Are you wealthy?

Are you wealthy? Your initial answer is probably the same as mine was, but I’ve since learned that I was wrong.

My eyes were recently opened to a new reality concerning my relative financial well-being in this global economy.

Go to www.globalrichlist.com see how you rank. The site considers your annual income compared with that of the rest of the world. In this regard, you will find you are indeed quite well off. True, there will be quite a few people more wealthy than you, but many, many more who are paupers in comparison.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, you might be interested to know that if you made 50,000 dollars last year, you would be in the top 1 percent of the world’s wealthiest people.

If you made a mere 3,000 dollars, you will still be in the top 15 percent worldwide.

If you made only 900 dollars a year, you would be in the top half.

This has certainly changed my perspective.

Perhaps it’s time to develop a new attitude. We need to stop comparing ourselves to that small minority who are better off than we−it will only make us crave more.

Instead, we should compare ourselves to a huge majority that is in greater need than us−it will surely make us want to give more.

By giving more, I can make a difference; you can make a difference. We can all make a difference.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Things Don’t Always Go As Planned

For the past five months my wife and I have been building a house. Actually, we’ve been watching someone else build a house for us. Though there were times I wanted to help, I suspect they would have charged more if I tried.

The early stages clipped by quickly: digging the basement, pouring footings and basement walls, framing the house, putting on the roof, roughing in the mechanical systems, adding insulation, and installing drywall. We enjoyed stopping by each night to see the progress and snap pictures to chronicle the birth of our home.

Then things slowed down. They warned us this would happen. Some days saw no progress and occasionally a whole week would march past with seemingly little to show for the passage of time. Much of this was normal, but some resulted from delays in shipping critically needed product, exacerbated by the holidays.

Added to the delays were inevitable cost overruns. While a few of these were our doing, most were not. It seems a quote is merely a guideline for intent, the possibility of what may occur – or not. At present, we’re about 5 percent over budget, which is made all the worse since our starting point was higher than originally conceived when the project was hatched.

Then there are deviations from design, instigated by well-intended construction folk. Some of these were out of necessity, others were spontaneous decisions that worked out well, but a few were contrary to our wishes, with displeasing results. Of course there were also instances where the reality of construction didn’t match what we envisioned from the black and white lines on the two-dimensional blueprint.

While we hoped to move in this weekend, the building inspector had other ideas, pointing out two minor items he objected to. We sigh, we wait, and we pray for approval.

Building a house is a lot like life. Though we have a general direction, we aren’t in control. Things can cost more, take additional time, and may not end up as expected – regardless of the degree of planning and our attention to detail.

Whether building a house or living life, things don’t always go as planned. We are not in charge, and we can’t dictate the outcome, but we move forward in faith, confident the results will work out – and they will, for our house and our life.

Which is Better, Setting Goals or Making New Year’s Resolutions?

Although I avoid making New Year’s resolutions, I do set annual goals. What’s the difference? Maybe nothing; maybe everything. To me, resolutions are akin to wishful thinking, with low expectation for success. Goals are concrete, with stated action and quantifiable results.

I don’t think I’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution. If I discover something about myself I want to change, I set about making the adjustment right away. Delaying change until January first makes no sense.

However, every year I do set annual goals. I write them down and may even share them with friends. Throughout the year, I work towards achieving those goals. Sometimes my goals morph into something else and other times they become irrelevant along the way, but I take each one as far as I can by December 31.

At the end of each year I look back with a sense of accomplishment over the goals I’ve reached, while not wallowing in remorse over the ones I’ve missed. Never once have I achieved every annual goal and never once have I failed at them all.

This year was a rough year. Life took an unexpected turn soon after the New Year began, and my goals necessarily assumed a lessor priority. Even though it was one of my worst showings ever, I still accomplished two of my six goals.

However, other people shun goal setting, but they always make New Year’s resolutions. Just as I dismiss resolutions, they dismiss goals with equal disdain. Just as I embrace goals, they embrace resolutions with equal fervor.

Maybe the difference between goal setting and resolutions is just semantics, but maybe the difference is one of substance. I don’t know.

What I do know is that, whether it’s a goal or a resolution, we need to do what we can to accomplish the result we want and then look to God for help with what is out of our control.

With him, we have a much better chance for success than without him.

It’s That Time of Year…to Make Your Annual Budget

With Thanksgiving behind me and Christmas cheer beckoning me forward, it’s hard to think about the new year and the task of making an annual budget. You do have an annual budget, don’t you? I do – and I encourage you to use one, too.

Although I’m an organized person with a penchant for planning, I don’t get too excited at the prospect of making my annual budget. But I know I must. After all, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” (Goodreads attributes this to Benjamin Franklin.)

I keep good records of my spending throughout the year, so developing next year’s budget only takes me about thirty minutes. For people without a good understanding of where they spent their money, planning for next year will take a bit more work. So invest some time in December to gather needed information to make a budget for the coming year. You’ll need most of this for your taxes anyway, so you need to do it at some point.

