Christianity Today, Editorials, and Cognitive Dissonance

[I know it’s Christmas Eve, but I was catching up on things and saw this pattern. Merry Christmas. Read this later.]

The dictionary defines cognitive dissonance as the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. As a rule, we cannot maintain cognitive dissonance for long.

When we run into information that contradicts our personally held beliefs we must either refute/discredit the information or change our beliefs. Sometimes instead of discrediting the info, we discredit the source. (That doesn’t make the info false, but allows people to feel OK about ignoring it). Other times we rationalize our positions. (That also doesn’t make the info false, but does allow us to feel we’ve chosen the best position in difficult situations.)

When the new information is challenging issues of core beliefs, we are more likely to defend current opinions more strongly. It’s difficult to move people in their core beliefs.

Case in point- Christianity Today publishes an opinion of one editor. The article makes several points, and compares the current president to President Clinton, morally. CT is a previously trusted source (Many agreed with their criticisms of President Clinton), so Christians take note. But the opinion causes cognitive dissonance. Trump supporting Believers cannot accept the editorial and continue to support Trump. So we see the responses… CT is progressive, etc… (Attacking the source) What’s the alternative, supporting baby-killing Democrats? Lesser of two evils, etc…(Rationalizing)

For the record, I don’t agree with everything in the article. But I find it interesting that the primary criticism of the piece falls into those 2 categories- discrediting source and rationalizing, rather than point by point rebuttal of the points of the article. I’m sure there are some responses that do that, but most I’ve seen are pointing to the source or rationalizing.

People really don’t like it when their core positions are challenged.

What’s our go to response when presented with contradictory info? Do we discredit the source, rationalize our position, or refute the information or change our position?

Possible Podcast

I’m considering producing a podcast.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you probably know I am all about helping people develop a biblical worldview. I have taught a few times and done a few Bible studies related to this. So, I was thinking about how to get that information out, and fell into the idea of a podcast.

Podcasting is popular, and there are ways to get them set up for free or very little money. And I was surprised to find there weren’t any easily found podcasts about developing a biblical worldview.

I sat down and lined out a series of episodes. Ive written 4 of them out, and begun gathering content for 3 or 4 others episodes. I may just do a short series, or if I’m inspired and it goes well I may do more. Definitely on a seasonal basis.

To make it easier, I would record several episodes at a time, and then release them every week or few days.

More info to come on this as I consider whether to do it or not.

How to Get a Warranty Repair From Dell: Public Shaming

Dell, like many electronics companies, does not like to repair your computer under warranty. Especially your laptops. People treat consumer electronics as consumables these days, and fixing your laptop for free costs them money, when they would rather you buy a new laptop, which makes them money.

This is the story of how my daughter’s 5-month old, less-than-$200 laptop almost cost $120 to repair, but eventually Dell stood by their product and repaired it under warranty.

My daughter, who was 12 at the time, had saved her money to buy a new laptop. She had just enough to buy an inexpensive netbook and a subscription to Office 365. She wanted to write, she’s thinking of becoming an author one day. We went to the local electronics store, and decided on a Dell. We chose Dell over some other brands because Dell was known to us.

For 5 months my daughter babied this computer. It was moved from her desk to our room every night. It was never dropped, bumped or mishandled. She took good care of it, better care than I took of my own laptop, which cost 5 times more.

So she comes to me with a broken hinge. It takes about 30 seconds to realize that dell has designed this laptop with metal screws going into less than 1/4 inch of plastic. 3 of the 4 pieces of plastic have snapped. Only one screw it holding. Every time she opens the laptop stress is placed on the screws. The brittle plastic could not stand up to the strain of normal use.

This is an obvious design flaw.


See the small pieces of plastic on the small screws. That’s all that holds the screen onto the hinge.

So, I get on the dell website, and chat up a customer service rep. He has just told me the computer is under warranty, BUT his supervisor has told him the damage is physical damage and not covered under warranty. I have sent him pictures of the damage, and the case is perfect, not even a scratch. But the hinge is broken, both are really. I ask to have the supervisor get on the chat. He arranges a phone call.

