Freedom from Freedom: Scheduling Freedom (part 1)

Remember our thesis: We often find freedom in the exact opposite direction of freedom (dare I say…always?)

On a somewhat related note…isn’t it interesting that Paul says that the free man is now a slave to Christ, and the slave is now a free man in Christ? Eh? Eh?

Another concept in which I find the “Freedom from freedom” theory holds true is on the topic of time.

Time and money: Opportunity cost

Perhaps you’ve heard the statement: Time is money. What does that even mean?

Well, let’s put it like this: Most of us start out in a job that pays us by time and not by task. For example, when I first went to work, my job paid me $7 an hour (minimum wage was $6.50 at the time). I was not paid by task but by time. In that regard, I (like many people) learned like this: I was exchanging time for money. I will sell you one hour of my life, time that I could be spending doing something else, for $7.

As we grow older, some of us end up in different pay structures. We get paid by task. For example, let’s say that I make pretty hats, and I sell them for $20 each. And I know that working full speed, I could make 2 hats per hour. My hour is now worth $40.

But now, I am tired. I would like to blog and play video games.

But if I can raise $60, I can buy a new video game.

Hmm…that would cost me one and a half hours.

Hmm…

Hmmmmmmm…

Suddenly, the phone rings. “Hey, Carson, we are going to go to an Art Museum and look at stuff that people have painted. We’ll even pay the entry fee for you! We’re going to be there for about 90 minutes!”

You kidding me? I don’t care that you’re going to pay my little entry fee. I’m not wasting 90 minutes of my life on something I’m not interested in. That’s like $60 worth of time to a pretty hat-maker like me.

So back to my original thought…blogging and video games, or $60?

“Hey, Carson, we are going snowboarding. We’ll be there for 10 hours, and lift tickets are $75.”

Yes. Absolutely. $400 in time, and $75 in lift ticket. But man, snowboarding is fun. Let’s go.

Perhaps you’re following my concept: Making “yes” or “no” decisions with money is very similar to making “yes” or “no” decisions with time…you can only make so many “yes” decisions.

And with this in consideration, it’s no wonder why Americans (it’s actually part of our culture!) get so fed up with people wasting our time: Because that time is time we could be spending on making money, or on something else we’d rather spend time on.

However, there is a critical difference with time that we must consider.

 

Time and money: Similarities and differences

Similarities:

  1. Time can be exchanged for money (e.g. Picking up extra hours at work, taking on an extra part-time job, or doing a one-time thing for money).
  2. Money can be exchanged for time (e.g. Hiring someone to do something so that you don’t have to, or paying a babysitter so that you don’t have to spend time taking care of the kid.)
  3. Opportunity cost: Just like money, we have to choose what to spend our time on, and choose what NOT to spend our time on. If I have $60, I cannot buy both the new Splinter Cell AND another new controller. I spend it on one or the other. Likewise, if I have 2 hours, I cannot spend 2 hours with my friend AND play spend 2 hours on a date with my wife.

No, I’m not taking my friend on a date with my wife. If you said that just now, pardon my arrogance, but you clearly know nothing about marriage.

Differences (and these are big):

  1. 1.      With time, unlike money, everybody has the same amount per day.

Sure, someone will say “I don’t have time!” or “That person has more time than I have.” But actually, this is a simple concept: Everybody gets 24 hours a day.

Johnny says “I don’t have time to add on another task.” But he plays video games 2 hours a day. Does he have time? Sure.

Before you judge him, remember that you stalk people on Facebook for 2 hours a day. So if you judge him, then you can never tell anyone “I don’t have time” again.

Susie says “Well, I don’t stalk people on Facebook or play video games. In fact, I am spending all my time keeping my grades up in my AP classes. Therefore, I can truly say that I don’t have time.” No, you can’t. Susie, you get 9 hours of freaking sleep every night. Nine hours. I know that’s healthy, but man, compared to the rest of us, you might as well hibernate for a while.

Susie, you do not have less time than everyone else. You simply spend your time on grades and sleep.

Johnny gives up some time for video games.

