Brotherhood – a reflection on formation of spiritual family


The following is an excerpt from my current book-length project tentatively titled “Prometheus Rising:  Philanthropy, Altruism and Self-Interest in a Socially Connected World”.  I’m currently working on the first draft of this work and have no projected release date.  In the past book projects have taken about 2 years to complete so stay tuned but expect a release sometime in late 2019 or early 2020.

I never had a brother.  I have two older sisters but no brothers so understanding the nature of brotherhood has been a bit of a journey for me.  And it’s only really been in the last few years that I’ve come to embrace the whole concept of Christian Brotherhood.  My friend Jeff has been a tremendous teacher for me here.

In the fall of 2013 about 18 months after having uprooted my entire life and moved to Ottawa from suburban Toronto so that we could help take care of my wife’s aging family, I was at the end of my rope.

Dealing with aging parents is one thing, doing it while your spouse is going through a major bout of depression and anxiety, your brother-in-law is dealing with the situation through anger and your mother-in-law is just needy and can’t express herself without making demands is quite another.  Add to all that the fact that I was trying to start a new business, I was constantly running on empty.

I’m a people-pleaser by nature.  I want everyone around me to be happy all the time.  I’m also very task oriented so if there is any kind of physical work to be done I am the first person to pick up a mop or offer to drive you to an appointment.  But there was just so much to do and neither my wife nor my brother-in-law seemed capable of putting aside their own anxieties and stepping up to get it done, as a result most of the “heavy lifting” fell to me.

The stress of keeping it all together while my wife fell apart eventually got to be too much to handle.  Oh, and in case you missed it, the sick and aging parents aren’t even mine.

One night, in a fit of anxiety of my own I reached out our church for help.

Two days later I was introduced to Jeff.  Jeff is a few years my junior but in many ways, he is far more mature than myself in dealing with the stresses of being a caregiver to the sick and needy.  Although not a professional psychologist by any stretch Jeff quickly diagnosed my situation as a textbook case of caregiver fatigue.  He was able to do so because he too was a caregiver to an anxious and depressed spouse.  A few years before, his wife had gone through a similar breakdown to the one my wife was experiencing.  As a result he could relate to me in a way no other person could.

Jeff was able to come along side me in my time of need and guide me down a pathway he had traveled himself not so long ago.

I like to describe my relationship with Jeff as similar to two men who find themselves mired in a swamp.  Many people had tried show me the way out of that particular swamp before, but they had flown by in helicopters high above the muck and the mire, or sped by in boats.  These people had pointed in a direction that I should go and then sped off leaving me alone to figure it out for myself.  Jeff on the other hand showed up deep in the muck himself, wearing hip waders and said; “come with me, I know the way.”

The Christian propensity to call each other brother and sister had, until I met Jeff, always seemed hollow and forced.  But in him I found a true brother, someone who demonstrated philia (brotherly love) in a way I had never before experienced.

Over the course of several months we would meet for coffee in a quite downtown shop, slightly off the beaten path and talk about our experience.  As often as not we would sit shoulder to shoulder at the bar, rather than face to face at a table.  Jeff would say that men tend to be more willing to speak honestly when we didn’t have to look directly at each other. He said it had something to do with centuries of evolution working side by side in the forests and the fields rather than face to face in the home that had made it easier for men to forge bonds “shoulder to shoulder”.

Whatever, I didn’t care, all I cared about was that I finally found someone who could not only listen to my struggles but with whom I could share an experience without wondering if he was silently judging me.  What I learned from Jeff and how my wife and I started to put our lives back together while forging a new path isn’t the subject of this book.  But the compassion that I felt while living through some of those darkest days has helped form the basis of my research into philanthropy.

We get the word philanthropy from philia – brotherly love.  It is a recognition of the fact that we are all in is together.  Your burdens are my burdens.  As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians;

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. [Galatians 6:2]

I never would have learned that lesson if I hadn’t found a brother in Jeff.