A while later the supervisor calls. He starts to explain why broken hinged are considered physical damage. Starts with drops. I stop him and remind him there is no damage to the case, the computer has not been dropped. At this point he says the craziest thing: Sometimes opening and closing the laptop can cause physical damage. ???

I, politely, go off on him for a bit. First, laptops are designed to open and close. And my daughter did not mistreat this computer. This is an obvious sign flaw, or manufacturer defect in the plastic. Neither of which negates my warranty claim. He changes his tune and suddenly the repair will be covered.

The box arrives and I send it off. You might think this is the end, but if you know much about warranty repairs, you know there is another hurdle.

You see, even though the CS supervisor has ruled my repair under warranty, the same “physical damage” dodge is in effect for other employees. A few days later I got an email from the repair depot saying my repair would not be covered and would cost $120.

OK, here we go. Same dance all over again, but now they have the computer. i call the tech, who doesn’t answer. So I call the customer service line. I need an out of warranty repair reclassified as a warranty repair. Who can help me? I get transferred from one person t another and finally back to a lady who decides she will be the brick wall. She starts reading her script. I interrupt. I ask if she has the power to classify the repair. She says no, and to let her finish. I stop her again, and basically I’m told that no supervisor will help me. She will not transfer me, she will not help. I explain my conversation with the previous supervisor. She says I would need to talk to him. I ask to be transferred to him, and she refuses to transfer me.

Now, look, I’ve been polite, but direct, up to this point. But this is the last straw. This woman could transfer me, but she won’t. She is saying that Dell will not stand by its product. She is saying the even though I was promised an under warranty repair I won’t be getting one. I am done. I am over Dell.

I have one last thing to try, and that is public shaming via social media. I know that Dell has a couple of active twitter accounts. So I start telling my story, mentioning their accounts. Eventually I get a response.

Dell isn’t stupid. This screen bezel will cost them about $50 to replace. How many people do I have to drive away with my public complaints about their product to make it worthwhile to fix what should ahem already been fixed.

So I get in contact with one of the accounts. I DM them the whole story, start to finish with pictures. They go to work. The next day I’m told the repair is underway, for free. The days after that I get a shipment notification, the laptop is on the way back. We get it back and it is repaired and ready to go.

It should not be necessary to basically threaten the brand of a major corporation to get them to stand behind their products. But that was what it took to get my daughter’s laptop repaired. Will it break again in another 5 months? I don’t know, but for now its working fine.

3 Reasons I’m not making Tutorial/Review/DIY/Test Videos on Youtube Anymore

youtube noI have a love/hate relationship with Youtube.

There is so much to love. It’s the great equalizer: the bar to publish is so low. Anyone with a computer and internet can publish content to the masses. The wide open nature of the platform is one of the reasons it is the 2nd largest search engine in the world.

You can learn to do almost anything from Youtube. I’ve changed garbage disposals, replaced car door handles, and much more just by watching a video from Youtube. You can research almost anything before you buy it. Someone has reviewed it. You can find innovative ways to do things. I have a small camera jib that cost me $20 to make, and I learned how to build it from a Youtube video.

I even have a few DIY/review/tutorial/test videos on my Youtube channel. But I’m not making any more. Here’s why:

1. Youtube as a community doesn’t need my voice in this space.
There are literally millions of people doing it, and doing it better. No one will notice that I’m not publishing this sort of thing anymore. No one will say, “man, when will that Scott guy make another how to video?” Instead they will find hundreds of other videos talking about the same things I used to.

My voice isn’t needed in the space.

Yes, I’ve made videos that help people. And that was very nice. But for every video I’ve made, there are many others out there doing similar things, reviewing gear, showing how to do DIY filmmaking- and doing it better than I can. Youtube as a community doesn’t need my voice in this space. And I’d rather not be on the other side of the camera, anyway.

2. Youtube as a company doesn’t care about casual creators.

The recent changes to Youtube’s partner program made it clear that they only care about a certain sort of creator. Even though I had been a good partner with zero strikes for years, they cut me loose. Why? I’m a casual creator. It’s not about the couple of dollars I lost, it’s about the respect in the relationship.

