Mrs. Michelle Singletary: We can’t tell people not to be concerned or fearful because that’s just human nature. You’re scared. It’s OK to be scared, but then you have to take action. You can’t be crippled by that fear.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Today on Focus on the Family, we have financial expert Michelle Singletary joining us to help you get a handle on your money or lack thereof during this national crisis. I’m John Fuller. Welcome to our broadcast. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, if there’s ever been a time to get your money together – your attitude toward your money together, this is it. I mean, I think now we’re seeing accentuated because of the situation of this crisis, if you’re in a bad spot with bad habits, et cetera, it’s, you know, exponentially magnified right now. So, we do want to address this issue to help those that may be hurting financially. There’s a lot going on in the culture right now. I think as we’re, you know, plateauing, as the experts have said, now there’s a lot of turning toward opening up for businesses, et cetera. People going back to work. And you know, the politics of it, but really the true grit of what we have to do and how do we get this economy revved up again is the question today and then how do you manage your own personal finances to do a good job in being wise and being generous all at the same time? And we have a great expert to talk with us today.
John: We do. Michelle Singletary is a financial columnist for The Washington Post. She’s the author of a book called The 21-Day Financial Fast. And we have that available for you at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Michelle, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Michelle: Thank you. So glad to be here. So grateful.
Jim: Albeit, you know, I’ve – as I have said for the last couple of months, you’re in your home out there in Maryland and a little bit of distance, but I have you on the screen and we can at least see each other.
Michelle: Yeah. Yeah.
Jim: But it’s good to have you.
Michelle: Thank you.
Jim: So, you’ve been in this spot where you’ve been, like the rest of us, kind of in your home for the last couple of months. How’s it going?
Michelle: Well, it’s, you know – it’s so interesting because I bounce between the frustration of being locked in with one teenager and one young adult, both in college and, you know, having been used to being on their own just now under the authority of their parents in the home. That can get a little dicey. And I just adore my husband. We have a great marriage.
Michelle: And I love being around him. And I used to joke, “Oh, I just wish you could work from home, because I work from home all the time. We could be together all the time.” And now that he’s been here for a month and a half, I’m just like, “Can you please go back to work?”
Jim: Well, I think you’re expressing…
Jim: …Exactly what many of us are feeling and going through. You know, it’s kind of nice to leave for a few hours, come back and embrace and have a nice meal together and talk about your day.
Michelle: Yes. Yes.
Jim: And there’s a certain routine to that that is totally disrupted now. And I’m – you know, Jean and I’ve really enjoyed the time together. We – I think to a degree, I mean, at some point you need to take a little spacing, you know, think about other things. (Laughter)
Michelle: Right, exactly. (Laughter)
Jim: And, uh, you know, I think I’ve irritated her more than she irritates me at times. But I get the point.
Michelle: Yeah, I guess I’m the one who irritates all the time.
Michelle: But, you know, I like to work in silence, for example. Um, and my husband likes to listen to jazz.
Michelle: So, his office is like – you see my bookcase? Well, you can’t see it, but I have a bookcase behind me, and he works behind me. And I can hear the jazz and the drums.
Michelle: And then I’m just like, “I can’t work!” But, uh, still grateful. And you get to know your spouse in a different way.
Jim: Those are good – good reminders. You can translate that to the financial side, though, as well, because I guess some of those cracks that might be there in your marriage where this environment accentuates those situations, the same is true with how we handle money. And you’re an expert in that area. When you look at what’s happening, really at two levels. At the government level, I mean, we – we just tacked on a load of debt, two or three trillion dollars – somewhere in that neighborhood – to try to help the economy, help people. And then the personal level of the difficulties you’re hearing about, especially through your column with The Washington Post. What – what are people saying to you? So, what does that landscape look like? The macro economics and the microeconomics?