 

Quote of the Day – 12/11/2016


For ever so long, each year millions of children painfully died on our planet. Second, and unlike just a century ago, now most of the horror can be readily prevented. But, third, a great deal of what’s so preventable isn’t prevented. Finally, for years to come, this sad situation will continue. So, it may be usefully fair to say that, in our era, at least, this is a perennially rotten world. – Peter Unger; Living High and Letting Die

 

The Right Fit


Finding the right financial advisor can do wonders to help you reach your goals.

tailorHave you ever noticed how many of the biggest goals in life tend to have a financial component? Yes okay, you can learn a foreign language or train for a triathlon (like I am), without making a big financial commitment. But for the really big life events like buying a home, starting a family or helping your kids go to university, not to mention retiring or creating a legacy, without disciplined planning, your goals will just become pipe dreams and slip away.

If you’re like most of my clients, juggling a career and family, you don’t have time to figure it all out for yourself, either. And like most Canadians, you probably feel like you don’t have the knowledge to take on the complexities of financial planning by yourself. That’s when seeking the advice of a professional can give you a huge boost. In fact, getting the right person working on your team can make all the difference in helping meet, or even exceed your goals. According to research by the Investment Funds Institute of Canada (IFIC), the retirement accounts of Canadians who retain the services of a financial advisor significantly outperform those who don’t.

88-1953n

The stakes are high when it comes to talking about something as important and personal as your retirement accounts. Your expectations of your advisor need to be just as high. Like all good advisors my commitment to my clients is to do at least these three things:

  1. Learn about you. This means endeavoring to understand your family’s goals both short- and long-term, not just your finances but also your general hopes and dreams.   Just as importantly, your advisor should help you understand your attitude toward risk. Do you avoid risks at all costs? Do the ups and downs of the markets excite you? Or more commonly, are you want I like to call a Goldilocks investor, not too hot and not too cold.
  2. Build your plan. This is the part where the term Financial “Advisor” gets its name. We’re all about giving advice after-all. As your advisor I will create an actionable plan that contains a number of things that you can do immediately. The plan will also show some milestones to be achieved later. A complete plan will include:
  • Debt management – this should be the first part of every financial plan, if you don’t pay attention to your debt there is no point in going any further.

  • Systematic savings – predetermined and agreed upon amounts to put aside regularly (usually monthly).

  • Investment portfolio – keeping in mind your attitude and tolerance toward risk, a well planned portfolio should both protect and grow your assets.

  • Tax strategy – Ben Franklin was right, there are only two certainties in life, death and taxes, but smart people know how to a least minimize and differ the amount of tax they pay.

  • Risk management – There is nothing any of us can do about death, life, disability and critical illness insurance are integral parts of all financial plans that help to protect your family from the inevitable and the unthinkable.

  • Retirement plan – Everyone at some point will stop working, either by choice or out of necessity. The plan will include projections of when you can expect to retire, and with how much money.

  1. Adjust your plan. Life is never systematic and fixed, change is a given and often unexpected. Your plan must be flexible and reviewed regularly. I contact my clients at least twice a year just to check in and make sure all is well, generally with a phone call on your birthday and a summary report around the anniversary of our setting up your plan. We will also try to have a sit down meeting once a year to check your progress, revisit your goals and, if necessary, reset your course.

 Not just about retirement

notjustretirementA lot of Canadians start thinking about engaging an advisor somewhere in their 40s or 50s, when retirement starts to look like a real possibility. Major life events like buying a home or becoming a parent also tend to trigger a need for a financial reckoning and a bit of outside advice. But you don’t have to wait for big goals to appear either. Maybe you just want to save up for a new car or take a vacation without going deep into debt these are all good reasons to make an appointment with an advisor.

The point is, you call the shots with your advisor we work for you after-all. Anything from helping you to create a comprehensive estate plan to just being an impartial third party sounding board for your own ideas.

Finding the right fit

Every client and every advisor are unique individuals, and each party brings a different set of personal experiences and professional skills to the relationship. And don’t discount that “gut feeling” everyone gets when they first meet someone new either. Personally I know that I work best with people who share some of my core values. They are:

Integrity, Stewardship, Humility, an openness to learning and accepting that you might not even know what you don’t know, and an unwavering commitment to avoid and eliminate debt.

My mission statement says it all:

I am here to teach you to Eliminate Debt, Build Wealth and Leave a Legacy.

