Very Interesting…

Earn interest while keeping your emergency fund fluid.

As you work your way towards financial freedom, it is imperative to have liquid assets. The most liquid of all assets of course is always cash. Having stocks in a brokerage account is dandy, but the turnaround time to sell them can be days until the funds are transferred into your bank account.  This is no good if you have a situation arise which requires immediate funds.

Because life happens, having an emergency cash supply is essential.  The ideal emergency fund is to have two years worth  of living expenses stashed away. It sounds like an excessive amount, but believe me it is achievable. It just takes time to reach that level.

Two years worth of living expenses for most people is measured in tens of thousands of dollars. So for argument’s sake, let’s assume the amount we are discussing is between $25,000 and $50,000. Keeping that amount of money liquid can be a tricky matter, but you should not sacrifice the chance to earn interest on as much of your emergency fund as possible. There are ways of earning varying amounts of interest while still keeping your assets accessible.    

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The first and most important thing I recommend is always having $1000 physically on hand in your home. Keep it hidden of course, but have it! You’ll never earn interest on this smallest part of your emergency fund, but it is worth the small sacrifice to be able to reach out and touch your money if you need it in seconds.  It is better to have a $1000 in cash on hand you don’t need, than to need $1000 you don’t have.  Again, this is EMERGENCY MONEY, not fun money.  If it’s not a matter of life and death, DON’T TOUCH IT! DON’T EVEN LOOK AT IT!

Next, keep between $2000 and $5000 in your savings account. There are still some banks that will offer a minimal amount of interest with no fees. Often times credit unions will offer better interest than banks. Usually keeping $5000 in either a saving or money market account will earn you a higher interest rate for your cash. You can shop for the best interest rates offered at www.bankrate.com

Laddering CDs

Certificates of Deposit or CDs offer better interest rates but they tie up your funds until the maturity date. The longer the term, the higher the interest rate. Typically the terms run from as little as 3 months to as long as 5 years. To take advantage of the best interest rates while still keeping the cash fluid, I would recommend using a CD laddering strategy. Distribute your next $5000 to $10000  into a varying number of CDs each having different terms and end dates. You can create a ladder of CDs as long as you like with each CD being a rung. As each rung matures you can access it without penalty, or roll it over and wait for the next rung in the ladder to mature.

EX: Using $10,000, divvy it up into:  

  • 5 year CD $5000
  • 2 year CD $2000
  • 1 year CD $1000
  • 6 month CD $1000
  • 3 month $1000

With the CD ladder in this example, you will have a minimum of $1000 available to you every 3 months, and a minimum of $2000 every 6 months which you can cash in without penalty should you need it. Or let it roll over and continue to accrue interest.

Brokerage Account

Any part of your remaining cash assets beyond the above suggested $16,000 of allocated funds should be kept in a brokerage account such as MerrillEdge or TD Ameritrade to be used for the purchase of dividend stocks.  By investing in a diversified portfolio of various dividend paying stocks, you will be able to hedge your bets while maintaining a return on your investments. You’ll have to do your own homework on which stocks to buy, as past performance does not guarantee future earnings.

Experimental Investing

When you have two years worth of living expenses under your belt, you can afford to use any additional ‘mad money’ you may have for more risky financial ventures.  Some suggestions could include:

  • Collectibles / art
  • Real estate
  • Starting a business
  • Financing peer-to-peer loans through Prosper.com

 

Again, these are just suggestions and not recommendations. Ultimately you have to decide your financial future, but if you fail to plan for your future, you won’t have one.  As always I wish you happiness and success.  

A Snowball’s Chance!

Eliminating debt is just that simple!

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It never ceases to amaze me how people seem to just amass mountains of debt, and the ‘creative reasons’ they list for having done so. From the instant gratification of “gotta have it now!”, to keeping up with the Joneses,  or just the insidious swipe of the credit card to pay for our morning coffee on the way to work. Americans seem to have every excuse in the book for why they are in debt, and it’s always ‘not their fault’.  Now don’t get me wrong, emergencies do happen, and tragedies do occur, always at the worst possible time and in the most expensive manner.   Grabbing breakfast and a coffee on the way to work is NOT an emergency. A new bigger HDTV is NOT an emergency. A new outfit when you have a wardrobe bursting with unworn clothes is NOT an emergency. These are bad habits that you’ve fallen into and the credit card which has allowed you to charge up this mountain of debt was your responsibility.