Here are some thoughts about budgets:

  • A budget is a guide, not a straightjacket.
  • A budget lets us know when we can indulge ourselves a bit and how much; it also alerts us when extra spending is a bad idea.
  • A budget reduces financial stress and removes a source of potential conflict.
  • A budget urges moderation now, allowing for more freedom later.
  • A budget is a plan that moves us towards financial contentment.
  • A budget helps us to live within our means, to be financially responsible, and to plan for future needs.
  • A budget is also biblical. See Luke 14:28-30.

To be of maximum use, our annual budgets need to be in place before the new year begins. For me, since I have all the information I need already organized, I’ll wait until after Christmas to make my annual budget, but it will be finished before New Year’s Day.

Of course having a budget is just the first step. The key to success is to follow it.

May you have a Merry Christmas, A Happy New Year…and a great budget to guide the way.

No-Shave November

As a college freshman, my son’s dorm celebrated November by setting aside their shaving gear for the entire month. They called it “No-Shave November”; though the purpose was to raise cancer awareness, I suspect they just did it for fun.

My son embraced the challenge, relishing the comradery with his dorm mates as they tried to grow beards; his newfound girlfriend accepted his decision. Three and a half weeks later, he met her family for the first time, a scruffy-faced college student with an unruly mop on top, his appearance must have been questionable. But he won them over and shortly after graduation, became part of their family.

Most every year since, he has observed No-Shave November.

This year he asked me to join him. I surprised him by saying, “Yes!”

“Really, Dad?”

“Sure. Why not?”

This won’t be my first time with a beard. I had one before he was born. I started it in the fall, where it became a warming comfort to the assault of winter’s cold. I persisted through the summer, when it became a hot, scratchy irritant. But I kept it, looking forward to its warmth the following winter. The next spring, eighteen months after I started, I shaved it off, incrementally over the course of a week.

Today, I didn’t shave, and I plan not to for the rest of the month. As I recall, the first couple of days are itchy, but once I get past those, the rest will be easy. I don’t yet know what I’ll do on December first. I may shave, or I may wait until spring.

The more important thing is enjoying a shared experience with my son. Family is important and anything we do to bond with each other is a good thing.

Regardless of your shaving plans for November, may it be a good month, with great family moments.

Living with Family: An Awesome Opportunity

For the past two months, my wife and I have been living with our son and daughter-in-law. It’s been a great experience for us and a wonderful time of connecting with our kids in a deeper, more meaningful way. After only eight weeks, we’ve gone through three phases:

1) The Honeymoon Phase: For the first few weeks, everything went smooth, dare I say perfect. Our sharing of one house, of melding two couples used to living by themselves into one family unit, flowed forth as a dream. We shared household duties and melded our schedules with ease. Eating together, going for walks, and having deep discussions all unfolded naturally. It was bliss.

2) The Adjustment Phase: Eventually a few cracks appeared. We began to expose our quirks and saw each other’s foibles. Whereas we once only saw one another’s strengths, now weaknesses poked through. We began adjusting what we did, how we did it, and when we did it for the sake of unity. Though we all made small sacrifices for one another since the first day, now we began to realize it. Just as living as a couple requires flexibility, even more so does living as an extended family.

3) The Settling Down Phase: While we will continue to make adjustments, we are settling into a comfortable, peaceful co-existence. It’s not perfect, as in the honeymoon phase, but it is really great. A stable arrangement has emerged; this is sustainable; and it is good.

An Awesome Opportunity: My wife and I view this as a great adventure, a time to connect more deeply with our kids and learn from each other. Though we expect this to be a five month living arrangement, a friend of mine did the same thing for five years. For her, when the parents moved on, there was a great sense of loss. I expect the same emotion. Though it will be good when my wife and I move on and resume living as one couple, I wonder if what we give up will be more profound.

In today’s modern society we celebrate individualism; we value our freedom. What we lose in the process is the opportunity to truly live as an extended family, to influence each other and learn from one another, to fully connect.

Our affluence actually serves to isolate us. Living as an extended family, whether by choice or circumstance, offers the opportunity to live more fully in community. If we can embrace this opportunity, we will emerge better and stronger as a result.

Three Kinds of Capitalism

Capitalism is under fire. Pundits regularly take potshots at capitalism, decrying its evil nature and harmful outcomes. Indeed much of this criticism is warranted, as evidenced by many of the people who practice it wrongly. I call this, greedy capitalism.

Greedy capitalism is the insatiable lust for more. Profits, not for any real purpose other than to increment their money scorecard by another dollar. Monetary gains sought with no ethical compass to guide it: exploiting workers, defrauding investors, cheating on taxes, stealing from the innocent, backstabbing stakeholders, insider trading, and the list goes on. It’s no wonder practitioners of greedy capitalism receive the sneers of those who witness it.

Yet not all capitalism is greedy. There are two other kinds we don’t often hear about.