If you think you can align with those core values and goals I think we can find a way to work together. Contact me any time at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com and let’s get started.

Mr. Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 20 years.  He is currently a Financial Security Advisor with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He holds dual licenses from the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) for Life, Disability and Critical Illnesses Insurance and the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada (MFDA) for personal investments.  He is passionate about helping people to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.   (And he really is a triathlete.)

He can be reached at themeekonomicsporject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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4 Things to Know For Tonight’s Webinar


webinarGood day!

Tonight is the night. My first ever live on-line seminar!

I’m about to spend the next few hours putting the finishing touches on the Power-Point that will go out over the internet for all the world to see. It’s exciting and a bit nerve wracking at the same time. I know this material, and I’ve presented it in small intimate gatherings before. That’s not the issue. I’m just nervous that a) nobody will show up, b) so many people will show up that I will be overwhelmed, c) the technology will somehow fail me, or d) I will be asked a question I can’t answer and the audience will become hostile. Even if some of these fears are unfounded, or worse, all of them come true, I still need to be as prepared as possible so that nothing goes horribly wrong.

If you are planning on joining me, here are a few things you need to know going in.

1 – This is all new to me.

As I said off the top, I’ve done these seminars before but never on-line. The technology looks relatively simple but if something goes wrong technically please don’t hurt me.

2 – I am genuinely passionate about what I do.

I hope it’s already obvious but sometimes I get carried away and even a bit emotionally when I’m presenting. Passion can be a good thing when properly channelled, I hope I can do that and remain and effective presenter.

3 – I am licensed to sell investment and financial risk management products in Ontario, Canada only.

The principles I teach are universal but some of the specific products I mention may or may not be available in your jurisdiction. I apologize in advance if that’s the case.  Feel free to contact a locally licensed representative to help you out. If you don’t know anyone I have lots of contacts all over the world, I’d be happy to help you find someone.

4 – At the end I am going to try and sell you something.

I recognize that there will be some people who will want to go deeper and I am available for one-on-one coaching, for a fee. If there are any of the concepts or programs that I mention that you are interested in, and I am able to help you (see 3 above) I will be more than happy to.

So there you have it. If you would like to join me on-line the seminar starts at 8:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time. Here’s is your log in information….

https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/959869893

Use your microphone and speakers (VoIP) – a headset is recommended. Or, call in using your telephone.

United States: +1 (213) 289-0021

Australia: +61 2 8355 1039

Austria: +43 7 2088 2172

Belgium: +32 (0) 42 68 0180

Canada: +1 (647) 497-9379

Denmark: +45 89 88 05 39

Finland: +358 (0) 931 58 4588

France: +33 (0) 170 950 589

Germany: +49 (0) 692 5736 7301

Ireland: +353 (0) 15 360 757

Italy: +39 0 294 75 15 37

Netherlands: +31 (0) 108 080 116

New Zealand: +64 9 801 0294

Norway: +47 21 51 81 86

Spain: +34 911 23 4248

Sweden: +46 (0) 852 500 516

Switzerland: +41 (0) 435 0824 41

United Kingdom: +44 (0) 330 221 0099

 

Access Code: 959-869-893

Audio PIN: Shown after joining the meeting

 

Meeting Password: October2015

Meeting ID: 959-869-893

 

Not at your computer? Click the link to join this meeting from your iPhone®, iPad®, Android® or Windows Phone® device via the GoToMeeting app.

See you tonight!

For more information on The Meekonomics Project or if you have any trouble logging into the meeting, write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

Giving, what’s your motivation?


“I can see the words hanging in front of me and I can’t reach them and I don’t know who I am and I don’t know what I’m going to lose next.” – Dr. Alice Howland, Sill Alice

alzhiemers

My father-in-law has Alzheimer’s Disease. It was discovered four years ago in 2011 but to be honest many in the family has suspected it for a long time before that. Forgetting where you put your keys is one thing, insisting that the city must have moved the airport, as he once did, is a bit more serious.