I got the message loud and clear, they do not care about me. Even though most of the videos uploaded every day- the videos that make Youtube the size it is- are uploaded by casual creators or small creators, they only care about people trying to grow a large audience. I know those are the meat of their model, but that doesn’t make it easier to stomach the blatant disregard for the years I was a small contributor to the content library.

So why should I work to help them?

I know, seems petty, right? What about the audience? Why don’t I just make videos to help people? I considered doing that. Still making the occasional video. But them I got the latest batch of comments.

3. Youtube’s tech audience is full of trolls.
Seriously, I don’t need this.

The comment section of many Youtube videos is a dumpster fire. I don’t just mean the TSIS sufferers. Those people are bad enough, but it’s worse sometimes.

Comments from trolls who didn’t watch the video but want to criticize it.
“You’re an idiot because you put music on an audio test video!” – Uh, I put music on the intro, but the actual test doesn’t have any, and you would know that if you watched it…

Comments from people who think you did it wrong.
“You’re an idiot because the camera settings are different, it’s not a good comparison.” – Uh, this wasn’t a comparison video…

My favorite: Comments from jerks
“You’re an idiot because your voice sounds funny!” – Uh, didn’t you ever heard the maxim- If you can’t say anything nice say nothing?

Frankly, this is the main reason I’m done with these videos. I’m not doing anything unique, Youtube doesn’t care about me, so why would I put up with this junk? No one will miss my infrequent videos.

I had gotten to the point where I just was turning off commenting. But that means the YT algorithm wasn’t showing my video because views, likes and comments drive it. So less people were seeing it, defeating the entire purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, some people were totally cool. Even people who disagreed with a review or wished something was different. They were kind. And if I was someone building a big audience of fans, they could drive down the trolls and “haters” and such. but I’m not trying to do that. When I made helpful videos it was to help people. If no one sees them, or if they don’t need the help, why would I subject myself to this sort of idiocy?

The internet troll thing is a symptom of larger societal problems. It’s not getting fixed anytime soon. I’m just done with it.

So, I will leave up some of my videos. And I leave the rest of it to other creators.

I will still use Youtube to post videos, just not those kind of videos. Expect to see trailers and teasers, and content I’ve made; BTS clips, stuff like that. Do not expect to see a tech review or instructions on how to do something. There is a vast array of content creators out there doing that. More power to them.

I Met a Homeless Man Last Night, and It Could Have Been Me.

bench-areaIt’s Sunday afternoon, and my wife texts me. She has been running, and it turns out she stopped to talk to a homeless man on the trail. After I chastised her about approaching strangers, she explained that she had felt God prompting her to interact with him. He wasn’t asking for anything, he was just walking. He seemed nice, and she offered to buy him dinner. The plan was for me to go get some food and meet him at the end of the trail.

15 minutes later I’m at the trailhead with a bag of Chipotle. After a while I wonder if he decided to forgo the free dinner offer. It’s getting dark. The out of the gloom I see a lone figure emerge. We meet at the picnic tables, and the first words out of his mouth are concern about my wife’s safety. He must have said about 10 times how she should be careful talking to men she doesn’t know. She doesn’t normally do this kind of thing, but when God moves, it’s good to listen.

I presented the food and we started talking. He was obviously grateful for the meal, and I got the impression that he would agree to anything I asked. I did not feel any urge to share the entire Gospel presentation with him. Weird, right? Instead I felt confident that any declaration he made for Christ that evening would simply be out of gratitude for the gesture of a meal, and not out of any conviction of the Holy Spirit. Later my wife confirmed she had felt the same way when they first spoke. He knew about religious things. He was open when I told him about a local ministry that can help him, and I know shares the Gospel. But this meeting wasn’t about his salvation. It was about meeting a physical and emotional need. Physical because a man’s gotta eat. Emotional, because people need to talk with other people. So we did, we talked a while.

His story wasn’t so different from many I’ve heard. He had a cash job lined up for this morning. He was new to the area, and really wanted to make it to Shreveport. I told him what I knew about shelters and such in the area. then I asked why he was heading for Shreveport. He didn’t answer that question, but he did tell me how he ended up homeless.