As for me, as an example, my average day (let’s take a Tuesday, for example) involves ten hours of work, two hours of family time, two hours of video game time, 1 hour of randomly assorted tasks (go on an errand with Sarah, or do the kitty litter, or stuff like that), 1 hour of eating something, 1 hour of computer stuff (blogging, Facebook, internet stuff) and about 7 hours of sleep. Sometimes I stay up late playing video games more than I should. That means 6 hours of sleep. Sometimes I sleep in. That means 20 minutes of family time (not a good habit).

If I want to do something else, I can make cuts somewhere. But where? And is it a worthy something else to do? Is it actually worth giving up any of this time?

  1. 2.      Time, unlike money, cannot be made back up.

I think one of my science teachers back at Sprague said it best: “When you’re young, take big risks with your money. If you lose $1000, you can simply make it back again.” Simple…but slightly true. Before you get caught in the “repeating habit” of career/bills/life, you can take risks like that.

However, I do put a little bit of stock into that one Dalai Lama quote, which legend says that it was his answer to “What surprises you most about man?” The quote goes:

“Man surprised me most about humanity. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Not too much stock, mind you. This can be taken too far.

However, I must say that if the goal of anyone’s life is a great retirement, then there is a great sadness to that. Youth and newness has special joys that cannot be brought back. Abrielle will never be a baby again. My wife and I, although we can rekindle romance, will never be newlyweds again. My dog, Panda, was put to sleep less than a year ago. I remember spending time with Panda. I can’t get that back. My cat, Baldue, is 15 years old now. She is on my lap while I type this. Once she’s gone, I can’t get her back. My mom died of cancer. I can’t spend time with her anymore.

Now, as I mentioned last post: Regret is stupid. My goal in saying these things is not to produce regret…but rather, to inspire a sober assessment of the present. Not to be super depressing…but when I lost my mom, my father lost his wife. It is wise for me to remember that there is no guarantee about how long I will get to keep my wife before she goes home. I’ve heard the saying that no parent should suffer the pain of outliving their child. I agree…but this is a reality for some people. Who is to say that tragedy will not strike my own household, my own daughter? Let me not live in fear of what MIGHT happen, but rather live in thankfulness for the time I get to spend with my daughter.

In fact, someday Abrielle will move out. I remember my own family of five…Mom, Dad, Dawnine, Tara, and myself. The three of us have now “spread our wings.” Someday Abrielle will spread her wings. Let me enjoy my time with her. Because I can’t get it back.

So, to conclude the first half of the “time” post, let us sum it up like this:

In light of the similarities, we should be just as wise and discerning in spending our time as we should be in spending our money.

In light of the differences, we should be even wiser in how we spend our time.

Once my wife reads this post, I will never be able to guiltlessly spend hours playing Mass Effect in front of her again.

The key word is “guiltlessly.” I’ll still play it.

Coming soon: Time, part 2. How the “Freedom from Freedom” concept plays into it.

Freedom from Freedom: Financial Freedom

Remember our thesis: We often find freedom in the exact opposite direction of freedom (dare I say…always?)

And I can think of no more practical example of this than on the topic of finances.

In order to illustrate this point, I need to tell you about my history.

Back in the summer of 2000, I was hired by Karate for Kids. I had assisted with classes as a member of the SWAT team (Super Winning Attitude Team. We were the “demo team” and the “help out with classes” team all in one) for a few years when I was hired on as a staff member. My job: Assist with classes. Mr. Lyon would teach the main group. I would teach the kids that had missed some classes and needed catching up on their form. I was 14 years old at the time.

Along with this first job came something interesting…something I had never seen before. It was called a “paycheck.” It would actually go into my “bank account.” I never had an allowance growing up…so if I wanted anything, I had to ask for it, and my parents would say “yes” or they would say “no.” But now…for the first time ever, something was different. This money was not given to me. This money was earned. It was not a gift. It was mine. No one got to tell me how to use it or spend it. I had freedom with it.

