Bill Haggling

If you’re looking to cut some expenses in your budget, never settle for “retail” or the first quoted price on certain monthly bills. It can be tough and sometimes take a long phone conversation or two, but haggling on some of your monthly service bills is a great way to save on your bills. If you haven’t already done this before, you ought to try calling one or more of your bill providers to ask for a better rate.

We have managed to get lower rates numerous times and kept almost all of our bills from increasing since Kat and I have been married. (For example, we only have Internet service and actually pay less now than when we originally signed up and they’ve quadrupled our download/upload speed since then.) Here are some ideas and tips to get you started:

Cable & Internet: Call your provider and simply ask for a better deal. Don’t be afraid to let them know you’re shopping around and have found better rates elsewhere, and even ask for the appropriate rep to cancel your service if you aren’t getting anywhere with the first person you speak with. Sometimes you just have to jump through a few hoops and prolong the phone call for them to just give in and magically find that lower rate.

Credit cards: Call your creditors and negotiate a lower interest rate using essentially the same principles as with your cable/internet service. Let them know you expect better rates/service or you will go elsewhere. (Credit card providers already make a killing on every single transaction because vendors have to pay small percentages on them, so they are just gouging you for additional revenue with high interest rates.)

Rent: This is not always possible, but it is definitely worth a shot every single time your rent lease is up. (We have managed to save thousands over the course of a year by haggling every year when the time came to renew our lease.)

Car insurance: Ask for a better rate or a discount (especially if you work from home), and inquire about all possible discounts available to you based on where you live, how much you drive, what type of car you own, etc. (We’ve never changed car insurance carriers because they have yet to be beaten when we actually have shopped around.)

Gym membership: Not an easy one and this is one of the most overpriced bills for most people, but if you go to a large chain gym like LA Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Lifetime, etc. then it’s always worth a shot to keep asking for a better deal. (We just use our local city gym in Allen, and there happens to be a free gym for me at my office, so we’ve managed to keep this cost way down.)

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Costco Price Sign Information

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The price signs at Costco have a system and can clue you in on the available deals. If you’re a frequent shopper, this can help you save more money at the warehouse store if you pay attention.

In particular, look for:

• Prices that end in 97¢. (These have been marked down from the regular priced items, which end in 99¢.)

• Odd pricing, such as 79¢, 49¢, or 89¢. (These indicate specially priced items that Costco got a deal from the manufacturer. These can often be better deals than at other stores, but not usually better than the 97¢ markdown.)

• An asterisk* on the upper right side of the sign: The item won’t be reordered. (However this is not always true, sometimes the buyers are just rotating brands or it is a seasonal item.)

• 88¢ or .00 endings: Manager markdowns. (Sometimes the company uses these to move a product very fast.)

• Green signs mean the item/product is organic.

The Best Things You Can Do at Costco Without a Membership

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For those willing to pay the membership fee, Costco is a great place to buy in bulk and access a number of services. However, If you don’t want to pony up the cash ($55/year), there are still plenty of things you can take advantage of without a card.

1. Get your eyes checked: Costco stores have an optometrist on site and you can schedule an appointment whether you’re a member or not. The downside is that you need a membership to buy Costco’s offering of glasses, contact lenses, or other eye-wear.

2. Use a Costco Gift Card: As long as the gift card (which can go up to $1,000) is bought by someone with a membership, you can buy anything in the store. You can also use it to get into the store without a membership card.

3. Get medicine from the Pharmacy or Immunization Shots: You can get your prescription medicine at Costco too, but you still need a doctor’s note to fill it. Costco also offers immunizations without a membership.

4. Buy alcoholic beverages: Most states prohibit the forming of alcohol or tobacco “clubs”, so you can tell them at the door that you’re there to just buy alcohol and they should let you in.

5. Go window shopping: Tell the rep at the entrance looking for member cards that you would like to go to membership services and ask about joining. Once you’re at the service desk, get an application and ask to browse the store before making your decision.

6. Eat at the Food Court: Many Costcos have food courts outside the register area, so you can order whatever you like as long as you have cash (many of them now accept Amex/debit as well). If the food court is inside you can use an old gift card to get in or use the window shopping trick.

There are a lot of reasons to go to Costco, membership or not. It can be worth the time to find ways to save money, and if you want to take the plunge into a membership, there are a few items sold by Costco that can single-handedly pay for your Costco membership fee.