He was a single guy, working where he could. He was working for cash, detailing semi trucks. Got hurt on the job, and there wasn’t any Workman’s Comp for a job like that. 4 months in the hospital; Mounting medical bills and no income. He said he lost his car, his stuff and then his place to live. He’d been living like most Americans, in debt up to his neck, and it was all gone. He never got around to saying what his destination held for him, some glimmer of hope to regain his footing. He’d obviously been out on the road for a while. He said he hoped his work this week would give him enough cash for the $28 bus ticket to Shreveport. He never asked me for anything, and seemed truly grateful for a hot meal on a cool evening.

As I left him to eat his dinner, I couldn’t help reflecting on my own past. When I was single, living up to my neck in debt. I wasn’t working for cash, but I didn’t have health insurance, and when I blew out the ACL on my knee it looked pretty bad. I could have been fired from my job, I might not have had access to a non profit hospital that would write off some of the cost. My employer didn’t have to pay for $5000 of the surgery costs our of his own pocket (and begin providing health coverage). I could have been saddled with the entire cost of surgery/recovery and left with no income, massive debt and no choice but to try to get home to my parents. I don’t think I would have ended up homeless, but things could have been much worse.

When you drive by people on the street, it’s easy to look down and ask why they didn’t do things differently. And there are plenty of so-called “chronically homeless” who don’t want to get off the street. But sometimes it’s just a run of bad luck, and a guy trying to get somewhere that can give him a break, a leg back up into a more normal life.

if a bowl of spicy chicken an give him energy for a day of physical labor, which might lead to a bus ticket, I’m glad to help.

The New Black Friday, Or How I wasted Too Much Time on Amazon’s App

We spent this Thanksgiving at my parent’s house. It was great fun with family. I barely left the house the whole time we were there, and I never left the property. But I still got some Black Friday shopping in.  Since the break in I have been in the market for a few replacements. And I hoped to luck into a great TV deal. My extended family doesn’t live close to a major retailer, and I was not planning on driving and camping out for any Black Friday deal. I didn’t need to. I did all my shopping online.

This year more than ever before retailers were offering major discounts for online purchases. I woke up Thanksgiving morning and placed an order with Best Buy, to be delivered next week. This item wasn’t available for my Early Access sale last Monday, but was a “doorbuster” for Thursday/Friday and available online. As with the early access sale, not every doorbuster was online. Just a few.

The online retailer Amazon changed up their Black Friday approach. This year they threw out “lightning” deals seemingly at random. They released a short list of what would be available, and a time period for which those deals would appear over the next several days. One deal, a 50″ Led 1080p TV for $150 was only going to be available through the Amazon App. There were several deals that only people who used the app would see. And almost every deal was made available to Amazon prime members 30 minutes earlier than to the general public.

This strategy of randomly dropping new deals online kept bringing shoppers back again and again, throughout the day. Sometimes the app would tell you what was coming. You could “watch” the deal, and get a notification when it was about to start. Other times the deal just popped up. The hotter the deal, the more likely it would show up without notice.

Catching one of these hot lightning deals was a matter of luck.I actually had the $75 32″ TV in my cart, and decided not to buy it. I saw the “waitlist” for their 55″ 4K TV deal, right before it was filled. If you missed the initial offering, you could join a waitlist. If a shopper failed to check out within 15 minutes of placing the item in their cart, it would be offered to the next person on the waitlist. You would have just a few minutes to make your own purchase, or it would drop to the next person. Many of these deals would be gone and the waitlist filled within seconds of showing up on the app.

Because we had our TVs stolen and have not replaced them yet, I was hoping to snag a TV deal. I really wanted the cheap 50″ deal. Not because it would have been a great TV, but because even a “cheap” TV of that size is a good deal for $150. I confess I spent way too much time waiting for that deal to drop. Not knowing when meant that I would have to be lucky. It’s not quite as bad as waiting in line for days, but it was actually very annoying to keep checking the app. In between activities with my family I was pulling up Amazon and scrolling through the deals.

That’s what they wanted people to do. They wanted us to keep looking and keep checking, in hopes that we would see other things we wanted, and buy those as well. That worked for a couple of hours. My kids snagged a game they had been wanting for a very cheap price. I ordered a microSD card at 80% off the normal price. But very soon I just didn’t care. When the 50″ TV deal went live I just missed seeing it, and it wasn’t until 20 minutes later that I knew it had appeared. I assume it was available for just a few moments before it had sold out.

