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.

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.

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 Checkup?

In my newsletter a few months ago, I recommended we periodically check our credit reports. This is a wise move in order to correct reporting errors and catch possible identity theft. Other finance related initiatives include making an annual budget, having life insurance, establishing an emergency fund, and planning for the future.

On the health front is scheduling appointments with the doctor and dentist. In addition, some people regularly check their pulse or take their blood pressure. Even stepping on the scale is a form of a medical checkup.

Aside from health issues, we regularly have the oil in our car changed and follow recommended maintenance to keep it running great. Many take similar steps with their homes.

I also do periodic checkups on my schedule to avoid over-commitment and guard against under-involvement.

So we take control of our finances, watch our health, care for our possessions, and protect our time, all by preforming regular checkups.

But what about relationships?

I too often take relationships for granted. Either they work or they don’t. But I should be intentional about them, too. I need to do a relationship checkup. Maybe you do, too. In my checkup, I ask these questions:

  • Am I investing in the relationships that are important to me? Do I seek to make our interactions significant? Do people anticipate spending time with me?
  • Conversely, am I protecting myself from toxic relationships that demand much, give little, and drag me down?
  • Am I looking to build relationships with others?
  • Do I need to remove myself from some relationships?
  • Am I in any enabling relationships?

Even more important is my relationship with family. They, too, deserve a thorough checkup.

On the spiritual front, is God, the most important relationship of all. Maybe we should do this checkup first.

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.

How Much is Enough?

John D. Rockefeller was reportedly asked “how much would be enough?” and he answered “just a little bit more.”

That push for more has propelled people to accomplish some amazing things, but left unchecked and unexamined it can leave a wake of devastation — destroying lives, organizations, and resources.

When the push for more focuses on wealth, it is never satisfied. Seeking more can become an inescapable snare.

Many people live beyond their means. For them, they desire just a little bit more. They are, in fact, greedy.

A few people live at their means; they spend responsibly, not letting their reach exceed their grasp. But even these people are often one paycheck away from the collapse of their subsistence. They are living on the edge; financial disaster is knocking at their door.

It is rare for people to live beneath their means, to live more simply than they can afford, to save money and give money away. They are wise.

Whichever category we find ourselves in, we’ll do well to ask, how much is enough?

Are there changes you need to make in the way you live or with your attitude towards money?

How Much Does it Cost to Ship Socks?

There’s a certain brand of wool socks that I like. Okay, I really, really like them. I’m wearing a pair right now. I wanted to try a different style, but the local outlets didn’t carry it.

Though I prefer to buy online and bypass the “experience” of going to a store, sometimes I want to check the product in person before making a commitment. You can’t do that in cyberspace.

So I ordered one pair for my tactile evaluation. For some reason I expected free shipping. This was not to be. To unite me and my $13 socks there was a $7 shipping charge. There were no other options.

I placed my order on Friday. Saturday my socks arrived courtesy of FedEx Saturday delivery. Really? It wasn’t like this was a sock emergency. Three-day ground would have been fine, even parcel post would have been acceptable.

I took time to communicate my frustration with the manufacturer, because, well, I’m a bit passionate about their socks and when you care about something, you take time to share concerns. The rep understood my complaint and agreed, saying other customers told her the same thing. She planned to bring this up at their management meeting later that week.

Two months later I placed an order for more socks. There’s still only one shipping option and it’s still $7. Really?

How Much Does it Cost?

I’m not one who spends money easily or frivolously. It should surprise no one that at some point in a purchase decision I will deliberate on the cost of the item in question. Can I afford it? Is it within my budget? Is this a wise use of my money? Will I derive sufficient value? Is this an emotional or intellectual decision? If I buy this item now will it preclude a more relevant purchase later? Yeah, I do that.

When I’m at a restaurant I also look at prices. No, I don’t ask all of the above questions, but cost is an important consideration.

For the first part of my life, price was a financially practical contemplation. Did I have enough money to pay the bill? I would only order what I could pay for with cash – be it with bills or coins.

I’m at a different place today. Though I never want to overpay for a meal, the primary reason I look at prices now is that I perceive price as being an indicator of the quantity of food. You see, I was taught to eat everything on my plate and to not waste food, so what the restaurant gives me, I will eat, even if I’m full.