He was always, in my opinion at least, a bit eccentric.  He was slow to make decisions, a bit of a hoarder, always worried that he would throw something away that he would later find a use for, etc. But that behavior is not really associated with Alzheimer’s, that’s just a fact of life when you grow up without a lot of money and learned to recycle and reuse things long before it was politically correct to do so. The real signs of the disease started appearing around 2007. The incident where he couldn’t find the airport happened in 2009.

Today he lives in a long term care facility and my wife and I visit him on Wednesday afternoons. He’s not the same.

Last week I watched two different takes on the progression of the disease. The first was a TED Talk about exciting new research into a potential cure. Watch it [here]. The other was the Oscar award winning film Still Alice about a Columbia University professor who develops an early onset version of the disease. Both left me with the feeling that Alzheimer’s Disease is an unjustly cruel way to die.

Dying of Alzheimer’s Disease is in a way the death of your mental capacity cognitive ability and personality while your body remains functional. In the early stages at least, it’s almost as if you are watching yourself become a zombie. I later stages you are a zombie, completely unable to make sense of the world you inhabit.

Why am I telling you all of this on a personal finance blog?

treemoney

Well because I’m sitting here this morning looking at a donation request from the Alzheimer Society and debating how much money I can afford to give them this year. I want to give a lot, out of respect and support for the man my father-in-law once was but I also have limited resources. So I’m asking myself the hard questions about what is the responsible amount to give?

Philanthropy is one of my personal favorite topics. I love the idea of “loving humanity” with my resources. (The Greek form of the word Philanthropist means lover of humanity.) But when does philanthropy shift from a loving expression to selfish ambition, from altruism to egotism?

The government doesn’t help. In Ontario, where I live, you receive a tax credit of 46% on every dollar, over a non-refundable annual minimum of $200, donated to a recognized charity. That means that to give away $1000 over the course of the year reduces your taxable income by $460. Which begs the question, when does philanthropy become more of a tax strategy than an act of kindness?

And let’s not forget what God has to say about supporting your own household and keeping food on the table:

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. [1 Timothy 5:8]

So when does philanthropy stop being an act of love and turn into an act of hatred toward those closest to you?

It’s all very confusing and difficult to reconcile. I’m sorry I haven’t given a lot of answers. At the end of the day philanthropy is a noble pursuit provided that you:

  1. Can afford it
  2. Understand the tax implications
  3. Do it out of genuine compassion – and
  4. Give to a reputable agency that won’t squander your hard earned money.

For more information on philanthropy and how best to leave a legacy write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

“Give a Little Bit”


Bar none my favorite part of my job is helping people give money away.

give a little

Sounds crazy doesn’t it? I’m a Financial Advisor; one of the core functions of my job is to help people build wealth so that they can live comfortably in retirement. In a lot of ways I’m supposed to teach people to be better hoarders, not better spend thrifts and philanthropists. But that is in fact what I do.

Webster defines philanthropy as;

                The practice of giving money and time to help make life better for other people.

The word’s origins are Greek meaning “the love of humanity”.  According to Wikipedia the word was originally coined as an adjective by the Greek playwright Aeschylus to describe the character of Prometheus in his tragic play “Prometheus Bound” as humanity loving, (philanthropos tropos).

Prometheus is a mythological character from Greek antiquity whose name means forethought. He was the Titan who noticed that humans were poorly equipped for survival in harsh climates. In order to correct what he viewed as an unfair defect he decided to steel fire from Zeus and give it to us. In other versions of the Prometheus myth he is credited with teaching humanity about mathematics, civilization and government. Prometheus loved humanity and gave of himself so that we could have a better life. Zeus however was not amused so he bound him with chains to a rock and sent an eagle eat his liver.  No good deed goes unpunished!

Today we think of philanthropy primarily in terms of giving money to charity. When I say philanthropist most people will think of some ultra-wealthy entrepreneur giving back to the community with some grand gesture that get’s a concert hall or a wing of the hospital named after him. Names like Carnegie, Rockefeller, Gates and Buffett come to mind. But philanthropy doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. When you buy a box of cookies from the Girl Guides (like I did on Thursday – yum.) or help your neighbor bring in their garbage bins from the street you are practicing philanthropy in its most basic and literal sense.

It feels good, and in the case of the Girl Guide cookies, it tastes good too.