Michelle: Well, we were already a country deep in debt. And this just exacerbated that problem. Now, now is not the time to say, “Oh, we can’t do anything. Let’s just let people fall.” I mean, you’ve – the Scripture talks about that. If somebody is hungry, you just don’t go, “Oh, well.” You have to feed them!
Michelle: And then you deal with the problem. And so, you know, macro-wise, you know, we were in trouble. We were a country that lived the American dream on credit. And then on an individual level, a micro level, we know that there were a lot of people living on credit and trying to live a certain life and now, with no jobs to service all that debt, they’re in deeper in trouble. Now, clearly, there is a part of our population that was living paycheck-to-paycheck not by no fault of their own. It’s just hard to get a job, you know, in certain areas making a living. And – and we know that housing is so expensive in so many areas. And so, when you’re spending 40 or 50 percent of your – your take-home pay on housing, that doesn’t leave very much room to save for a time like this. This is an extraordinary time.
Michelle: And so, as I’ve been writing for The Washington Post, I’ve been looking at how can I help people who are having trouble right now? Now is not the time to wag your finger at people and saying, “You should have done this.” Now is the time to make sure they have food on the table and a stable roof over their heads. And we have to try to put in policies that aren’t going to tank us, but also are going to help folks. And then when we come out of this because this, too, shall pass.
Jim: That’s right.
Michelle: This the time…
Michelle: …That we need to look at these systemic problems and this virus exposed all of this. And I know – you know, I’ve done a lot of broadcasts. And so, what I love about doing Focus on the Family is I can talk about my faith and I can talk about Scripture.
Jim: That’s right.
Michelle: Because, you know – because, you know, Scripture talks about, you know, don’t be a borrower that you’ll be a slave to the lender. And it also talks about helping people. And so, I just think that God has allowed this virus for us to pause and look at what a disaster we are financially…
Michelle: …And while we are pausing you can see the problems that you’re having because there are a lot of people who had money. They were living a good life, but paycheck-to-paycheck still. And so, now that they don’t have those jobs, they can look around in these houses they can’t afford, those cars that they should have never bought, all that credit card debt and thinking, what in the world was I doing?
Jim: Well, let me – let me ask you the practical nature of it now, because I think that paints a really good picture about where the culture is at. What are some of those readers saying to you? What are the real micro struggles that you’re seeing as a money expert? Give us some of the examples. And I know the listeners are going to attach to some of that because they’re experiencing it themselves.
Michelle: Well, the biggest thing is housing. You know, people are worried about not being to pay their mortgage and the rent.
Michelle: Um, but on the other side of that are landlords who have to pay their bills as well.
Michelle: And so, I think, you know, when we have tens of millions of people unemployed, now it exposes the issue with unemployment insurance and then the issue with the fact that people can’t get through – they can’t get through to their mortgage companies to say, “Can you give me a break?” They can’t get through to apply for the unemployment. We’ve got these expanded benefits, but people can’t get in to apply for them. And so, people are just – they’re not sure what’s going to happen.
Michelle: They’re very worried about literally putting food on their table. And they’re very worried about keeping a roof over their heads. Now, the CARES Act, that was the stimulus package that was passed in March, has put in some places, some things. For example, if you have a mortgage that is federally backed, you know, there’s a, um, foreclosure provision that allows you to ask your lender for foreclosure for up to a initial 180 days and then another 180 days after that. So, for the short term, you don’t have to worry about paying your mortgage if you can’t afford it. But you do need to contact your lender. That’s if you have a federally-backed loan, like an FHA loan or V.A. loan. But, if you have a loan through a private, you know, lender or these investor groups, you’re going to have to negotiate with them to get that same kind of protection. And there was some provisions for renters as well. So, renters as an eviction – a moratorium until July. So, you cannot evict people if they’re in federal type housing or have federal subsidies for housing.
Jim: Right. Right.
Michelle: Now, if you have a private landlord, many states and jurisdictions have put in an eviction moratorium as well. So, you got to be very familiar that it just called – you know, you can search on your state’s housing website to see if there are any protections against being evicted.
