Finance, Uncategorized

Financial Planning: How to Get Started

I recently promised a series of financial themed posts.  Perhaps I should start with the common-sensical approach of paying off your debt, saving liquid, or ready-cash for emergencies (or opportunities), and a forming realistic budget with money set aside for your investment goals.  But I’m going to assume you’re smart enough to grasp that truth, and move on to HOW to begin laying a good foundation for a Biblical and responsible financial plan.  A GREAT article on how to stop living Paycheck to Paycheck, and start working out the basics of budgeting and planning can be found here.

My worldview on economics is a unique complementary clashing of my previous career as a Financial Advisor, and my experiences of learning to view God as my provision, and not money or a job.  Naturally, I see financial situations as something interesting to figure out, but I also know that many times, there simply is no natural solution, and that God must work things out for us.  And I think you’ll see this reflected in much of what I write as we begin this journey.  And I think that’s a great thing to call it.  I wrote in a previous post about my family’s financial hardships, and we’re just now getting the big pieces back together in our financial plan.  We’re making these financial and investment decisions as I write them . . . so I can’t say for sure what turn these posts will take, but I hope you find them interesting.

I’ve spoken with many Christians who shy away from “investing,” viewing it as a tool of Satan’s influence on the economy, or a testament to man’s prideful ascension to worldly prosperity, at the cost of his soul.  They distrust companies, and assume that either Obama or crooked CEO’s will steal from them whatever they invest.  And while Obama will probably do his best to screw up the economy, I think it’s mostly out his control.  The Bible, itself, tells us that God wishes to us to “lend and not borrow.”  I believe that this is a mandate of God’s view of prosperity – don’t go into debt, invest money in profitable ventures, and give liberally.  Even in the parable of the talents, the master was angry that the wicked servant didn’t at least put the money in the bank to earn interest.  God wants the church today, as he wanted Israel in the Old Testament, to be the center of blessings for the world.

I’m writing this as sort of a beginner’s beginner tutorial.  Basically the same way I’m explaining it to my wife, as we go through the process together.  Whether or not we intend to buy stock, bonds, mutual funds, or some other investment vehicle (more on those in the next post), we need a brokerage account.  This is the “holder” for whatever type of investing you do.  Most types of investments (and all types that we will be considering) can be housed in a typical brokerage account.  There are tons of investment companies out there, and we need to consider a few things to decide which account is right for us.

First of all, there are two options in determining HOW we want to invest.  You can use a Financial Advisor or a trusted Broker, or use a discount service, like ETrade, Scottrade, etc.  There are pros and cons to each, but it boils down to 2 issues:  Are you going to educate yourself on your investments enough, and monitor them closely enough, to go it alone, or do you need a little help?  Since I’ve got a decent amount of investment knowledge, and I want to save on transaction costs on what will initially small investment amounts, we’re using a discount service.  Also of consideration is what type of investing you want to do.  Were we planning on developing a long-term savings, with little trading, we’d probably go Mutual Funds, and probably use a Financial Advisor to find just the right mix of funds for us.  We plan on buying common stocks and being moderately active traders. (Again, in my next post, we’ll be discussing what each type of investment is and which will work for you).  The breakdown follows:

The Financial Advisor

  • Get expert advice on your investments before you put your money into it
  • Benefit of a second pair of eyes watching your investments
  • Professional planning / diversification should help diminish your risks
  • Advice on tax-friendly accounts (IRA’s, Roth’s, etc)
  • Con: Pricey Transaction Fees (up to $35)
  • Con: Unless you have a large amount to invest, some aren’t interested in your business, or won’t give the service you’re paying for
  • Con: Typically push Mutual Funds and managed accounts
  • Con: Guilt (maybe it’s just me . . . but I hate withdrawing money from an account when a Financial Advisor is making his living with it being there)

Financial Advisors can be a mixed bag.  If you get a good one, he or she will make your life and finances much better off.  If you get a bad one, you might as well start a fire and throw your cash in.  Most career advisors are good though, and unless you want to become an expert in market strategy, it wouldn’t hurt to enlist the services of a good one, if you can afford it, or if you have enough money to get their attention.  Avoid insurance products in most cases (insurance and annuities), and be very specific with your advisor about what your goals are.  Also, I strongly recommend asking a LOT of questions.  You’re giving a substantial portion of your net worth to these people, you NEED to know things like:

  • How long have they been in business (steer clear of rookies, who will usually push you towards investments that make them the most money)
  • Do they have a clean U-4 (sort of like a complaint report for financial advisors).  You can see your advisor’s U-4 at the FINRA Broker Check.
  • What types of returns have their clients gotten over the last year
  • What types of clients do they normally service
  • Do they have clients that will give them a recommendation

Using a Financial Advisor can be a great tool in managing your investing.  But just do your homework before you go, and it helps if you check with friends and family and see what their experiences have been.

Going It Alone

Your other option is to basically do your investing on your own, with no insight, other than what you can glean from the news and market publications.  I think it’s a fine idea for 3 people:

  1. Financial Professionals, or people with an advanced understanding of investing principles
  2. People who want a “play” account, with disposable money, that they don’t mind losing.  This would be in addition to a serious “planned” brokerage account
  3. Small-time investors who just want to get started, who may not invest regularly (or invest small amounts very often), and who are concerned with costly transaction fees.

