Monthly Archives - September 2020

Getting Ahead Financially Using the Science of a Rain Barrel

You know how rain barrel systems work, right?

You start with a barrel, typically a 55-gallon drum.  You could go smaller with the 30-gallon size, or larger with one of the big tanks.  We've got a 1500-gallon tank on our homestead which we’ve used to collect water in over the years.  It's now been converted into an animal shelter.  But whatever size barrel you choose, the important thing is that it's watertight and made to hold large volumes of water.

You then hook the barrel up to whatever rain collection source you've MacGyvered.  For most people that’s going to be the gutters on their house. Whenever it rains, your barrel fills up for you to use for whatever future need you have.

If you put a good valve on your barrel, you can use it to water your garden, you can use it to supply water to your animals, or, when we were using our 1500-gallon tank before we hooked up to our well, we used the rain water for potable household use with the help of a couple filters.

It's a pretty simple, pretty common, pretty reliable system.  A lot of people out there use rain barrels.

Well, guess what?  If you can wrap your mind around how a rain barrel system works, you can wrap your mind around getting ahead financially.  The same principles apply.  Except, instead of storing up a water surplus, what you’re doing is storing up a budget surplus, which, like the water barrel, can get you not just to the next time it “rains” (i.e. your next payday), but, ideally, if managed well, can get you a lot further down the road than that.  So much so, in fact, that if you had to you could even skip a couple of those income periods and be just fine because of the financial “rainy-day fund” you’ve stored in advance.

I think it helps if you think about your finances in three parts, at least in respect to the idea of getting ahead:

  1. Determine What Size Barrel You Need.

I’m convinced a lot of people have trouble making progress in their finances because they've never given sufficient thought to this question.  They've never defined, and they've certainly never calculated, what their needs actually are.  And, understand, when I use the word "needs," I don’t mean to put that contrast to a person’s “wants.”  There is a difference between needs and wants, but here I’m just lumping them together because I understand, realistically, life is more than just survival.

Another way to put it is, you've got to start by determining in hard numbers what “standard of living” (encompassing both needs and wants) that you envision your family operating on.  Is it going to be a 55-gallon drum, or a 1500-gallon drum?  Do you need a net-cash flow of $40,000 a year or $140,000 a year? A lot of that depends on the family. Some families can get by with a lot less than others.

On this point, I'll let you in on a little secret.  One reason a lot of people feel they can never get ahead financially isn’t because they've underestimated their barrel size but because they've overestimated it.  Don't get me wrong, you can easily underestimate what your family needs and settle with bringing in a lot less than you really should be.  But, there are a lot of people out there ambitious to bring in a lot more than they really need to because they’ve chosen a standard of living  unnecessarily and unsustainably higher than it needs to be.

Many people choose to have a bigger and more expensive house than they need.  They choose to drive the newer model car and accept the normalcy of car payments.  They choose to eat out on a regular basis.  They choose to furnish their home with expensive Pottery Barn décor and flat screen TVs.  They choose a lot of the amenities, comforts, and conveniences that are just luxuries they could honestly do without.  As a result, they size up their barrel so large that it requires a lot of work to keep it filled.  They then complain they can never get ahead because getting ahead for them means  being able to afford new forms of pampering.

I've found the winning strategy that would serve a lot of families well is to select a more modest standard of living that doesn't require such a large cash flow, which makes filling and maintaining the barrel a lot easier.

Of course, it's not just choosing a practical standard of living, but it's also estimating those extra “special needs costs” that inevitably come up in life.  I’m talking about those special emergency, special savings needs that every family has, from unknown medical needs, to kid’s college needs, to retirement planning needs.

You've got to think about all those numbers.  Every family will look different.  Obviously, the further out your planning the more your numbers will be approximations, but the point is you’ve got to pick the right size barrel.  So, get a piece of paper and calculator and map it all out in hard numbers.  Yes, it takes some metal energy.  Yes, it involves math.  But, listen, if you want a handle on your finances, you’ve got to run the numbers and size up your barrel.

