Practical Steps to Weather the Financial Crisis

with Jerry Foster | March 25, 2009

Economic uncertainty is a great time to re-examine your financial status and take steps to improve it. Financial planner Jerry Foster offers timely advice for weathering the economic storm, including taking an inventory of your expenses, creating a budget, increasing your income, and differentiating between needs and wants.

Economic uncertainty is a great time to re-examine your financial status and take steps to improve it. Financial planner Jerry Foster offers timely advice for weathering the economic storm, including taking an inventory of your expenses, creating a budget, increasing your income, and differentiating between needs and wants.

Practical Steps to Weather the Financial Crisis

With Jerry Foster
|
March 25, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Jerry Foster says that many couples are struggling financially or even finding themselves deep in debt because they haven't yet distinguished between what's really a need and what's a want.

Jerry: By the way, it's okay to want something, but it's really an important step, and I think it's very helpful to begin to assess things as needs versus wants and then to categorize them.  There are a lot of things that we absolutely need.  They become top priority.  Then you have your list of things that you want, and you prioritize them as well, and I think that just helps us with our decision-making process.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 25th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll talk today about accomplishing your financial goals and why it's often very hard to get there.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.   I got a call – oh, this was a couple of weeks ago from my daughter.  I think many of our listeners know that I recently became a G-Daddy, that's how I like to refer to it.  It's kind of a hip way of talking about my new status in life.  And my daughter called, and she said, "Dad, we're thinking about setting up some kind of a college account or a savings account for our new baby."

Dennis: Wow!  Go Amy!  Way to go, Amy.

Bob: And she said, "What do you recommend?  Where should we put the money?"  And I thought, "Boy, that's a dicey question right now.  You know, do you tell somebody who has got the money right now for college, put it in the stock market?"

Dennis: Well, let's ask an expert.

Bob: Yeah?

Dennis: We've got an expert here.  Jerry Foster joins us again on FamilyLife Today.  He's a financial planner, lives in Des Moines, Iowa, along with his four children and his wife, Nancy, and speaks at our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  Okay, Jerry, where should Amy put her money?

Jerry: Well, I think the important thing that she needs to look at is, is what's the time horizon?  We're talking about, I would say, a relatively long time horizon.

Bob: Yeah, 15, 18 years, right?

Jerry:  Yeah, yeah.  So some would look at it and say this is a great time to get into the market.

Bob: Right.

Jerry: And I would probably concur with that.  The thing we have to understand when we look at that is is that we're not trying to time the market at its very bottom.  If you're trying to time the market as its very bottom, you'll be unsuccessful.

Bob: Well, and I would have said the exact same thing 12 months ago, but I've been listening to the news, okay?

Jerry: Okay.

Bob: I've been watching TV, I've been listening to the news, and you think to yourself, "All right, maybe we're at the bottom of the market.  It's sure going to come back up.  It's always done that before, but the way it sounds right now, you really wonder – have we seen a permanent seismic financial shift in how money gets handled?  Should I tell her gold is where she needs to put her money?  Or under the mattress is where she needs to put her money?  You know, you wonder these kinds of things or – as I sat there and thought about where you'd give advice, you go, "I don't know, because I don't know anything that's a sure thing over the next 10 years, at least, again, from listening to the news.

Dennis: Well, it's Chicken Little, you know, the sky is falling.

Bob: Right.

Dennis: You have some opinions about the news, Jerry.

Jerry: Well, yeah, and I think, going back to your daughter before I hit the news, I think the issue is she needs to put a plan together.  You've been hearing me say that for the past couple of days.  She needs to sit down with an advisor and have a plan and understand markets and understand how the whole thing is going to work.  But just trying to pick the right investment is nearly impossible because there is so much going on right now.

And one of the things that is driving that right now is what we keep hearing in the media, and I think it's important for us to put that in perspective and understand what sells?  Fear – fear sells.  If they can cause us to be fearful, they are gaining listeners, because think what happens.  I find myself doing it when the markets are the way they are, and I'm hearing all this, I turn on the news as soon as I get in the car, when I get home I turn on the news.  I mean, I become obsessed with what's happening in the market.