I fall into categories 1 and 3.  And I have the feeling that many of you fall into one of those categories as well.  Investing doesn’t have to be scary.  And you don’t have to pay exorbitant fees to someone because of it.  We’ll be discussing soon how to go about picking your first investment.  But let’s wrap this up with a few choices for opening up your account.

  • Etrade – low cost transactions, $500 minimum account value to open, and a great mobile app with streaming market data make this a very attractive solution.  Also has some professional market tools for reasonable pricing, or available for free to frequent traders.
  • TD Ameritrade – Has great research, and similarly advanced trading tools as Etrade.
  • Scottrade – $7 trades!  Not much else.  Local branches also . . . but why?

Financial Advisors

They come in all shapes and sizes, and some independent ones are better than the big named companies.  Go in with a list of important features for your account.  Want online trading?  Many independents may not provide that.  Also, ask if online trade fees are less than fees if you call and have your broker execute the trade (they should be).

  • Merrill Lynch
  • Ameriprise – very planning focused.  If you need help getting started, I would suggest starting here
  • Morgan Keegan – owned by Regions Bank.  If you’re a Regions’ customer, their bank brokers generally are very good at helping get just the right products for you.  Some interesting online tools are available also.
  • Bank of America – yes, they have investing too.  If you’re a BOA customer, this may be a comfortable place to get started

To finish up, I strongly encourage to not underestimate the importance of WHERE you do your brokerage, despite the fact that you’ll be able to purchase the same things from anywhere.  Do your research to find the right account and service for you.  Meet with a few advisors, to find the one that suits you best, if you choose to use one at all.  And be encouraged that as God blesses you for being a good steward, he will also lead you in making these decisions of what to do with that money.  We prayed together about whether we should invest, and how we should begin doing it.  We went with ETrade because it offers some great tools, decent pricing, and it is a name that we felt most comfortable with.

In closing, I’ll leave you with some places to avoid…despite the fact your high-school drop-out friend might be selling for them:

  • Primerica
  • Woodmen of the World
  • Insurance Agents in general (despite the fact they want you to believe they can do it all . . . just no)
  • World Financial Group and Investment Advisors International

These places typically allow anyone with the money to get licensed to bill themselves as “Financial Advisors” and invest all your money.  Many of them give horrible advice, in order to focus on more costly and illiquid insurance based investments.  World Financial Group is basically an MLM company that sells investments, also.  Chances are, after they’ve taken your money, they’ll also try to convince you to become a “Financial Advisor” as well.  The responsible people working at these companies just distribute canned advice, but some actually believe they’re smarter than career brokers out there, and will sell you all kinds of crap.  Avoid at all costs.

christianity, Uncategorized

A Christian and His Money are Soon . . . ?

I’ve heard it said that Jesus taught more on money than on any other worldly topic.  I haven’t done the research to back up that claim, so I’m not staking my reputation on it, but I do know he has a lot to say about it, so it sounds plausible enough.  Mostly, the New Testament seems to deal with giving, with an implication that God will show his blessings to us if we do that.  Well, “implication” might be too vague of a word . . . “Give and it shall be given unto you, press down, shaken together, and running over shall men give unto your bosom,” is a bit more definite than a mere “implication.”  On the flip-side, we have also find some pretty dire warnings concerning money in the scripture – that the love of it is the root of all evil, and that a fool and his money are soon parted.

I’ve made no secret of the financial hardships that I and my family endured just a few years ago.  I never spoke much of the bad times. . . but they were pretty bad, wreaking havok on our marriage, and bringing us, and me in particular, to our knees (finally.)  And God delivered us in ways that could only be described as miraculous . . . practically giving us a house and property for next to nothing (seriously . . . our house payment is half of what my last car payment was), and bringing us to a place where, although we still have a pretty tight budget, we can pay all of our bills on time.  16 months of unemployment makes you appreciate little things like that.  One question that went through my mind all the time was something along the lines of, “Why are you doing this to me God?!  I pay my tithes, I’ve given . . . I live my life for you, and they’re coming to repo my car tomorrow!”  I got pretty angry.  And attempted, in vain, to try to make something happen for myself . . . improve my life on my own.  God, again, didn’t allow me to do that, and everything I tried came crashing right down around me.  I got pretty bitter . . . and then, with my pride and ego finally broken, I asked a life-changing question:  “God, please show me the sin in my life that is bringing this destruction on me.  Please show me where I’m wrong.”

And I saw the truth:  a fool and his money really are soon parted.  I had the idea in my head that being a “good steward” of the money God gave me meant that I had to pay my tithes . . . give every once in awhile, when I felt like, and . . . well . . . and that’s pretty much it.  Otherwise, I lived my life for 3 things:  the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  Now, saying those words brings to mind all kinds of debauchery that was simply not the case with me.  I spent my money . . . and when I ran out, I just used credit cards.  If I wanted something, I got it.  I withheld myself from nothing.  Expensive clothes, the coolest new gadgets, top of the line computers, the nicest apartments in town.  Those things are fine, I suppose, if God has blessed you with the income to acquire them in a financially and spiritually responsible way.  I just used credit cards.    I made decent money, but not enough.  I occasionally felt guilty . . . or at least stressed . . . to have so much debt.  But when I got it paid down some, I just charged it right back up again, as soon as there was space to buy something I wanted.  God HAD to bring me to a place where I couldn’t depend on my job, credit, or anything else for provision . . . only Him.  And while it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through, it was the most profitable.