Now, at 14, I had been enjoying the world of “video games” for about 8 years at that point. But since I didn’t have an allowance, the only way for me to acquire these video games was to ask my parents. And Mom didn’t understand…she would say these nonsense things like “Why do you need another game? You have all these other games to play.” Yes, mom, but this is Metal Gear Solid. None of these other games are Metal Gear Solid. Why do you not understand that?

Regardless, usually around every birthday or Christmas was the only time I would get a new video game. And then, it was never the newest game out or anything like that.

Now, I enjoyed them. And I’m not complaining…those games were a lot of fun for me, my sisters, and my friends. But I am telling you this story so that you can truly understand how much my world changed when I acquired my own paycheck.

But then, something interesting would always happen with this money. Strangely, I found that when I spent it, it would no longer be there. And if I spent it too quickly, my life would involve one week of joy, of getting the video game I wanted, of getting the fast food I wanted, of buying food for friends as well…but this week would be followed by three weeks of being “broke” and waiting for that next paycheck.

For the next four years, I would endure that cycle every month. Get paycheck. Be excited. Spend it. Be broke. Get paycheck. Repeat. Sometimes, I would spend it more slowly than others.

Let’s word it differently…at the beginning of the month, I could say “Yes” to whatever. At the mid to end of month, I would have to say “No.” Until something magical happened.

In 2003 or so (I don’t exactly remember), I got my first credit card.

In fact, I could get a laptop at Best Buy, and have it paid off in 18 months with no interest. My mom was cautious…but the first thing I did was make an Excel spreadsheet and show her how I would pay it off. Impressed, they let me go through with it. Eventually, I would succeed at paying it off in about 15 months. Three months early. Get some.

With this Best Buy credit card, I was sent an affiliate card. HSBC. $750 limit. I didn’t use it, but I had it.

Along with that, U.S. Bank (my bank) advertised a student credit card. I got that one. $1500 limit. I didn’t use it, but I had it.

Until I was about to leave for a trip to Washington D.C., and I knew I would be on the plane for a while. So I bought three Game Boy Advance games. On the credit card. I would pay it off later.

Let me tell you exactly what happened in that moment…my life before that moment involved me saying “No” at the end of the month. But now, I didn’t have to say no. I had the freedom (notice that word) to say “Yes,” as long as I paid it off next month.

Over the next six years…the pattern looked like this. Want stuff. Spend debit card account (actual money I have). Run out. Spend money I don’t have. Rack up $300 of debt. Pay off $300…balance now zero. Good. “I pay it off every month” I would say. Then, rack up $400. Pay it off. Balance zero. Rack up $400 again. OOPS. Because of time off, paycheck doesn’t supply me enough to cover that. Pay off $200. Credit Card balance: $200. Better take it easy.

Run out of debit card money. Rack up $300 more. Balance: $500. Pay $300. Balance: $200. Rack up $400. $600 total, right? Pay off some, rack up some more. Do you see where this is going?

Hit limit. Credit Card company raises limit. Wow, thanks, Credit Card company! You are such a helper.

Limit: $3000.

Limit: $4500.

Fast forward…

Limit: $8500. And they won’t raise it anymore. Interest every month comes out to about $240. JUST in interest. And guess what…I hit my limit. In order for me to spend more, I had to pay it down.

And for the first time since before 2003…I had to go through the experience of HAVING to say “No” to something, because I had no way of saying Yes. But the different was that this time, I would lose $240 every month, even if I didn’t buy anything at all. And when I had to say “No” to something because I couldn’t say “yes” (because of my credit limit), I suddenly realized something…I hadn’t felt that feeling since before credit cards. There was a “feeling” of freedom. Freedom to look at something and get it. Freedom to not have to walk away without it. But that “freedom” did not result in freedom, now, did it?

“Well, whatever.” I thought, back in 2007, looking at my online account balance. “This is my problem, not anybody else’s. I will work myself out of it.” However, something happened. A game changer. I started liking this one girl at Corban. And, amazingly enough, she started liking me back. And then, I realized that at this age (22, to be exact), this might not be another “dating” relationship. This could very well actually result in marriage.

And then, when I looked at my debt…well, this was no longer “my” problem. This was “our” problem. And when I mustered up the courage to tell her how much debt I had accrued, I felt pretty ashamed.

