An opportunity.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, Girl Ninja and I are heavily involved in a high school outreach program called Young Life. We’ve formed some pretty amazing relationships with high school kids over the years. Listening to them sob after they broke up with their most recent boyfriend/girlfriend. Visiting them in the hospital a few hours after they tried to end their life. Or yesterday, attending the funeral for the mother of one of our 16-year-old Junior boys, Tyler.

His mother died unexpectedly two weeks ago. His father, well, he’s never met his father. Tyler is parentless. It breaks my heart to think that his mom wont be there to watch his high school basketball games next season, that he has no parent to cheer him on as he walks across the stage to receive his H.S. diploma. That his future children will never meet their grandma.

My heart is heavy for him. 

While we were attending the memorial service I noticed a piece of paper indicating a trust fund had been set up for Tyler at Bank Of America. Anyone could give money to the fund, which Tyler  (or his legal guardian) would then be able to use to help provide for him.

When Girl Ninja noticed the piece of paper she approached me and asked if we should donate to the fund.

I told her “No.”

You see, I imagine this trust fund will collect a few thousand dollars at most. This money, although generously given, will probably not do much to provide Tyler a sense of security or provision.

The reality is, six-months from now, many of us that were at the memorial service will go about our lives. Numbing ourselves to the reality that Tyler is still parentless. It’s easy to donate to a trust fund today, when your heart hurts for Tyler, but what about next year? Will we be as affected by his loss then, as we are now? Doubtful

I see an opportunity for Girl Ninja and I to do something greater.

Tyler’s best friend is Dante. Custody of Tyler is going to Dante’s single-mom. Dante’s family of two, now becomes a family of three. I imagine this adds a significant amount of financial stress to Dante’s mom. She now has two boys that will want to go to prom. That will play sports that require expensive equipment. That likely will want to go to college. That need new clothes at the start of a school year. The list goes on and on.

So while Girl Ninja and I wont be donating to Tyler’s trust fund, we hope to provide for him in a much more meaningful way. We want to sit down with him and express our desire to help him financially when he needs it. Explain that we understand it would be uncomfortable for him to have to ask his friend’s mom for money to go to the movies with his girlfriend.

Tyler has to grow up a heck of a lot quicker than most sixteen year olds I know, but we still want him to know that he can be a kid. That prom expenses don’t have to be a worry. That if his gas-tank is running on empty, we’re happy to fill it up for him.

Now let me be clear, we don’t want to be Tyler’s parents. We aren’t and could never fill that void. We would just be honored/delighted to provide him some type of financial security that his parents no longer can.

We have been blessed with a healthy income and minimal expenses. What kind of Christians would we be if we pretended the money we have sitting in our bank accounts is ours? Truth is, some of this money is Tyler’s… the big man upstairs just decided to have us be the stewards of it.

DO YOU GET IT!?

This is why I punched debt in the face. This is why we don’t keep up with the Joneses.

This my friends, is financial freedom.

We’re all kind of terrible.

I love Christmas time. Girl Ninja, however, REALLY REALLY REALLY loves Christmas time. It’s fascinating how Christmas cheer infects society. Is it just me or do people, in general, seem nicer and more friendly from late November to early January? Why can’t we be not-douchey all the time?.

I digress.

With holiday travels, gift buying, time off from work, and hopefully plenty of entertainment and socializing with your loved ones; costs can add up quick… Like quicker than Kim Kardashian’s marriage to Kris Humphries.

This year Girl Ninja and I are buying gifts for about 15 people. Not because we feel like we have to. Not because these people are expecting gifts from us. But because we enjoy getting gifts for people.

As I was surfing Facebook the other day, I saw someone had posted the following image…

Ugh.

Instant guilt trip.

While I didn’t participate in (or blog about) Black Friday, I can’t help but be impacted by the picture above. Truth is, none of the gifts we’ll be buying this Christmas season are necessary. How can we buy a $30 shirt for someone from Nordstrom, but not think about someone, somewhere, that doesn’t even have a shirt?

We can’t.

We love Jesus too much, and know what he said about helping those in need, to just ignore such a big problem. Reality is, a lot of people will go without this holiday. Without clothes. Without food. Without shelter. Without a family.

While we still want to buy fun gifts for our family and friends, we don’t want to lose sight of what Christmas is all about (sounds cheesy to say, but it really is true).

That’s why, this year, we’ve decided to implement a matching system. Every dollar we spend on friends and family, will be matched with an equal contribution to a family, person, or organization in need.

How simple, yet satisfying, is that? If I buy a $100 pair of jeans for Girl Ninja, we will buy 5 pairs of $20 jeans for a local women’s shelter. If we spend $150 getting my family gifts, we’ll donate $150 to Charity Water so clean water can be brought to people in Africa. If Girl Ninja gets me that unicorn I’ve always wanted, we’ll sponsor a local family and make sure they have the best Christmas they’ve ever had.

HOW FUN (and easy) IS THAT?!

