Friday, June 10, 2016

    They Say "Financial Worries Cloud Optimism."  Is This True For You Too?

  By Willie Thomas Butler

As we approach the mid-year point of 2016, Americans are still skittish about getting back into the stock market, buying large ticket items such as homes and cars, or of incurring more debt through student loans or credit card use.  In one sense, this could prove a good thing long term.  Americans have had one of the world’s lowest personal savings rates among highly industrialized nations.  During our Great Recession (2009 – 2013) our savings rate did climb slightly almost hovering around 5.5 percent.  But, it did not last as the economy—based on increased jobs creation—seemed to signal that spending is okay again.

Don’t Sing “Auld Lang Syne” Just Yet!

On the other hand, perhaps we are not done with the most obvious object-lesson, namely, that your lifestyle should not outpace your budget, assuming you have one.  Rather, your budget should help you form an appropriate lifestyle with realistic spending, saving and investing goals.  Otherwise, the return to a much happier time economically may never materialize, at least to some.  Here’s why.

“Based on this latest survey from Northwestern, it seems Americans’ money worries aren’t going anyway anytime soon.”  And, last year, the Pew Charitable Trusts surveyed 7,000 households and determined that "financial worries cloud optimism." Only 21% of those surveyed by Pew were planning to retire and 36% said their households had no savings.

“Our findings show that despite a steady economic recovery, many Americans continue to feel vulnerable,” Erin Currier, director of Pew’s financial security and mobility project, said in a statement when the survey came out in March 2015. “Many worry about their finances, and record numbers — more than 9 in 10 — say it is more important to them to achieve financial stability than it is to move up the income ladder.”

In fact, the last recession has been so impactful in altering traditional optimism after a long protracted period of no growth or significant change that many have settled on simply hoping to keep their head above water.  After all, it only takes one major repair or health-related expense to put many Americans in a difficult financial bind.  And, the older you get, particularly as you become a Social Security and fixed income recipient, the tendency is to hope and pray all the more for no calamity or unexpected issue to arise that requires the household budget revert to “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” so to speak.

The Most Constant Event In Life Is Change

So, what amount of optimism should we seek and embrace given these statistics?   Are there scripture verses that might encourage an individual to have faith in a God that cannot fail us?  Or, does the average person need something more than good spiritual inspiration?   Could people everywhere actually be witnessing and experiencing something more than a lack of optimism toward future financial security and their economic outlook? 

Our next article will address both obstacles and opportunities for the remainder of 2016 and beyond.  Remember, the two will always co-exist, but that does not mean that opportunities won’t outweigh challenges.  It is all in the perspective that one embraces. 


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Sunday, May 15, 2016

An Economic Paradigm Shift in Investing

By Willie T. Butler

Time to Evaluate Your Economic Outlook

There are three economic trends in America that have begun to shift dramatically into less favorable territory.  They are better known through the personal goals of buying a home, securing education funding for college and investing for retirement.   For the past 45 years these three areas of financial planning provided relatively safe saving and investment options while allowing us to apply standard planning practices that were based on long-term investing trends. 

Since the recent economic recession of 2008 – 2013, the financial markets and consumer behavior have dramatically shifted away from a more predictable, relatively stable investment environment to inducing a more uncertain and less confident approach to investing. 

And why not?  Anyone who suffered financial losses in the appraised and resale value of their home along with reductions to their IRA, 401(k) or other pension plans have legitimate reason to be skeptical about dipping their feet in the water again.  Staying out of the stock market or, at the very least, shifting their investments to more secure but lower-yielding products such as capital preservation mutual funds, or even money-market mutual funds, meant earning almost nothing as a consequence of their flight to safety.

Now add to these the increased debt-load that parents and their children have incurred using federally guaranteed student loans offering 10-year repayment terms at interest rates between 5.5% - 7.5% on average.  Recent government and watchdog group statistics tell us that student loan debt is currently in excess of $1 trillion, or about .5% of GDP.  And that is just the amount that has been borrowed from the federal government. 

The Impact of Long-term Debt Can Be Devastating

Many students today must also pursue financial aid through their school, grant and scholarship funding programs or, in the alternative, commercial lenders or from family and friends, to meet the high cost of education.  It is the reason Senator Elizabeth Warren (D.MA) and many other elected officials are lobbying to reduce, even forgive, some percentage of the student loan debt owed the federal government. 