And they are accomplishing their objective, but the problem with that is, is you're not getting the full story.  You may come home and hear one day that the market dropped 400 points, but what they don't tell you is what it might have done the four days previous to that.  You're only getting what happened at that particular time, and if we are basing all our decisions just on what we're hearing, I mean, everything is based upon fear right now.

Bob: But when I do hear about major U.S. automakers that may be going out of business or another 10,000 or 30,000 or 50,000 people getting laid off from this industry or that industry – you do start to look around and go is this something, again, fundamentally, that's going to rock our economy for a year, for three years, for five years or forever?

Jerry: Yeah, and I don't think anybody really knows the answer to that question, but what we have to understand is we've got to look at the total picture of the thing.  I mean, yeah, we hear about all the people that are out of work, we've got 8 percent of people that are out of work, that means we've got 92 percent of the people that are working.  I mean, you look at the number of mortgages that are in default, there are far more percentage of people that are meeting their obligation.  We have to put it in perspective, but we're not hearing that all the time.

Bob: Well, that's really a question of, again, what's your source of truth and do you let what you hear on the news drive your emotions?  Is your confidence based on what's being reported on Fox News or CNN or NBC or ABC or CBS or is your confidence – I keep coming back to things like Matthew 6 – don't worry about tomorrow and how you're going to clothe yourself or feed yourself.

Now, I read those – those are hard verses to read in times like this with a lot of families going, "How do I not worry about tomorrow, because I don't know where the food is going to come from tomorrow."

Jerry: Right, but if we believe the truth of that, don't worry about it, God will take care of us.  Our role is really to focus on doing the right things.  And the right thing is being a good steward of what God has given us and stand on His promises and just be obedient and faithful day in and day out.

Bob: It doesn't mean that there won’t be challenges or hardships, it just means that in the midst of them you still have to do what Scripture instructs us to do, right?

Jerry: Absolutely.

Dennis: Well, in all of this, I want to go back to what you talked about, Jerry, of how the media is using fear.  In fact, one well-known broadcaster who is the host of a daily television program in the evening has a phrase that he is using like it's original – "Let not your hearts be troubled, let not your hearts be troubled."  Well, he took a verse right out of Jesus's words.

Bob: He borrowed that line, didn't he?

Dennis: He did borrow the line – John, chapter 14, but he didn't finish the context.  And this is really the message, as you look at the media, and as you turn down the volume, and you turn down the clutter to your own brain as you listen in – "Let not your hearts be troubled," Jesus said.  "Believe in God, believe also in Me."  And He goes on to say, "In my Father's house are many rooms.  If it were not so, I would have told you that I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also."

Bob: And can I just mentioned, there is no rent or mortgage on those rooms that are getting prepared, right?

[laughter]

Countrywide has nothing to do with those.

Dennis: The question is – who are you going to trust?  In the midst of a financial crisis, where are you going to turn your hearts?  Are you going to turn them toward cable news or television or the Internet – or are you going to get in the Book?  It's back to the passage that Bob just quoted, you know, are you going to seek first the kingdom of God and ultimately lean into Him in the midst of these financially challenging times?

Jerry: Well, and here is what I think is interesting about these times, is that when we walk through these times it gives us an opportunity to, in essence, simplify our life.  It starts, maybe, by doing a line-by-line assessment of your budget.  That assumes that you have a budget.  So that may be the place you want to start first is having a budget.

Bob: Your spending plan, yes.  What did you call it?

Jerry: Cash flow management system.

Bob: That's where you go.

Dennis: But the point is to write it all down on a piece of paper …

Jerry: Exactly.

Dennis: And begin to talk about this.  I know one of our children, who will remain anonymous at this point, really resisted this idea of coming up with a budget, but in the process of growing up into adulthood has finally understood the strength of being able to put down on a piece of paper what it looks like – income and outflow.