  1. Tap into a Suitable Stream of Income.

If you're working with a rain barrel, what’s the best way to fill it up?  You've got to connect to a good water source.  If you’re working with finances, you’ve got to connect to a good income source.

What qualifies as a good income source?  I would say two things: (1) the reliability of that source, and (2) the volume potential of that source.

In terms of the reliability of your income, by that I just mean, do you have a steady job?  Are you working for a stable business, even if that business is your own?

I’ve met people who are the “holding out for management type,” or the “I’d rather be my own boss type,” who seem to be content just sitting on their backside waiting for the skies to open to pour forth blessings freely into their lap.  If that’s you, you can certainly sit on your porch and wait for the big rain to come, but just understand you could be waiting a while.

Rather, it may be a better idea to start collecting gradually, but with the guarantee of the light rains that come and the regular morning dew that you can count on.  It may take longer to fill your barrel, but you will eventually fill your barrel if you learn to be consistent.  Honestly, if you don’t learn to discipline yourself with a lower income, it won’t do you any good when you do earn a higher income since you won’t know what to do with it.

Then, once you have learned the importance of steady reliability, it’s not a bad thing to focus on the volume of your income, because while you don’t have to have a hard rain to fill the barrel, a hard rain does speed up the process.  Thinking about how much you're earning, and how you could be earning more in less time, is a valid thing to consider.

How can you make more money in less time?  The way I see it you have two options, and there’s nothing that says you can’t try doing both of these things at the same time:  (1) Deliberately position yourself in the path of higher earnings (i.e. pursue a raise), and/or (2) add a second or even third source of income to what you already have (i.e. get an additional job).

In terms of pursuing a raise, my best advice is not just to wishfully expect a raise, but to take the initiative upon yourself to stand a little higher, or to stretch a little further in your work, to warrant a raise.  Don't expect your bosses, or your customers or client if your self-employed, to just divert funds to you for no reason.  You need to take the steps to make yourself more valuable.  The more you put yourself where the water is most likely to fall, the more you're going to collect.  Set up shop where the rain falls. Don’t expect the rain to come to you.

In terms of finding that second or third source of income, that’s as simple as working an extra part-time job or side gig.  Hook up to as many different gutters as you can feasibly hook up to.  I say “feasibly,” because you can only stretch yourself so far.  Don’t overdo it.  If you're going to work multiple jobs, I'd encourage you to do so only as long as it takes to accomplish whatever “getting ahead” you’re trying to accomplish.  Don’t assume that the extra money is always worth the extra time.

Ideally, if you’re trying to bring in additional streams of income, what you want to do is get to the point where some of those streams turn into a passive income.

What is a passive income?  A passive income is one that brings in an income somewhat automatically and works independently of you having to clock the time.  I mean, there is time involved, but most of it is automated.

What are examples of a passive income?  Rental property, investment dividends, the sale of certain products or commodities, etc..  There are lots of different things that can generate low time-required, passive incomes.  Just stay away from pyramid schemes out-there.  Those drive me crazy.  But options exist, if you can just tap into the right ones.

So, tapping into suitable streams of income is key.

  1. Plug as many holes in your barrel as possible.

The best time to do this is when you're young, before you ever get started, when you're first picking out what size barrel you want for your life.  Pick a barrel (standard of living) that doesn't leak much.  Pick a barrel that has the best quality valve you can have that you can control how much you allow to flow out of your possession.

Even the smallest drip, or the smallest financial waste, if left unattended, will eventually drain the barrel.  Ideally, you already know that and have taken steps to avoid the leaking before the leaking ever happens.   My guess is, though, for a lot of people out there, they weren’t careful in what barrel they chose and their earnings are gushing out as fast as it’s coming in.  If that describes your finances, you will never get ahead.

You've got to plug the holes. You’ve got to identify where all the waste is happening and fix it.

I'm convinced one of the biggest sources of waste in a family's finances is the amount of interest they spend on cars, credit cards, and the dreaded 30-year mortgage.  If you've still got your calculator out, just add up how much you're paying the bank in interest alone from all that you're borrowing, and think about how your life would be different if, instead of paying the bank, the same amount was being saved or invested.