NO NEW DEBT!  

When I found myself in $50,000 worth of debt in 2001, I thought I’d never crawl out of the hole I had dug myself into. It took years of hard work and discipline to become debt free, and I was ridiculed by several know-it-alls who could not comprehend why I just didn’t file for bankruptcy and make it ‘easy’ on myself. Often times, the ‘easy way’ is the wrong way. Bankruptcy is FOREVER.  And if you refuse to change your behavior, you’ll find yourself back in the same situation as before. I’ve witnessed friends making the same mistakes after filing bankruptcy. Because THEY refused to alter their behavior, their chances of ever becoming debt free are the same as a snowball’s chance in a blast furnace. The first step towards recovery is NO NEW DEBT!  You can’t spend one cent on ANYTHING that isn’t essential. Don’t even charge a stick of gum. NOTHING! If you lack the willpower to stop using your credit cards, you MUST cut them up. I remember as a boy watching an old TV show from the late 70’s called WHAT’S HAPPENING!! A character named ReRun (played by Fred Berry) gets his first credit card, and quickly gets into trouble. One credit card quickly turns to a dozen, and soon he needs to finance his credit cards with a loan. In quick order, everything he owns including the Monopoly game and even his red beret  gets repossessed.  In the penultimate scene of the episode, ReRun and friends sell EVERYTHING in the apartment except his food processor, which he fills with his credit cards to make ‘credit card coleslaw’.  

 

The Debt Snowball

The level of intelligence which created a problem is never sufficient to solve the problem, and that’s why there are walls of self-help books in bookstores. It’s so that you have the ability to consult someone wiser than yourself and find a solution to your problem.  For me, that wise counsel came from reading books by Dave Ramsey.  While in a discount remainder store, I found a thin book titled Pricele$$ marked down to $2.99. What drew me to the book was the cover depicting credit cards in a blender which reminded me of the What’s Happening!! episode.

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While reading his book Pricele$$, I first learned about his debt-destroying weapon, The Debt Snowball. It is the opposite of the more convention debt stacking, or debt avalanche payment method.   In the traditional debt stacking method, you pay the bill with the highest interest rate off first. You dump all your extra cash into this bill while maintaining the minimum payments on all other bills. Like an avalanche of money just wiping that debt off the face of the Earth. Dave Ramsey instead advocates the opposite approach, which he dubs ‘The Debt Snowball’. Picture a small snowball rolling downhill increasing in size and speed as it gains momentum.  With this method, you list all of your debts in order from smallest to largest regardless of interest rate, and their minimum monthly payment.  You then use every extra penny you have to pay off that smallest of your bills first. As soon as you wipe it out, you apply its minimum payment and add it to the minimum payment of the next bill on the list. You repeat this process until all debts are paid. This method worked for me, and it will work for anyone as long as you follow three simple rules.

  • No new debt. You can’t charge anything.
  • All ‘extra’ money from cutting non-essentials must be used for paying down the smallest debt.
  • You MUST keep making the minimum payments on all your bills.

The last one is a real no-brainer. You can’t stop paying one existing bill to finance another. I tell myself that no one could be this stupid, but just this week, a friend-of-a-friend had her car repossessed for non-payment because she needed the car money to save for a down payment on a new apartment. I can’t fathom how she convinced herself that this was a great idea.  Like I wrote last week, few (if any) of my friends take my financial advice seriously, often choosing their own disastrous schemes over wise council. Like the old saying goes, “a fool and his money are soon parted.” As always, I wish you happiness and success!

 

LA-LA-LA! I Can’t Hear You!

The real reason it’s lonely at the top.