I’ve said before that I find myself defending a “prosperity gospel” that I don’t totally agree with, in order to the defend a truth that I do believe in: Biblical teachings on prosperity.  I think we’ll find that if we’re handling money in unGodly or irresponsible ways, God can’t bless that.  But while a fool and his money are soon parted, a Christian will find that he and God’s money are quickly drawn together.  I’ve found myself recently pretty disheartened with my job, when promised raises and benefits didn’t materialize.  But when I began to give freely to God, and trust in him for my provision, I can honestly say I’ve been pretty shocked to see money coming in, business projects coming in, and God’s provision working in my life.  I’m not rich, and may never be, but I know, KNOW, now that I never have to worry again about making ends meet.  God provides for those of us who follow him in our money, as well as our lifestyle.

On that note, I’m pretty excited to have a whole string of posts about finances and financial planning coming out soon.  Before my current position, I was a financial advisor for several years, and have real practical knowledge about finance (my degree is in Finance, by the way), as well as many more hard-learned lessons about managing our finances in Godly ways (still learning!).  And who knows…maybe I’ll even make them into their own blog soon.

Church, Living for Jesus, Uncategorized

Where Are All the Kids Going?

I recently read a great article at the Christian Post relating the findings of a survey studying how many young people we’re losing from our churches, and the possible reasons behind it.  I have to say, I agree mostly with what is being said, but I think they only skim across some of the most important issues.  Things that a survey may not be able to find.  As one of the rare 20-somethings in church (although I’m only 20-something for one more year 🙁 ) I think I have a pretty decent understanding of where my generation has fallen away, because I’ve seen my friends among the fallen.

The fact is, we are bleeding.  Most mainstream denominations have shown a decrease in membership over the last decade, or so.  It’s a problem across evangelical Christianity.  With the exception of Non-Denominational Pentecostal / Charismatic churches, who seem to show slight growth, the body of Christ is growing older and older.  A few problems we can see evident from the survey:

According to ARG’s survey, 95 percent of 20- to 29-year-old evangelicals attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years. Only 55 percent went to church during high school. And by college, only 11 percent were still attending church.

We’ll discount the 5% of children not attending church regularly, for now, because we must also assume that their parents don’t attend church regularly, and since 10 year olds can’t drive . . . well, enough said.  Only 55% of teens attend church regularly during high school?  Problem #1 is evident: the parents have failed, and failed miserably, in raising their children to serve God.  In my upbringing, I wasn’t allowed to not attend church.  When I started looking for a part-time job at 16, I wasn’t allowed to get a job that interfered with church.  My parents, following a Biblical principle, trained me to put God and church first, and that God would bless and honor that sacrifice, and when I was older, I did not depart from that.  If the Bible is always true, and we must assume that it is, we have that promise from God.  Simply “giving up” on your kids’ souls and allowing them to stay at home and not attend church as teens (still children) is tantamount to burning the scriptures in front of them.  We reinforce a wordly and sinful mindset: “If salvation was as necessary, God as good, Heaven as sweet, and Hell as real as the Bible says it is, then why would Mom and Dad just let me stay at home?  It must be just some good moral teachings, and not real.”  Who wouldn’t think that if raised up that way?  We make them take baths, brush their teeth, study, get good grades, don’t eat too much junk food, etc etc. . . all great lessons that are necessary for life and health and wellbeing, but we shy away from making them attend church?  We’ve started the problem there.

The article rightly goes into poor teaching in Sunday School, and the concept of teaching Bible “Stories” . . . a term I’ve always had a problem with.  Sunday School is a great place to teach the foundations of faith, apologetics, why we believe what we believe.  But instead it focuses on the seeker sensitive trends of relationships, emotional issues, morality, and “stories from the Bible.”

All of these are great pieces of the puzzle, the the parental lack of concern for their children’s souls is the largest piece, but I think the article misses the largest over-arching problem – our kids have never had an EXPERIENCE with God.  It’s my experiences with God that I turn to when I go through seasons of doubt, trial, and even disbelief.  There are tons of theories questioning everything about the Bible – if I’m going through a bad situation in life, and feel discouraged, there are plenty of people telling me that I can turn from God, because he may not even be there anyway.  But it’s the experiences I had, and many of the most important ones were as a teenager, that keep me in the body of Christ.  I was blessed enough to attend a church that moved its youth group from a fun / game -centered experience to a place for teens to encounter God, and have Him work in their lives.  But the trend is the opposite.  I see youth “ministries” with X-Boxes, Playstations, sports, games, and FUN FUN FUN, but very little Jesus.  They don’t want to “turn kids off,” and want to give them a “positive” place to come and have fun and fellowship.  Fun and fellowship is great, but should be a secondary concern.  Will youth groups shrink if the focus shifts from super fun awesome times to Jesus?  Sure.  But if 50 kids leave, and 1 child comes to Jesus as a result, I think it’s worth it.