In lieu of these facts, Americans must rethink their current goals and the impact they might have on their future.   Is saving to own your own home versus choosing to rent and invest the difference—assuming a mortgage payment will be higher than rent—still a viable American dream?   And, if someone wants to become a computer programmer or cybersecurity specialist, is pursuing a four-year college degree the best education option when two-year certification programs produce graduates  that land good paying jobs with less education debt?   And, how realistic is it to plan your retirement around attaining a specific age, such as 62, 65 or 70 when you do not have the economic means to truly retire and continue your current standard of life?

 Answer.  There is no one-size-fits-all strategy or advice that anyone can offer you.  Each individual and their circumstances are unique and require highly personal and thoroughly customized life planning.  Here in the 21st century, there are great automated tools, such as robo-advisers and software applications like Mint, which are designed to help you plan your future.  But that is only partly true. 

Man Plans His Goals, But God Directs His Path

Life requires regular and specific choices be made at various intervals along life’s highway.  And for that there is no one better to help you navigate your course in life than the Lord Himself, which too means the Spirit of the Lord, or, on a practical basis, someone who truly represents His Kingdom’s perspective.   Jesus said it best when He said we are to “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all other things will be added unto you.”  (Matthew 6:33)  This implies that we can be properly guided through our life’s journey if we choose to seek God and live according to His will for us.

I named my company the Life Planning Institute, Inc. because financial planning is merely a sub-part of life planning.  It is good to understand and apply financial principles to one’s saving, investing and spending strategy.  But it is even more significant to first discover who you are in Christ, what special and unique endowment He has given to you for Kingdom service in the earth,  and how that correlates into your career and personal living goals and objectives.  Someone desiring and gifted to teach, for example, will most likely not earn what a medical doctor or engineer might earn over the course of their career.  So it would not make any sense to plan to live the lifestyle of someone who will likely earn 3-4 times more than you as a professional. 

Let Us Help You!

There are companies like the Life Planning Institute that have your best interest at heart.  In Part Two of this article I will share the various services and educational approach we provide for those seeking to live their lives for Christ, but needing to understand how to live it in a material-oriented world.  In the interim, please visit our website at and our blog at


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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Choosing to Embrace Philippians 4:11    
It is time to distinguish ourselves as Kingdom of God believers and practitioners of what Jesus taught and, in turn, what Paul and others wrote on learning to be content in every financial state.  Unfortunately, the allure of this world poses a great emphasis on wealth and climbing the proverbial ladder to financial prosperity.  This has become the measure of one’s so-called success in life, however misguided the concept.  Therefore, it has become necessary that we remind ourselves what is really important in life, which has been and remains, to live our lives as Kingdom believers.

Contrary to what has been prayed for and emphasized in some churches, financial prosperity is not a goal that should be sought by true Kingdom believers.  This is not saying that prosperity is bad, or that we should not exercise our God-given ability to attain all that He has promised and determined should be for each of us.  Rather, it is meant to acknowledge that God knows what He wants to do through each of our lives, and that He has determined the material state we would, and should, achieve if we remain faithful.
Such an affirmation reminds us that it is not what we have but whose we are that matters most.  In the end we have been promised prosperity as co-heirs with our Savior, Jesus Christ, and as future rulers over all that our Lord has been given by Our Heavenly Father.  For us, this is all that should matter.

To help you embrace this view, here are three more expressions of the Apostle Paul's writing in Philippians 4:11 offering somewhat different interpretations of God’s word:

1.     “Not that I speak from [any personal] need, for I have learned to be content [and self-sufficient through Christ, satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or uneasy] regardless of my circumstances.”   
(Amplified Bible (AMP) Copyright © 2015 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 90631. All rights reserved).

2.       “It has been a great joy to me that after all this time you have shown such interest in my welfare. I don’t mean that you had forgotten me, but up till now you had no opportunity of expressing your concern. Nor do I mean that I have been in actual need, for I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be. I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous. In general and in particular I have learned the secret of facing either poverty or plenty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me.”    

(J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS) The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Philips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. Used by Permission).

3.       “I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.

(The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson).

My take-away is that we should all be so strong as to find contentment wherever God has placed us in society, so long as it is in a posture of servitude, and we know Him to be our true source and provider.  Learning to say Thank you! in all states of practical life is the principle rule. 


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