I have never swindled a man. At most I kept quiet and let him swindle himself. This does no harm, as a fool cannot be protected from his folly. If you attempt to do so, you will not only arouse his animosity but also you will be attempting to deprive him of whatever benefit he is capable of deriving from experience. Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig. – Robert Heinlein  (from his 1973 novel  “Time Enough for Love”)

As I’ve stated previously, I’ve been broke in the past, and grew up poor. The reason I have risen to the level I now find myself on is because I made a conscious  decision to change my circumstances and become rich. There’s one problem with success. You can pursue it for yourself, and you can try to encourage others to follow your example, but you can’t force them to do the right thing. Just as you yourself have arrived  at the decision to make a positive change in your life, they must make their own decisions.

If you go to any large bookstore, you’ll notice that there are thousands of self-help books on the shelves. I’ve read my fair share in my personal quest to become a better man. Many of these contain simple common sense solutions. The problem is that what used to be considered common sense has been discounted as outdated or erroneous. Common sense is not as common as it once was. One thing I have also noticed is that the most successful self-improvement books all reference the greatest self-help book ever written: The Bible. That’s because timeless wisdom is timeless. I make no secret of the fact that I am a Christian first, and a Republican second. I could not be the man I man today without Jesus Christ. 

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

2 Timothy 4:3 NIV Bible

The reason I started writing InstantCoffeeWisdom sprang from a growing concern that the knowledge I’ve accumulated which has so helped me, and which I’ve tried to impart on others was being largely ignored. The more successful you become, the fewer close personal friends you will end up with. Your social circles will change drastically. Some of the people you once considered indispensable members of your clique will suddenly start to drop away. Part of this is because they are not strong enough to continue the journey with you and leave to pursue their own interests. Some will leave due to disagreements, jealousy or resentment. It’s painful to lose friends, but it’s important to let the ones who wish to leave go. You can’t force people to love you, or respect you.  Either they will want to be with you, or they won’t. This is why it is of the utmost importance to always express  your views with respect and civility towards those who disagree. Never engaged in vituperation or name-calling.  Just as it takes time to become successful, it also takes time to build a reputation.

WorldWideBlog

Always give credit where credit is due.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. – John Donne

The knowledge I pass along  thought this weekly online blog is not my own. It has been distilled over time from reading countless others, many of whom also reference one another. Over the years I’ve read and studied many wise men, and I am where I am today because I stand on the shoulders of the giants who have come before me.  I encourage you to seek out and read books by:

  • Dave Ramsey
  • Napoleon Hill
  • Brian Tracy
  • Tony Robbins
  • John C. Maxwell
  • Richard Carlson

just to name a few.

Lastly before I wrap up this week’s edition of InstantCoffeeWisdom, I want to say that I am humbled that my blog has been read by people in over 20 countries around the world. My articles are mostly financial, but sometimes include a smaller political and religious component. This is because the three hot-button topics of Politics, Economics, and Religion are all interwoven and part of the same ‘island’. I hope that you have found my mostly financial blog to be helpful, informative, and entertaining.  If you have found it to be so, please consider sharing it with your friends on social media so that they too may benefit. As Always, I wish you happiness and success.

Are we BEAR yet?

Keeping your cool while others lose their minds over their investment losses.

Since 2009,  US investors have been enjoying the second longest running Bull market since WWII. But after closing once again at record highs on January 26th, 2018, the market started slipping into a correction. The two week period ending Friday February 9th 2018 saw a river of red on Wall Street. Historic losses occurred almost every other day, and the Dow closed down 1175.12 on Monday Feb 5th.  Less than a week later there was a second four-digit drop. In spite of all the excitement we are still ‘technically’ riding the Bull, despite the specter of the Bear periodically swiping at the markets and making the red ink spatter everywhere. So far it’s only a correction, and not yet a crash.  If you’re not sure of the difference:

  • A stock market correction is when the market falls 10 percent from its 52-week high.
  • A bear market occurs when the market falls 20 percent.
  • If the market falls 40 percent it’s considered a crash.  

