard earned money for seminars, programs, or encouragement:

Almost everything  you want to know is already online somewhere, FOR FREE.

E-books, recordings (both audio and video), charts, graphs, statistics, plans, you name it, it’s all out on the internet for you to access. You have the sum total of human knowledge at your fingertips if you own a Smartphone or have some way to access the internet. Knowledge is power, and that power is yours for the taking. You just have to believe that it’s possible and do it. People will always try to discourage you from succeeding, but when they do you have to tune them out. Their dreams died long ago and they can’t stand to watch you succeed where they failed. Misery loves company, so decline the invitation to their pity party because you’re better than that.  You can do it! I believe in you. As always, I wish you success and happiness.

Help Yourself!

Are self-help books all they’re cracked up to be?

 

selfhelp

If you walk into any decent bookstore, you’ll notice that a large section of the store is devoted to self-help books. Self help books usually fit very nicely into three inter-related categories:

  • Wealth
  • Health
  • Relationships

Depending on one’s  personal situations, one of these three categories may be more important to you than another, but from my personal view point wealth (or financial stability) is the lynch pin that holds the other two components in place. The stress and worry associated with poor financial decisions will ruin both your health and your relationships.   Fighting about money is the number one relationship killer. With such a huge selection of self-help books and authors to choose from, you might wonder if self-help books really work at all.

A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n. – John Milton

John Milton was a 17th century English poet. His most famous work was Paradise Lost, a long narrative poem which basically expands upon the biblical story of Adam and Eve from the book of Genesis.

In the 1997 movie The Devil’s Advocate, Al Pacino  plays a character named John Milton, a lawyer who is  actually Satan in disguise. At one point during the film, Pacino utters this quotable dialog : “The worst vice is advice”. It’s a statement that’s a little confusing, but I found it to be both funny and profound. Some people are in the habit of advising other people about anything and everything, even when they have no worthwhile advice to offer.  So it’s very important to be able to discern if the advice given is of any value. I cannot tell you how many times people (who didn’t know what they were talking about) gave me bad advice which had I been foolish enough to act upon would have had disastrous consequences.

If you’re considering seeking out a self-help book, then you’ve already made the first step in problem solving, admitting to yourself that there’s a problem. The second step is gathering information so you can formulate a solution. The third step is putting that information into practice, but the forth and final step is the real key to success. That forth step is maintaining the third step while improving upon and refining it as new and better information comes along. Practice makes perfect, quitters never win, and winners never quit.      

All the good advice in the world is worthless if you fail to apply it. Therein lies the problem. Most people looking for self-help books are ACTUALLY seeking quick fix solutions to their problems that require little or no effort on their part. They are NOT expecting to discover PERMANENT life changes.

Take diet books for example.  (At the risk of insulting any actual dietician or fitness expert who may have written a really sound book, I’m NOT going to mention any specific book title, or author.)  

Average Joe is 100 lbs overweight and hears  about a fabulous new diet book by a well respected author, and he immediately orders a copy. The book arrives and after a month of making all the tasty  meals, Joe loses 25 lbs. He pats himself on the back uses his new diet book to prop up the short leg of the table, and goes to the all-you-can-eat buffet to reward himself. A month later, he has gained back the weight he lost, and blames the author and the stupid book. Then he hears about another new diet book and repeats the process over and over.  The problem isn’t the advice he received, it is that he stopped following it the moment he saw positive change, and resumed all the bad habits that caused the problem in the first place.

If you want to stop a problem,  you MUST stop going all the things at caused the problem, PERMANENTLY! You don’t go back, ever.   Occam’s razor, dictates that “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one “. If you keep wondering why all your problems keep happening to you, it’s because the problem isn’t the problem, the problem IS you. To quote Shakespeare  “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves”  You’re not a victim of your circumstances, you’re a volunteer and it’s up to you to break the vicious cycle that you’ve trapped yourself in.

As I’ve said many times, I grew up poor because my father died when I was young, and my mother didn’t have the intelligence to handle money. If you gave her one dollar, she’s spend two.  I broke the vicious cycle of poverty that had trapped most of my family by seeking wise council on money and financial matters.  I put these practices into place years ago and never stopped working my way towards financial freedom.   This is why I’m successful today. I realized that my way of thinking was what caused the problem, and I actively sort out better information from someone smarter than myself.  This is because a greater intelligence is always needed to fix a problem than the intellect that caused it.  

So as your trying to figure out which of the near infinite self-help books will provide the answer to your problem, let me give you a ‘short cut’. The best self-help books all offer the simplest answers, and often quote the Bible.  If you read enough of them, they all eventually seem to offer the exact advice.

  • For wealth–  Spend  less then you earn,  live within your means, and save and invest.
  • For health– Eat proper nutritious meals and exercise regularly.
  • For relationships – Be good.  

It’s just common sense, not tricks or gimmicks.  

Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. (Proverbs 28:26)

You may have heard it said ‘God helps those who help themselves’. This is NOT biblical. You will not find that phrase anywhere in the Holy Bible. Benjamin Franklin popularized it.  The Bible tells us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, and also encourages us to seek wise council. It is the first and the greatest ‘self-help’ book, timeless and perfect.

