Money Fears Abound – So…

By Rajen Devadason

It’s been more than a dozen years since the start of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in the third quarter of 2007. Most of us in Asia, though, only began noticing something was wrong in 2008.

To give you a sense of historical perspective, in terms of worldwide reach and severity, the GFC was worse than the Asian Meltdown of 1997-1998, but not as bad as the Great Depression, which began in October 1929 and raged on through most of the 1930s.

Good times come and go. So do bad times. Right now a lot of the economic volatility the world is experiencing can be traced back to Donald Trump, the USA’s first mega-tweeting President.

Thankfully, wherever democracy rules, bad leaders like bad times eventually pass. For us right now, though, it would be wise to remember that whenever tough times hit, there are always a few who come through the slump in better shape than before, even as the majority end up suffering significant wealth erosion.

Let’s look at two historic eras to find out why:

First, during America’s Great Depression, farmers lost their farms, homeowners lost their homes, countless men and women lost their jobs, then their insufficient savings, and some even their sense of personal worth.

Yet, in the midst of that calamity, a small group grew richer because they were poised and prepared with liquidity and courage. Those traits, blended, granted them the financial and emotional capital needed to buy great assets cheaply because almost everyone else was a seller.

Those who became big winners also possessed the patience and financial strength to hang on to those depressed investments for years before they could profit from the asset appreciation that marked an upswing in global prosperity with the start of World War 2 and which continued long after WWII ended.

Our second historical example is drawn right from the Bible. In the book of Genesis, we have the story of Joseph, the famous Jewish patriarch who was hated by his brothers, sold into Egyptian slavery, accused and then cast into prison unjustly. Let’s pick up the threads of that story in the Egyptian royal court just as Joseph is about to be elevated from prisoner to prime minister!

What was the catalyst for his promotion?

It was Joseph’s statement that seven years of plenty would be followed by seven more years of terrible leanness. Pharaoh’s court heard what Joseph prophesied. They told their friends and their families. Presumably enough people gossiped for the news to blaze across Ancient Egypt in mere weeks.

Then – as usually happens because people get busy with their own lives – most forgot about it!

Seven years later, Pharaoh’s granaries opened. They were brimful with the 20% annual national grain savings that Prime Minister Joseph had set aside during the years of plenty.

Their opening coincided with the start of the widespread famine. Crop yields fell and hunger mounted.

To purchase granary grain during the famine, the people first gave up all their money, then their land, and finally themselves! Pharaoh ended up personally owning all of Egypt (and all the Egyptians) because he heeded Joseph’s advice.

The key lesson we should draw from both accounts is this:

Patient preparation yields the highest gains.

What should we do to position ourselves for economic bounty during whatever next economic crisis the world faces?

Take 3 steps:

  1. Realise money is not evil;
  2. Find out what God expects us to do with money; and
  3. Do it.
  1. Realise money is not evil

The Bible doesn’t call money the root of all evil. It says the love of money is the root of all evil. I’m not splitting hairs and being pedantic. The distinction is important.

You see, we are expected to love God and people, and use money, not the other way around!

Everything we have and everything we are stems from God. He gives it to us out of love, but He nonetheless appears to have hardwired certain laws into the fabric of our universe that govern the release and also the withholding of material blessings.

So, let’s …

  1. Find out what God expects us to do with money

God expects us to trust, serve, love and obey Him. These expectations apply to our whole life, not just our finances.

First, based on the counsel of Scripture, God expects us to trust Him enough to tithe boldly. God grants us heavenly brownie points for returning to Him a tiny sliver of what already is His. Why He should do so is unfathomable but He does so anyway, which is great for all of us who call Him Father!

If right now you happen to be personally hung up on gross or net income-based tithing, just do what your heart tells you. God will speak. Personally, I prefer to tithe the gross amount to open His channels for gross (not mere net) blessings into my life.

What we need to monitor is our attitude in giving, whether to God by way of tithes and offerings, or to charity. We must guard against the insidious voice that tempts us to ‘give to get’. Such a philosophy is riddled with greed.

What we should try to nurture is an attitude of giving to get… to give even more!

Second, God expects us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is His. If Jesus felt it necessary to say that to a people crushed under the iron heel of Rome, He would say the same to Malaysians today: Pay your taxes – all your taxes!

God will see what you do in solitary obedience, and bless you. If the thought of making restitution for years of evasion is frightening, then focus on coming clean with the Inland Revenue Board, God, and your conscience this year. It’s better to make a clean start today than to be paralysed by the historic enormity of a multi-year offence.

However, God has given you wisdom, which He expects you to exercise. Don’t pay a sen more than you have to. God wants us to be honest with the taxman, but He doesn’t expect us to roll onto our backs and hand over more than we ought to. Seek counsel on bona fide tax reliefs and deductions.

Third, God expects us to pay ourselves second. A key principle of secular financial planning is ‘Pay Yourself First’. But from a Christian, God seeks implicit trust. Translation: Pay the full tithe first. Then pay yourself before you pay anyone else. So, pay yourself second.

When paying ourselves second, the usual guideline found in personal finance books written in the West is to set aside 10% of your take-home pay. But you’ll remember in the case of Joseph, 20% of the bountiful harvest during the years of plenty was set aside. As far as our current situation is concerned, it’s likely our country, continent and planet will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis in the decades ahead. Therefore…

  1. Do it

My advice to my financial planning clients, Christians and non-Christians alike, is to accelerate their savings rates.

First, establish a 3- to 12-month EBF or emergency buffer fund to cover emergencies or unforeseen circumstances. Those who are employed should aim to build up savings amounting to 3 to 6 months’ expenses, while the self-employed should shoot for a 6- to 12-month buffer. More details are available in my online article Soar as High as You Like – But for God’s Sake Get Your Safety Net in Place First at www.freecoolarticles.com/FP1.htm

Second, as the crisis deepens and asset prices go into freefall, those who focus on investing slowly for cash flow will be in better shape than those who sink large sums of money into non-cash flow generating assets. So, if the opportunity arises, look for high dividend yielding stocks and REITs (real estate investment trusts), unit trust funds that invest in such stocks and listed REITs, and possibly decent yielding brick-and-mortar rental property.

As your stream of passive income grows, so too will your level of emotional calm. However, guard your heart against the error of mistaking mere gifts for the loving Giver.

Rajen Devadason, CFP, is a Licensed Financial Planner, professional speaker and author.
Read his free articles at www.FreeCoolArticles.com; he may be connected with on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rajendevadason, or via rajen@RajenDevadason.com
You may also follow him on Twitter @Rajen Devadason

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