I had begun to wonder if it would ever appear. As did others from what I read online. This new random drop tactic was not a huge hit with online shoppers, from what I could see in he forums and comments I read. I won’t ever do it again. My time is worth more than any deal like this. This felt too much like work. I am deleting the app from my phone. I only got it to see if I could get this one TV deal.

The method that Amazon, and others, should use if they want me to keep coming back to their website is to post what will be for sale, and when the deal goes live. Both of my purchases from Amazon this year were on deals like this. I knew what was coming up for sale, and when I should be ready to buy. Both were available at different times, and both times I looked at other items for sale while I was there buying my “watched” deals. Hopefully more retailers will offer their deals online.

Everyone wants a deal. Some people will camp out for days to get one. Others will spend too much time checking an app for a sale. I’ve never camped out, and I won’t check the app like this again next year. I will be happy to buy things online as long as I know what is for sale and when the deal begins.

The Affordable Care Act is Not Affordable and No One Cares

acanotI just came from turning in my insurance forms this this coming year. Once again I cannot afford to add my family to my employer provided coverage.

And, because my employer follows the law and offers coverage, I cannot qualify for subsidies in the ACA exchanges. So we can’t afford to insure our family there. Luckily I don’t make a lot of money, so my kids qualify for the CHIP program here in Texas. And we are Christians so my wife can get covered through one of those Christian Co-Ops. So we won’t get fined/taxed/penalized for not having coverage we simply cannot afford. I had to swallow my pride and take a government hand out so my children could have health coverage, because I simply could not afford it under the Affordable Care Act.

I don’t blame my employer. They offer very good insurance, and they pay about $6000.00 for my coverage. But if I want to add my wife to that same plan, then I must pay over $500 per month. If I wanted to add my children, the price would inflate to over $900 per month. I don’t know a lot of middle class families that could afford to lose over $10,800 annually.

Years ago, before the ACA was passed, I was self employed, and I had a plan I liked. My family was well covered with supplements and major medical. Then the ACA went into effect, and I got a letter saying that my plan was no longer offered, and I would have to shift to a different plan for a 300% increase in premiums. It had been more economical and effective to have a major medical plan with supplemental plans to cover us for basic services. In the new post-ACA world, I must spend more for less coverage.

That continues to be the case today.

I often see friends complaining online about how much their premiums are going up. I hear on the news about Healthcare Exchanges that are going out of business. Healthcare is not getting better.

I know that something had to be done. There were real issues with the old insurance/healthcare system, things that needed to be addressed. But this ACA is a horrible replacement for what we had before. I don’t know one single person who has better coverage for less money. From what I’ve experienced and heard, if you had insurance before the ACA kicked in, you are less happy with your coverage now.

Occasionally I will hear people saying that since the ACA has been passed, and some people who did not have coverage before now have it, you can’t take it away. Why not? The government took away my coverage and forced me to find an alternate/ worse plan. The current system under the ACA is not working. Exchanges are crashing, and costs are rising on plans that offer less coverage for more Americans. What we have now cannot continue for much longer. Something has to be done, sooner rather than later.

And no one with the power to do anything seems to care. Oh sure, there have been bunches of show votes where Republicans tried to “repeal” the ACA,but that did exactly jack squat for my family, and everyone else adversely effected by the ACA rules. Democrats seem to be afraid to criticize the President’s signature legislation, even though there are obvious problems with it. In many ways middle class Americans are worse off now than before, regarding insurance.

Our elected representatives are more interested in talking about how they care than doing something that actually helps us. This will be a big concern for me in the upcoming elections. I don’t want to hear a Republican say they will repeal the ACA, I want to hear them say what they will do to replace it. I want to know how they will help my family have better coverage for an amount we can afford.

Why Are You upset About Being Wished Happy Holy-Days, I mean Holidays?

Did you know that the “holiday” comes from, “the Old English word hāligdæg (hālig “holy” + dæg “day”). The word originally referred only to special religious days.” So when someone says Happy Holidays they are wishing you happy “holy-days”. Maybe instead of getting offended, we should wish them happy holy-days right back? Maybe we should engage them in conversation about why the holiday of Christmas is so special to Christians. Maybe we should show some of the love that we have received from Christ, who’s birth we celebrate this time of year?