Bob: What's your plan?  What are you going to do?  And I know, in our family, for a number of years – we don't still do this, and maybe we need to restart it in the midst of these times, but we used to have a Zip-loc bag that we had hanging on the side of the refrigerator with a magnet there, and any purchase anybody made during the day, you made sure you got a receipt for it, and you just dropped it in the bag.  And then every week or so, you'd get out the receipts, and you'd go to your computer program, whether it's Quicken or whatever it is you're using, or just a spreadsheet, then you just type in, okay, what did we spend money on this past week?

And you get some surprising conclusions drawn when you start to look at where is your daily cash going?  And it was a good exercise for us to say where is the money going, and where can we start to pull some things in?

Jerry: Well, budgets should be something that should be freeing to us, yet I think as soon as you hear the "B" word, you immediately think that it's – "Well, this is meant to restrict me from really enjoying life," and that's not what it's for.  It's meant to free us, and I think that's what happens is we begin to see where some of the things are going, and it frees us up to be able to perhaps have money to do things that we never could do before.

Bob: Here is where budgets feel constraining – if I have a budget, if I have a plan, I am concerned that I can't respond to my impulses because I have a plan.  So I say, "This is what I want to do this month," and an impulse hits me, and I can't respond to the impulse. 

Well, number one, maybe I shouldn't be responding to that impulse because I should be more disciplined than that, but there are times you make course corrections in the middle of the month – this wasn't in your budget for this month, but it's a necessity.  The medical bill wasn't there, but you're going to have to take care of it.

So having a spending plan doesn't mean that you don't make adjustments from time to time, does it?

Jerry: No, but what it does is it creates accountability, and it creates a way for making those decisions.  I know, for Nancy and I, one of the things that we've implemented is a 24-hour rule.  And, in essence, we have a certain dollar amount established that if either one of us is going to spend money over that dollar amount, we immediately start the 24-hour clock ticking.

What that does is that allows us to step away from the emotion of the decision and assess – is this something that we really want to do?  Need to do?  We can go through all kinds of different questions to help us make a good decision.  I can't tell you the number of times that that's helped us – or saved us, I guess – from making a bad decision.

But it's the accountability part that I think we don't like, yet it's the part of the whole budget that allows us to make good, solid decisions.

Bob: I have to tell you a story related to that.  Back when we were in the midst of our own financial challenges a number of years ago and just didn't have money to respond on impulse to things.  We didn't have a 24-hour rule, but what we had was a priority list, and every time we would say to one another, "You know, when we get out from underneath this, I need to buy a new suit."  Or Mary Ann would say, "I want to buy" whatever.  We would just go over and get the priority list out of the drawer and write it down.  And we'd say, you know, we're going to keep this list and every once in a while we'd get it out, and we'd say, "Okay, if we had the money today, what would be number 1, 2, and 3?" And we'd make our priorities.

What was interesting was how something that had been number one last month didn't make the top three two weeks later.  Something that had been at the top of the list last month we looked at and said, "We don't really need that."  And it did teach me, at that point, that there is a lot that we think we can't live without that we can do just fine without.

Dennis: And another thing about the budget, when it comes time to putting it in print, is it creates a third party that you can get mad at instead of getting mad at your spouse.

Jerry: There you go.

Dennis: Because Barbara and I, generally, in our arguments about money, it's been because we haven't done this and objectified the truth because I've got a sense that she's spending or she's doing this or she may have a sense that I am doing this instead of having the facts.  And when you put the facts down, you begin to look at it, and you evaluate how your present-day purchases are going against the line items you're talking about.  That's where the strength comes, because when a husband and a wife can agree on how they're going to spend their money, that brings a great deal of unity and strength to the couple.

What's another solution in weathering the storms?

Jerry: Well, interesting, Bob, you were talking about your list, and you made a statement there that you said, "I need to buy a suit."

Bob: Right.