Here are a few helpful  proverbs form the Bible:

Proverbs 12:15

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.

Proverbs 11:14

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 13:10

Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel.

Proverbs 19:20

Listen to counsel and accept discipline, That you may be wise the rest of your days.

So if you’re seeking the ultimate self-help book why not try reading the time tested original first. As always I wish you happiness and success!

Sorry, Not a Winner!

Don’t fall victim to ‘Get-Rich-Quick Schemes’.

Back when I was in college, I used to work late nights and weekends at a convenience store. You know the type, a small retail business that stocks a range of everyday items such as groceries, snack foods, coffee, soft drinks, tobacco products, newspapers, and magazines. I’d start at 10 pm and would usually be ending my shifts around 7am. Like most c-stores, we also sold lottery tickets, both the ‘instant win’ scratch-off tickets and the computerized state and national mega-million number games.  Time and again, I would see the same people on their way to and from their places of employment. These regular customers would stop by daily to grab a cup of coffee, a pack of cigs, and usually lottery tickets. This was an everyday occurrence.  Often, they would scratch off the instant lottery tickets at side of the counter while sipping their coffee, and if they won a free ticket, they would redeem it for another chance to win.  I can’t tell you how many of the same people day in and day out spend upwards of $5.00 a day on lottery tickets. It was worse when the mega-million jackpots started growing and lotto-fever hit these would-be millionaires. I never once in all the years I worked there, sold someone a million-dollar winning ticket.        

lotto

The one dollar trap.

Part of the allure of lottery tickets is how inexpensive they are. For only a buck you could be a winner! After all, what could you possibly do with that measly dollar? Because of this, it’s very easy to get caught up in the lottery trap.  My mother, and all of my aunts spent tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetimes chasing the elusive ‘big win’. Not only did they play the lottery, they also played bingo, went to casinos, and gambled. My late grandmother was a book-maker, taking in illegal spots bets. One of my cousins lost $600 at a casino in a single evening last month. My last surviving aunt, who lives in near poverty,  frequently wastes her precious few dollars on lottery tickets, and betting on horse races.  Not a single member of my family ever became wealthy by gambling, and all died penniless.

But the Apostles cast lots in the Bible, so gambling is ok, right?

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD,” (Prov. 16:33)

In the Bible, the casting of lots is mentioned several times.

  • The eleven apostles cast lots to determine who would replace Judas (Acts 1:26).
  • The Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ garments (Matthew 27:35).    
  • God instructed the Israelites to cast lots on several times in the book of Numbers (Numbers 26:55; 33:54; 34:13; 36:2)  
  • The practice of casting lots occurs most often in connection with the division of the land under Joshua (Joshua chapters 14-21)
  • The sailors on Jonah’s ship (Jonah 1:7) also cast lots to determine who had brought God’s wrath upon their ship.

This is NOT the same as gambling. The casting of lots was the ancient equivalent of flipping a coin to make an arbitrary decision.  Another thing you may notice in all of the above references, is that there was no initial up-front investment by the participants to be included.  When you gamble, you have to wager a personal stake of some sort which becomes forfeit if the outcome is not in your favor. I’ve also heard people try to justify gambling by saying that bingo is played in Catholic churches, so it’s okay.  Actually there have been several times over the past seventy years when bingo was banned in churches, and even today it’s rare to see bingo played  outside of a bingo hall or at a private club. It’s not illegal, but that doesn’t make it ‘good’.  Anything which becomes an addiction is bad, and as God has given us free will, we have to decide for ourselves through studying his Word if we are becoming addicted to a particular bad habit.  

All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.   1 Corinthians 6:12 King James Version (KJV)

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  1 Timothy 6:10 King James Version (KJV)

The easy way

Buying a lottery ticket is not against the law. On very rare occasions even I have been caught up in ‘lotto fever’ when the mega-million jackpot hits record highs, and I feel compelled to contribute to the office lotto pool because I don’t want to be the one guy that got left behind should my co-workers win and split the jackpot.  It’s not wrong to want to have a better life. But if you feel that there only way to improve your lot in life is by gambling, then there is something seriously wrong with your way of thinking. Let’s go back to the guys I mentioned who brought daily lottery tickets on their way to work back when I worked at the c-store.  Let’s say they spent $5 a day, five days a week on lottery tickets on average.  I sold some of these guys tickets for years, and they never hit any big jackpot. So let’s assume that instead of wasting $25 a week on lottery tickets, they just put that money in a jar every week for a year. At the end of the year they would have $1300.00.  Now let’s assume they did this every year for twenty five years, never toughing the money, just putting it in the jar, $25 a week, every week for twenty five years. They would have stashed away $32,500! Now suppose instead of just hiding the money away in a jar, they had placed in a brokerage account and invested it in a index fund tracking the S&P 500, (assuming about a 12% interest rate APR ) that investment would have grown to over $100,000!   