Now altruism; that’s a whole other story. Altruism as I have discussed at length in my book “Meekonomics; How to Inherit the Earth and Live Life to the Fullest in God’s Economy”, is the virtue of selflessness and as many philosophers have debated for centuries can have no connection to personal benefit of any kind. Altruism isn’t even supposed to feel good because the feeling in and of itself is a benefit. For that reason many people believe that true altruism simply doesn’t exist.

Whether or not you agree with the idea that altruism exists or not it is clear that it cannot co-exist with self-interest. And because our society, to a certain extent wants to encourage giving, through tax and other social incentives the whole notion of altruism is irrelevant to our modern sensibilities. Altruism has been usurped by philanthropy.

When I counsel my clients on how to manage their estates and mitigate taxation I maintain that it is in their best interest to be philanthropic. I recently read two articles on-line expand upon the idea of promoting self-interest in conjunction with charitable giving. The first by Nonprofit Marketing Executive Kevin Feldman (read it here), pointed out the need to move charitable donors from simply being generous people to what he called “world changers”. More than just giving to get a tax break you don’t become a world changer without some skin in the game, without some self-interest in the results of your generosity. Feldman then pointed to another article from a charitable giving industry publication called The Chronicle of Philanthropy which cited a study on the behaviors of male vs. female donors. According to The Chronicle study, men respond better to advertising that highlights their own self-interest over more altruistic motives. You can read The Chronicle of Philanthropy article here.

What I find interesting about all of this comes down to the core reason for this site and the business that I am in. “World Changers” are fundamentally not altruistic in the classical sense, neither are “Humanity Lovers” if we are to understand the root word of philanthropy. Changing the world is always in some way about making our own lives more comfortable. Saving the planet for future generations, giving the poor better opportunities for work rather than a life of crime and terrorism, these are ultimately self-serving goals. Not to mention getting a little back on our taxes at the end of the year.

And loving humanity is not just what decent people do; it’s a command directly from God.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. [Galatians 5:13-15]

He may not have been rich, but the apostle Paul was a great philanthropist and he knew that done right, philanthropy makes the world better not just for the beneficiaries but also the benefactors.

So in this tax season remember the words of the philosopher and philanthropist Rodger Hodgson and “Give a Little Bit”.

Stewardship and Uneven Grace


Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. [1 Peter 4:10]

raindrop

I’ve been thinking a lot about stewardship lately. When I was growing up whenever the church we were attending talked about stewardship they were really talking about money. At least once a year, usually around tax time, we would have what was called Stewardship Sunday. The pastor would talk about all the great work the church was doing and how much it all cost and then wrap up with an appeal for all of the members of the congregation to “commit to supporting our ministry with the riches God has entrusted to each of us”. It was all very predictable and it could get very awkward.

But being a faithful steward is not just about how you spend your money. Wikipedia says; “Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment, economics, health, property, information, theology, etc.” While Webster defines stewardship as; “the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something”

Clearly stewardship isn’t really about money, although it can be.

When Peter talked of stewarding God’s grace he did so in a context of service. The entire paragraph of his letter that the previous verse is lifted from reads;

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. [1 Peter 4:7-11]

God could have given each of us exactly what we needed for self-sufficiency and been done with it. That would have been far more efficient as it would have eliminated starvation, want and any need of any kind. It would have also negated the need for relationships and community. It is clear from this passage that God has bestowed his gifts upon his people “unevenly”. Some may have material wealth, others may have the gift of hospitality or wisdom to lead and to teach but none have all of the gifts in equal measure. Therefore we must be willing to serve others with “whatever gift you have”. God has done this in order to bring us together in relationship with one another and with him.

Why? So that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. [v. 11]

If you have material wealth then of course you should use some of that “grace” that God has bestowed on you to help the community in which you live, and by community I don’t just mean local community but also the broader human family. Poverty knows no boundaries and injustice, even on the other side of the world has a way of coming home to roost. But stewardship isn’t just about money; it’s about grace, management and human relationships.

Are you hoarding God’s grace?

