Do Finances Cause Depression?

I called on Your name, O Lord, from the lowest pit. – Lamentations 3:55

The recent death of Robin Williams by suicide has raised the issue of depression and wealth, or lack of it. If money doesn’t cause depression, it can certainly exacerbate it. We need to think about this before we’re at the end of our rope.photo 2 (8)

Why is a downturn in the economy called a Depression?

Think of the Great Depression. 1929. Stock Market crash. Very rich people were reduced overnight to paupers. Many couldn’t handle it. People jumped from buildings and bridges to their deaths. These are the ones who made the headlines. There were probably many more in lower income brackets who committed suicide.

It doesn’t matter how much or how little, if money is a god, it will sometimes push people over the edge. People who are already depressed are more vulnerable.

I contend those who survived the Great Depression were those who had faith in themselves and in God. These were the ones who could see a future, a better tomorrow.

What really makes you happy?

People who suffer from depression have forgotten what makes them happy. I know. I’ve been there. Your relationships make you happy. The love you give and receive. Suze Orman signs off from her shows with the admonition to put people first, then money, then things. I might argue with her about putting money before things, but it’s true you have to have money to get things; however, you can’t live without things. No one can eat money. But I have no argument that people come before either money or things.

Since I’m a Christian, my relationship in Jesus is first in my life. If I hadn’t had Him during my times of depression, I might have committed suicide. Even in the depths of despair, there was always that hope of eternity. When you think in terms of eternity, death is no solution. Why my faith saw me through when other Christians succumb to despair, I don’t know. One thing I do know. Depression, whether caused by money or anything else, has a solution.

What is the Solution?

You may have heard that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. That’s true. Depression is temporary. Anything that can lift the fog of depression long enough to see that it’s temporary is a solution. Aside from medication that can help some, communication and vigilance are the most helpful. If you have depression, talk it up. Depression likes to hide in dark corners. Expose it to the light. Shout it on the housetops if necessary. Everyone in my family and my church knew there was something wrong. They were praying. If you have a loved one struggling with depression, talk and pray, then pray and talk. Keep it up, be vigilant.

No one is an Islandphoto 3 (5)

That’s an enormous comfort, to know you’re not alone. The cause of my depression had nothing to do with money. It was grief. I’d lost three close family members in a year’s time. Maybe I didn’t know how to handle grief at the time, but the problem was temporary.

Money problems can trigger depression, but trust me, it will get better. Don’t try to avoid it. Look the problem straight in the eyes and take one small step at the time.

 

Don’t Buy These Three Money Myths

 

And He said: “Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying ‘I am He.’ And, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them. – Luke 21:8

With all the avenues of communication open to the world, media, TV, internet, it’s amazing that so many are deceived. Apparently deceivers are better at communicating than truth tellers. Myths are a tool used by deceivers throughout history, and some of those myths have been around for a very long time.

Here are three old sayings about money I consider myths. You can judge for yourself.photo 1 (7)

1. Pay Yourself First

No, we can’t pay ourselves first. We have to pay our obligations first. You know—those expenses, loans, mortgages. Not paying our obligations is the same as stealing. If we’ve taken items or services from someone else, the money to pay for those obligations belongs to them at the time agreed upon, not after we’ve paid ourselves. Even God Who expects our first fruits wouldn’t expect us to steal.

We should pay ourselves, though. It’s called saving. But that’s why a budget is important. So we’ll live within our means in order to have enough to pay ourselves.

2. You Get What You Pay For

No, not always. This myth refers to the belief that the more money you pay, the better quality you’ll get. Actually, the more affluent we are, the more likely we’ll overpay. When you buy a particular brand, you may be paying for prestige instead of real quality. How do you tell what something is worth? Nothing is better than experience to teach us which item or service is of better quality for the money. Recommendations and reviews come next.

Buying shoddy items is a waste of money, of course, but overpaying for a brand name is equally wasteful. Accountability requires that we pay only what goods and services are worth.

3. A Penny Saved is a Penny Earnedphoto 4 (1)

How wonderful if this were true. Unfortunately, it rarely ever is. Your penny saved today is not going to be worth what you could earn at a future date. In other words, inflation will eat away at your savings. Inflation is a given in a capitalistic economy, so your savings must take this into consideration. Also, there are no true hedges against inflation. The only way to guarantee value will remain the same is to save the actual goods and services. Since there’s no way to save services, and goods will deteriorate over time, that isn’t a viable option.

Not all old sayings are myths, however. Save for a rainy day is absolutely true. No matter the circumstances, as long as this world exists, there will be rainy days. It isn’t a question of if emergencies will occur, but when. Our budget must contain savings for emergencies.