So what makes the markets suddenly drop? The reasons are many, but usually it starts when large numbers of investors decide to ‘cash in their chips’ so to speak and lock in their gains. Perhaps companies didn’t make their earnings projections,  or investors are afraid that changes in legislation will affect profits. It does not matter but once enough people are selling instead of buying, stock prices start dropping. This spooks the second group of investors who now sell because the price is dropping, and they want to stop losses. This leads to a panic. Once a cascade sell-off effect begins, the only way to stop it is if enough potential investors decided to buy the dips, thus raising the price of stocks and ending the sell-off. Or possibly not. Prices of the shares may recover enough that a third group of investors decide that now they should sell and lock in the partial recovery of lost potential gains, starting a brand new sell-off. That’s why you start seeing these roller-coaster swings of market volatility.

 The key take away from all of this is that middle group of investors who sold out as the stocks plunged ended up losing their money.  It is impossible to time the market.  They were not in the market once it rebounded, which time has shown it will. The group who locked in at the market peak made money, and if they returned to buy the dips, they made even move money. When investing in stocks, you need to keep your head and make informed, intellectual trades. Emotional, panic sell-offs will hurt you financially.

Overtime, the stock market will continue to grow at an average return at about 12%. Crashes, corrections and Bear markets always lead to new Bull runs.  These market fluctuations are a normal part of the way the stock market grows and are not to be feared.  In September of 2017, stock guru Warren Buffet was widely quoted for stating that he believed that in one hundred years, the Dow would hit  one million points. When one of the eight richest men in the world tells you stock tips, you listen! Buffet didn’t get rich by luck. He recommends buying stocks when everyone else is liquidating their assets because you pick up bargains that given time, will more than likely rebound. He also recommends staying in the market and investing in passive, low fee index mutual funds and ETFs that track the markets. In many cases these index funds outperform the majority of actively managed mutual funds and offer a low-cost way for investors to track popular stock and bond market indexes while providing a diversified portfolio at the same time.

I’m getting too old for this excitement.

Although index funds and ETFs offer diversification they are still tied to the market. This is great news if you are young, because you can weather any storm clouds that the market may encounter. On the other hand, if you are nearing retirement and counting on your retirement nest egg being a certain amount, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re weeks away from punching the time clock for the final time only to have a sudden market crash wipe out 40% of your investments.  This is where a higher level of asset diversification towards less volatile investments will protect you.  Bond funds, precious metals and even real estate can provide a much more stable investment, just with comparably lower returns on investment. Only you can determine your individual retirement needs.

Two general rules of thumb based on age.

1) Take the number 100, and subtract your age. The remaining number is how much money you should invest in stocks.

2) Take the number 125, and subtract your age.  This number is the percentage of your investments which should be in higher risk stocks.

Some stocks are more volatile than others. This is reflected in a stocks beta number. The lower the number the more stable the stock. A beta number of 2.0 would fall twice as fast as the market, while a share with a beta of 0.5 would drop half as fast. Also you should research the 52 week highs and lows, as well as the P/E ratio and if the stock pays a dividend, how often it’s paid, and the what the ex-dividend date is. Bottom line, DO YOUR RESEARCH!  Financial matters are nothing to joke about. The wrong decisions early on will greatly impact you in your retirement years. 

Now I’m still south of 50, I’m unmarried,  I have no children, plus I’m debt free. In my individual circumstance, knowing what I know and being willing to accept the risks, I  tend to have ALL of my investments in higher risk assets. Thus far, it’s made me the richest man in my family, although it does get unnerving at times when you watch your portfolio take a big hit during a correction. In the past two weeks, my net worth decreased by more money than some people earn working a full time job for an entire year. It will come back given time, but a  financial loss like that would have killed my mother.

