Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Quarter End: Q4 2013

What an absolutely incredible and breathtaking year. Sitting here writing at the end of 2013 my household net worth stands at $331,838.63 And a milestone has been surpassed during this past quarter. For this first time since I began recording my financial statistics, our cash and investments have now exceeded my partial piece of California real estate in value. This past quarter alone on my balance sheet really tells the tale of how the market has behaved over the last 5 years. During the last three months my partial piece of real estate declined by roughly $10,000, while our mutual funds sky rocketed by a little more than that same amount, accounting for the increase in our overall net worth from the 3rd quarter of 2013.

What is most impressive to me in the equities market is that there was an abundance of negative news that hit the news headlines over the last few months. Bernanke and the Fed set the tapering wheels in motion, the launch of Obamacare has been botched and left an even greater level of uncertainty in the health care industry than ever before and the budget deal that the Congress and Senate are ramming down our throats behind closed doors is an absolute abomination. And in the face of all this, the market has continued to rise like a magnificent sunrise over Lake Michigan.

I do not believe that we will see a freefall crash in 2014. In fact if we look historically in years past there has been a significant jump in equities between Q4 and Q1 and I don’t see a reason why Q1 company reporting in 2014 will be anything less than neutral. I do forecast though that Q2 and Q3 in 2014 will be more in line, possibly even negative, to balance out the last five years of this market surge to reflect more historical market averages.

Make no mistake about it, since the freefall in 2008 the overall stock market has been on a powerful surge that we have not seen since the tech boom that was the 1990s. I also am finding that it was no coincidence that roughly five years ago to this date I first picked up Dave Ramsey’s “The Total Money Makeover,” and started my journey to becoming debt free and steadily investing with confidence and a game plan. I had absolutely no idea five years ago that getting on a budget and living on less than I make, becoming debt free and regularly investing for retirement and through a taxable brokerage account, that I would be sitting here today with the types of numbers that our balance sheet is reflecting. I mean our average annualized return percentage across our investments are in the 20s, our investments (yes excluding cash, art and jewelry!) are worth more than the piece of California real estate owned and we are essentially on cruise control as we move toward the pinnacle point.

But I’m finding my peace and happiness in more than just numbers and percentage returns. I am also grateful to have had the opportunity over this last calendar year to give more than I ever have before in my life. We’ve tithed our *net income across sponsoring 3 children overseas and giving to our church. Plus we have provided offerings above and beyond our tithe to help contribute to various causes that God has presented before us during the course of this past year.
*Note: we tithe our net income because I feel that it takes the hand of God through a miracle to lower our t axes, so the way I see it is if God wants more, He knows exactly what to do!    

While I know the direction we are heading with our household finances, it’s our consistent and prioritized giving that I think is laying the foundation for my contentment and happiness currently in life. In Dave Ramsey’s class Financial Peace University, he talked about the paradox that as you give more that you will have more. When I first heard and reflected on that message I understood and expected that as we gave more that we would receive from God the love and fulfillment from helping grow His kingdom here on Earth and that would be the extent of it. Today I’m of the belief that while this previous statement is true there is another piece that I crucially missed. And that piece is this: At the start of my financial journey God entrusted me with a little and through following His word on how to handle His resources that reach my bank accounts, He has only provided more and more for me to handle. I honestly can’t seem to out give God. Since becoming debt free we sought out and found a church and programs that we send our tithe to, and during THESE last 5 years when the news headlines scream about a disparity between the rich and the poor, He has provided my wife and myself with pay increases, bonus after bonus, company matches and mutual funds with returns that have beat my expectations.

So needless to say I am very much looking forward to 2014. As the market continues to rise and as it comes back to more normalized historical patterns we will continue to invest steadily and readily into our small army of mutual funds. We will also push forward on doing a little more spending, a little more giving and of course a little more investing ! So from my family to yours I genuinely wish you a Happy New Year and all of the best for 2014. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Book Review: "The Blessed Life" by Robert Morris

“The Blessed Life” by Robert Morris is quite a gem of a book and I would highly recommend this fine piece of reading to anyone within earshot. Aside from the central message of the book, which speaks about following good stewardship with our dollars and cents, I felt Morris did an excellent job with the flow of the book. The first part of the book eloquently conveys the biblical principle and importance of first fruits giving, and then transitions smoothly into what that example looks like for a modern day household, and finishes with what a lifetime of biblically based financial stewardship looks like over the long term.

