End Poverty Now: Reasonable Goal or Impossible?

End Poverty NowFrom time to time, I read about some group that wants to “end poverty” or “stamp out poverty.” I don’t give much thought to such pronouncements—because they will never happen; they can’t. But before I explain why, let me share two similar sounding initiatives that are more important and can happen:

Clean Drinking Water: It is estimated that one billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. The result is serious illness, disease, and premature, preventable death. There are many organizations working to address this, from drilling wells to offering water purification systems. The result is clean, safe drinking water for the some the world’s most hurting people. This is something that can be resolved and in which everyone can get involved, be it directly or indirectly (via donations).

Food for the Hungry: Reportedly 800 million to one billion people lack a basic supply of food. Sadly, experts on such things indicate that there is enough food to feed everyone; it’s just in the wrong place or being obstructed by various governments, factions, or politics. Apparently the problem boils down to transportation logistics and corruption. This is a bit harder to address, but again there are many organizations involved in addressing world hunger. While most people are not in a position to directly help out, anyone can make a donation to help feed a hungry person. Clean drinking water and feeding the hungry are serious problems we can address. Click To Tweet

So, clean drinking water and food for the hungry are serious problems that can and should be addressed.

Fighting poverty, while a worthy and noble cause, is of secondary importance to these more basic human needs. The reason that we will never be able to end poverty is that it is an intangible goal. Ending poverty is about as realistic as a school striving to make all their students above average. Although they can increase the overall academic level of performance, there will always be those who struggle. In the same way, no matter how much the overall standard of living is improved, there will always be people at the bottom, who don’t have as much as others, and who will be labeled as impoverished.

Surely we need to help them out, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that through concerted effort, we can make poverty go away.

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.

Homeless: A Statistical Profile

A Statistical Profile of the HomelessWhen you consider the homeless, what do you think they are like? (You do think of people who have no homes, right?)

Here is a statistical profile of the homeless in my local area:

  • 32% of the adults are employed
  • 37% are children
  • 27% of the households are headed by single parents (implying that 63% are two parent households)
  • 30% have education beyond high school
  • 24% experience chronic homelessness (implying that 76% are short-term and correctable)
  • 11% of homeless adults were homeless as children

No one can fix the problem of homelessness alone, but together we can make a difference. Click To TweetThe first four stats are surprising, not fitting most people’s stereotypical views of homeless demographics.

The last two figures are also appalling, showing that for some, homelessness is pervasive and even generational. Of course, the flipside of that is that for most, homelessness is a temporary condition that can be overcome. The more help that is available, the quicker they are able to get back on their feet, again providing for themselves.

Those of us with homes can express gratitude for our own shelter by helping those without homes to get turned around. This can easily be done by supporting and volunteering at churches, para-church organizations, non-profits, and government agencies that help feed, house, transport, train, and support the homeless as they work towards reversing their situation.

From a practical standpoint, what can we do? We can volunteer our time, we can donate money to worthy causes, and when can lend our voice for advocacy.

No one can fix this problem alone, but by working together we can 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.

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Dialing for Dollars: Frustrations with Accounts Payable

Dialing for Dollars: Frustrations with Accounts PayableMy least favorite task is making collection calls, but it was again time to do so. Although it took less than an hour, I spent more than a day getting psyched up for this distasteful task. I find that I am quite adept at finding other things to do (which are decidedly more interesting and satisfying) in order to avoid “dialing for dollars.”

My perspective is that it is moral and ethical business behavior to pay all bills by their due date, if not sooner. Therefore, I shouldn’t be put in a position to have to ask people for the money that they freely and readily agreed to pay me for my services. It's moral and ethical business behavior to pay all bills by their due date, if not sooner. Click To Tweet

I have found that my customers fall into four categories:

  1. Most pay their bills on time, every time. (Thank you!)
  2. Some generally pay on time, but need an occasional reminder or a resent invoice.
  3. A few always need a phone call before they pay. (This could be a result of corporate policy or cash-flow issues.)
  4. A couple can’t or won’t pay what they owe me.

I once worked for a company whose policy was to pay all bills, net forty-five. It wasn’t a cash-flow issue, but a desire to operate off other people’s money. This made it most challenging to engage new vendors and keep existing ones happy; they always wanted to be paid net thirty. Another company I worked for had cash flows issues—sometimes majorly so—and paid almost all bills late, sometimes months late; this was an even more challenging environment.

I have decided to treat my vendors the way I want to be treated: I usually pay bills within twenty-four hours. That requires a bit more cash reserves—and many would call it fiscally foolish—but I call it the right thing to do.

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.

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Living Beneath Your Means

Living Beneath Your MeansMy bride and I were recently talking with a young engaged couple and the subject of finances came up. I shared my thoughts and seemingly gave them something to ponder.

I said that most people in the US live beyond their means. They live paycheck to paycheck, are over extended, and one little glitch sends their world crumbling.

A few people in the US “live at their means.” That is, they spend their money wisely, save for a rainy day—which will eventually happen, don’t try to keep up with everyone else (who are actually living beyond their means), are careful using credit, and make careful investments. In short, they live fiscally responsible lives.Should you try to live beneath your means? Click To Tweet

My goal, however, is to “live beneath my means.” That is, to live more simply than what I can afford to. This certainly doesn’t imply that I’ve taken a vow of poverty or anything of the sort—I have been too spoiled to attempt that—but I have sworn off extravagance and am largely content with what I have, be it home, car, clothes, and other possessions. It is very freeing to be not always wanting more and yearning for what is unwise or unwarranted. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have goals—I do—but they aren’t materialistic in nature. I’ve learned that possessions can weigh you down and often make demands of you: be it time, attention, more money, or worry; plus you really don’t own them anyway—they often own you.

So, let’s keep it simple; it’s much more prudent and a whole lot less stressful.

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.

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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?