In spite of what economists say about the economy improving, fewer people are saving at all. It’s easy to understand why. Full time jobs are as hard as ever to obtain. Household income is falling. Those who were wise in days of plenty, now have their savings to fall back on.

We live in a world of deception, but the wise are never deceived. No matter how many say something is true, no matter how long they’ve said it, test it for yourself. Then make sure you don’t deceive yourself.

Lessons from that First Job

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. Ecclesiastes 9:10a

 

Remember your first job? For a lot of us, maybe most of us, that was when we were teenagers with no aspirations other than getting our hands on some cash without going through stingy parents. Those who had stingy parents were the lucky ones. Teenagers of indulgent parents didn’t have the motivation to go through the important life lesson a job teaches. Earning your own money is truly eye-opening. I contend no one can learn about money and accountability until they work for their money. But working for a living can be a scary door to enter.photo 1 (5)

I didn’t get a job until I graduated from high school, but I had a plan beyond earning pocket change. That plan involved working my way through college. I would work full time for a year and what I saved, along with small scholarships, would pay for two years of college.

Getting a loan wasn’t an option ever. I don’t know why except there was something shameful about borrowing money back in the olden days.

Here are the four things I learned from my first job.

1. Nothing ever turns out like you imagine.

Did I mention this job was with my dream employer in the Department of Defense? I would work in a swanky office filled with glamorous women and handsome men who’d give me important correspondence to type, urgent, secret messages to deliver, take notes at meetings that would change the course of national discourse.

Most of my co-workers and supervisors turned out to be rather frumpy. For some reason, they didn’t pay any attention to an eighteen-year-old who giggled when nervous, and the most they wanted from me was to stay out of the way. My days were spent sitting at a little desk in a cubby hole reading something called Regs, the most boring gobbledygook known to man. DoD is in the government, after all. It took me two days to realize this task was designed for no other reason than to keep me occupied. My most challenging assignment was staying awake.

2. Money is never as much as you think it is.photo 1 (6)

Nothing is quite as heady as your first paycheck. The amount hardly matters. It’s yours. You earned it, and no one can tell you what to do with it. This feeling is quickly followed by the desire to spend. After day three, it’s gone, and the next one won’t come in for another eleven days if you’re paid bi-weekly as I was. Luckily, I was still living with my parents and didn’t need it to support myself. But it was harder to save for college, or anything else, than you ever imagined. Near impossible, in fact.

3. Don’t leave the old job until a new one is lined up.

I didn’t have much choice in finding a new job because the first was temporary, but I made the mistake of waiting until it ended to hunt a new one. That’s when I discovered opportunities can be few and far between. When that happens, you have to take what you can. For me it was stuffing owner’s manuals in boxes filled with lawn mowers. There was one bright spot in that job. It motivated me to keep up my pursuit of a college education.

4. Whatever the job, excel in it.

Before I finished college I got the opportunity for a permanent position at my dream employer, and they had a program for continuing education. Working and going to school is hard, but I soon learned that if I was to really progress, I’d have to excel in both. There’s no other way to stand out from the competition.

All of these lessons are obvious, but many people don’t learn them in their first job, or second, or… That’s one of the reasons seventy million people in this country are in debt. Many others don’t attempt to live on a budget. Yes the economy is bad, despite what economists say about recovering. But those who’ve learned these four lessons early in life are more likely to keep a job in economic hard times.

What other lessons can young people learn on their first job?

The Right Side of the Budget

And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. –John 10:4

I tried to get out of this post. A little accident left me feeling…well, crabby. My assistant was out of town and I was puppy sitting and I wanted to work on my novel and… I had to remind myself why I started this blog. Actually, I didn’t remind myself so much as God did. If you’re a Christian, you know what I mean by hearing His voice.

My original goal for the blog was inspired by my grandchildren. I wanted to leave them with all the practical advice related to money management I’d gleamed over a lifetime, things I wish I’d known when I got out on my own. Things they’ll need to know in a few years.  I began this blog because I felt compelled by that Voice to share this knowledge, not only with my grandchildren, but with all who want to use their money more wisely.

And when I started making excuses to skip this week, the Voice reminded me of my goals

I’ve already covered every expense in the budget. Let’s look at the other side—income and assets.photo 2 (4)

Salary and Wages

If you work for someone the bulk of your income will likely come weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly in a set amount. This makes it easy, but we should account for gross income, not take home. Why? Those withholding amounts are expenses that should be accounted for in the budget even if we don’t have control of them, like taxes. If we don’t include withholding in the budget, we’re not accounting for our money down to the last cent. And we do have control of some items. They should be reviewed periodically to determine if too much or too little is taken out.