TheCrash

True story

My father, George Henry Lawrence Oetting Jr. was an intelligent business man. He went to St. John’s University, was a CPA, and was the editor of a local Queens newspaper. He understood how money and finances worked. That’s him in the photo above. I used to think that the screaming woman in the picture was my very melodramatic mother, but I’ve since learned it was a just a family friend. But I do remember that look. Everything was a tragedy for my mother when things didn’t go her way.  Now my father was a newspaper editor, so he was always on top of trends in business and investing opportunities.  He owned 50 shares of stock in a growing company called McDonald’s.  I’m sure that this is why my mother grew obsessed with the cheap burger brand. My father was great with finances. My mother? Not so much. That woman couldn’t handle money to save her life. If you gave her a dollar, she’d spend two! Anyway my father died suddenly when I was young, so he never saw the grand openings of the first NYC McDonald’s in Manhattan. My mother got re-married to her boss a year after my father died. About that time, the first McDonald’s in Queens opened at  13832 Jamaica Avenue, Jamaica, NY 11435. My mother still owned the stocks at the time, and she was there with my stepfather acting like she owned the place because she was a share-holder! I remember there was a guy dressed like Ronald McDonald and he was signing these stuffed Ronald dolls and my mother was buying them for all my cousins. She probably blew $100 that day on food and memorabilia which says a lot considering at the time the burgers were ONLY 30¢ each. Anyhow, a year after that, my step father also died. A year later, my mother was dead broke.  Between 1971 and 1975 she’d lost 2 husbands, 2 houses, the lifetime savings of two men, and those 50 shares of McDonald’s stock, which if I still had them today would be valued at three-to-five million dollars. A fool and their money are soon parted. My mother may have cost me a fortune because of her foolish spending habits, but at least I managed to inherit my father’s good looks and intelligence, and those pay their own unique dividends.  I’d like to believe he’d be impressed and proud of the man I grew up to be. As always I wish you  happiness and success!

You Can’t Time The Market!

The ‘right time’ to invest was yesterday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) often simply called ‘The Dow’ was founded on May 26, 1896. It was created by Wall Street Journal editor Charles Dow, and is named after both Dow and statistician Edward Jones.  It is one of popular financial guides used to track how well investment stock markets are doing.  Other popular indices used by business and finical watchers include:

  • The Standard & Poor’s 500 – often abbreviated as the S&P 500, or just the S&P was introduced in 1923, but fully realized in its current form on March 4th 1957.   
  • Nasdaq Composite  – created on February 8, 1971 by the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD)
  • CBOE Volatility Index or VIX –   a  measurement of  expected  volatility implied by S&P 500 index options, created by the Chicago Board Options Exchange on January 19, 1993. This last one is sometimes referred to as ‘the fear index’, and moves inversely to the S&P. You want this one to plunge.

I will be limiting the scope of this blog post to the American stock markets and  economy.  I have very little experience with foreign stocks and markets. One important thing to note, the stock market is driven by investment expectations and is an ’emotional’ response to the economy. It is not the same thing as the economy, but it can impact it. There are many factors that impact the market that can include everything from oil prices to politics to weather.  Ultimately, shrewd investors study multiple factors before committing their stock trades as past performance is  never an indication of future earnings. No one can know the future, but we can study the past and make an educated guess.

“The sad fact is that people are poor because they have not yet decided to be rich.” —Brian Tracy

The Time is NOW!

Quite often  a few misguided friends and co-workers tell me that they are waiting for the right time to invest in the market.  Fear of a correction or a crash keep them from potential earnings. Poor spending habits hamper their ability to invest. Ignorance and the refusal to seek wise counsel on fiscal issues keep them in poverty. You cannot spend your way into prosperity, the only sure-fire way to get rich is by making diverse, informed investments over a long period of time. You can’t achieve this if you spend every penny  you make on food, ‘toys’, and entertainment.   You need to first get your financial house in order because the money you use to invest must be disposable income not earmarked for essential monthly expenses. Refer to my many earlier blog posts on finances, planning,  and budgeting.   

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“Whenever I hear people talk pessimistically about this country, I think they’re out of their mind.” — Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway chairman

But a crash is coming!

Maybe. Maybe not.  And, so what? There have been 14 crashes in the history of the Dow. The market has ALWAYS rebounded usually within a matter of months. The longest recovery period was from  the Great Crash on October 24th 1929 which lasted four years and then led to the Great Depression.

Three examples of why uninformed and/or misinformed investing is dangerous:

 #1 On November 8th 2016, Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States. (Full disclosure,  I’m a Christian first, and a lifelong Republican second. I FULLY support the current President. I voted for him in both the primary and general election, and will vote for him again when he runs for his second term in 2020. I’ve lost friends because of this fact, but I stand my ground.)