Oh, she told me that she had debts, too. Sure, Sarah, but YOUR debts are from student loans. Ask me what my debts are from.

That’s right, video games and food.

So, the result of my financial freedom was this: I brought approximately $15,000 of debt (three credit cards and a car) to my marriage. I cleared up just barely enough to put our honeymoon Bed & Breakfast on the card.

As the story goes, my taekwondo-instructor-slash-boss got my wife and me the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course as a wedding gift. Cool…I thought. Kinda.

We went through it by ourselves, at first. Sarah peer pressured me to cut up my credit cards. I actually didn’t want to do it…but she cut up hers right in front of me (Whatever. She had a zero balance on it. Big whoop). And what kind of addicted, pathetic loser would look at her and say “Hey, nice job cutting that one up. I think I’ll just keep mine, though”? So I did it.

We budgeted. I had $40 of “blow money” in my court every month. I went from doing whatever I wanted with about $1300 to $1700 (imagine all the Taco Bell) to doing whatever I wanted with $40. Needless to say, that was hard. Really. Freaking. Hard.

Financial freedom? I had never felt so financially un-free in my life. And I was working just as hard as I always had. Harder, actually. $40. Not even enough to buy one new video game. (Sarah and I would budget a game for me, every now and then.)

That was 2009. We started the “debt snowball” You Dave Ramsey people know what I’m talking about. Since the battle with debt is an emotional battle, not a logical battle (If we were logical, we wouldn’t rack up that debt to begin with), the debt snowball involves paying off the smallest debt first so that you can take what you would’ve paid towards the smaller payment and pay it towards the next one. It makes you feel like you’re making bigger payments, and gives you smaller victories, FASTER. And that’s important in that game.

Two and a half years later of us working hard, not spending much, and God’s blessing and providing, and we paid off all three credit cards and the car. We now have further to go…about $11,000 in combined student loans. But if we can pay those off…it means that every month we will need $183 less than we need now. Might sound small…but it might not. If you put $183 in my wallet every month, I’d freak out. And hug you. So yeah, it is a big deal.

So where to after that? Well, let’s take this a step further. Debt means freedom now, restriction later. Paying off debt means restriction now, freedom later. Investing takes that one step further.

Imagine this. Like, seriously, imagine this: Having invested enough so that your investment makes more for you than you make for you.

You could sit there and do absolutely nothing. And feed your family and pay all of your bills.

“Why, Carson, doing nothing is lazy. Laziness is bad.”

Oh, well, how about this: Go to your church and volunteer for whatever you want to volunteer for, with no time restrictions. Teach what you love to others, whether it’s Taekwondo or Snowboarding or Tennis because you want to. Or use your assets to pay your bills, and use your paycheck to feed homeless puppies. Or invest more, so that you can feed entire countries of homeless puppies. I don’t know.

As I mentioned, freedom is found in the exact opposite direction of freedom. I can think of no better example than finances.

VERY IMPORTANT P.S. – MONEY AND FAITH DO NOT CONTRADICT, BUT THEY WILL IF YOU LET THEM.

Biblically, debt is unwise and investing is wise. I believe that because…

  1. It’s all over Proverbs, and
  2. Jesus uses investing as a metaphor in some of his parables. Now, the parables were meant to illustrate other things, but I take this as an indication that Jesus is okay with investing. I could be wrong.

We should be wise with our money, but we should NEVER place our faith in money. Money can do a lot, but it cannot do everything.

I believe that God will call one person to obey Him by investing. Those investments should be placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Do not EVER fall into the trap that investing will “enable” God to work through you, or that investing will “enable” you to do more for the kingdom of God. Obeying God will enable you to do more for the kingdom of God. Period. God could drop a billion dollars in your lap, or burn up a billion dollars.

God calls one person to obey Him by investing. He calls the next person to obey Him by selling everything He has. He calls one person to obey Him by leading a megachurch (Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll). He calls the next person to be a missionary in the 80/20 window (the middle east) and be martyred for their faith…their names never to be known in history by anyone but their family, their few friends, and God Himself.