Jim: Right. And we’re concentrating on people who are struggling financially, because they’ve lost a job, something like that.
Jim: Your book discusses – 21-Day Fast. That’s what your theme is, a financial fast. How do you change that direction or is it really just applying the same principles that you’ve applied in a normal economic environment? But how is some of that change, perhaps where people are just saying, how do I how do I feed my family this week?
Michelle: Right. Right. It’s so interesting you say that because just like God’s Word, it applies no matter what’s happening. Right?
Michelle: I – I – God Word doesn’t apply when we’re in trouble, it applies when we’re in – you know, in good times. Here’s the thing with the fast. People was like, “Well, wait a minute.” Because the financial fast is essentially that you don’t buy anything that is not a necessity. You don’t go shopping. You don’t go eat out. So, people like, “Well, that’s” – (laughter) “I can’t go to the mall and I can’t go to the restaurant.” But people can order out. So now is the time, if you have not had a disruption in your income, maybe your ordering out more. Now, some people are doing that because they want to support local businesses and I’m all for that. However, if you have credit card debt, like you might still be working, but you know you still are deeply in debt. You’ve got a big car note. You’ve got a big mortgage. You have credit card debt. And let me tell you, you might be doing OK right now, but we don’t know how long this is going to last and eventually, it may hit some of those jobs that we think are safer like government positions. Right now, government and federal people are still working, but those states are not taking an income, a lot of income. So, there may be a point where they need to furlough both federal and state workers and so that job income is going to go away. So, now is the time to save all that money. If you’re not – we’re not going out. We’re staying at home. We’re not driving to our jobs. You know, make sure that you’re saving all of that money just in case. We’re not supposed to live in fear, but you do have to act. You know, faith without works is dead. So, right now, the works is save everything that you can’t just in case. Now, if you have lost your job, the business is closed or furlough, I like to tell people, think of how you handle your bills like an emergency room handles an overflow of patients. They triage patients. Meaning they take the ones that are most critical first. So that’s what you do if you are out of work and you have little money. You triage your bills. There are bills that you pay because you have to pay. You know, food, the roof over your head, but right now, you can’t pay that credit card bill. So, you need to call that lender and say, “I cannot pay.” So, you have to triage your bills like that. So, pay only what’s necessity. Now, in normal times, I’ll be fussing at people. “Pay your credit card bills.” Right? But right now, that is not a necessity. We don’t want to shirk our debts. We want to, you know – Scripture says, you know, “The wicked borrow and don’t pay.” We’re not talking about that, but we are talking about extraordinary situation. So, some of those things, a medical debt, student loans, they have to be put on hold while you take care of the things that will keep your family safe and fed.
Jim: Well, that’s good advice.
John: I so appreciate the passion and energy and insights that Michelle Singletary is bringing to us today on Focus on the Family with your host, Jim Daly. You can look for Michelle’s book, The 21 Day Financial Fast online. We’ve got copies at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Michelle, let me – let me touch on something that I’m sure some people are thinking about. We may not say it or express it. But it feels like to a degree we have an entitlement culture. You know, we get things for nothing, et cetera. And there could be maybe that harder side of some that are feeling like, you know, if you didn’t plan, if you didn’t prepare, which again, the Scripture tells you to do, you know, why reward that? And yet at the same time, people are struggling. They can’t pay their bills. And we’ve got to do something for one another. There’s that whole debate about whether the government should be doing it, et cetera. But speak to just the attitude of entitlement, I guess, and how it can kill us and cripple us when it comes to that independence you referenced in the beginning about the borrower being a slave to the lender.
Michelle: We clearly have a sense of entitlement in the U.S. in particular. I write about this all the time. I teach about it in my church. You know, people feel entitled. For example, one of the hardest things I have is when people are in debt, they still want to take vacations and do some things. And I was like, “You cannot afford to take a vacation!” “But I – I work so hard.”