Interest is usually one of the biggest holes that needs to be plugged, but there are others too.  Just think about your utility bill, your TV bill, your grocery bill, your gas-guzzling car's fuel bill, and on and on we could go.  Just audit sometime all the different places your money is going and ask yourself if it's really all necessary.

Put a valve on your spending and apply a little more control in what leaves your barrel.   That usually takes the form of a good, solid budget and a little bit of accountability to stop you from spending more than you should be spending.

The point isn't to live like cheapskates but to live within your means because it's by living within your means and spending less than what you earn that you start to get ahead.  Like a good rain barrel system, when you apply these principles, you begin to see the volume of your savings gradually increase to the point where you may even be able to upgrade your barrel.  Or the way I see some rain collection systems work, you can add a second barrel onto what you already have for all the overflow.  When the second barrel fills up, you can then add a third barrel, and then a fourth, and eventually have a series of barrels to be overly charitable with.

In my opinion, the great objective isn't to get ahead financially so we can better spoil ourselves, but to get ahead so that we can be of some practical good to those around us who are continuing to struggle themselves.

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Circle E Farms Faith and Farming Interview

Circle E Farms Interview

Circle E Farms Faith and Farming Interview
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About Circle E Farms:

In the below interview, we hear from Genry and Heather Ellison, owners of Circle E Farms in south Mississippi.  Genry and Heather, together with their 3 fearless children, raise cattle, chickens, bees and any other animal that may be “a deal” at the time.  The Ellison family seek to put Jesus first and to work hard as faithful stewards on their farm.

The Circle E Life blog was started to give encouragement and build faith in others based on the experiences the Ellisons have in their work.  Taking everyday tasks from the farm, and looking to God for guidance, they relate them to the Christian walk and how to live a godly life in this present day.

Follow Circle E Farms:  


1. Describe your farm/homestead.

We are a small family farm that is a work in progress.  Our goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible. We are working every day to be more efficient and profitable at the same time. We have a little under 100 head of cattle and work to produce our own beef, chicken, veggies and anything else we may need.

2. Why did you choose to begin farming/homesteading?

We started out not with the intentions necessarily to be what it is now.  We wanted to move out of the suburbs, to the country and raise our kids there. We wanted to have cattle and farm animals and be more self sufficient and it slowly evolved into what it is now. We wanted to teach our kids a strong work ethic and how to rely on themselves for what they need.

3. In your experience, what has been the hardest part of farming/homesteading?

The hardest part has been trying to accomplish everything that we want to get done in any given time period in a timely manner.  Most days, you start out with one plan and something will inevitably change that plan.  Something breaks down or comes up and you find yourself on a task you didn’t plan for and what you wanted to done gets pushed to the back burner.  Also, financially being able to do everything that you would like to do, isn’t always possible. Patience is the hardest part.

4. What have been some of your biggest mistakes or failures in farming/homesteading?

Planting pine trees and not planting posts!  We started out maintaining previously planted pines and further planted many acres in pine trees in hopes that would provide future income.  As our country has pushed industry out of the USA, it has become harder to get the tress cut and harvested for income. We are now learning that it is much more profitable to plant posts.  The more pasture that is fenced and put in, the better the profit is with cattle and farm land.

5. In your experience, what has been the best part of farming/homesteading?

There are many things that we would say are the best.  The life and values that we have given our children on the farm are second to none! Not only that, but this life has given a satisfaction like no other. Looking back on how far we have come,  how our land has become what it is, and harvesting and eating what we grew are all so rewarding.  Also, being a part of the cattle and farming communities has given us the opportunity to meet some really great people along the way.

6. What have been some of your biggest breakthroughs or successes in farming/homesteading?

We set out with a goal to be profitable after a certain number of years.  Achieving financial freedom and profitability have been one of our greatest successes. Setting attainable goals and working to achieve them, make the successes all the sweeter.