Giving money away is the best reminder that nothing we have is really ours. We are simply stewards of the resources the Big Man upstairs has given us. We’d be fools to think that we’ve earned the lifestyle and luxuries we’ve been afforded. Christian or not, there is no denying it feels good helping those in need.

Do you participate in any type of extra giving during the holiday season? Sponsor a family or a kid? Volunteer at a local shelter?

I’m not dead.

Did you think I was dead? It’s been a handful of days (five I think) since I last posted. I left last Thursday to embark on an epic journey with Girl Ninja to Princeton, B.C. in Canada. We were not alone on this trip, however, we loaded up a charter bus with 30 freshmen from our local high school to spend a week at a Young Life camp there.

If you recall a few weeks back, I posted about clever ways to help these kids raise money to cover part of their camp costs. We did a lot of flocking, they sold bags of coffee, Jamba Juice partnered with us and gave us some coupons they could sell, we were hired to tear out the carpet and paint a the walls of a basement, we built fences, and we even received $1,500 from a PDITF reader who asked to help support these kids.

How insane is that? A reader I’ve never met decided to hit me up and offer to pay for three camp spots in full in hopes of allowing kids that come from less privileged families the opportunity to have a week at camp with their friends. I’m blown away by this reader’s generosity not because of the amount given (although that is pretty incredible), but more so by the fact that she reached out to me unsolicited. I didn’t ask my readers to support these kids to camp, but she took it upon herself to do so anyways.

That my friends is why I am dedicated to being financially responsible and a diligent saver. I want to be able to bless people not only when they ask for it, but when they DON’T. I want to give unconditionally, to someone I’ll never meet, in hopes that their lives are better because of it, without expecting or wanting anything in return. Financial stability allows one to give without hesitation.

It was one heck of a week and Man Oh Man am I exhausted. I’ll definitely be spending my Fourth of July reflecting on all the crazy games we played, the deep/emotional talks I had, and the happiness I saw in our kids’ eyes as they felt the love of the Lord pour out all over them.

If I had to choose one picture, from the 800+ I took, to sum up this happiness it would be this one…

 

We presently need presents.

I admit it. Girl Ninja and I have been terrible wedding gift givers as of late. In fact, we are four wedding presents behind, with the most overdue gift being 10 months late…and counting.

This is especially embarrassing considering Girl Ninja and I got gifts from each of these persons on (or before) our wedding. Needless to say, we’ve dropped the ball major and after attending Girl Ninja’s older sister’s wedding this last weekend, we are ready to play catch up.

During our first year of marriage we attended approximately eleven billion weddings. The idea of picking a gift (even if off the registry) for reach of these weddings severely stressed me out. This is why I tried pitching the “cash only” gift giving policy. Whenever a birthday, wedding, shower, etc came up, instead of giving the person a gift they may not like, we would simply give them cold hard cash.

Girl Ninja obviously shut that idea down as it clearly showed a lack of effort and thought. So here we stand now, four wedding gifts behind, about to be at least a couple hundred dollars poorer, wondering what is the perfect gift that will say “we love you and we are sorry this is late” all at the same time?

Today, we begin our mission to be less-sucky friends to those we love most. Something tells me Pottery Barn, Crate And Barrel, and Macy’s Home are in my very near future. Wish me, and my bank account, luck 🙂

I’m four wedding gifts behind. Are you behind at all? Have you ever just NOT gotten someone (whose wedding you’ve attended) a gift? What dollar amount do you typically try to spend?

Shut the Flock up.

So last night after youth group, Girl Ninja took a bunch of her high school girls Flocking. What’s flocking you ask? Well, let me tell you. We  take about 25 of those stupid Flamingo Yard Ornaments (the ones that old people tend to have in front of their mobile homes) and put them in an unsuspecting victim’s front yard. We leave a sign saying “You’ve been flocked by Young Life. For $25 we will remove the Flamingos from your yard or for $50 you can tell us who to flock next.”  It’s a clever and fun way to raise financial support for our kids to go to camp this summer, not to mention the victims seem to really enjoy being able to “flock” their friends.

This summer, Girl Ninja and I will be responsible for taking 25 freshmen to summer camp so they can have the best week of their lives. It’s going to be epic. Unfortunately, an epic week isn’t cheap. Many of our Young Life kids come from families that can pay the full camp fee, but some don’t. Girl Ninja and I have taken it upon ourselves to help these kids fundraise, flocking being one example.

While car washes are fun and all, let’s get real, they aren’t huge money makers. On a good day we could maybe make $500 at a car wash. Divide that up over the 15 or so kids working it, and suddenly each kid is only walking away with $33 towards their camp fee. Minimal return on investment, and a crappy hourly wage if each kid is there for about 5 hours.

That said, I am a big believer in making these kids work hard to raise money, not just going door to door asking for a handout. That’s why Girl Ninja and I have reached out to our parents and some other close friends, asking them if they would like to “Hire a few high school kids for a day.”