Jerry: Well, that would lead me to my second step to take here, and that is beginning to assess needs versus wants.  The real question in there is – do I need a suit or do I want a suit?  And, by the way, it's okay to want something, but it's really an important step, and I think it's very helpful to begin to assess things as needs versus wants and then to categorize them.  There are a lot of things that we absolutely need.  They become top priority.  Then you have your list of things that you want, and you prioritize them as well, and I think it just helps for you to get a picture of that.

Once again, you create some accountability there, you create some awareness, and it gives you a plan to begin to start whittling away.

Dennis: I just want to defend Bob, though, in this case.

Bob: He needed a suit.

Dennis: The polyester, you know, thing – he just needed one really, really …

Bob: You know, you stop and ask the question – when do you need a suit?  I mean, you've got a suit in your closet, and you wear it for work.  When do you need a new one?  And that's a fair question to ask, and there's not a hard-and-fast answer, but I think most of us – when I was saying, "I need a suit," what I was saying is, "I wish I had a different color one," or "This one's a little out of style," or "This one is starting to fray around the collars or the cuff," and, you know, frankly, it could probably fray for another several months, and I'm the only person who is really noticing that.  And we do have to pull back and say, "What is a need and what's a want here?"

Jerry: Well, that makes the assumption that you – anything that's in the want list is not a good thing.  We're making a distinction saying needs are good, wants are bad, and that's not what I'm saying.  Wants are not bad, it's just that we need to understand the difference, and I think that just helps us with our decision-making process.

Dennis: This next one you're talking about here is eliminating some expenses?  What kind?

Jerry: Well the unnecessary expenses.  Once again, we'll go back to needs versus wants.  There are some things that we have on our budget that are wants.  Maybe it's cable TV.  Times like this require us to step back and say, "Is this the time I should be forking out $114," or whatever it is, "for cable TV?"  Maybe this is when you step back, and you say, "Hey, let's save some money there," or maybe it a health club membership or maybe magazine subscriptions.  Whatever it might be, it's stepping back, looking at it, and the only way you're going to know that is once again going to the first one I said, a line-by-line assessment of where are you spending your money?

Dennis: Jerry, when we think about money, we also think about reducing expenses, but there are some ways we can increase our income by just doing some simple things.

Jerry: Well, there is one real simple one, and that is to, first of all, assess your tax return.  If you are holding back money to get a return, and you get a return year after year after year, it may be time to change your withholding so that you are receiving that money on a monthly basis rather than waiting until the end of the year. 

In times like this when there are budget restrictions or budget constraints going on, increase the income by changing your withholding.  So that's the simplest – call whoever does your taxes and ask them to assess that with you.

You know, another is consider maybe selling some things that you have that you haven't used forever.  Maybe that old treadmill downstairs that you thought you were going to use, and you haven't used it in five or six years – put it on eBay and sell that, and you may find that all of a sudden you have a lot of things in there that can produce income to help you maybe take care of some of those needs or some of those higher-priority wants.

Bob: And if any of our listeners are interested in a fine Nordic Track, you know, just contact me here – Bob Lepine at FamilyLife Today.

Dennis: It's not in a storage area, though, is it, Bob?

Bob: No, we've got it where Mary Ann would like to get it cleared out of that area of the house if we could.

Jerry: A great place to hang clothes on, right?

Bob: That's right.

Dennis: You know, in all this, what we're really calling people to do, Jerry, is for couples to get together and to agree on an approach and a plan to handling their finances, and earlier I really exhorted couples – if you've not been to a Weekend to Remember, I know that these are financially challenging days, but it could be spending money on a weekend away as a couple to get a plan together, a biblical plan on how you're going to live your life and how you're going to operate in your marriage and resolve your conflicts.  It could be the biggest solution and the best investment you could make in your marriage right now.

Jerry: You know, what I love about the conferences is that you set aside two and a half days to literally work on the things that matter.  When else are you going to spend that time where you're going to sit down and ask some pertinent questions, talk about communication, look at budgeting issues and seeing couples just paired off all around the ballroom, all throughout the hotel – it's an incredible investment.

Bob: And I've talked to a lot of couples who have attended the conference and have done it on a budget.  They've swapped out babysitting with some friends so that they're not paying for a babysitter.