Variable Income

Some employees are paid in commissions or tips. Some, like construction workers, may have to deal with fluctuations in working hours. In these cases, it’s essential to tabulate a “normal” monthly gross income for the purpose of budgeting. If you don’t, you may come to depend on those higher amounts. This will spell trouble during a dry spell. Adjustments may, and should, be made quarterly or semi-annually. This is a common-sense consideration, but unless you put it down in black and white, you won’t know where you stand. Living from paycheck to paycheck isn’t wise for anyone, but especially for those who depend on variable income.

Bonuses and Windfalls

What are we to do with compensation over and above salary and wages? Just as we should be prepared for emergencies, we should also have a game plan for unexpected gain. Prioritize. I recommend this order. (1) Pay off debts (2) Put it in your emergency fund, if that fund isn’t sufficient. (3) Invest (4) Buy your heart’s desire. Another good use is to give it away, and if the amount you give to charity doesn’t measure up to what the Voice says, you should.

What if Income Falls Short?

Obviously, if you work for someone else, and you’re not making enough to make ends meet, your choices are limited. You could ask for a raise or a promotion. If you have a good reason and your performance is good, do ask. Sometimes we don’t have because we don’t ask. And if the answer is no, ask again after a reasonable length of time and better performance. Ask those who’ve achieved success in your company. My guess is, they had to prove themselves to advance.

If you fail to get a raise or promotion, you can always get another job—just don’t walk away until a better job is secured. Many people have to take a second job. We all do what we have to do.

Being Your Own Bossphoto 1 (1)

If you’re self-employed, the whole picture changes, and gets more complicated. You have a lot more financial documents to consider than a simple budget. But the opportunities are much greater. Far greater than this post can cover, so next week we’ll look at those opportunities.

What Are the Odds?

Now the leaders of the people dwelt at Jerusalem; the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to dwell in Jerusalem. -Nehemiah 11:1

I hate to consider myself a gambler, but I am. We all are. The atheist wouldn’t consider himself a person of faith, but he’d be wrong. We can’t even get out of bed in the morning without some measure of faith. Gambling requires faith because we can’t possibly know all the possible outcomes of—well, almost anything except drawing lots. And we all, consciously or unconsciously, assess the odds. download (4)

Hold onto that thought. It requires deep thinking, soul searching, going down to the marrow type thinking. I never really thought about this until I wrote my first inspirational manuscript. The heroine gives the hero a preposterous scenario which he ridicules. Her comeback question is, “What are the odds?”  An offhand remark, but a turning point for the hero, because the question keeps echoing in his mind, and he finally has to access the odds on all those things he’s been avoiding.

What does this have to do with your budget? Actually everything in the budget has to be accessed, but nothing more than insurance.

Do You Need It?

If the loss will put you in dire straits, yes. The loss of life, auto or home can certainly put you or your family in dire straits. Healthcare is not true insurance but necessary. That subject was covered in my posts, Is Healthcare Really Affordable and What’s the Best Fit for Your Healthcare Budget, both in the January archives.

Insurance is needed when the odds are small but the stakes are great. We’re actually hedging our bets because we don’t want to ever file a claim. None of us would want this to happen.images (6)

Or this.images (7)

 

 

How Much is Enough?

When we’re accessing our need for insurance, this is the tricky part. If you over-insure you’re wasting money. If you don’t have enough and the unthinkable happens… This is where you have to access the odds for each situation.

Life Insurance

I, and a lot of much smarter money managers, believe no one should take out whole life insurance. It’s not a wise investment, nor should insurance be used as an investment. Term insurance is the way to go. The only purpose of life insurance is to provide for your family in the event of your death. It’s only needed if people depend on your income. Obviously this includes your spouse and minor children. It does not include grown children unless they depend on your income. If you want to provide an inheritance, it should come from your estate, not insurance.

If no one depends on your income, the amount of life insurance you need shouldn’t exceed debts and final arrangements.

Auto Insurance

You’ll have to carry enough auto insurance to meet the requirements of the loan company if you’ve financed your vehicle, and states may require liability insurance. Take the highest deductible allowed. This can make a big difference in payments. I wouldn’t carry collusion and comprehensive insurance on a car over seven years old. You should have enough in your emergency fund to replace the vehicle. The odds are not great enough to justify the cost of such insurance. Your policy should cover liability and uninsured motorist, even if your state doesn’t require it. Court costs can wipe you out. One other thing to consider—pay in six months or yearly increments, not monthly. The insurance company will tack on interest charges that can be significant.