When Trump won the election, there were a lot of newscasters , Democrats, and entertainers who said the country was DOOMED! I had a discussion with a very upset friend at work who thought that this was the end of the world. On Nov 07, 2016, the day before the election, the Dow closed at 17,994.64. I was hoping and praying that Trump won, because I fully believed that a Clinton win would be the death of the U.S.  and a disaster for its economy. Being precautious, I moved all of my investments out of the market, just in case the unthinkable happened and ‘That Woman’ won. (I had done the same thing in the 2008 election, more on that later.)  Fortunately the best man won.

The Dow shot up nearly a 1000 points over the next week, a gain which I missed out on because I couldn’t move my investments back fast enough.  It kept going up. About two or three weeks after the election, I told the same co-worker that I had read several financial analysts who predicted the Dow would hit 30,000 by the end of Trump’s first term, and 50,000 by the end of his second term should he win again in 2020. I EVEN showed him the articles stating this. He didn’t believe it, not a word, and dismissed it as propaganda.  As of Friday January 5th 2018 the Dow closed at 25,295.87!

#2 There’s an old Investment adage – Sell in May and go away, but remember to come back in September! It’s meant to avoid seasonal declines in the market, and I’ve used it more often than not. Sometimes I’ve benefited, other times I missed out on an unexpected spike in the markets during the Summer.  You can’t time the market, but you can attempt to lock in gains and minimize losses. You see market sell-offs all the time. These are mini corrections and just people trying to time the market because they think it may go down, then they plan to jump back in and capture the dip. In May of 2008, the Dow ran between 12,818.34 and 12,638.22, so it was pretty flat that month. I don’t remember the exact date I got out of the market that May, but It was probably near the end of the month. In either case it was a presidential election year, and I was not 100% thrilled with John McCain, but I absolutely HATED the other option and I’d sooner vote for Satan than a Democrat. (Unfortunately my guy didn’t win that year.)  The Dow closed at 9,625.28 On November 4th 2008. It plunged 500 points two days later and kept dropping. Fortunately as I knew that presidential election years are very unpredictable, I chose to stay out in May and remained out as I kept watching the market drop, and drop, and drop! It hit a low on Mar 05, 2009 of 6,544.10 before it started its long climb back. During this time I was still buying new shares of stock in my 401k, and even increased my paycheck deductions to 20% to capture these incredible bargains, all the while, my original balance total from May 2008 was locked away safely earning interest in a no-risk bond fund. When it got to May 2009, I uncharacteristically moved my nest egg back into the market and rode that elevator to the top! A co-worker wasn’t so lucky. He stayed in during the plunge, got out at the bottom and stayed out missing the rebound because of fear.

 #3 I was speaking about the market with a friend on December 16, 2017. He had his investments in a no risk fund, because he was fearing a crash, and was waiting for the ‘right time’ to re-enter the market. My investments were all in the high risk C Fund, or Stock fund. They still are, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Anyhow, I told him there wasn’t anything to worry about and that the market would keep going up. December 15th 2017, the Dow closed at 24,651.74. Three weeks later on Jan 5th 2018 it closed at 25,295.87, up over 600 points.

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  Matthew 6:27 NIV

Let me tell you, I’ve been broke and deep and debt, and I’ve been debt-free and financially sound. Rich is better than broke. I’ve been investing for my retirement since I started working. If you keeping putting off investing in your 401k and building your savings because you’re afraid, you’ll always be broke. The USA has endured many disasters and tragedies which have impacted the stock market since its inception, yet it always rebounds and yields an average return on investments of above 10.5% over the long term. The fact is, if you let your life be ruled by fear and doubt, you will second guess everything, become skeptical with anything and succeed at nothing except making yourself miserable and poor. The decision is up to you, choose well. As always I wish you happiness and success!

Secret Santa

A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men. –– Proverbs 18:16 KJV

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As I’m sitting here in the wee small hours of the morning of Christmas Eve 2017 working on my last Christmas-themed financial blog post of 2017, the main thought that is going through my mind is, ” I LOVE CHRISTMAS!”  It is impossible ignore the fact that whatever your personal religious beliefs are, Christmas begins with CHRIST, Jesus is the reason for the season, and Christians like myself become ‘a little more vocal’ about what we believe. Christmas is a very good thing for both the believer and the non-believer alike.  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year! So if you don’t believe in Christ, please don’t take offense at a person extending you a heartfelt ‘Merry Christmas’ at this time of year. It’s not a religious threat or insult, it’s a olive branch or a bridge to show that we are all connected. Take it in the spirit of goodwill in which it’s meant.