Dennis: There you go.

Bob: And they've brought food with them so that they're not eating out every meal during the weekend, and maybe their commuting as opposed to staying in the hotel.  Of course, we encourage folks to stay in the hotel if they can, but some folks are just saying, you know, it's the way we can get here.  And they're coming as a part of a group, so they're getting the lowest possible rate to get in and be a part of the conference.

I mean, there are ways to make this work in your budget where you can do it as affordably as possible.

Dennis: You know, you mentioned a group, Bob.  I just want to brag on a church in South Dallas, Concord, that brought 105 couples to the Weekend to Remember in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Bob: Wow.

Dennis: And my good friend, Bryan Carter, is pastor of that church, and he and his wife, Stephanie, came to the conference.  They are great friends, but they had one of their flock, Charles, write a note about what the conference meant to him.  He said this, he said, "My wife and I attended the Weekend to Remember much like two rubber balls allowing every idea of marriage rekindling to bounce off of us.  But by Sunday afternoon, we were like two sponges, soaking up each other's love and spirit like two newlyweds.  I truly love my wife and realize that I have not taken every opportunity to let her know until now.  We've been married 13 years and now it feels like 13 days for me after attending the conference."

Well, you know what?  That's a great investment in a marriage, and in these days, which have a lot of challenge to them, it's important that couples be singing the same song off the same set of song sheets and not to different melodies at this point.

Bob: You know, I'm going to be speaking at one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences this weekend up in Rhode Island at the Hyatt Regency in Newport, Rhode Island, and we've got hundreds of couples from around the area who are already signed up, going to be a part of the weekend.  We've got conferences this weekend in Boise and Branson; Fargo; Lincoln, Nebraska; Minneapolis; Nashville; Ontario, California, and then conferences coming up later on this spring in Boston; Atlanta; Chicago; in the Poconos; in Kalamazoo, Michigan; Portland; Seattle; Southern California; Phoenix; Tucson – there is more information about the Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and we do want to encourage listeners to get away for a weekend.

I know a lot of couples think, as you said, this seems like a tough time to get away and spend a weekend together, especially in the midst of this kind of an economic climate, but we really think this is the time that you need to focus on what should be the core, and that is your marriage relationship.

So if you need more information about the Weekend to Remember go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, or call, toll-free, 1-800-FLTODAY, and someone can answer any questions you have about the conference.  Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  And when you get in touch with us, ask about resources we have to help you with your family's finances, like Howard Dayton's book, "Your Money Map," which has been put together to help couples develop a simple roadmap for organizing your finances all the way through life.  Or the "Family Financial Workbook," that includes very helpful worksheets for families to use to get a handle on their household budget.

Again, if you need either of these resources, order on FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we'll make arrangements to get them sent to you.

You know, Easter is just a few weeks away at this point, and Easter is different than Christmas, isn't it?  I mean, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, everybody is thinking about the upcoming holiday.  But in the weeks that lead up to Easter, it's just not the same.

Over the last several weeks, we've been making available to those of you who are able to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation this month, we have been making available "The Jesus Film" on DVD.  And one of the reasons for that is because we'd like you to have this resource as a way to prepare your own heart and mind for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ at Easter.  This is a retelling of the Gospel account of the life of Jesus taken from the Gospel of Luke, and included with the DVD is "The Story of Jesus for Children," so that your children's hearts can be prepared and be focused as we head toward the celebration of Jesus's Resurrection.

If you'd like a copy of this DVD, again, it's our gift to you this month when you request it after making a donation of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  You can make that donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, and if you do, just type the word "JesusDVD" into the keycode box on the donation form, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone and, again, ask for a copy of "The Jesus Film" on DVD, and we trust that the movie will be an encouragement to you and your family as you prepare for the celebration of Easter.

Now, tomorrow we want to talk about what moms and dads can do to help their high school seniors get ready for what's next, especially if that "what's next" has to do with heading off to college somewhere.  Jonathan Morrow is going to join us, and we hope you can join us as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  

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