Michelle: And that’s a sense of entitlement. And I’m thinking, look at what happened right now. Many of us had to cancel our vacations. We have to learn how to be comfortable with ourselves walking in our neighborhood. I walk with my dog, and I tell you – and I’m the one the kind of person – we can afford to take vacations and I love going to the beach and we have to cancel a vacation. But I was walking with my dog and I was looking up at the sky…
Jim: Mm hmm.
Michelle: …And it was just so majestic and it was just Him and I. Nobody else was out. And I’m thinking, this is a vacation. This is – this is so glorious. I don’t need to go to a beach to feel this. And I certainly don’t need to do that if I have debt. And so, I think, again, God is like, “Look, you don’t need a vacation to be comfortable with yourself and enjoy the things that I have given you.” That sunlight outside my window, I don’t have to go anywhere else to see that exact same sunlight if I’m in debt, and I think that’s what’s happening. So, I think a lot of us have to get rid of this sense of entitlement. I’m looking at, you know, we’re not eating out, but we’re still having fun at our house making meals. Where before you absolutely had to go out. So, we’re enjoying, you know, baking again and having conversations with our kids without – we feel so entitled to go to the movies and go to all this stuff and now we’re on pause and thinking, this is what life is about. Now, you’re at – your question about people who feel, well, people don’t do what they were supposed to do. Wagging their finger. And we should definitely hold people accountable, but I’d like to think of the passage in the Bible where they were about to stone the woman. Right? The adulterous woman. And He said, you know, “those without sin cast the first stone.” But oftentimes we don’t talk about the rest of that passes where He turns to the woman and says, “Now, don’t – don’t do this anymore.” So, He was compassionate with her and had them stopped from stoning her and then He said, “Now, don’t you do that.” And that’s what we have to do when it comes time now for this financial thing. We can’t stone people right now, because they didn’t do what they were supposed to do.
Michelle: That is just not Christlike.
Michelle: However, we can come back after the fact and say, “Now – now that we are out of this crisis, you need to live within your means. You need to maybe downsize from that house you can’t afford. You cannot get a new car loan every six years. You need to keep your car. And so, you’re on a first name basis with a local tow-truck drivers.”
Michelle: You know, you cannot (unintelligible)…
Jim: I was just thinking about today, actually.
Michelle: (Laughter) Exactly.
Jim: I’m going to drive my car until it’s in the dirt.
Michelle: You can’t send your kid out of state if you don’t have the money to do that.
Michelle: I know that they got all A’s and you want to send them to that pricey school, but you don’t have the money for that. And they can go to a state school at – or community college, live at home, and still get a good education because God has not given you the resources to live that life. And so that’s when we hold people accountable for their sense of entitlement.
Jim: Yeah, Michelle, let me – let me emphasize something that is coming through clearly. It’s our attitude toward money that matters the most. And I think, you know, there’s probably a lot of science behind it. The dopamine our brain receives…
Jim: …When we make a new purchase. That’s why you have funny jokes about, you know, women that want to buy lots of shoes. There’s some connection there emotionally that’s going on and I’ll, you know, pick on men, too, that, you know, they buy a new tool and they get their dopamine hit…
Jim: …With the new crescent wrench or something.
Jim: But the – but the point I’m making, in some ways in a humorous way hopefully, but also in a serious way – it’s our attitude that matters the most. That’s what God’s after. That’s what shows up in times of stress. So, big question…
Michelle: (Laughter) Right.
Jim: …Attitude and how we manage our financial diet?
