Educating Money

While I was growing up, my parents never really gave visibility into how they handled money. I knew we were poor (always bought old second hand cars, lived in apartments or trailers or rental house, dependent on hand me downs from other church members) and got some peek into our predicament few times, like:
  • My parents tried to run a lawn care business but they couldn't handle it well enough to make a living so they quit after a year. I helped out doing some of the muscle work but not in any other aspects of the business, like customer relations (my English was already near perfect, while their English is pretty bad even today) or any finance (I was already learning math on my own and about to hit that calculus wall).
  • When I thought I had enough money saved up for TI-58 (US$200 at that time, I believe), they were initially reluctant to let me use the money for mere calculator and wanted me to apply towards my tuition. I didn't know any better, so I insisted on going my way and eventually they relented (looking back, I'm a bit ashamed for being so selfish but on the other hand, if only they were more open, I would have been more understanding).
We were so poor that I don't recall going to the movies until I started working full time. When Star Wars were all the rage, the best I could do was read books (borrowed from the library, of course). When Battlestar Galactica came out, I recall recording the audio track on cassettes (since we couldn't afford a VCR) and replayed just the audio. Sure, I envied my classmates who were better off, but not so much that I was consumed with jealousy. Thankfully, my parents lived the Christian life of being content with what we had and didn't borrow to try to live it up for today (and pay later).

I guess I learned to borrow starting with college where the scholarship wasn't enough and I felt that I had to get student loans to get my "education." During college, I wanted to get a credit card so bad, I tried to lie to get it (but got caught lying).

Grad school was no different. I borrowed even more money for tuition and got hold of a credit card! (No income + debt generator were a great combo.) I started using the credit card with no way to pay for it. I quickly learned that it made no sense to borrow and pay high interest esp. without any income! I eventually paid it off but it was a painful lesson.

I started reading up on personal finance, investment (crash October 1987 was fresh in our memories when my company started talking about 401k) and learned a lot about money on my own. Before I was transfered to Japan (or soon after), I've paid off all my student loans. My wife had a car loan before we got married, so we paid that off too as soon as we got married. So, we've pretty much stayed debt free other than taking advantage of free credit offers (the only gotcha's are the ones where they charge some handling or processing fees for the loan, which is such a rip off). The only real debt we have taken on since our marriage is mortgage (I never did really borrow money to buy a car, except when I put up CD (certificate of deposit) as collateral for a loan just to gain credit history -- that is, I never had a lien on any of the cars I've owned).

I thought I was doing OK by saving up money and being generous about donating. I even became a treasurer for a small church and was able to give a helping hand to some of the members. But, my view on money changed when I started seriously studying about what the Bible has to say about it.

First off, 1 Tim 6:10 says "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." Money is not evil, in and of itself. In fact, money is a neutral tool, which can be used for good or for ill. Love of money, or greed, on the other hand can lead to various evils like theft and murder or even family breakups.

And when I started helping out in the financial ministry at our church using Dave Ramsey's materials, it really opened my eyes on the Biblical foundations of money. And I have found that money problem is almost always a desire problem (i.e., "wants" redefined as "needs") not merely income or expense problem. It is greed or pride which prevents people from making hard decisions (like selling one's new car or new home).

In the process, I became convicted of the evils of debt (Prov 22:7 "the borrower is servant to the lender") and, so now, we are preparing to sell our home so we can downsize and buy a home with a more reasonable mortgage which can be paid off in 15 years or less.

As I finish my Crown studies, I hope to take my understanding of money to the next level....