Talking about ‘spirits’ and giving brings to mind two secular and fictional aspects of Christmas: Ebeneezer Scrooge and Santa Claus.  

I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ — Acts 20:35 The Holy Bible, New King James Version

There are people in this world today who claim that being wealthy is a sign of greed, and that somehow the rich people of the world are responsible for causing the poverty in it. This is far from the truth. Wealthy people pay the majority of all taxes collected, and donate the largest sums to charities. They build the factories, fund the businesses, and create the jobs.   

The protagonist of A Christmas Carol written by Charles Dickens is a miser named Ebeneezer Scrooge. Some people get the idea that he’s the villain of the tale because all he cares about is money. Scrooge isn’t the bad guy because he has money, but because he lives a joyless existence, he mistreats his employees,  and he’s horded his wealth instead of using it to bless the needy and do acts of great good. After he’s visited by the Christmas spirits, he sees the error of his ways, and is transformed by the renewing of his heart and mind. He then does great acts of charity that would not have been possible had he been poor. There are some acts of generosity that only  a wealthy person has the ability to do. Anyone can smile, say a kind word, do good deeds, or pray for other people. These things are good, and we should always do them. Most people can even afford to donate money to the less fortunate, even if it’s only coins in the Salvation Army Kettle at Christmastime.

Only the rich can give charities million-dollar endowments or build factories to create jobs.

 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’— Matthew 25:23, New English Translation

 Santa Claus is a bit more tricky. His origins have been mixed with fable thanks to L. Frank Baum and Clement C. Moore. Elves and reindeer aside, ‘Father Christmas’ is based on a real person, Saint Nicolas of Myra was a Christian bishop who helped the needy. He was born circa 280 AD and died December 6th 345 AD. In the twentieth century, Santa Claus stated to supplant Christ as the focus of Christmas, basically because he was a fun way to make the season more ‘inclusive’. Some people who were not religious felt left out. So advertising departments of companies like Coca-cola and Macy’s ran with Santa as a jolly alternative, and a new representative of Christmas goodwill.  This is both good and bad. Bad because Santa distracts us from ‘the real reason for the season’ and can be confusing for young children. Good because Santa is FUN, and inspires giving.      

As a Christian, I KNOW that ALL things come from God, and everything I have ultimately came from The Lord of All Creation. Christians especially have a duty to use their God-given gifts in the service of God, and Christmas gives us many great opportunities to help the less fortunate. I find myself a little merrier wearing a red Santa hat, it inspires me!

I’m going to wrap this up with the inspiring true story of Larry Stewart, the Secret Santa.  

 Kind words and kind actions can change lives!

Larry Stewart (April 1, 1948 – January 12, 2007) was an American philanthropist from Kansas City better known as “Kansas City’s Secret Santa.” After poor beginnings, Stewart — from 1979 through 2006 — made a practice of anonymously handing out small amounts of cash, typically in the form of hundred-dollar bills, to needy people.

Larry was a traveling salesman in 1970, and he wasn’t very good because by 1971 he was broke and sleeping in his car. After a few days of not eating, in desperation he decided to ‘rob’ a diner by ordering a big breakfast he couldn’t pay for, and then claiming he accidentally lost his wallet somehow.  Ted Horn owner of the Dixie Diner realized the true nature of the situation, and instead of getting mad, or calling the cops, decided to give Larry a $20 bill he ‘found’ on the floor, which ‘might’ have fallen out of Larry’s ‘lost’ wallet. This lesson of kindness and generosity stayed with Larry Stewart. Ashamed of his initial act of deception, and humbled by the kindness of the diner owner, he vowed to himself that he would  ‘pay it forward’ as soon as he was able.

