Thanking God, not my lucky stars

Published 7:34 am Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Before I get started today, I would like to pose a question to all of you who might be reading this.

If you had the choice to make, which would you choose? To live in Chicago, New York City, or any of those cities that are dominating The Weather Channel’s videos showing how icky the snow and cold weather have been?

Or would you choose to live below the gnat line and suffer the hot, dry days and notorious gnats that are surely coming our way later in the year?

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Making that choice today is easy. Give me the part of the country that does not have to hassle with snowy and icy roads or cold winds that present a chill factor below zero. I have enough discomfort with temps in the 20s. I may be singing a different tune in July or August, but for right now, I’m thanking God for His grace and choice for me down here in southwest Georgia.

Everyone I know is worried about the nation’s deficit or debt. Those two sound alike, but they are different. Here is the difference.

Our deficit is that amount of difference between what the government takes in or receives and the amount of money it spends. The government receives your income tax, along with other taxes such as Social Security and Medicare taxes. There are other forms of receipts like royalties, fees or fines.

The money that goes out of our national treasury is all the spending that is associated with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, social services, defense, research, earmarks, foreign aid and so forth.

For a long time, now, and you know it, we have been spending a whole lot more than we are taking in. That, in the parlance of government speak, is deficit spending. We have been piling up deficits for a long time and when you add all of those up, then you have what is known as our national debt.

About a week ago, the Congressional Budget Office projected a 2011 deficit of $1.5 trillion. I tried to look at the online national debt clock that shows the computation of the national debt in real time, but got dizzy seeing the numbers change so quickly. Nevertheless, our current national debt stands at about $14.1 trillion, give or take a few billion!

Looking at it in a different way, the debt for every citizen of the United States is, as of Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011, at 9:30 a.m. approximately $45,457. But, since not everyone pays, the debt for every taxpayer is almost three times that amount at $127, 501.

Pretty big numbers, hey?

I think that the numbers have gotten so large that they cannot be ignored. At the same time, they are so huge that they are hard to decipher. A little research of what nationally known economists think is almost useless because one can find just about an equal amount of gurus on each side of the fence. In other words, some say that the United States is not in serious financial trouble and some will say we’re facing a financial Armageddon.

I guess I wouldn’t know how to sit at the table with super-educated economists so I will have to rely on whatever common sense I have. I have always heard that when one spends more than one makes there will be a day of reckoning. Actually I have not only heard that, but I have lived it.

I have been on both sides of the financial coin, so to speak. I have lived irresponsibly above my means, but now try to live within my means. I don’t say that with arrogance because it was a very grave and humbling experience when the piper presented the bill. I will always remember that lesson.

The Lord changed my life a little over 20 years ago. I went from doing just what I wanted to do to trying, and I emphasize trying, to do the things that He would want me to do. One of those aspects of my life that needed to change was my attitude toward money.

I did not grow up in a house of wastefulness. My parents were very responsible folks and lived within their means. It doesn’t mean that they never borrowed money. Hardly anyone could buy a house or car out of their back pocket. Deficit spending has its place and time.

There was a rhyme and reason to the things that they bought, however. Patience was and is a virtue and their new house was built only after 15 years of living in an older house. Just because a new truck or house would have looked great did not mean that it was bought.

I had to learn my financial lessons the hard way. My deficit spending had no method to its madness. Sort of like the government. My mantra was that if I wanted something, I would get it. After all, what’s a credit card for? I lived that way for 20 years and the balance on the card of life just got higher and higher. Same for the credit card.

Then the change came. The Lord got my attention and I began to learn the lessons of responsible living. The bills, though, from the credit card did not simply disappear. They still had to be paid. By the grace of God, they were, but not without a reckoning.

After the balance was paid, I had to live without a credit card for many, many years. When I say that I understand the privilege of living responsibly and having a credit card, I say it with experience.

One other financial lesson that I had to learn was the importance of balancing a checkbook. In other words, the Lord and momma impressed upon me the need to know just how much money there was in the account. And don’t spend what you ain’t got!

You know what? I feel better about myself when I live responsibly. Plus, it’s the right thing to do. My advice to Uncle Sam would be to learn to live within your means. You’ll feel better about yourself and it’s the right example to set.