Girl Ninja’s parents put in an order for about four guys to come help build a fence they’ve been meaning to put in. My parents are hiring a group of boys/girls to refinish their basement (rip out the carpet and paint all of the walls). Another local community member has a slew of yard work he doesn’t want to do, and is pumped to hire six or so kids for a days work of manual labor. These type of projects pay handsomely and will go a long way in helping the kids in need to pay their way to camp.

But now I need your help (no I’m not asking you to give me money). Aside from flocking and service projects, we really are scratching our heads on ways to help these kids make more money. We will go the car wash route and selling crappy candy bars if need be, but I’d like to be much more creative and think outside the box.

Help a Ninja out! What other ways can we raise funds for these kids without just being like “Yo, can we have some money?Have you seen any cool fundraising tactics? If you got flocked would you be pissed?

p.s. in case you are wondering, the bottom of the note indicates a flocking victim can simply give us a call and we will remove them for free if they don’t feel like participating. We typically only flock people we know or are already active in supporting Young Life. Not like we just pick random people who might shoot us in the face for stepping foot on their property. 

 p.p.s. here is a picture of me being blobbed at young life camp when I was in high school. 

I’ll take nine blizzards.

Girl Ninja and I were at Young Life (a quasi youth group) last night with our high schoolers and we made an impromptu trip to Dairy Queen with some of them afterwards. As we walked in we were welcomed to the most glorious news ever, “Blizzards were buy one get the second for $0.99.” Are you freakin kidding me!?

I professed to the entire DQ restaurant, which only consisted of our Young Life kids, that Blizzards were on the Ninja household. The kids didn’t know what to do. At first they thought we were joking. Then they thought we were crazy. And then they realized we just wanted to do something nice for them. High school kids love desert and they love free stuff. Only cost us $18, but meant the world to these kids (some of whom had no money on them).

That my friends is the best part about being debt free. Wait, scratch that. You don’t have to be debt free to do a good deed. Let’s try this again…

That my friends is the best part about having your finances in order and a little extra cash flow. Remember, being generous doesn’t require thousands of dollars, or having a huge net worth. No, all one must do is see an opportunity to do something nice, and take advantage of said opportunity. It’s really that simple.

I’m challenging you to use $18 for good this week. Leave a huge tip after a meal. Pay for someone’s groceries when you are checking out. Just do something sporadic and fun for no other reason than you can. It’s good for the soul.

 

On a side note, I tweeted the following picture yesterday and people seemed to get a kick out of it. Apparently, my wife is addicted to pillows as I am in awe of the amount of pillows we have to put on and take off the bed every day. Check it….

Apparently people think it’s weird that we sleep on a full-sized mattress. What, you don’t think my 6’2 frame fits? Haha, can’t WAIT for a queen (or king) one day!

p.s. favorite nails from yesterday…. No Time To Explain and You Mean To Tell Me

Deductive reasoning (this title is kinda clever)

First off, thanks for helping me host an awesome conversation yesterday about charitable gifts and taxes. Y’all were polite and cool-headed, even if you didn’t necessarily agree with the person that commented above or below you. Well played everyone, well played indeed.

Anywhoozle, yesterday a reader suggested that anyone who lists charitable gifts on their taxes is not donating out of the goodness of their heart, but for the selfish benefit of receiving a tax deduction. I can understand why the commenter thinks this.

Truth is, the deduction benefits probably do encourage charitable giving. I mean when was the last time you gave $1,000 to a business or organization that didn’t qualify for a deduction? If you’re like me the answer is almost never. Sure I give $20 here and there to a homeless person, or I might give $100 to a friend for a missions trip, but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever just walked down to my local coffee shop and been like “Hey you guys do awesome work and I want to support the business, here’s $500.”

So yes, I guess most of us probably do only give substantial financial gifts to charities that allow us to deduct that gift from our tax obligation, but ultimately I have to disagree with the sentiment.

I might be wrong, but I’d bet most people donate because they want to help someone or something out, not because they’ll get a deduction. It just doesn’t make financial sense. If I’m in the 25% tax bracket and I give $10,000 to charity over the course of the year, my maximum benefit for making that contribution would be $2,500. Why the heck would I give someone $10,000, so I can save $2,500? It clearly would be to my benefit to never make the contribution, write Uncle Sam a check for an extra $2,500, and keep the remaining $7,500.

And that is exactly the point I want to make today.

Why do people get so jacked up on tax deductions like they are best thing ever? I mean people were telling me to keep my student loans because I could deduct some of the interest on the loan. They literally were trying to convince me to keep paying $2,000 a year in interest to Sallie Mae, so I didn’t have to send the government $500. I bet some of you with mortgages have probably had similar garbage preached to you, “Don’t pay off the mortgage, you’ll lose the deduction.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some deductions. If you are eligible, take ’em. Just don’t do something stupid and give Person A $5,000 so you can avoid giving Person B $1,000… Unless of course you have so much freakin’ money you like wasting it, then by all means waste to your heart’s content.

Have you been told to keep a debt around longer than you wanted because of the tax deduction? Do you regularly give significant financial gifts to non-qualified businesses or organizations? Have you ever given a gift, purely for the tax benefit?