Paul Prather

Paul Prather: How to keep your financial sense this time of year


In October, I wrote about an area in which I remain an unapologetic dinosaur, a curmudgeon. That is, I believe it's parents' duty to raise their children right.

Another area in which I'm a Neanderthal-like throwback to the 1930s — or maybe the 1830s — is personal finance.

I probably don't know five people, total, who agree with my philosophy of how to handle money. So if you want to argue with me, be prepared to wait in a long line.

Nonetheless, this being the Christmas season, when even the most conscientious among us are tempted to lose our financial senses, I thought it might be a good time for a little economic gospel according to the Right Rev. St. Paul (Prather).

These are the rules I've followed for 30 years, most of which I learned from a) the Bible, and/or b) my grandma, Jane Chestnut, a widow who somehow lived comfortably and grew her sizeable nest egg on a minimum-wage job making change and mopping floors at a coin laundry. Grandma was a veteran of the Depression who, as the saying went, could squeeze a nickel until the buffalo hollered.

Inasmuch as I've followed these rules, they've prospered me.

To the extent I've ignored them — such as when I borrowed a small fortune to buy 20 rental apartments, just in time for the real estate market to collapse beneath me — they've proven true by biting me in my hindquarters.

I've concluded that these financial laws are built into the fabric of the universe. They'll work for me or against me. But 95 percent of the time, they're going to work:

■ Give generously. No matter how tight your money is, learn to tithe — give away 10 percent of your income. This not only helps churches, charities and the poor, but it builds in you selflessness and self-discipline. It makes you part of a larger cause. If the New Testament is to be believed, and I think it is, your giving also pleases God.

■ Defer gratification. You must have food, shelter and medicine. Everything else is optional. If you can't afford it today, don't buy it. Instead, save up for it and pay cash; by the time you have the money, you'll probably realize you didn't need it anyway.

■ Get a job and keep it. Don't quit your current position unless you already have a new one in hand. Don't jump from job to job unless you're moving up. Are your duties or your boss frustrating? News flash: That's why it's called "work."

■ Never consider yourself above any honest employment. When Ulysses Grant, a college graduate and a future Civil War general and U.S. president, was broke, he hauled firewood to support his family.

■ Get as much education as possible. There are exceptions — if you major in, say, ancient Phoenician art — but generally, the more schooling you have, the more employable you are, and the better paid you'll be.

■ Be scrupulously honest in every transaction. When you're honest, you never have to look over your shoulder. You build good will and a reputation for integrity that makes others want to hire you, work with you and mentor you.

■ Always, always, always live beneath your means. If you're paid $10 an hour, train yourself to live on $8. Give $1 away. Invest $1 in a mutual fund or similar instrument. Put money aside every payday and don't touch it. The greatest of all financial miracles is compounded interest. It might take two or three decades, but eventually your savings will earn you more income than your job does.

■ Avoid debt like the plague, because that's what it is. The Bible said it and so did Shakespeare: the borrower is a slave to the lender. The person who holds your note owns your property and thus your options in life. No liens equals no masters. You're free.

■ Pay the bills you do have. If you don't pay your debts, you're a thief. You took someone's goods or services without reimbursing him, which is no different than stealing his car from his driveway. Thievery is not only wrong; it ruins your good name.

■ Never keep up with the Joneses. The Joneses probably are in debt up to their eyeballs and can't sleep for worrying over how to pay their mortgage. Be content, right now, right here, where you are. If it takes a bigger house to make you happy, you'll be just as miserable in a mansion.

■ Cultivate your spiritual life. Jesus said, "Even when people have an abundance, their life doesn't consist of the possessions they own." The only lasting joy is spiritual joy. It's on the inside, in our hearts, not out in the garage in a Lamborghini. Remember that all the trinkets of this Earth are destined to burn. In the scope of eternity, they mean nothing.

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