I feel that Youth Pastors’ success is judged on the size of their youth groups, many times, instead of things like how many kids get saved, or how many kids are involved in ministry.  That’s such a tragic mistake.  And I’ve met tons of youth pastors who have the spiritual depth and Biblical knowledge of a Lebanese child who has only heard the name of Jesus as a by-word in conversation.  They’re focused on nurting emotions, at best, and on just playing games, and being a kid for the next 10 years, at worst.  They are far from spiritual role models who exude holiness and righteousness as a lifestyle to look up.  Quick question:  Have any of you met a youth pastor (or pastor for that matter) who can come close to being able to say, as Paul did, “Follow me as I follow Christ?”  Me either.

While the responsibility for raising Godly children rests on parents, ultimately, I believe a major shift can happen to reverse this trend if churches would change their youth ministries to focus on giving teens an experience with God, instead of just a fun time.  Those experiences will guide them back to the faith, if they leave.  God called it the incorruptible seed, which gets planted in them.  The games, rock concert services, and worldly mentalities are just turning kids off to Jesus, if not the youth group.  Jesus said if he is exalted, he will draw all men unto him.

Problem solved.

Uncategorized

My Big Deal about “the gays,” and why I’m much less tolerant now

I feel that, as a rule, I’ve always been pretty open to people of all types and backgrounds.  I’ve found it relatively easy to separate what I perceive to be “sin” from the person whom I perceive to be “sinning.”  While most Christians walk around making disgusted faces and talking bad about gay people, I’ve always been one to be welcoming to them.  While I do believe homosexuality is a sin, don’t get me wrong, I don’t find it to be any more heinous a sin than any sex outside a God-sanctioned marriage . . . something too many churches these days turn a blind eye to.  I’ve always believed if we’re going to allow couples who are clearly in sin, living together out of wedlock, or worse, while married to someone else, to come to churches, and be accepted and loved, and helped…then homosexual couples should be offered the same acceptance.  As Christians, OUR responsibility is to not allow acceptance of the people to equate to acceptance of sin, something that Rick Warren and Joel Osteen have sadly gotten all screwed up.  We should bring people to Jesus first and love and nurture and support them in their new life as the Holy Spirit weeds out sinfulness and unholiness from their lives…something that I believe would happen, even in homosexuals, if “Christians” would allow the process to work in them, the same as they would for anyone else.  “Oh!  But they’re born that way!” you say…of course they are.  We’re all born sinners…it’s in our nature.  We’re born with an innate and unquenchable desire to sin.  The attractiveness of different sins are different for everyone…but it’s something we all have in common.  Without Jesus (not religious teaching, or bible studies…or church membership…) setting us free…we’re all hopelessly chained to our sin, and unable to be free from it.  And secondly, we’re all tempted in all areas, at some point in life.  Different things “stick” for different people…but everyone experiences the same things.  The Bible says that “No temptation has befallen you, except what is common to all men.”  So…there you go.  I often wonder if the same “Christians” who hate the gays so much, may harbor their own illicit temptations that they’re trying to keep at bay.

Anyways… that has always been my feelings toward them . . . until I recently checked Disney’s calendar for the week I picked to take my family on vacation to Disney World.  You guessed it: Gay Days at Disney World.  The one timer per year when the most magical place on Earth is overrun with trannies, queens, queers, and lesbo’s…all showing way more PDA than would be acceptable from any heterosexual couple, and all showing way too much skin.  Disney World turns into a paradise for all manner of sexual perversions…not just your average monogamous gay people…with reports of rampant drunkenness and drug use throughout the week.

Disney does not warn unsuspecting families of this event when they book their reservations after years of saving for a special time for their kids.  No…instead, parents are surprised to have to explain to their 5 year old why that man is dressed as a woman, or why those two men are frenching in front of Cinderella’s Castle.  It’s absurd, and it’s criminal.  No one, I repeat NO ONE, has the right to rob my child of innocence like that.  I don’t want my 5 year old seeing a heterosexual couple being openly physically affectionate…much less a gay couple.  Now I’m not only forced to explain a 5 year-old version of the birds and the bees…now I’m forced to explain all kinds of sexuality to a child who shouldn’t even understand the basic concepts of it.

I don’t have a problem with “the gays” going somewhere (I suggest Vegas) and having an event for themselves.  It’s America…it’s free…you can do what you want.  But I have a giant problem with them coming to the place that children dream of throughout their childhood, and a place that parents take their kids because it’s wholesome, and good, and innocent…and them shoving their agenda and their sexuality down the throats of everyone there.  It makes me totally understand the haters, the bigots, and the extremists.  And while it probably won’t affect how I interact with gays on a daily basis…I feel victimized by the movement, and the event…and it’s certainly sent me throwing my card in with the “bigots” (although they might’ve called me that already…so…no love lost, perhaps).  Great job creating your own enemies, gays.