The easy way to became rich is not by gambling. The easy way to achieve wealth is to do it slowly over time, cutting all unnecessary expenses, and by making wise investments.  As always, I wish you happiness and success!  

 

What if you died today?

The importance of planning your estate.

“Live life like you’re gonna die, because you’re gonna.” – William Shartner  (from his song You’ll Have Time)

smell the flowers2

Last week, I posted a blog entry asking if you’d outlive your retirement savings, if any. Ironically, this week’s post deals with the opposite situation. What if you suddenly died before retirement age?  Honestly, I never thought I’d be writing on this topic, but a couple of days ago, ‘C.Z.’ a long term co-worker and friend suddenly died. This is not the first time this has happened to me at my job. 4 years ago the same thing happened to another friend and co-worker, Harvey. I work in a very high-stress career which is not ideal for anyone, and in the years I have been employed there, I have had 4 co-workers die from fatal heath-attacks, all under the age of 60, and one, ‘Joe’ who committed suicide.

My father was another person in my life who died six weeks shy of his 58th birthday, never living long enough to retire.  He left no will, a small bank account, and my mother had to handle financial matters as best she could, which is why she eventually died penniless, depending upon me to pick up the pieces.

Retirement is the cherry on the ice cream sundae. It’s the boon at the end of a long career where you get to enjoy your twilight years. Reaching retirement age dead broke with a meager government SSA check is horrible. Never living long enough to retire is tragic. Long ago, I vowed to never live in poverty, and to take care of my health so that I lived long enough to actually retire, physically and financially fit.

Those we leave behind

Discussing dying and death is very hard, but death is a part of life. No buts about it, we are all going to die someday, and we need to have our affairs in order. Funerals are expensive. How do you determine the last wishes of the departed? Who gets their possessions, if any? There are all important questions which need to be addressed and it’s not fair to dump them in the lap of someone else, be they spouse, child, relation, or friend. 

When a person dies:

  • You should immediately contact any surviving family or friends. No one wants to find out from an obituary in the newspaper, or discover long after the fact that their loved one has passed. These are ‘hard’ calls to make. Trust me, I’ve been on both sides as the caller, and the called. As the informed, and as the clueless  person who discovered a death months after the fact. It’s not fun. It’s best to find out ASAP, especially if you have a desire to attend a memorial service and make peace with the situation. Life is for the living, so be mindful of those who will be left behind.
  • Contact their place of employment if they are still employed.
  • Contact their union rep if they are part of a union.
  • Contact any life insurance companies they may have had.
  • Contact their personal lawyer (if known).
  • Contact  Social Security.  SSA can pay a one-time payment of $255 to the surviving spouse if they were living with the deceased. If living apart and eligible for certain Social Security benefits on the deceased’s record, the surviving spouse may still be able to get this one-time payment. If there’s no surviving spouse, a child who’s eligible for benefits on the deceased’s record in the month of death can get this payment.  Certain family members may be eligible to receive monthly benefits, including: — A widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled); — A widow or widower any age caring for the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or disabled; — An unmarried child of the deceased who is: o Younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they’re a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school); or o Age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22; — A stepchild, grandchild, stepgrandchild, or adopted child under certain circumstances; — Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support; and — A surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances.

It doesn’t matter if you are single or married, you need to prepare as much as possible for the executor of your estate including:

  • A designated executor for your estate.
  • A contact list containing phone numbers and address of people to be informed of your passing.
  •  A written will designating how your effects should be dispersed.
  • A list of insurance policies.
  •  Desires for funeral arrangements.  
  • Lists of assets such as bank accounts, stock accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, deposit boxes, real estate, vehicles, businesses,  etc.
  • Computer social media platforms and relevant  passwords.* (Passwords and pin numbers should always be hidden, and secured when you are alive. You don’t want identity theft to occur and ruin your life.   Designate one person, but not more than two to know where these secured and hidden codes are in your home. This MUST be someone you trust with your life. )  

A company called Intentional Retirement sells an “If Something Happens to Me Kit”. It’s about $50, but contains everything you’d need to help you  set up your estate.

http://intentionalretirement.com/ishtm-kit

Also, consider pre-planning your own funeral. You can pre-fund and set up all the arrangements years in advance with most reputable funeral homes, sparing your loved ones the pressure, duress, and expense of making your final arrangements. Think about them, you’ll be in a better place, but do you want to cause them undue suffering while they are morning your loss?   When my mother died, I had literately hours to arrange her burial and needed to pay 1/3 of the bill in advance. It cost me over $10,000 for her funeral and took years to pay off the balance.  

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.–

H. Jackson Brown, Jr

GOOD NEWS! If you’re reading this blog, you’re still alive! As I said discussing death and dying is not fun, but living is! So while you are still able, go out and enjoy life! Prepare for the inevitable to make your passing easier for those you leave behind, but above all remember that your life is YOUR LIFE. Only you can live it. You can be frugal with your finances while still enjoying all that life has to offer. The best things in life are free, and God is good, always! Celebrate your life by living it! As always I wish you happiness and success!