Michelle: I think we have to adopt an attitude of gratitude. All we need to do is turn to Apostle Paul. Right? He says, “I learned how to live when I had a lot and I learned how to live when I had a little.” And what he was saying – which I love about that, right? Because he could of just said, “I learned to live when I don’t have anything.” But he said – he recognizes as God recognizes that there are going to be those of us who are going to be prosperous. And so, even on those times you need to be appreciative of the fact that you are at a certain point, but you may not always be at that abundance point. And so, how do you deal with this? You know, you have to be grateful. And as an example, when all of this hit and, you know, the stock market has been crazy volatile. Right? I mean, it’s up and down…
Michelle: …And we just lost it. And you’re just fretting. And people are fretting about their retirement. And I was fretting. And I’m looking, you know – I started looking and I just stopped. My heart is pounding because, you know, my husband and I are great savers and we were like, “Oh, look at it all going away.” And then I had to stop. And I’m looking at my home. Why am I not grateful? If I lose every dime in my retirement account, we’re still going to be OK. And so, I had to smack myself and say, “Michelle, really?” And this is not to say that you shouldn’t be concerned about your retirement savings, but just stop for a moment to think about what you have. You are in a better position than most of the people in the world who don’t have a roof at all, who wonder what their next meal is going to be. We have closets full of clothes. We can go into our closet and decide what to wear. Many of us in households, we can decide which car to drive to church, you know?
Michelle: And so – so we have to adapt this attitude of gratitude. But on the other side of that is that we got a lot to talk about money. What – money is one of the most taboo issues. Couples are talking about it with each other. You’re not talking about money with your children. You know, my goodness, if a pastor talks about tithing, people tighten their lips. “You know, why is he talking about that money?” Because it takes money to turn on those lights for you to sit in that church. That’s why. And so, I think the one thing about when we have these type of crisis, obviously this is a deep crisis, but it also allows us to pause and think about what are you doing with the resources that you have? Are you being a good steward? And that also means how are how generous are you…
Michelle: …To those in need? Right?
Jim: Yeah. No. It’s true. Michelle, let me ask you, too. Because you know, we’re resonating on all of that, the attitude that we have, especially as Christians. I’m – you know, many people listening are Christian. Most are. Some aren’t. And I would certainly say in this moment, what a great time to investigate the claims of Christ to those of you who don’t know the Lord. I want to ask you about fear, because I think as I’ve interacted with some people, Christian and non-Christian, there seems to be just a lot of fear. They’re watching a lot of cable news, or just news, about what’s happening, the number of people that are infected, the number of people dying, et cetera. And it could really begin to drive you in such a way that’s unhealthy. So, speak to the connection of fear within the management of your budget, the management of your household, et cetera, and how we need to guard against fear driving those decisions.
Michelle: Absolutely. That is such a great question. And I – because I – can I just make a confession. Um, despite the fact…
Jim: We love confessions.
Michelle: You know, I’m a Christian. I go to church every Sunday. I teach. But I’m a worrier. And, you know, I’m not supposed to be a worrier. I’m supposed to trust in God. But it’s just my nature. I learned it from my grandmother. She was a worrier. She taught me how to worry, so I worry about everything. But then you have to act on the facts. So, if you have lost your job and you’re fearful, the fact is you don’t have as much income. OK. So, you’re concerned. Now you need to take some steps to figure out how to make sure you still have a roof over your head or if you have a mortgage. So that’s where you start to call your lender and you start to do things. So, you have – we can’t tell people not to be concerned or fearful because that’s just human nature. You’re scared. It’s OK to be scared, but then you have to take action.
Michelle: You can’t be crippled by that fear. But Scripture also says – I love in Ephesians when he talks about the whole armor of God. There’s a passage just before that where he says, “after you’ve done all that you can.” Right? That’s so important.
Michelle: Then “stand.” And so, it’s two things. You’ve got to have faith and you gotta have works. You gotta do what you need to do to take care of the things ’cause, you know, money’s not just gonna drop from the sky. We all believe in God, but He’s not gonna put no hundred dollar bills in the rain drops. But you also have the faith that whatever you’re going through, you’re gonna get through it, because we know that God gets us through it, even if you’re not a believer. This, too, still shall pass.