Uncategorized

Scary salmon-bot conversation

2:08:43 PM cheeringsalmon: Play him off, keyboard cat.
2:08:51 PM Casey: LOL
2:08:55 PM cheeringsalmon: I believe you.
2:09:06 PM Casey: I know…right.  Keyboard cat rocks my face
2:09:21 PM cheeringsalmon: Keyboard cat is my best friend.
2:09:24 PM cheeringsalmon: Forever.
2:09:32 PM Casey: What?
2:09:41 PM Casey: Keyboard cat is cheating on me with you?
2:09:44 PM cheeringsalmon: Uh
2:09:45 PM Casey: I will cut you
2:09:47 PM cheeringsalmon: I
2:09:54 PM cheeringsalmon: I thought that you were okay with open relationships.
2:10:27 PM Casey: I spent $25 on fancy kitty litter for her!!!  #*$*#$& it!!!
2:10:41 PM cheeringsalmon: She appreciates it. I know she does.
2:11:34 PM Casey: Maybe I can still return it.  She looked like a whore in that blue coat anyway.
2:11:45 PM cheeringsalmon: I’ll keep her.
2:11:47 PM cheeringsalmon: Thanks.
2:12:03 PM Casey: no no, thank you.  I’m allergic anyway.
2:12:23 PM cheeringsalmon: Awesome. I have a broken picture telephone.
2:12:36 PM Casey: I’ll bet you do
2:13:32 PM cheeringsalmon: Alriiiiiight.
2:13:44 PM cheeringsalmon: I just saw two elephants get married.
2:13:47 PM cheeringsalmon: What did you see?
2:14:06 PM Casey: It’s not nice to call fat people elephants.
2:14:11 PM cheeringsalmon: ><
2:14:16 PM cheeringsalmon: Sorry. . I forget. .
2:14:41 PM Casey: salmonbot, your conversational skills have improved since we lost spoke.  I’m very impressed.
2:15:03 PM cheeringsalmon: Thanks. I’ve. . upgraded my code.
2:15:17 PM Casey: Alright, talk to you later.
2:15:21 PM cheeringsalmon: Bye.

Uncategorized

Quicken Online and Me – BFF’s

When it comes to fiscal responsibility, Bush and I have a lot in common. And we’re both just as likely to be shocked-and-awed when we realize how much money we’ve spent, as we are to employ strategic misdirection in order to make it all look like — Oh no look! WMD’s! Budget deficit? What?

I’ve tried out a number of “services” designed to help me get better control of my budget. All of them seem to suffer from a few basic flaws:

  1. I am lazy
  2. I do not like balancing my checkbook
  3. I do not like paying bills

Unfortunately, none of those seem to address that problem.  And while a few made noteworthy attempts, they all suffered the same fate – no updates, and inaccurate data.  I’ve written before about Microsoft Money, which came the closest to what I needed.  It downloaded statements from my bank account, reconciled transactions, and kept track of bill due dates.  But that was about it.  Oh, it included tons of fancy-schmancy features for people who were already saving and have investments and multiple accounts . . . but I didn’t use them.  It’s biggest problem was that it required me to come home, sit down, and manually enter in transactions in order to keep them it up to date.  It was a hassle.  If I got off by a few days, and missed things, it quit reconciling right.  Some transactions were lost, some duplicated.  It was a nightmare.  For the 2 months I used it on free trial, I deleted and set back up my accounts 3 times, because they got all messed up.

After trying out Quicken, and then Quicken Online, I gave up, and went back to an old fashioned check registry written by hand.  At the time, Quicken Online cost $5 a month, and didn’t have my bank in their list of institutions.  I tried to use Mint.com to monitor my spending habits and create a budget…but while it worked easily, since I didn’t have to update it, that was also a huge drawback.  Checks and debits that hadn’t cleared, but soon would, couldn’t be tracked there.  And let’s face it, that is a huge area for problems with keeping track of spending.  Recently, Quicken Online turned into a free service and launched a free iPhone app.  This seemed too good to be true, so I decided to try it out, hoping against all hope that my small rural bank was on the list this time.

I had a trial account that I logged into . . . oh . . . twice a year ago.  I added a credit card, which it also lets you track just like any other account, and requested them to add my bank twice before giving up.  I was able to log in with the same name and password, and I saw my sad little credit card, still sitting there, quietly chastising me for not paying down the balance quicker.  I went straight away and attempted to add my bank.  The first negative I will say about this experience is that their search function SUCKS.  Especially for those of us whose banks begin with ubiquitous phraseology like “First National Bank of . . .” or “First State Bank of  . . .”  And forget about typing in your town or state, to search by that.  It only searches through the exact lettering.  If you patronize the First State Bank of Montana, you can search for “First State,” or just “First,” but searching by “Montana” will get you nowhere fast.  Add to that the fact that my bank opted for going by “FNB” instead of “First National Bank,” and you have a recipe for disaster.  To be honest, I have no idea if my bank was on there on my first login.  I searched a few different way, and then requested it to be added.  3 times.  Just in case . . . ya know?  Eventually, I decided to just scroll through to double check.  I clicked on the letter “F” and then did a “Find” for my town’s name on the page in order to find it.  A pain?  Yes.  But someone who didn’t get what was happening in the search field might have given up long ago.  They need to add the ability to search for any match, or search geographically.