7. Describe what you believe are the key elements to successful farming/homesteading.

Hard work and following the leading of God have been the key elements to our success.  We also had a made-up mind.  There was no plan B and no looking back for us.  We put in the hard work, and continue to put it in and didn’t give ourselves any other option.  Knowing that we were in the divine plan of God absolutely made it easier.  We knew He had our backs and wouldn’t allow us to fail as long as we did our part. Being in God’s will is the key to success in anything  you can ever do!

8. What would your biggest piece of advice be for first-time farmers/homesteaders?

Our biggest piece of advice would be not to grow too fast.  It’s very easy to be eager and get in too deep, build too fast and then you can’t maintain it. You have to have goals but you have to work as you can and then build upon it.  We would also recommend that you take advice from those that have been in it longer than a year or so.  You need the wisdom of those that have put in the time and hard work.  Some try to give advice and they haven’t faced enough adversity to give true advice.

9. What role does faith play in farming/homesteading?

Without our faith in God, we couldn’t do anything.  He has blessed us in everything we have done. Our faith is what sustains us in the hard times and what propels us forward in the good times.  We are dependent on Him for the rain and sun. Our grass, the garden and in turn the animals, don’t grow with our trusting in Him to take care of.  We can’t make anything happen so we trust in Him and have faith “that He will give rain for our seed  that we sow and increase of the earth and that our cattle will be fed in large pastures.” Isaiah 30:23

10. What role can a farm/homestead play in serving the Lord?

We are able to help others by what we have been blessed with on the farm.  We are not only able to give from our garden and it’s bounty, but we are able to serve in giving in many other ways.  We are able to help provide opportunities for friends, family and church family to have access to quality beef. Having the farm, has opened up opportunities to minister and witness that we would never have had were we still living in the subdivision.  Being on the farm, has changed our perspective that our neighbor is not just the house next door.  Our neighbor is anyone that we can reach out to and witness to, minister or bless, in anyway.  Sometimes serving the Lord is done in word, but many times it is a dozen eggs or a jar of honey or even a bucket of snap beans.  Our hope is that He shines through us in every action and every word.

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What an 18th Century Author Taught Me About My SmartPhone

What an 18th Century Author Taught Me About My Smartphone

Not long ago I read the classic adventure story, “Gulliver’s Travels,” published in 1726 by Jonathan Swift.

If you're unfamiliar, Gulliver's Travels is a satire-fiction that pokes fun and critiques many of the absurdities of society and man’s fallen human nature that Swift saw so evidently on display in his own time.  It’s really quite ironic, because a lot of what he gives attention to I think is reminiscent of our own day.

In addition to being an author, Swift was a clergyman of the Church of Ireland, which is the Irish branch of the Anglican church.  As a clergyman, one of the things that bothered him was the gradual decay of Christianity he saw taking place in the culture around him, and that leading to a continued erosion of man’s sense of morality.  The decline he saw in his fellow man he saw displayed in the increasing corruption of the powerful, the adoption of humanist-Enlightenment thinking, the brutal divisiveness of people toward each other, government run education in which we allow the state to brainwash our kids, and so much more.

Basically, Jonathan Swift saw the whole of mankind—including his sophisticated European brethren—acting like a bunch of Yahoos, which he incorporates into his story as a character arch of society.  Where man is shown to end up isn’t as honored stewards of the earth, but as ravenous packs of animals.  Indeed, the longer we act like animals, the more God gives us up to live like animals.  It reminds me of the indictment of Romans 1:

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…[he] gave them up to dishonorable passions…[he] gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28)

That’s man’s depraved trajectory.

But before Swift’s story gets to that final state of man's brutish corruption in the land of the Houyhnhnms, the adventure begins with Gulliver getting lost at sea and shipwrecking on the land of the Lilliputians, who are another European-like society of men though only 6 inches tall.  To them, Gulliver is a giant.

Finding Gulliver washed up on the beach after his shipwreck, the Lilliputians, with the ingenuity of their army, manage to capture him and move him to their city.  While in their custody, they seek to learn more about him, just as he uses the opportunity to try to learn more about them.