Jesus told a story about stewardship in the gospel of Matthew.  I won’t go into all the details here because it will take too long but at the end of the story Jesus tells us what will happen to those who don’t steward what has been given to them to manage.

 For whoever has will be given more and they will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. [Matthew 25: 29]

Don’t hoard God’s grace. It was likely given to you in order that you might bless someone else and thus build the Kingdom. If you hoard it, no one benefits and it may soon be taken from you.

The Index Card Theory


Back in 2013 University of Chicago professor, Harold Pollock told freelance journalist Helaine Olen that all you really need to know about personal finance in the United States could be written on one index card. She said really? Prove it. So he did, took a picture of it and sent it to her. The picture went viral.

indexcard

About a year later while out for a walk I thought of something similar and wrote it down on a sheet of standard eight and half by eleven note paper. My resulting picture did not go viral, life is so unfair…

Six Steps

Pollock is a professor at a world renowned University and a famous economist. I am a nobody financial security advisor in a smallish city. While the two pictures differ in the order of operations and the specific names of the vehicles used, I’m a Canadian so I can’t use or talk about things like 401ks or Roth accounts, the point of both of pictures is that personal finance doesn’t need to be complicated.

I call mine The 6 Steps to Financial Freedom and I keep it pretty general in terms of specific investment vehicles. Get out of debt, regulate risk, rule retirement, set-up sinking funds, take control of taxation and leave a legacy. Pollock is a lot more specific in terms of where to invest and what investment vehicles to use but his advice does not always translate across borders. So here is my Canadian Translation of Pollock’s Index card.
1 – Max your 401k or equivalent employee contribution.

    • The 401k is the US version of an employee sponsored Defined Contribution Pension plan. If you’re employer offers one, take advantage of it, it’s free money; you’d be a fool not to.

2 – Buy inexpensive, well diversified mutual funds.

    • This one does cross borders. But it’s important to note that not all mutual funds are equal. Just because you are in a diversified fund does not mean you will make great returns or that you will be taking on the right kind of risk. As a general rule you should be more aggressive (more stock based) at a younger age and more conservative (more bonds based) as you get older. But with interest rates (bonds) at all time lows that conventional wisdom is changing. A good financial advisor can help you determine what mix of stocks and bonds is right for you.

3 – Never buy an individual securities.

    • This one translates too. Pollock’s reasoning is spot on, the person selling the stock always knows more about the company than you do and they have a lot of incentive for you to purchase their stock than someone else’s. Remember, promoters of individual securities are sales people, they have a built in incentive for you to buy what they are selling.

4 – Save 20% of your money.

    • This is just too hard and impractical in a Canadian context. We get a tax break on the first 18% of money saved under the RRSP program but nothing beyond that. We also get taxed on any money taken out of these investments. There is no real incentive to save more than 18% across all of your investment programs. Especially if you’re just going to have to pay taxes on it later.

5 – Pay your credit card balance in full every month.

    • Another one that is pretty much universal. I question why Pollock has put it so low on the list, I think it speaks more to his personal situation that it does as a priority for most people. I doubt Mr. Pollock has much debt at this point in his career. For people who carry debt, or who know what it’s like to live under the crushing weight of high interest payments this should be the number one priority. Carrying any kind of debt, especially debt that grows faster than your investments is the single biggest drag on wealth building in the developed world. It’s like an anchor that keeps pulling you down, cut it away as fast as you can.

6 – Maximize tax advantaged savings vehicles like Roth, SEP and 529 accounts.

    • These are your American Versions of TFSA, RRSP and RESPs. The point is the same, pay less tax now, grow your money and pay less tax later.

7 – Pay attention to fees. Avoid actively managed funds.

    • Actively managed funds generally have higher returns. It’s a trade off that you have to be prepared for. The real issue isn’t the fees; it’s in understanding what you’re paying for and making sure you get value for your money. If the fee is 1% higher but the returns are 2% better than the market, you come out ahead. Rather than trying to avoid fees look for investments with a long track record, at least 10 years, of consistently higher returns than the average and stay invested for the long haul. Nothing erodes your returns faster than jumping in and out of the markets at the wrong time.

8 – Make financial advisor commit to a fiduciary standard.