Around Christmas of 1979 on a very cold day, he stopped at a drive-in restaurant. A carhop waitress was outside wearing a small, thin coat, and freezing as she served the diners at their cars in the hope of maybe nickel or dime tips. When she brought Larry his lunch, he handed her a $20 bill, and told her to keep the change. Her lips begin to tremble and tears begin to flow down her cheeks as she said, ‘Sir, you have no idea what this means to me.’

Stewart went on to become a multimillionaire, earning his fortune from cable television and long distance calling. Each Christmas from 1979 until his death in 2007 he continued giving cash away to the needy as Secret Santa.  He quickly progressed from giving out $20s to handing out $100s, not just in Kansas City but traveling to other areas in times of tragedy, like NYC after 9/11/01 and Mississippi in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.  Sadly, he developed cancer, but because he was concerned about the poor and needy, he trained an army of Secret Santas and assistant ‘elves’ who would pass out $100s to the needy after he was gone. By the time he passed away on January 12th 2007, Larry Stewart had given away over a million dollars, all inspired by the kindness of ONE man who gave him a $20 bill decades earlier. Today, the army of Secret Santas continue to hand $100 bills to poor, their efforts supported by other wealthy philanthropists, and inspiring others to do likewise.

So as we open our gifts on Christmas morning, and give presents to our friends and family, let us all be inspired by all the beauty and wonder of all the aspects and icons of the season. Let us not focus on ourselves, but think of our fellow man, and be grateful for all that we have. May we all find the courage to better ourselves, so that we can extend a hand-up to the fallen, and together we can with a smile, encouragement, charity and kindness, make this a better world. As always I wish you happiness and success!  Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone.             

The Gift of Giving

Ringle, ringle, coins when they jingle, make such a lovely sound.

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I am very fortunate to live in the USA, it’s the Land of Liberty and the American Dream, and home to more millionaires than any other country on Earth. There are many people today who seem to have a misconception that wealthy people are greedy and have somehow been responsible for the plight of the poor. Maybe it started with the depiction of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  Let’s not forget that by the end of the story, Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas and becomes a wealthy benefactor to Tiny Tim and the Cratchet  family, as well as reconnecting with his nephew Fred.

” You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”  John 12:8 NIV

The true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Christ, and the Greatest gift was Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all mankind. There are many who try to diminish or remove references to Jesus Christ at Christmastime, and that’s unfortunate. Christians are the most generous people of any religious group according to phlianthropy.com  , and philanthropyroundtable.org supports the fact that the wealthiest Americans are the most giving.   

 The wicked borrow and do not repay,  but the righteous give generously; Psalm 37:21 NIV

I did not grow up wealthy, but I worked very hard to get where I am today. I am grateful to God for all that I have, and I give a sizable amount to  charity at Christmas. There are many charitable organizations that support many great causes, and there is a lot of duplication of services. It’s very important when donating to charities to know that the majority of the donated funds are actually reaching those in need, and not being wasted on overhead, or to buy a new Mercedes for the director of the so-called charity.   I recommend using charitynavigator.org  Charity Navigator is an American independent charity watchdog organization that evaluates charitable organizations in the USA, and will help you evaluate worthy charities so that you can avoid the less reputable ones.  

    In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:35 NIV

Christians have an obligation to help the needy. We received a great Gift to cover a Debt we can never repay.  The concept of tithing is mentioned in the Bible, as is the story of the good Samaritan. As Christians we are created for doing good works to further the glory of God. Faith without works is a dead faith because the lack of works reveals an unchanged life or a spiritually dead heart.    

Pennies from Heaven

 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  Luke 21:1-4 New International Version (NIV)

There’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t find a penny on the ground as I walk the streets doing my rounds. On average, I actually find about $2 in coins and bills per week. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to my annual salary. Every little bit helps, and that’s the basis of crowdfunding. If everyone gives something, even pennies dropped into a Salvation Army Kettle, it adds up. The current population of the United States of America is 325,467,306 as of Friday, December 8, 2017. If every person in the USA gave just ONE PENNY to charity each day, it would add up to 3.25 million dollars daily. So don’t feel that a tiny donation is meaningless. Little things mean a lot, and great things come from tiny beginnings. As always I wish you happiness and success! And God Bless us everyone.