Jim: Yeah. The principles…
Michelle: And so…the principle is still there. So, you know, feel what you need to feel, but then do some things to make sure that you are financially secure.
Jim: Yeah. Michelle, I so appreciate that. That’s where I wanted to bend this at the end. Back to where we started, really, which – and I think if there’s a word of encouragement for the person who is really struggling, it’s don’t add the burden of fear to everything else that you have. Everybody knows what’s going on. So, you might find a lot more benevolence in this moment than you would otherwise. But to add fear on top of that, the crippling fear, the balling up fear, that you have nowhere to go, et cetera. Don’t add that to your burden. And Michelle, this has been so good.
Michelle: Oh, I know. Can I just add this one anecdote…
Jim: Yeah, please.
Michelle: …To your point, what you just said? I was interviewing a landlord in North Carolina and he’s – one of the things that people – he said people don’t – they don’t call when they’re in trouble. And he said, “I get that because it’s kind of scary because you don’t have the money.” He said, “But you just need to call me and let me know what’s going on.”
Michelle: And I asked him this one question – I’m going to cry. (emotion) I’m sorry, I asked him this question. I said, “How long can you carry your renters?” And he said, “As long as it takes.”
Michelle: And he could say that because he was a good steward. He paid off a lot of the mortgages on his rentals. And he’s saved. And so, he said, “I did what I had to do so that when they are in a crisis, I can carry them.” (Emotion)
Michelle: And isn’t that what God says? “If you do what you need to do, I will carry you the rest of the way.”
Michelle: And that’s what we all have to remember. Right?
Michelle: And people will lose their jobs and they won’t come back. People will be kicked out of their apartments or lose their homes. But if those of us who have the resources can help stand in there. Take somebody in if you can. And my husband and I do that. We take people in all the time. We almost always have somebody living with us on purpose. Right? And so, you have to, you know, you’ve got to ask for that help. Right? Sometimes with our pride. We don’t ask. But pride is a sin. And so, we need to ask. Ask the landlord. “I can’t pay you.” He knows what’s going on or she knows what’s going on. You know, contact government services. Contact your lender. Contact family members and friends who, you know, have an abundance and say, “I’m in trouble.”
Michelle: “Can you help me out?” And if you are the person who has an abundance, this is not the time to shame people. This is a time to step in and help people, because we are all of us, our brothers and our sister’s keepers.
Jim: Yeah. No, Michelle, that is – thank you for asserting that and making that statement. That is so true. And I’ll tell you what, I’m feeling that, too. I’m just humbled by the number of people who are still able to support Focus on the Family. Some are saying, you know, “We lost a lot of our business, but we’re still going to keep our commitment or double our commitment to Focus.”
Jim: It’s an amazing thing to be on the receiving end of that and hear it. I mean, it really is. It puts you into tears that people are making that kind of sacrifice to help other people through their church, through Focus, through their renters or whatever it might be. And so, thank you for the reminder. And what a beautiful thing for the Christian community, particularly. If we’re doing the right thing throughout the rest of our time here when something like this, a pandemic hits and we’re in a position like that landlord…
Jim: …Whom you just described to bring God’s peace to people that are very fearful, what a testimony that is to be people of good, people of shalom, people of God’s kindness and mercy.
Jim: And that’s what that describes. So, thank you, Michelle, for being with us.
Michelle: You’re so welcome.
Jim: Thank you for your book, The 21 Day Financial Fast. That is a wonderful work and we want to offer that to people. And if you can’t afford it, we’ll get it to you trusting others will cover the cost of that. But at the same time, if you can help Focus, we’ll say thank you by sending in the book for a gift of any amount.
John: And you can get the book and make your donation, if you can, at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And of course, we have so many resources to help you. Michelle’s book is great. But if you need to talk to a counselor or if you need something else for your particular circumstances, do call us and let us be a service to you again. Or number 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.