I especially liked Morris’ message that highlighted and gave an overview with bullet points about those with the gift of giving. He goes into why accumulators of wealth that prioritize giving do a complete evaluation and thorough inspection of the projects and missions that they give to. Morris also addressed and challenged the viewpoint of seeing wealth as evil, and challenges the reader to see wealth instead as a tool that can be used to further the kingdom of God on Earth.

On a personal level I have been debt free for 5 years and within the last year have just begun to spread my wings financially speaking by doing a little more investing, spending and giving than in years past. And though I take a rough and tumble type of attitude when it comes to Christians/the secular world that calls for poverty and views wealth as evil, I found Morris’ book to be an unbelievable breath of fresh air. In my point of view, “The Blessed Life,” is a great foundation and the type of book that I am going to seek out to read more and more in 2014 and beyond. I really feel that it provides the spiritual guidance and angel in the ear type of advice that I need reinforced as my wife and I help build God’s resources during our time on this Earth.

His countless stories in the book about being in tune to where God wants to direct His resources were remarkable to me and have given me confidence to continue on in our financial journey. In all honesty, at least in concept, the early stages of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps were easy. At least for me they were simple: Buckle down, live on less than you make, work like a madman, budget, trim the financial fat and get the hell out of debt. On the other side of that though is where I’ve found myself at and snowballing into more and more year after year. And that’s the steady investing, increased lifestyle and increase in prioritized and spontaneous giving. It’s in these latter places where I have felt a bit insecure. How much is enough? How nice is too nice? Am I really capable of being the good steward that God needs when we have several million dollars in our accounts decades down the line?

It’s definitely going to take a ton of prayer, working together with my better half to be in tune with where God wants His resources to go, but books like this are definitely a great starting ground as my wife and I move towards baby step 7, building wealth and giving a bunch of it away.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My Coming of Age

As 2013 comes to a close and 2014 is appearing on the horizon, one inevitable change in my life is coming and there’s nothing I can do to stop it; And that inevitable change is the closing of my 20’s and the start of my 30’s. Before our calendars turn to 2014 I will be celebrating what will be the last year of my 20’s and that in itself has caused me to reflect a lot on the last decade that was.

My 20’s can be best summed up in three phases. The first of which was my early 20’s, during this time of my life I had youth and independence on my side, and none of the knowledge and wisdom to go along with it. By this point in my I had been living outside of my parents’ house (and entire state for that matter) for a few years already, but I was only just beginning to learn what it meant to be an adult. I made a lot of stupid mistakes, mistakes that ran the spectrum from dating, to my use of time in college, to part time work choices and not spending any time or effort addressing my hurts and hang ups that had followed me from my youth. But somehow through God’s grace I had managed to meet the woman of my dreams that would eventually become my wife. And from that starting point I had no idea the growth and connection that we would eventually find within ourselves and each other.

My mid 20’s were a period of revelation, healing and getting my life together. I had come clean not only to my best friend but most notably to myself about the addictions that were plaguing my life. And probably more importantly, I began to address where those demons had come from and started to put the work into dealing with the pain and hurt that I had experienced but hid away from myself so long ago. Coincidentally this was also the same period of time that I was introduced to the world of Dave Ramsey. And Dave’s financial baby steps I think laid the groundwork for me to move forward and began my journey of emotional healing and learning to love and forgive myself as well as others.

By my late 20’s I hit full stride in each of the areas that I had spent my time and energy working on. I feel that our marriage is thriving thanks to the work we put in with individual and couples counseling, we are on track with our household finances having become debt free and having a plan for all of our disposable income, my career is on a great track with an excellent company, and overall I feel like I have my head on straight and am taking the right approach and attitude with a lot more aspects of my life than when I did when my 20’s began.