I don’t know of a single instance where being offended by the actions of a secular company has brought anyone closer to a relationship with Jesus Christ. No social media rant about the war on Christmas has ever ended  with non religious people wanting to know more about our faith.

I get the anger about the secularization of a very special religious holiday. When I was a kid is was the word “Xmas” that was the target. Taking Christ out of Christmas! How dare they! Don’t shop at stores that have signs with “Xmas” on them! (Because shopping is what Christmas is all about… ) Today it’s holiday trees, red cups, and anything else that isn’t blatantly about Christmas.

Want people to respect Christmas? Want our culture to recognize this holiday for what it really is supposed to be about? Show the love of Christ, every day. All year. Live like Jesus wants you to. Talk about why your faith is important to you. Not just from November through January 1st, but why it’s important to you year round. Introduce your friends and family and anyone who will listen to the Jesus you know. The Jesus who’s birth we celebrate this time of year.

Show the world that the holidays are still holy-days.


Things I Have learned From Being Robbed

IMG_6311Sometime last week while we were out of town our house was burgled. Broken into and we were robbed.

The police think there is a group of young people who, for the past couple of Summers, approach houses through the backyard. They try to look suspicious and pound on the doors to get anyone who is home to react. If someone is home, they run away. If not, they break into the home stealing TVs, DVD players, video game systems, and jewelry. They think these people hit our house while we were away.

After a long day of driving we arrived home, walked in and immediately saw broken glass and missing electronics. We left the house and called the cops. The criminals apparently figured out we were not home, grabbed a paver stone and threw it through the kitchen window with enough force to sail across the room and dent my refrigerator door. They opened that window, and left a ton of fingerprints as they climbed in. They stole 2 TVs, a video game system and some jewelry.

The next day I discovered that they had dropped my 50″ TV when they were trying to get away. It was broken and leaning against the back of our fence. We think they may have been spooked, because they also dropped some jewelry in the living room. And they left a lot of valuable things behind.

I’ve never had a house broken into before. Cars: twice before, but never any place I lived. It’s a new experience, and I’m learning some new things. I’m sure I will learn more as time goes on.

Target: I never imagined a 40 year old home in an aging middle class neighborhood would be the target of a break in. We are not rich. We don’t have a lot of expensive stuff. If I was going to take the chance of spending several years in jail, I would pick a better house. The officer told me that all kinds of houses are targets. He thought our house was pretty nice (we worked hard to make it that way), and was not surprised that we were targeted. And I guess, if criminal were smart they wouldn’t break into houses anyway.

Alarm: We didn’t have one. The first thing the officer said was that we should have an alarm. The house has the remnants of a system, but it’s not functional. We chose not to spend the money to get a new one. Living next to a walking trail with a private backyard- features we like, but features which contributed to the break in of our home- that may not have been the best decision. Especially now that alarms systems can purchased for cheap, installed wirelessly. Incidentally, my insurance policy offers very little discount for having an alarm.

Insurance: The second call I made was to my insurance company. You know, when they talk about deductibles for your homeowners they normally talk about catastrophic losses. Having a deductible that is 1% of your homes value (inflated value, don’t get me started on insurance companies’ habit of overvaluing homes replacement cost in order to charge higher premiums.) doesn’t seem like a big deal if you lose your entire home. But the deductible still applies to even small thefts. We don’t have several thousand dollars laying around, and that’s what it would take to cover the deductible. But the amount stolen is barely going to be higher than the deductible. And when I asked if a claim would affect my rates, the answer was “it depends.” That, of course, is a qualified yes. I spoke to my agent and adjusted my policy. But that doesn’t help us for this robbery.

Pictures: Take pictures of anything that is sentimental to you. Anything you might want the police or a pawn shop to identify. Without a picture, most pawn shop or gold/silver places can’t help you find your lost jewelry. Take pictures or write down the serial numbers on your electronics. Pictures might also help with the claims process for insurance, etc.