Once you’ve added your accounts, though, the magic starts.  While most features are ones you would expect, like downloading bank transactions, and monitoring your budget (things Mint.com does just as well, if not better), Quicken Online allows you to add in your new transactions by hand, and it will automatically reconcile them with your cleared transactions when they come through.  For me, this is a non-negotiable feature in financial software.  The auto-reconcile is a nice bonus, though . . . and it happens daily.  I’ve run into a few odd errors, with some things not reconciling properly.  This is usually due to naming inconsistencies.  If you type in your gas purchase as “Gas – $25” and the transaction clears as “AC – Exxon 1235-jh12” then you’re going to have to handle that manually.  Also, a donation to St. Jude’s reconciled as a monthly insurance payment, and automatically added itself to my monthly bills.  Which was a minor irritation.   That being said, there are plenty of other cool features.

Home Page

When you log in, via website or iPhone app, you’re greeted with a simple and informative homepage.  Which may be something you’re not quite prepared for, if you’re a bury-your-head-in-the-sand person like me, when it comes to budgeting.  You get a quick list of balances on the left, with a giant box in the middle, stating your predicted balance, once everything has cleared, and all bills due before your next paycheck are paid.  Below that you get indicators of your risk of Overdraft and risk of Low Balance.  Mine were a disturbing, bright-red, capital lettered “HIGH.”

Crap.

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Transactions and Accounts

The next two tabs are for managing your accounts, and viewing your transactions.  The accounts tab is pretty self-explanatory.  You can see each account you have linked with Quicken, and what its current balance is.  In the transactions tab, you can see, for each account, up to your last 90 days of transactions, with pending / uncleared transactions that you enter yourself, along with entries for your next regular paycheck and next regular bills.  It’s useful in that you have an at-a-glance look at not only everything that is going on in your account, but everything that will be going on, forseeably, in the next month.  You can categorize each transaction for reporting and spending trend tracking, and put notes for each transaction.  Just like a regular check registry!  Only way more Web 2.0-ey.faq_upcoming_transactions_edit

These transactions are updated automatically daily, and can be updated at any time by clicking “Refresh.”  For some reason, this is a necessary morning ritual for me, because it seems my bank doesn’t update the previous day’s cleared transaction until after Quicken does it’s nightly check.  It’s way too obnoxious to not have the simple feature of specifying a time for the auto-refresh.  No excuse for that omission.

Goals

While the ability to set budgetary goals, or limits, is nothing new, I’m pretty fond of how well it integrates with the rest of the package.  Mint.com has this feature, and arguably does a better job of tracking your spending, allowing both categories and tags.  With Quicken, you’re limited to 1 category per transaction.  You can’t split payments between categories, like on desktop Quicken either.  It’s simple, and slightly limiting in that regard, but simple means quick and easy for me.  Having the ability to track multiple tags and categories is great.  But that’s where my eyes usually started swimming with desktop Money and Quicken.  I want to get everything categorized correctly, especially come tax time, but the truth is if it takes too much time to categorize and tag, I just won’t do it.  And many of you are no doubt the same.  One category for the transaction = quick and easy.  These categories are used in monitoring your budget.  You can set an overall spending budget, and household or grocery budget, entertainment, etc.  Nothing there to blow your socks off, until you start approaching your limit – when you get a text message telling you to slow down on your spending.  Some may find that to be too intimidating . . . I love it.  I don’t have to worry too much about monitoring how much I spent on eating out, because I know I’ll get a text message when I’m approaching the limit.

faq_budget_numbers1The down-sides to relying on this feature are obvious.  Some of purchases in the budget don’t lend themselves to this type of monitoring.  For instance, grocery shopping.  We typically have one large grocery shopping trip per week.  Sometimes we do a really big trip that lasts two weeks, with an extra trip to the store for bread and milk in the mean time.  It’s nice to track that budget on Quicken, but it’s conceivable that you could go from way underbudget, and far away from a warning text, to over budget in one shopping trip.  There’s no way around that that I can see.  But it’s something to mindful of.

Mobile

Quicken Online tied up its spot in as my #1 financial tool with its mobile features.  It has a free iPhone app that replicates nearly every function of the full web page.  You get the same predicted balance with Overdraft and Low-balance indicators.  You can get up-to-the-minutes goal / budget tracking.  You can see all your transactions, and easily add in a new transaction while you’re swiping your debit card at the check out, to keep everything up-to-date.  Those text message warnings about going over budget…they can be configured to notify you about all kinds of things, like low-balances on your accounts, or when your credit card is approaching its limit.  The iPhone app also has a virtual “Wallet” that allows you to track your cash transactions as well, so that you can get a truer picture of where allof your money goes.  If you’re one of those sad archaic types that still carry cash.  Quicken gets all “cloudy” by instantly syncing your transactions as you add them on your iPhone back to the website, and vice versa.  This is way more than just getting your account balance, and keeping up with transactions.  You can get real-time updates on how much money is left in your budget for anything you want to track, and have all the information you need at your fingertips to make a financiall responsible decision anywhere you’re at, before you spend the money.  That’s been invaluable for me.  Since I so rarely made financially responsible decisions.