    • This is the law in Canada. Everyone who sells mutual funds or any kind of investment product must be licensed to do so in their respective province. As a part of licensing we must all commit to a fiduciary code of conduct and can lose are license if we do not follow very specific and at times onerous compliance regulations. That being said many advisors will sign an additional code of conduct directly with you if you ask, in fact we welcome it. It shows you care and that you view us as professionals who are there to help you meet your goals and dreams.

9 – Promote social insurance programs to help people when things go wrong.

  • To be honest I’m not sure what Pollock means by this. The social safety net in Canada is a well established program and there is no sign that it is going away any time soon. Employment insurance, welfare and health care programs are part of the “welfare state” and are designed to protect citizens from the worst of a personal financial crisis but I am a huge proponent of philanthropy, especially when it comes to helping the poor. If you have extra, even if it’s only a little extra there is nothing more helpful and noble that you can with your excess than give it to those in need.

So there you have it, everything you need to know about personal finance really does fit on one Index Card and it really comes down to just three main points; get out of debt, save your money and take advantage of tax incentives.

Oh, and don’t be a selfish jerk about it.

Grace, Gratitude and Generosity


The 3 Gs of Meekonomics

payitforward

Two events in the last week have reminded me of the importance of what I call the 3 Gs of Meekonomics. I won’t go into a lot of detail about the specific events. I’ll just say that in the first a colleague showed me extreme generosity in his work and attitude toward me, for which I am very grateful. In the second I was told that my own attitude of generosity through difficult circumstances has been an inspiration to others.

So I thought I’d take a few minutes this morning to talk about where, for me at least, all of this comes from and how it manifests itself.

1-     Grace

 

The older I get the more I realize that I deserve nothing. No amount of work, confession or penance can ever elevate me to a level of earning or entitlement that can change the fact I am broken and sinful. Financial Coach and Author Dave Ramsey almost always responds to the question; “How are you?” with the same answer, “I’m better than I deserve.” Ramsey says that this response is a conscious acknowledgement that he is a broken sinner who deserves nothing but death and an eternity separated from God. But it is by His grace that we get to go on living assured of salvation. I don’t completely agree with Ramsey’s theology on the matter but it’s still powerful stuff and I respect his conviction.

The apostle Paul wrote that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” [Romans 3:23], but he goes on to say that “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” [Romans 3:24].

Justified – FREELY!

From a more secular point of view Webster defines grace as “a special favor, disposition to or an act of kindness, courtesy or clemency”. However you look at it grace is unearned, undeserved and free.

2-     Gratitude

 

When a Meekonomist recognizes how powerful grace is and how much of it exists in the world the natural result is a feeling of gratitude.

I touch on this in my book “Meekonomics; How To Inherit the Earth and Live Life to the Fullest in God’s Economy” in Chapter 2 when I talk about Greed and Lust. Gratitude I explain is the antidote for greed. Greed says; “I deserve this and am entitled to more!” Gratitude says; “Thank You, but it’s just so much!”

Melody Beattie, one of the pioneers of the self-help movement said it best in her book titled simply “Gratitude”;

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Gratitude looks back at grace and says “how can I repay you?” but soon realizes that any attempt at repayment for grace is inadequate and inappropriate. So what’s a truly grateful person to do?.

3-     Generosity

 

Quite simply, you can’t pay back grace so the only thing you can do is pay it forward. People who recognize the incredible amount of grace they have received and have a desire to show gratitude do it through generosity.

Jesus once noticed a poor woman paying her temple tax. It was a very meager amount by comparison to some of the sums other people were giving but when Jesus saw this He called everyone over and said;

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” [Mark 12:43-44]

Generosity is not about the amount, it’s about the heart of gratitude and the proportion of resources. Even though the woman in this example was poor herself she understood grace and was grateful for what little she had so she gave it away for those who had even less.

When a truly grateful person says; “Thank you, but it’s just so much” they turn outward and extend grace to everyone within their reach. That is the definition of paying it forward.

The 2000 movie of the same name, staring Haley Joel Osment and Kevin Spacey popularized the notion of paying it forward and got it exactly right.  It’s not always about money but it is always self-sacrificial in some way.