If the portion is too big, I will end up eating too much. So I resort to judging the amount of food by the cost of the meal. Though not an error-free method, it always serves to save me money and often serves to save my waistline.

I Get a Kick Out of Kickstarter

The website Kickstarter is a funding platform to help creative people finance their projects.

I’ve been wondering if Kickstarter might be a viable vehicle to help me self-publish a couple of books I’m pursuing. I’ve also experienced Kickstarter from the other side: providing financial support on two projects.

The first was for a friend, a most talented musician, who wants to take his recording career to the next level. He raised most of the funds himself and then turned to Kickstarter for the final ten grand. He got off to a great start and then donations reached a plateau, with things looking iffy as the 30-day funding window began to close. But a last minute surge put him over the top. He will soon leave for Nashville to record his next album.

More recently I jumped on board a project to help an author who is using Kickstarter as a litmus test to show there is interest for his upcoming book. His goal was more ambitious: 40k. He has a large following of readers and a great social media platform. He didn’t need 30 days to reach his goal; he didn’t even need one; it took about 3 hours. (Presently he is at five times his goal and still has 26 days remaining.)

Regardless if a project is funded quickly or takes a while is not the point. The point is Kickstarter is a viable way for people to support artistic projects they believe in and the creative people behind them who dare to dream big.

When these projects are complete, I will receive a CD and a book (plus some other rewards), along with the knowledge that I helped two creative people advance their careers. And that gives me a real kick.

The Domino Effect of Home Improvement

This summer my bride and I began working together. This required that we convert an unused bedroom into her office. At the time, she made the reasonable request to paint the room first. I noted that this would also be an ideal time to replace the carpet. I had planned to ditch the aged 25-year-old carpet throughout our home next year anyway, so we picked out and ordered the carpet for the entire job.

Candy’s office was painted and re-carpeted on schedule. However, re-carpeting the rest of the house set in motion a chain reaction, which I call the domino effect of home improvement.

It was pointed out that before installing the rest of the carpet, it would be preferable to have all the non-carpeted areas redone first, not later. That too, had been planned for next year.

However, the existing bathroom cabinets — also planned for replacement in two years — had a larger footprint than what is currently available. So, new cabinets were picked out and installed first. Between the cabinet replacement and redoing the flooring, both bathrooms have been out of commission for a couple of weeks. (Fortunately, the guest bathroom was still functional.)

Of course, this was an ideal time to repaint the bathrooms.

But, with the flooring tore up, it was the window of opportunity to try to fix the squeaking floors. The list goes on…

In the midst of this, I decided to move my office next to my bride’s, as opposed to being at the opposite end of the house on a different level. This meant buying a new desk, since the other one wouldn’t fit in the new room.

At this point, every room in the house — save the guest room — is either in various states of remodeling or is storing furniture from the other rooms.

I think that our home is currently at the peak of disarray and can now anticipate steady movement towards getting back to normal.

As for dominoes, I think I’ve had enough of them for a while.

Beware the Ever-Changing Fine Print

Yesterday I received a 17-page booklet from my credit card provider covering their revised “customer agreement.”  They mailed it under the guise of good customer service, but I’m sure that buried somewhere inside is a policy change that will effect me.  However, I don’t have the time or interest to read all 17 pages to figure out what it is.  Even if they highlighted the section, there is often so much double talk, qualifying statements, and caveats, that I would likely not fully grasp what they are changing.  I just hope that the change is not too onerous or detrimental to me.  One thing I can be quite sure of is that with the current credit situation, depressed economy, and increased oversight, that the changes will not be in my favor.

A few months ago, my local credit union sent me a notice of new fees.  This seemingly happens every few months, so I gave it little thought, especially since I do not incur fees on my account — well I didn’t use to incur fees.  They changed one number; however, that was the “gotcha.”  They doubled the minimum balance required to have free checking.  Although I have many times that amount in CDs, they dinged me for a monthly service fee anyway.  To make matters worse they managed to bill it twice on the same statement, one for the current month and one for the prior month.

They did eventually refund the charges “this one time.”  I don’t plan on there being a second time.  When my CD comes due this fall, I’ll close my account, moving it to my other credit union that doesn’t play those types of games.

I hoped I won’t be forced into doing the same thing with my credit card.