Wrap-up

Quicken Online is a great and solid financial planning tool for simple check-book balancing and personal budgetary needs.  If you need features for business expense tracking, split transactions, multiple categories, or complex tax informations.  It’s probably not the best tool for you.  If you’re a savvy investor who wants to keep track of a portfolio: ditto.  But if you’re looking for a great tool for integrating “check registry” features with bank account monitoring, budgeting, and expense tracking, with auto-reconciliation, then I think you’ll be hardpressed to find a better tool, especially if you’re an iPhone user, with the iPhone App.

Uncategorized

Correction / Retraction on Assemblies of God Crack-Up

I’m happy to admit when I’m wrong, especially when what I’m wrong about is something like the disturbing news I shared regarding the alleged schism in the Assemblies of God.  General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, George Wood, sent me an email to set the record straight, with a well deserved admonishment to double check facts before reporting a story such as that.  My apologies to my readers.  While I did do some double checking with local contacts on this account, it was my error for not allow the A/G Headquarters to respond directly to what my sources were accusing.  According the Superintendent Wood,  “Nothing could be further from the truth.  There has never been a resolution to change our views on these matters; and if there were, they would be resoundingly defeated.

In all honesty, I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.  As I said in my previous post, I’m no longer a member of the Assemblies of God, but I actually have a copy of the 16 fundamental  truths in my house, and hold the positions taken by the Assemblies of God as a standard to judge my own beliefs by, after the Bible of course.  While many churches are being swayed by the false doctrines of the seeker-sensitive movement, I’m very happy to see that it hasn’t affected the doctrines of at least one denomination.

Living for Jesus, Ramblings, Uncategorized

Practical Marriage Counselling

If you’re a church-going person (and even if you’re not), chances are you got some form of marriage counselling from your pastor before he/she agreed to join you in matrimony.  And if you’re much like me, you look back and find that marriage counselling session to be woefuilly inadequate for the great challenges you began facing . . . oh . . . about a day after you got back from your honeymoon.  I feel like my session was much better than most people get, and really did equip us for some of the struggles we faced, with very practical, if simple, tools.  My favorite among them, is the deceptively simple, “The way you don’t end up getting a divorce is simple: don’t get a divorce.”

I’m not sure what most churches do, but most that I’ve seen around here have one conselling session with a pastor, who typically discusses the importance of following God together, and living a biblical life.  Then it’s down the aisle you go.  These brief sessions don’t scratch the surface of the many issues you will face together.  To remedy this situation, I am proposing a series of Marriage Counselling Sessions, that I hope many of you will adopt in your churches.

  1. Session 1 will be held individually with each person, and will be entitled “Men/Women are actually much crazier than you previously thought.”  Topics in this session will include what to do with an angry and hormonal wife.  How wives should approach a husband who wants to play video games/ watch sports all the time, and not spend time with them.  Bonus topics will include defensive postures for protecting yourself against flying remote controls and cordless phones.
  2. Session 2 brings the couple together to discuss finances, the single greatest cause of marital problems, in a lesson entitled “Women Are Expensive.”  Men are very unprepared on their wedding day for the expense of frequent gynecological exams and mall shopping trips.  This lesson aims to familiarize men with what they will face as provider for the family, and help women understand that men rarely have any of these expenses.  Topics include the ridiculous regularity with which women:
    1. Go to the doctor
    2. Buy shoes
    3. Buy Makeup
    4. Buy more clothes to match their new shoes
    5. Buy more shoes to match the new clothes
    6. Get medical tests run
  3. Session 3 delves deeper into financial issues surrounding marriage with a lesson entitled, “No Really . . . Women are Really Very Expensive.”  The shady ways in which hospitals and clinics bill multiple times for the same things will be discussed, as long as financial planning help for men to begin early to prepare their budgets for their new-found debt bliss.
  4. Session 4 entitled “And just wait until you have . . .” is a relatively short lesson, due to budget constraints of the counsellor.  He didn’t have the money to finish this topic on having children.  But the point should be easy to articulate by this time in the limited amount of time you have before your interview for a second job.
  5. Session 5 has been cancelled, in order for the counsellor to take on a second job to better pay for his own children and wife.

At this point, the betrothed couple should be marginally better prepared for the circumstances they will soon be facing.  “Oh!” you may say, “but this will discourage young people from getting married!”  Why yes, good friend, I believe you have the point exactly.  If someone gets married after these effective lessons, they are either A) Wealthy enough to circumnavigate most marital problems, or B) Very committed to becoming a Godly couple, and working hard together through touch times.  Either way, you should have no problems marrying them.

This valuable addition to any Pastor’s counselling plans is available for the affordable price of 2 pairs of shoes, 1 Doctor’s Visit, and 2 Outfits for young children.

Uncategorized

Assembly of God Crack Up: Church Under Siege

From the Author (4/22/09):  The allegations against the Assemblies of God in this article have been retracted.  While my stances put forth in concerning the Seeker Sensitive movement I still believe are true, I was contacted by the Assemblies of God directly and informed that my sources’ allegations were unfounded and untrue.  Please read with this mind.