In the final chapter of “Meekonomics” I talk about treasures. What are the treasures of heaven Jesus talks about in Matthew 6? It’s at this point in Jesus teaching that I believe the entire narrative of the Bible comes full circle. We start with God in direct relationship with Adam and Eve and through greed and lust we separate ourselves and live an alienated life. Jesus explains that all God has ever wanted are for each of us to maintain intimate relationships with Him and with one another. We can’t do that if we are caught up in our own drive for success and keep score with money. By recognizing our fallen nature, experiencing grace and responding with gratitude manifest as generosity, we can begin to get back to the garden and once again live in community with God and each other.

So there you have it; Grace, Gratitude and Generosity – How are you doing with the 3 Gs of Meekonomics?

Trust and Charity


The trust and patience of consumers is a garden to be tended not a forest to be clear cut. [Bruce Philp; Canadian Business, December 2014]

I hate door to door marketers. I hate them so much that if the Queen of England herself were to knock on my door unexpectedly I would simply ignore her. My home is my sanctuary and any attempt to breach its fortifications unannounced will be defended against in the most passive-aggressive manner possible. I have been known to walk past the window, make eye contact with a door to door marketer and keep going without so much as a nod. The message I’m sending should be loud and clear; I don’t know you, you are not welcome here, go away!

Or as my friend’s “welcome” mat says;

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I reserve my worst stink-eye for the utility companies that want me to sign up for flat rate natural gas, I once made the mistake of allowing one into my home and became so discussed with his aggressive tactics that I had to literally throw him out. But charities aren’t much better and over the last few years they’ve been getting worse.

Don’t get me wrong, I like charity. I am a huge proponent of philanthropy both for myself and for my clients. There is no better use of excess wealth than to give it away to a worthy cause. You can’t take it with you and if you don’t make provision for it while you are living the government is going to decide for you what is done with your money so you may as well give it to a worthy cause while you can. But recent statistics have shown that even with the economy in recovery mode Canadians charitable giving is down.  Why? I think it has a lot to do with the fact that most charities have begun to break the rules of etiquette and head down a slippery slope toward harassment.

It’s not just the door to door marketers who are to blame. When I worked in Toronto I would have to walk through a busy shopping district on my way to and from the train station every day. This time of year there were days when it felt like I was literally running the gamut in an attempt to avoid being harassed by aggressive clip board wielding students attempting to get me to sponsor a child in the developing world or subscribe to an over-priced magazine about global warming.

Bruce Philp, a brand strategy consultant and columnist for Canadian Business Magazine recently stated that it is these tactics that are training us that compassion is the road to marketing hell and I tend to agree. Last year I contributed (for me) a significant amount of money to a few local charities. As a result of my philanthropy my contact information was sold to what seems like every other charity in the country. I have received more appeals for help than I thought possible, each with their own heart wrenching story of need accompanied in most cases by a package full of greeting cards, address labels and in a few cases a cheap pen. One even sends me a nickel every few months with a cheeky appeal along the lines of “I we had a nickel…” Here’s a thought – if you had kept this one you wouldn’t need me to send you another one!

I realize I’m starting to rant here and I don’t want to do that so here’s the point. As I stated above I like charity, I even consider myself somewhat of an amateur philanthropist. But I am not going to change my pattern of giving because you sent me a cheap pen with which to write a cheque. I give to causes that I know, understand, agree with and can confidently say are doing good work. No cheap pen, address label or aggressive student on my doorstep is going to change that. In fact if an organization that I currently support were to change their tactics and start to pressure me into greater giving in this way they would be more likely to lose my support altogether than gain more.

With charitable giving on a downward trend I am sure I am not alone in this sentiment and the marketing departments at these charities would to well to recognize what they are actually doing. As Philp says “The job of marketing isn’t just to make this year’s numbers but to ensure charities can come back next year and the year after that.”

Charitable giving is a deeply personal and relational activity. Don’t treat your donors like a transactional customer, treat us like partners for the cause and never, EVER, sell our contact information to the highest bidder. Merry Christmas and please give to those in need.

For more on The Meekonomics Project philanthropic giving programs and consulting work for non-profits and charities write to themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com