Safety: I never felt unsafe in my home before. I never worried about home invasion, or break ins. That happened to other people, not us. Even when my cars were broken into (long time ago, different state), I wasn’t worried about my family’s safety. My house was my castle.

This evoked a different emotional response. I don’t like laying in bed and wondering if the noise I just heard is normal, or someone up to no good. I don’t own a gun. I grew up with guns, and feel that it is every citizen’s right to own one and protect themselves, if need be. For the first time in my adult life, I’m serious considering getting one. This crew apparently targets homes that are empty, but what if someone else picks our home? I’ve heard all the arguments for and against gun ownership. But this is a decision we have to make for ourselves. And if we do get one, we will train our entire household in safety.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for low cost ways to make our home less inviting for criminals. Lights are one way. Crooks don’t like to hang out in illuminated places. I did not leave the outside lights on the back of our house on while we were out of town. I do now. I changed out the bulbs to fluorescents so we would save some money over incandescent bulbs, and will be adding dusk to dawn sensors as we can afford them. I thought about motions sensing lights, but that brings some installation costs. Also seriously considering adding some wildlife cameras, like what people use for deer scouting. They are not expensive and take pictures when they sense movement. Or just actual video cameras as a part of a security system.

Forgiveness: It’s hard. I’ve had people hurt me or my family before, but this is a bit different. It’s a very personal invasion, it robs us of our security. We’ve already been having conversations with our kids about forgiveness, and what makes us different from the criminals(answer- only Jesus. We are all sinners.) We have been praying for them… not that God would bring his wrath upon them, although that is tempting. Instead we have been praying that something would impact their life in such a way that they turn around and stop making these choices. If that means they get caught and that starts a change in their life, then I’m good with that. But sometimes I just want some kind of vengeance. I confess I took a bit of joy in the fact that by damaging my TV, they pretty much broke the only thing worth any real money. They might have scored a couple hundred dollars from this theft.

Yeah, forgiveness is hard. I’m working on it. My wife shared something on Facebook about this. I will quote part of it here:

A couple weeks ago, Jeffrey had put a sticky-note bible verse on the mirror of the kids bathroom (when they had all been fighting a lot) and it was still there, but with renewed meaning: I Peter 3:9 – Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 

We read this together and then Gracie went to her room and came out with Romans 12:17 (similar verse) and stuck it on the mirror next to Jeffrey’s. Then Jenny reminded us of the story of Joseph and how, after his dad Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers were afraid Joseph would seek revenge for the whole selling him into slavery thing. Joseph’s response: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.

The experience has given us all a real-life personal example of God’s sovereignty: in a fallen world, He is always in control, taking what’s intended for harm and turning it to good. 
It’s also given us all a real-life personal example of sanctification-in-process: God uses each day, each experience (even the hard ones) to bring about change, transforming us daily because (again), in his sovereignty, He reigns over all, and takes captive what is ugly and makes it beautiful. And finally, while it’s sad to lose some stuff and have your feeling of security shaken, it’s also sad to be separated from God, so we prayed (and will continue to pray) for the ones who came into our house. 

How to Raise Money Instead of Debt

IMG_6213Whatever the reason, no matter what political policies or economic currents caused it, many people who fall into the Middle Class live paycheck to paycheck, one crisis away from massive, high interest debt that will take years to pay off. Whether from decisions we make, or circumstances beyond our control, money problems plague the Middle Class. It can be frustrating to work hard and still have nothing left after you pay your bills.

Sometimes an expense pops up that is outside your monthly plan. You want to go an a trip. Or maybe you need to build up that $1000 emergency fund again. Or need to buy new school clothes. Or anything that is outside the normal monthly expense of making ends meet. Don’t put it on your credit card! There are other ways.

How can you raise money instead of increasing your debt?

Increase your cash coming in, Reduce cash going out.