Homeowners Insurance

Again, the amount of insurance will depend on the mortgage company for the life of your loan. Also be aware you may have to pay mortgage insurance if your loan exceeds 80% of the principal. When the loan balance drops below 80%, drop the mortgage insurance. The company may not notify you, so be aware.

How much insurance should you carry if you own your home outright? No more than fair market value. This fluctuates, so make an assessment yearly. When the real estate market crashed, house values fell drastically. Guess what? The insurance companies probably didn’t adjust your insurance. You may be carrying too much for today’s market.

Should you carry renter’s insurance if you rent? From what I can tell, the insurance is fairly low, so yes, especially if you don’t have enough liquid funds to replace the contents of your home.

If you were drawing lots, the odds would be obvious. Not so when assessing insurance needs, but consider the odds we must.

Are you carrying too much insurance, or not enough?

 

Taking Control

You cannot serve God and Mammon. – Matthew 6:24

Do you control your money or does your money control you? There was a time in my life when I have to say I had no control. It reminds me of when I lost control of my car. Someone came at me from nowhere and I swerved. Somehow I had sense enough not to slam on brakes, but though I tried to steer, the steering wheel didn’t respond. The car went into the oncoming lane, and if another car had been coming, it would have been a head-on smash up. If the highway hadn’t been straight, I’d have wound up in the ditch—or a telephone pole.

I didn’t ask Jesus to take the wheel, but I think He must have. During this ordeal I was perfectly calm until the car slowed down and got under my control. And I think Jesus must have been there when I lost control of my money, because I survived without permanent damage. download

How well I remember that sensation of making good money but seeing it slip through my fingers. I had a bad habit of spending money unwisely, not accounting for it. It controlled me.

It’s a Matter of Will

As with all habits, breaking it requires willpower. You can either use willpower to avoid the thing or keep it under control. You can avoid drugs or cigarettes, but you can’t avoid money. Like food, you need it to live.

Here is a story of a young woman who managed to control both food and money.

Addicted to Cupcakes

This woman wasn’t overweigh but she loved sweets, especially Hostess cupcakes. She couldn’t see them without buying a package and devouring both of the little devils food delights before she got home. Of course she realized this was not a healthy snack, and she knew she was addicted. It seemed ridiculous, even scary, that these cakes had such a hold on her.photo 1

Resolution

She resolved to break this habit and decided the only way to do that was to keep a package of those cupcakes in her bedroom, sitting in full view, day and night…and resist eating them. There had to be a package of two cupcakes sitting on her dresser week after week, indefinitely, to prove she’d broken her habit.

You have to remember this woman loved the taste of these cakes–drooled over them. The test she’d set up for herself wasn’t easy. Before the first day was out, she started rationalizing. Just one wouldn’t hurt. If she could get through the week with one cake left, she could claim a victory. Not only did she not have one left, but she had to bring in more. But she stuck to it and every time she gave in to temptation, she’d give herself a talking to, pray, and resolve to do better.

Gradually, she made progress. A week passed, then two…a month…with those Hostess cupcakes sitting there, still tempting her.

Then a miracle happened. One day she realized the cupcakes had no appeal at all. She couldn’t even remember what they tasted like, nor had any desire to find out. She dropped the package in the trash and hasn’t eaten any packaged cupcake since.

Breaking a Money Habit

When this young woman found money slipping through her fingers, she decided to try the cupcake approach. She’d leave a twenty on her dresser, in full view, and resolve not to touch it no matter how short on cash she was. And instead of just breaking the spending habit, she decided she might as well develop the saving habit. Each week she was able to leave the twenty alone, she’d add another one.

It wasn’t as easy as breaking the cupcake habit. Everything seemed to happen to break her budget, and there were so many things enticing her to buy…just this once. It was manageable at the beginning of her pay-period, but near the end, that twenty was in jeopardy. But she was determined. Each time she took the money and ran, so to speak, she asked herself what she’d have done if she hadn’t left it there to begin with—and prayed.

After almost a year, she’d accumulated only a hundred dollars. Christmas was coming up. How nice it would be to blow the whole wad as a reward. But by this time, she’d learned a few things about getting by when emergencies came and how to resist impulse buying. She decided it would feel a whole lot better to see how fast she could save another hundred.

Willpower is Power

I’m constantly in awe of the great gift God gave us in the form of a free will. Let us never forget willpower is useless unless we exercise it. It requires consistency and determination, but its power is enormous. With it you can control any behavior. You can control your money. It will become your servant as it should be.

Was the young woman me? Perhaps. She could be anyone.

