Friday, October 21, 2011

Life After Training Wheels

Today we were discussing the upcoming stewardship "drive". The talk revolved around what Scriptures teach concerning that dreaded word, "the tithe" and our experiences with tithing. People who know us well remember that one of the first question we asked each other when we got engaged was whether the other tithed and for how long. It never occurred to us during the lean years (and there were quite a few) to "scale back our giving." We just ramped up our stewardship. Interestingly, those years taught us that we were hanging onto a lot of things we didn't need. It also taught us a lot of lessons about managing money we'd never dreamed of before.

Someone mentioned the verse that says, "Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also." It reminded me of a neighbor we once had. He was a computer guru on the night shift for some Fortune 500 company on the other side of town from our little bedroom community. One night while he was at work, his house caught fire. His wife grabbed the three boys and ran to a neighbor's home to call the fire department and her husband. When she reached her husband, "Our house is burning to the ground! Please come home!"

He asked, "Are you and the boys ok?" She assured him they were and he, in turn, assured her he was on his way.

He arrived almost an hour later as the whole neighborhood watched the last of their earthly goods smolder. After he had hugged his family and reassured them, he stood quietly hugging his boys and watched. I told him how sorry we were for his loss. He nodded mutely. I said something inane about how quickly he must have driven the distance from his work. His countenance glowed as he turned and said, "Oh, there was no need to endanger anyone. My wife had already told me all my treasures were safe." Then, he quoted the Scripture.

Within an hour, the neighborhood had put together two sets of clothes and two toys for each child plus one set of clothes for the parents. They had a place to stay and were grateful that the wife had not yet driven her car into the garage for the night. We shared together, his wife and he and David and, our common trust in the Lord to provide all our needs and got to meet a brother and sister in Christ we hadn't known before as they assured us of their confidence in the Lord Jesus to provide all our needs. He reminded us of Malachi 3:10.

After I had shared this story, the discussion then led to the fact that none of us had ever met a "reformed tither," that is someone who had once tried tithing for several months but then had quite. I compared that to putting training wheels back on a bicycle after you had mastered the art of balancing on just two wheels. The talk then shifted to people who start out "giving" two per cent with the intention of getting to a full tithe but don't quite make it there. One person likened that stage of giving to riding with training wheels....the longer you depend on them, the longer it will be before you remove them.

We talked about the Apostle Peter and how he stepped out of the boat to walk on water. He did just fine until he started to consider the circumstances his natural eyes beheld. As soon as he took his eyes off Jesus, he started to sink. The same is true of tithing. So long as we wait until our natural eyes can "see our way clear" to giving the whole tithe; the longer it will be before we give in faith. Peter gets bad rap for starting to sink, but remember the other eleven never even tried! They stayed in the boat and missed a blessing.

When I think of tithing, strangely enough I think of the Psalm which says,"Seek ye first the Lord and He will give you all the desires of your heart." What it doesn't specifically say is if we live for the Lord "without training wheels", the desires of our heart will so totally change that He will not have to violate His Holiness to give those desires to us.

Life without training wheels is sweet. Praise the Lord.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Figures don't lie but liars figure."

An old saying by mathematicians and statisticians

Scripture says we should test for truth everything we are told. Thomas Sowell makes the same argument in his book "Economic Facts and Fallacies." A large segment of the book demonstrates how the mass media manipulates statistics in ways that misstate the true situation.

The example that most caught my eye was the one in which we are told that income for "average household" has declined during the past ten years. Here's a simple description of how that "statistic" can lead us away from the true state of affairs.

We must start with the reminder that an average is an artificial mathematical construct to explain the range between high and low within a given set. For the purposes of simplification, we'll illustrate by starting with a single household. In this household are four people: two parents and two teenagers. The two parents are employed full time, the teens each have part time jobs.

Dad earns $30,000 a year

Mom earns $30,000 a year

Teen 1 earns $ 6,000 a year

Teen 2 earns $ 6,000 a year

Total $72,000 a year

The total earnings are then divided by the number of households: 1. Thus the average household earnings for this set are $72,000.00.

Ten years pass by. Now, Mom and Dad have gotten increases in pay and both teens are grown up, fully employed and are on their own. Having gotten a place of their own, each of the teens now becomes a household of their own.

In household 1: Dad earns $40,000

Mom earns $40,000

Total $80,000

In household 2: T1 earns $30,000

In household 3: T2 earns $30,000

Total earnings for all three households is $140,000.

To find the average income of the three households, we divide $140,000 by 3.

Answer: $36,666.67.

Even though all four members of the original household are each earning more than they did ten years prior, the average household earnings are smaller because there are more households and thus a larger divisor when the average is calculated.

The more accurate and honest comparison would have been the average income for each of the individuals rather than comparing by households. BUT, to compare individual incomes would have revealed the fact that incomes within households have increased during the past ten years.