Throughout this process both Gulliver and the Lilliputians are humored by the silliness of each other’s customs and habits.  A close read reveals the jabs Swift is satirically making as he caricatures what he views to be silly customs in the real world.

At one point the Lilliputians search Gulliver’s pockets to see what kinds of things he carries around with him.  Discovering his pocket watch, a gadget unknown in their own society, the scene unfolds as follows:

"Out of the right fob hung a great silver chain, with a wonderful kind of engine at the bottom. We directed him to draw out whatever was at the end of that chain; which appeared to be a globe, half silver, and half of some transparent metal; for, on the transparent side, we saw certain strange figures circularly drawn, and thought we could touch them, till we found our fingers stopped by the lucid substance. He put this engine into our ears, which made an incessant noise, like that of a water-mill: and we conjecture it is either some unknown animal, or the god that he worships; but we are more inclined to the latter opinion, because he assured us, (if we understood him right, for he expressed himself very imperfectly) that he seldom did any thing without consulting it. He called it his oracle, and said, it pointed out the time for every action of his life."

Think about that.  “The pocket watch must be the man’s god, for he seldom does anything without consulting it—It points out the time for every action of his life.”

Apparently, one of the silly habits Swift saw common in his own 18th century society was the obsessive, nearly idolatrous habit of people constantly checking their pocket watches to prompt them on what they should be doing, or where they should be, according to the particular time of day.  It was as if the pocket watch, as great an invention as it was, was dictating everyone’s morning-to-evening activities, so much so that an outside observer would assume the watch must be a person’s god because of the level of attention and devotion he gives to it.

Does any of that sound familiar?  I can’t help but think of the habit of people in our culture today, with everyone constantly checking their smartphones.  Can you relate?  I know I can.

For a lot of people today, the first thing done in the morning and the last thing done at night is a glance at the phone.  Sitting down to eat, we check our phones.  Sitting at the stop lights, we check our phones.  While standing in the elevator, we check our phones.  Even when using the restroom, I imagine, many are checking their phones.

When considering the level of devotion we assign to our phones, one has to wonder, what would an outside observer assume about us?  Is it possible they would assume our phones must be our gods because of how much attention we give to them?  Or, would they assume, like I hope they would, that our phones are just another tool, like any other item we keep in our pockets, that, while beneficial to us, don’t control us?

It’s convicting to think about.  Because it makes me evaluate how the time I actually do give in worship to the Lord compares to the time I give meditating on my phone.

I’ve had to ask myself, “How do my prayers, my Bible reading, and my time spent in devotion to the Lord measure against the amount of time I spend repetitively scrolling through my RSS feed?”  “What does the time spent on my phone say to those around me (especially to my kids who I know are watching me closely) about where my true devotions lie?”

According to Deuteronomy 6:7, I should love God so much that my kids see me diligently dwelling on the things of God “when I sit in my house, when I walk by the way, when I lie down, when I rise.”  Instead, what are they likely to see?  I’m ashamed to say it, but often times they see me diligently checking social media, not diligently seeking the Lord.

I mentioned Romans 1 earlier.  Romans 1:24 says,

 “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…” (Romans 1:24-25)

Folks, our phones are “created things” that, if we’re not careful, can start to capture our attention and captivate our gaze more than God does.

I’m not anti-technology by any means.  In fact, I’m using technology to make this post.  Most of you are reading this post using your smartphone.  Praise God for modern inventions like the one you’re holding in your hand that can make life a little more convenient, but, the moment we regard any created thing, including our phones, higher than the Creator, and we religiously consume ourselves with it, we’re sliding further down the slippery slope of idolatry like the culture in Jonathan’s Swift’s day, and we end up living like a bunch of mindless Yahoos.

Unplug your phones every once in a while and connect with God.  Instead of checking your notifications 50 times a day, check in with God.  See what he’s already tweeted about in his Word.  I guarantee it’s worth more of your time than your favorite blogger.  It’s definitely worth more of your time than reading this post.

So, with that, I’ll end things there.  Have a fruitful day, keep a close watch on your habits, and keep an even closer eye on God!

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