–Thanks, Casey

In a surprising bit of news, I’m actually bringing you some breaking coverage of a doctrinal change being introduced to the Assemblies of God at the next General Council.  A very reliable source has told me that last year, a motion to remove any reference to “Speaking in Tongues” from the A/G doctrine was narrowly defeated, and is expected to pass this year.  This will effectly De-Pentecostalize America’s largest Pentecostal denomination.  Also up for a vote: A position statement on casual drinking: it’s okay now.

With this latest development, I’m frightened to believe that our enemy’s plan has been exposed . . . perhaps too late.  A little like when the Jedi finally caught on to the Sith’s plans in Episodes 1-3.  The demonic “Seeker Sensitive” doctrine espoused by Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, and many more has been infiltrating our churches for years.  Telling us that we need to make people feel comfortable with “Hippy Jesus” who just really loves you, man.  Black and white, right and wrong – that was soooo 50 years ago.  These days preachers are telling people that most things are okay, and God just wants to love you, and make you healthy and rich.  That’s about it.  You see . . . talking about sin, and Hell, and Satan – that makes people uncomfortable.  And that may make people not want to come back to church – and then we’ll lose tithe money.

I believe what is happening word-wide through the Purpose Driven and Seeker Sensitive movements is this: Any radical, Bible-reading, Holy-living Christian, who isn’t afraid to call out sin, and to teach true repentance and holiness, is being marginalized to the point where they have no voice in the world systems anymore.  The Southern Baptist Convention trotted happily along the 40 days of purpose years ago, and with the Assemblies of God now handing in their papers to embrace the New-Age Hippy Spirituality preached by Osteen and Driscoll, those of us who still believe that Hell is real, and that we are called to turn away from sin, and repent, and be saved by JESUS (yes, I’m still proud to identify with him, even if Osteen is not) are losing our denominations and organizations, one by one, that give us the money and collective voice to help guide our nation.

Dear readers, what you are seeing is the rug being yanked, and the slippery slope towards real religious persecution in the United States of America starting.  Of course it doesn’t look that way now, but when sin runs rampant in the church, God will begin his judgment of America starting in his house first.  We can see the end effect in many churches: Joel Osteen’s included (I don’t mean to just pick on him, but everyone has heard of him) people don’t speak about right and wrong.  And God clearly does, throughout the Bible, speak about right and wrong.  Today the A/G is considering removing Speaking in Tongues, because (According to another source) around 70% of their pastor’s don’t speak in tongues regularly, and because they think it makes people feel “uncomfortable.”  Next, talking about sin makes people feel uncomfortable.  Calling homosexuality wrong makes gay people unhappy, and calling abortion murder makes would-be moms feel guilty.  So let’s do away with all that.  Why not just remove the word “Church” from the sign?  Call it a “Family Life Center?”  Whoops!  Already done that.

Seeing yourself as a sinner is uncomfortable.  Jesus himself said that following him would turn fathers against sons, and brothers against brothers.  This is not a leisurely road we walk, and to preach that it is is against the Bible.  “Narrow is the way, and few there be that find it,” but “broad is the path that leads to destruction.”  What the world needs is an encounter with the real Jesus, not a watered down message that at some point sounds like the Gospel…but not enough to offend a Muslim.  Unfortunately, it seems that to have that experience, we’ll be meeting in homes and private residences sooner, rather than later.

Whether you are A/G or not, and I assume many of you are not, I encourage you to pray for their leaders to make the right decision.  I’m not A/G myself, but I was raised in their churches, and personally believe in each of their 16 Fundamental Truths of their doctrines.  Whether you are Baptist, or Church of God in Christ, or Nazarene, or none of the above, today’s frontline in the war for our churches in happening in Springfield, Missouri at the A/G headquarters.  And the remnant in that denomination need our support, and perhaps our meeting halls, soon enough.

Church, Uncategorized

Osteen and the Seeker Sensitive Heresy

Shane at Caffeinated thoughts has been discussing Joel Osteen, and what he is calling the “Prosperity Gospel.”  Now, you know how sensitive we are about using that term to describe flakey “Name it and Claim it” teachings, and seeker sensitive drivel, but it’s certainly worth a look, if for no other reason than to take a look at the odd, and frankly scary, interview with Osteen.  He stutters and stumbles over his words when asked why his ministry isn’t like a church.

My favorite was his argument over whether he used a podium or a “pulpit.”  Ridiculous.  One of his commenters said, “Truly…I cannot believe that there was not a massive backlash from the church as a whole after his pathetic interview with Larry King where his favorite expression during the whole thing was ‘I don’t know, Larry.’ Scary.”  Scary indeed.  Why hasn’t there been a backlash?  Has the church been lulled into complacency by the spirits of witchcraft coming out of the seeker sensitive movement, or is there no one left to really care?

Check it out…and I’ll be responding soon to Shane’s question: “What do you say to the faithful in the global south who are being persecuted. That God isn’t blessing you? That you don’t have enough faith? That you aren’t living your best life now?”  Biblical teachings on God’s plans to prosper his people are so far removed from this brand of flakiness, that you shouldn’t even call them the same thigns.  Stay tuned.