So this is it! The last year of my 20’s. I don’t exactly know what my 30’s will bring but I’m pretty sure it is going to be a blast getting there and seeing what life has in store for this next decade of my life. But for now I am going to do my best to relish and enjoy these last 365 or so days that I can call myself a 20-something. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

My Season of Giving

This Christmas season has been a very joyous and heat-felt one for us thus far. It has been close to a year and a half that my wife paid off her student loans and we officially became a debt free household, and this Christmas season has kind of been the first in which we are coming to realize just what that means.

In addition to our Christmas budget we also have been saving even more than in previous years to do spontaneous giving. It has been absolutely incredible, fulfilling and humbling to help out various causes and needs within our families and the city we live in. Our home church participates in an excellent program, partnering with a local organization that provides year round education and care to single-moms and their children here in Chicago. For the Christmas season our church placed a Christmas “Wish List” for the organizations participants. Lists included the bare essentials for children, socks, underwear, gloves, coats, shirts and jackets, and shopping for these items was an unbelievably humbling experience for me.

Usually when out shopping, especially for clothes, I do my best to get in and get out of the store as quickly as possible, finding only what I need at the lowest price. It wasn’t until I was in the store with my chosen child’s list in hand, that I slowed down, sought out quality and honestly would have been perfectly okay blowing my entire giving budget to help meet this child’s needs. I remember being the age of my chosen child and having a selfish list of toys and various other items that I didn’t need. Instead this child was in need of clothing essentials and basics, and in the climate I’ve grown accustomed to here in Chicago, can honestly make the difference between life and death when the Lake effect weather takes grip on the city.

So I paused a lot and did my best to stretch my budget as far as it would go while buying items that were of the best quality. I stopped often and had tears fill my eyes in the store, because I really did want to fill my cart to the brim with everything and then some for the child I had chosen. I couldn’t remember the last time I wanted to spend so much while shopping. It was quite an interesting place to be at given my frugality over the years, but I suppose that was the point now wasn’t it? I whipped my budget into shape, got out of debt, am steadily investing for the future and freed up my monthly income to be able to give where there is need. And while I didn’t buy out the entire store, I genuinely hope that my child’s Christmas season is a happy and loving one, and I hope that somehow my gifts will help in some way to add to that.

In addition my wife and I chose this year to open up an Educational Savings Account with a considerable initial contribution for one of our nephews. This was something that we had been talking about doing for a few years and we finally decided to pull the trigger on it this year. Admittedly a part of my motivation to finally do it came from my own extended family.

I received news just a month ago that one my nephews, a current Senior in high school, will be enlisting in the US armed services at the conclusion of his Senior year. I asked him why he would chose this, and a part of his reason was to be able to fund his way to college.

And that piece of his reasoning gave me a pretty solid punch to the gut. Up to this point my wife and I have done an excellent job of taking care of our own household first to be able to give, and I think God wanted to show me that the time to step up our giving is now. While we are on a trajectory through our investing, budget planning and plentiful household income, there are opportunities to give that we don’t have to wait to reach the pinnacle point to hit.

While I am proud that my nephew is willing to serve his country and not take on debt to finance his college education, a huge piece of me wonders, “what if?” What if I had opened an ESA for him, say when he was 10 years old and our extended family helped fund it until now? If the money was readily available, would he consider the military as an option for his future? The truth is that I don’t know. This is the current reality that we live in and I can’t go back in time to change it. Instead I told him that I love him and I genuinely hope that God leads him to where he is supposed to be in life. And while is in service, to be the best Christian example that he can be and to let his light of faith shine bright each and every day to those around him. And I also saw it as a reality check to not wait for some giving opportunities to come to me and instead go out and make them happen.

So as the sun is beginning to set on 2013 I feel like we are getting a good running start on spending, saving and giving our disposable income in ways that bring happiness and enrich our lives while paying attention to the needs that God calls us to wake up to.