Entrepreneurial capitalism is the backbone of prosperity. It’s the driver of small business, those men and women with a vision to produce a product or provide a service. For their efforts, they dream of earning a profit to care for themselves and provide for their families. Entrepreneurial capitalism is the backbone of what made the United States great: pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, pursuing industry, raising their standard of living, and being self-sufficient.

Yet there is a risk when entrepreneurial capitalists become too successful, when profits far exceed needs. Then they place themselves at risk of becoming a greedy capitalist, but there is a third option, a higher calling.

Philanthropic capitalism is enterprise for the benefit of society. Its vision is to first provide for oneself and then to care for others: donating money to worthy causes, financially supporting others so they can help those in need, using business as a means to benefit humanity.

Capitalism is good; greed is bad. Join me in decrying greedy capitalism, while upholding the virtue of entrepreneurial capitalism and philanthropic capitalism. May we use money wisely to care for ourselves and benefit others.

Is It Time For a Vacation?

I’ve been thinking a lot about vacations lately. It’s been years since I’ve taken an annual two-week break from work. This year is no exception. I wonder if this is wise.

I suspect employers began offering vacations to long-term employees as a reward for their service, expecting workers to return from their two-week sojourn rested and ready to work with greater effectiveness. Just as the weekend provides a short break from the workweek, a vacation provides a longer break from the work year. And we do need breaks.

Yet too many employees cram as much activity into their vacation time as possible. They come back exhausted instead of refreshed. They need to return to work to rest from their vacation. This is not as it should be. For these folks, their work prior to their vacation is wasted in anticipation, and their work after vacation is equally unproductive because they’re too tired to do much.

Then there are people like me. At most of my jobs, no one did my work while I was gone. I’d spend the week before vacation, trying hard to work ahead. Then, afterwards, it would take a couple weeks to catch up. For all the good my vacation did – and I actually rested on my vacations – the backlog of work when I returned quickly negated its benefits.

For the past fifteen years, a two-week vacation has been out of the question: the overlapping production schedules of multiple publications leaves me no time to take a long break. Instead, I’ve opted for shorter respites, an occasional long weekend, a day trip here and there, even time off during the day for a quick outing.

It’s a rhythm that works for me, but all the while I wonder what I might be missing by not taking a two-week vacation.

When was your last vacation? What did you do?

Thoughts About Moving: Do You Leave Home or Take it With You?

My wife and I are selling our house. It wasn’t our plan, but things change.

We had just finished updating most of it: new roof, furnace, windows, carpet, flooring, kitchen, and bathrooms. It was a three-year effort that methodically moved from one project to the next as our budget allowed. We planned to live the rest of our lives in this house, the place where we raised our kids and the setting of many happy memories.

So, why then, are we moving? The answer is simple: family. Our son and his wife live about an hour away. It was hard not to be closer to them; the pull was strong. Then our daughter and her husband, along with our grandson, moved, ending up a few miles from her brother. The draw was inescapable.

My wife and I discussed this. Then we asked what our kids thought. They liked the idea, but one instituted a ten-mile buffer, but then reduced it to five, which eventually disappeared. Our daughter-in-law liked the idea of us living next door, where their kids could walk to grandpa and grandma’s. She grew up with that and so did I. Alas, we will not be that close, but we will be within seven miles of each of our kids’ homes.

Now, as we plan and pack, I recall the things that happened here: the happy times, the struggles we overcame, the celebrations, the milestones, and the friends who visited. But these memories do not reside in this house, they live in our minds.

The house will stay, but our home will move.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect via social media.

Lightning and Life

A few years ago lightning struck our house. It seems most of the energy was safely dissipated via a ground wire, as intended. Yet some took a variant path, following along the eave trough and blowing the downspout away from the house, before jumping to an unused underground cable and heading towards our prized maple tree. The telltale sign of the end of its path was mound of dirt over where the wire once was. The height and width of this trail diminished as it approached the tree, disappearing a few feet from the trunk.

I expected the leaves to turn brown in a couple of days. I braced myself to watch my tree die. To my relief, this didn’t happen. The tree lived the rest of that year and all through the next. A year and a half later, just as the leaves began to unfold in the spring, they stopped growing and turned brown. Within a couple days, my maple tree was dead. The likely explanation was the lightning damaged the root system enough to where the tree couldn’t recover.

Above the ground, the tree looked healthy and alive. Yet, hidden from view was a tree fighting for survival. Though it hung on for eighteen months, it couldn’t recover.

Such it is with life. Every action has ramifications. Yet if the effects are delayed, we can easily assume everything is fine. With an unwise action, the lack of an immediate consequence can lull us into assuming everything is all right and embolden us to repeat our reckless behavior. On the outside, everything may look fine. But what no one can see – what we may not even realize – is that on the inside we are wounded and moving towards death, be it literal or figurative.

We need to do what is good, even when we see no benefits from our wise actions or no consequences because of our unwise acts: we never know what may await.

Peter DeHaan is magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect via social media.