The same media that brought you this odious fraudulent comparison also told you that the "average worker" has not had a pay increase in ten years. That, too, is a fallacious statement. There is no single "average worker." Remember that an "average worker" is a mathematical construct. It's not a person.

Dr. Sowell also points out that when elitists talk about the differences between the poor and the rich, they use some subtlety there as well. Usually, they will compare the "income" of the poor to the "wealth" of the rich: like comparing eggs and onions and calling them eggions. The income of the poor does not take into account any government subsidies like food stamps, WICK programs, subsidized housing or Medicaid, all of which provide value to their daily lives. Certainly, there are differences between the incomes of each but if one group's cash income is being compared to the other's assets, we have eggions.

All this is to say we need to guard our minds against deceptions whether they deceiver intends to mislead or is simply too ignorant of basic mathematics to make mathematically correct comparisons.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Catching Up

This summer and fall have been very interesting.

Last summer we began an experiment in couponing. Our church offered a class in strategic couponing as part of our stewardship program. We originally enrolled because we wanted to encourage the teachers. The framework is to change the scheduling of purchase planning. Instead of buying what you need as you run out of something, we buy what we will need for the stores' six week merchandising schedules. Doing that allows us to combine buy-one-get-one-free offers with manufacturers' coupons and store coupons.

Neither of us was convinced we would really save money doing this so we saved all our tapes from the four stores we used during the three months' trial period. The first five weeks, we found we spent a little more than usual but we hung on for the full three months we had promised ourselves we would. Now, we are entering our seventeenth week. The first time I brought home $48.00 worth of merchandise for less than $5.00 made us think it might just work for us.

Taking all the tapes and entering the totals each of spent and savings, I entered them on a spreadsheet at the end of four months. Then, I averaged each column for the four months' period. We have actually reduced our household spending (groceries, cleaning, paper, grooming, dietary supplements and non-VA prescription drugs) by one-third. During that time, we actually had one week during which we spent zero, one we bought milk, yogurt and bananas, and one in which we spent $.68.

The hardest part was learning the rules each of the stores uses and the schedules. The next challenge was to organize the coupons an weekly ads. Figuring out how much we need to get us to the next sales' offers on that item was also interesting. David and I are agreed that it is worth the hour and a half a week it takes. We already had a system for making grocery lists (whoever uses the next to the last of any item writes it on the white board in the kitchen) so all we have to do is match the list to the best offer. If that week's best offer is not THE best, we simply work around that item until it's available at THE best price. It's actually quite a challenge....and fun.

The second interesting thing was the thirteen week Financial Peace University class. It's a money management/stewardship series by Dave Ramsey. Tomorrow is our last class. It, too, has been interesting. More than learning new "tricks", we learned why what we have been doing for years works so well. We did pick up some tips on investment strategies and learned the investment instruments we used in the past were quite well chosen. The small groups have given us the opportunity to get to know some people really well.

The third interesting thing is the series of things we've gotten involved in at our church (aside from the two stewardship activities). David has gotten involved in delivering flowers to and visiting with shut-ins (like he did previously when I had a cutting garden). He also takes people to doctors' appointments. His first time, he took a man "to a doctor's appointment" only to have it turn into a 7 hour experience.

The man got there and his doctor told him he needed chemotherapy. They (while David sat in the waiting room) called the son in St. Louis and got approval. No one thought to tell David. Finally, he asked the receptionist who told him he had plenty of time to get something to eat. The man was quite incoherent when they started home so David still didn't know the son had approved it.

David was worried that he had somehow taken him to the wrong doctor and obligated the man's family to an expense they weren't prepared for. The lady in charge of the program called him later and told him the so had approved. David, with his caring spirit, was still concerned so I started teasing him.

"Well, Sugie, just be glad he didn't have an ingrown toenail. You might have treated him to an amputation." We laughed until we had tears rolling down our cheeks and were choking. It got worse from there.

I'm still working at the church office one day a week though I've had a couple of projects which took much more time than that. In addition, I'm on the school board for our church's pre-school and the scholarship committee there. That, too, has allowed me to get to know some people a lot better.

The last interesting thing that happened this fall was a visit with Akira's oldest son and his family. When we went to Japan the last time, Chris and Aya scheduled their religious ceremony for the time during our visit. It meant having a much smaller ceremony (Aya's dad's family is very large so it was to e expected that they might have a very large wedding). The custom is for a couple to marry at City Hall in a civic ceremony like a business contract. Then, they live with parents until they can save enough money to have a religious ceremony. It's not unusual for them to have children by the time they have the religious ceremony.

Chris and Aya were in The States for two weeks. They brought their two babies (2 yrs and 5 months, respectively). They met us in Orlando where we spent two nights and three days or parts thereof. The babies were amazing! They had only seen or heard us on SKYPE and yet they were totally at home with us from the very first! Despite traveling for four or five days, they were relaxed and joyous. We kept the baby with us while they took the older one to Disney World. It was wonderful!!

So, we've had an interesting summer and fall and a busy one! We don't mind. We have the time.