Eat Well, Save More

Man does not live by bread alone. –Matt.4-4

No matter what your grocery budget is, you can cut it by at least $10 a week…easily…and eat just as well. There are so many options and so many items. Take coupons. Here is a short list of places you can find coupons.

www.coupons.com

www.Lozo.com

www.familygrocerynetwork.com

www.printingfreecoupons.com

www.smartsource.com

www.valpak.com

www.mommysavesbig.com

www.coolsavings.com

Some people save hundreds of dollars on their monthly grocery bill by clipping coupons. I’ve never gotten into it. Usually the stuff I’m looking for doesn’t have a coupon available, or the store brand is really cheaper or, and here’s the biggie, I don’t have the time. But if the coupons are conveniently available, and they’re for something I need, I use them and save maybe $10 a month. Not much, but every little bit helps.

If you’re not a coupon clipper, or even if you are, I’m going to give you two ways to make a big dent in the grocery budget. They’ll save at least $10 a week, probably much more. In case you don’t think that’s worth the effort, consider that’s $40 a month, $480 a year, $2400 in five years. Whoever said time is money was right.

Buy in Bulk

photo vegs

On the American prairie of the 1800s, there was only one grocery store. Actually, it was pretty much the only store. Every food item, and every household article, every implement, was packed into its 500 or so square feet. It was the town’s mercantile. We have them today. They’re called Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target. But we don’t shop like the settlers.

They didn’t drop into the mercantile every day on their way home like we stop by Walmart for a couple of items and wind up buying ten. The farmer or rancher often lived far from town, and they made the trip once a month or once a season to buy what food they needed to supplement what they grew, as well as other items they required. Beans, flour, meal—all came in huge sacks. Yes, they had to deal with weevils, but things like that didn’t bother them the way they do us.

We could learn a lot from the settlers. Things that come in small volume naturally cost more because packaging and handling add to the price. So, for items you use anyway, buy in bulk and when they’re on sale, stock up. This applies to more than food. Groceries include all those household items we have to have—cleaning supplies, paper products, personal grooming items. Even when they don’t come in large packages, they can be bought in large numbers. If shampoo is half priced, buy a three-month supply.

Some of those store brands are almost always on sale. You don’t even have to look at the sales circulars. If the item is on sale, and you’re not already overstocked, grab it.

Brand names are almost never the best buy. Advertising is built into the product. But I have to admit only one brand of toilet paper will do for me, and it has nothing to do with advertising. It’s habit that keeps me stuck to that brand, but a habit I want to keep indulging, even if it does cost more. I stalk the aisles for this brand, and if it ever goes on sale, a lot of it goes in my buggy.

Targeted Shopping

Targeted shopping requires planning, but not much. You already know your menus. Make a list of the ingredients you’ll need for the entire week. Make a list of all your needs. Is there an app for that? There should be.

Once you have your list, target the store. Your neighborhood grocery store may be a better source than Walmart. If food items are better, fresher, and cheaper at one store, go there. Another store may be a better source for household items.

Consider dollar stores for non-food items, especially those that don’t have an expiration date, like paper towels. Speaking of paper towels, you do know to buy by unit cost? Appearance can be deceiving. Read the labels and compare. You can save big at dollar stores on things like napkins, wrapping paper, candles, foil, etc. But be careful of liquid anything that might have been watered down.

As you’ve probably already noticed, living richly on a budget requires being smart. The advantage of targeted shopping is you aren’t as likely to be lured into buying things you don’t need. Stick with what you know. There’s a reason you’ll find 580 varieties of the same cereal. Companies know people (especially children) want the latest and greatest. If possible, leave the children at home when you go shopping, or take the time to explain to them why they can’t have that cartoon shaped cereal.photo cereal

Target the time you go shopping. Not when you’re hungry, tired, rushed, or when the stores are crowded. I don’t have to explain why. We just don’t think well under these conditions.

Resolve and Commitment

Success in any endeavor requires resolve and commitment. Developing smart shopping habits certainly do. It doesn’t help to cringe and shake our heads when that grocery budget isn’t stretched enough to cover costs with a bit of reserve.

Man doesn’t live by bread alone. God has given most of us the brains to figure out how to feed ourselves, and I’m pretty sure He wouldn’t want us to waste food dollars. Yes, it takes effort to change attitudes, but it gets easier with time. Let these two ideas get you on the road to better money management. Buy in bulk when possible and target what, where, and when you buy groceries. You might well be able to save enough in these efforts alone to buy a good used car in two years’ time.

Speaking of cars, next week I’ll discuss transportation. For most of us this is another one of those necessary living expenses. So rev your engines.

In the meantime, if you have other ideas for saving on the grocery budget, please share.

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