  • Find extra money in the budget. If you don’t have one, make a written budget. In one column write down all the money that comes in for a month. In  another column write down every monthly expense. Are you spending more money than you earn? What are you spending it on? Make some hard choices. Do you need that big data plan on your phone? Do you need the whole cable package? Do you need Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime streaming? Do your kids need an allowance that large? Hey, this is a team effort, and letting your kids contribute will teach important lessons about handling money. Is it time to consolidate those high interest credit cards?
  • Rework your W4 form. Do you get a big return on your income taxes every year? You don’t have to wait to get that money. Talk with your HR person at work, and add some allowances on your W4 form. It’s nice to get a big check from the IRS, almost like a savings account, but you need that money now.
  • Get an extra job. Find a way to work from home on the evenings. Deliver pizza. Pick up an overnight shift or two in retail somewhere. Pick up a freelance gig. These jobs don’t pay much, but they do provide some extra income when you need it.
  • Downsize. Want to get radical? Trade in your nice, fancy car for an older, reliable model. Get something you can buy outright or at least reduce the monthly payment and insurance on. Consider selling your house. It’s no fun to be house-poor. Is it possible to sell your current home and buy a house that costs less while meeting your needs? Imagine not having a monthly car payment, or having a rent or mortgage payment that is hundreds less than what you pay now.

Sell Stuff.

  • Yard sale! People buy a lot of weird stuff at yard sales. And you probably have some things laying around that you never use anymore. Pull out your furniture, old electronics, clothing, home decor and anything else that might have value. See if you need a permit for a sale in your area. Put an ad on craigslist, tell people on social media, and sell your unwanted stuff. You can easily make a couple hundred dollars for a couple of days work. And you free up storage space in your house. This is not the time to sell collectibles. It’s the time to price unwanted items at low prices to get them sold, and get more money in your hands.
  • Sell books and movies and music and video games. Whether in person or online, you can often sell old media. We have a store in our town called Hastings, and they will buy most kinds. They don’t give a lot for it, but they do give cash for books, music, movies and video games you don’t want. If you haven’t watched a movie for over a year, consider selling it. Go through all of your books and music. Get rid of what you don’t need.
  • Pawn Shops. Never pawn anything at a pawn shop. Just sell it outright. Expect to get 20-40% of what the item would sell for used-condition retail. If you have extra tools, electronics, cameras, yard machines, bicycles, etc… you can sell those to your local pawn shop. Clean out your storage and sell what you’re not using anymore.
  • Collectibles. Find the right place to sell them. Yard sales are not the place to sell collectibles. In our last yard sale my daughter wanted to sell a well-worn American Girl doll. She priced it at $15. No one looked at it. The next week we sold it on eBay for $27. Same yard sale had a set of baskets that no one would buy, but later sold for $50 on eBay. Auctions, online communities, Craigslist, eBay; all of these may be a good place to sell off collectible items. Remember, with collectibles, most are only worth what people will pay for them. You can buy any beanie baby in the world for about a buck today. There are some coins that are only worth the price of the materials in them. But my son once got a quarter back in change from a store that he sold for $15. I once had a collection of G.I. Joe toys that books said was worth over $1000, but I was only able to sell for $289. When you’re raising money, it may be time to cash in on your collection.
  • eBay. It’s an amazing website that puts you in touch with buyers from all over. You can sell just about anything. You can research the price of an item, and purchase shipping at a discounted rate. They take 10% of the final sales price and shipping costs. Then Paypal, which is the way you transfer money with eBay, takes 3%. So that $50 item you sold netted you $43.50. And depending on how you listed it, you may have to pay shipping out of that. That’s more money than it made sitting in your closet, but be aware of the fees. Always consider how you will ship the item before you list it. Will you need to buy shipping boxes and materials? It is worth the hassle? I normally don’t sell anything worth less than $10, including shipping. If you aren’t careful you could find yourself clearing under $5 for your item. That’s not much, unless you are doing a lot of volume. One caveat, eBay and Paypal ALWAYS side with the buyer initially, and the burden of proof is on the seller if there is a dispute. Describe your item accurately, ship promptly and safely, and always track the package.

And there are lots of other ways to earn cash.

My family and I are taking a trip soon. We estimated that it would cost about $400 in gas and food. And we didn’t have that sitting around. So we started raising it. We made a couple hundred at yard sale. We sold a ton of books and movies. We sold some electronics and collectibles on eBay. Within a couple of weeks we had raised $430 for our trip. Plus after working through or budget again and adjusting my W4, we will have more income with less bills going forward so we can save more for things like this.