Obey what God calls you to do. If you are pursuing God by prayer, Scripture, and fellowship, and you receive no indication, no “Spirit-signal,” then just keep doing what you’re doing. I do not think God often micro-manages, but if He calls you to sell everything you have, please don’t say to God “But Dave Ramsey says I have to invest!”

ONE LAST P.P.S.

Remember…how you get money is a matter of sin or not sin. (If you get it by stealing and lying, that’s sin. If you get it by honest work, that is not sin.) What you do with that money is a matter of wisdom or foolishness. God has placed that money under your care, as God’s way of providing for your needs, your wants (God actually does bless people and wants them to have what they want sometimes, just like any parent!), and His kingdom. So use it wisely.

OKAY, THE FINAL P.P.P.S.

It is very easy to think “Wow, where would I be now if I hadn’t squandered all that money? What if I had never gone into debt, and had just started investing right then?” Sure, daydreaming about that might be interesting, but what’s that saying that every middle schooler is saying? YOLO? You only live once? I’ll never have the chance to go back and fix that, so what good does it do dwelling upon it?

Thinking about that is cool, I guess, but regret is a stupid place to be. Let’s move forward…as opposed to thinking “What if I could move backwards?” Starting this at 18 would’ve been better than starting this at 27, but starting this at 27 is way better than starting this at 28.

Freedom from Freedom – An introduction

Ah, freedom. A value so close to our little American hearts that anybody who threatens to stifle that freedom in the tiniest way is immediately tagged and identified as the worst type of enemy. And this is true in little things, things that honestly don’t really even matter.

I mean, just imagine your way through this little exercise with me. What would you, as a current or past teenager, feel about your school enforcing school uniforms, let alone simply tightening the dress code rules?

Or when your parents would require you to not watch certain movies/play certain games/read certain books?

Or when your church leader would tell you, at camp, that you weren’t allowed to travel in pairs with the opposite sex at night?

 

I believe that there are many rules in our world that are there for a good reason. Yet, I do not often hear people point to these rules and say “Yeah, I’m glad that rule is there” or even “I understand why it’s there.” (My best example is the youth at camp walking in pairs.)

 

We, as kids, teenagers, and adults, cringe at any rule that infringes upon our freedom.

 

However, I believe an interesting thing about freedom. Like many things that Jesus taught about, it is interesting that often, freedom is found in the exact opposite direction we would naturally take in order to get it.

 

You see, I think it is quite safe to say that “freedom” is the exact reason many people stay as far away from Christianity as they could possibly get. Yet, I am convinced that freedom is found in Christianity…and not just in a “theological” way, but a very, very practical way. And this blog series is meant to show this concept in five different areas.

 

The financial sphere.

The sexual sphere.

The relational sphere.

The discipline sphere. (Not my cleverest name but you know…I’m working on it)

The theological sphere.

Oh, let’s add another one: The integrity sphere.

 

See, in each area of our lives, it would seem that freedom is found in the exact opposite direction of freedom.

One might avoid Christianity because a commonly accepted Christian teaching is that one should not have sex outside of marriage. They avoid Christianity because it infringes on their sexual freedom. Yet…when we see them again ten years later…do they look “free” to you? Or do they look battered and beaten?

One might avoid what the book of Proverbs teaches about “surety” (in other words, debt) because it infringes on their freedom to get what they want right now. When we started Dave Ramsey, my wife peer-pressured me into cutting up my credit card…I REALLY didn’t want to do it. I wanted to keep it, you know, in case of an emergency. (Emergency meaning I am out of money and I am hungry for Taco Bell, or a certain video game came out and I cannot possibly wait to buy it.) Cutting up my credit card lost me my “freedom” to have what I wanted now and pay for it later…yet I had already lost my freedom by that point anyway because in order to use my card, I had to pay down enough of it to distance myself from the limit.

 

So I find that virtually anywhere in my life, when I seek freedom by “doing whatever I want,” I tend to lose my freedom. But discipline now leads to freedom later.

 

It is my intention that this little series is going to be short, but very, very practical. If you are reading this, thanks and I hope you enjoy it!