Stewardship Questions to Consider

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1. What is generosity?

Generosity is the natural, consistent, and occasionally spontaneous giving of our material possessions to God’s service and our communities because of and modeled after what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. As God “did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32), so our posture toward God and others in response to His love should be one of cheerful sacrifice and generosity.

2. What is stewardship?

A steward is a person who has been entrusted with, and manages, another’s resources according to the owner’s vision and values. Each of us was created for stewardship by God. (Genesis 1:28). A steward is both a ruler, with authority to govern resources, and a slave, accountable to an owner of those resources. The New Testament calls Christians caretakers of God’s truths and gifts – even “God’s grace” (1st Corinthians 4:1, 1st Peter 4:10).

3. What is the basis for the tithe?

In the Old Testament, believers were required to give a tenth of their income to the support of the ministry and the needs of the poor. The New Testament teaches that we should give as we are “able and even beyond [our] ability” (2nd Corinthians 8:3). Therefore, the tithe (10%) is seen as a kind of minimum guideline for giving.

4. Do I give 10% of my gross or net income?

Scripture teaches that we are to give back to God our “firstfruits” (Exodus 23:16, 19). Proverbs 3:9 encourages us to “honor the LORD with [our] wealth, with the firstfruits of [our] crops,” meaning the primary and choicest of our possessions. God has modeled “firstfruits” giving in offering us His Son Jesus Christ. Our response to God should reflect our love of and devotion to Him.

5. What if I am unable to give 10% right now?

There are seasons to our economic life. There are financial responsibilities to our families, friends, communities and, in some cases, creditors. In any stage of life, good planning is necessary to increase our giving over time without neglecting our legal and personal financial obligations. Further, for some people, 10% is too low a starting point. For others, giving even 5% is a sacrifice. The goal is to increase one’s commitment up to and above 10%, so that it models Christ’s love to our communities.

6. Should I give all of my tithe/offering to my local Church?

The answer to this is a qualified “no.” Your gift is an act of personal worship to God in response to His grace in your life and the gift of His Son. The allocation of your money and time to God’s service should be a byproduct of prayer and consultation with other Christians to whom you are accountable. However, if you consider a particular church to be your “home church,” you should consider allocating a significant portion of your tithe and offering to the community where you invest most of your time, and where others are investing in you.

7. Isn’t there more to generosity and stewardship than money?

We certainly must be good stewards of all that God has given us: money, time, skills, influence, and position. Therefore, generosity and stewardship are about much more than money, but not less than our financial resources. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our heart’s inclination is to worship anything other then God. In a culture like the Anerican one we live in today, money can become an idol. Therefore, giving it away generously to God’s service can liberate us from our idolatry and fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).

God gives. No truth is more readily apparent in Scripture than the generosity, grace, and gifts of God. He delights in giving.

As those being conformed to the image of Christ, we should equally delight in giving. And it isn’t just giving in general that is expected; rather it is selfless and sacrificial giving that overflows from a heart responding to the generosity of the gospel.

If you can’t give cheerfully, give anyway (don’t compound your internal sin with external sin), but as you do, confess your struggle, seek clarity on the disconnect between your heart and the gospel, pray for joy, and walk in repentance.

The gospel of Jesus Christ compels us to give, confronting our fleshly tendencies toward greed, control, comfort, and convenience.

What if a raise or bonus at work provided an opportunity to further advance the gospel, give to the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give comfort to the needy, rather than just drive a newer car or buy a bigger house?

The Great Myth of Ownership

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Can anyone honestly say that they devised how their frame would be formed in the womb? If they’d grow up to be big, strong, and athletic? If they’d be inclined towards having good health? Has anyone decided at the moment of conception if they’d be raised in a palace, or live out in the streets? Did anyone reading this decide as an embryo whether their parents would love them well and provide for them? Did any of us choose the place or the hour of where we were born? Think with me then, what can any of us truly claim? Not a thing really. We didn’t even choose our own name! Can any of us recall a single thing that is not a gift in this life? When we honestly give credit where credit is due, we see that everything’s grace after all. We are all beggars, called to be stewards of what we’ve been given by grace.

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” – 2nd Corinthians 9:6-15

Looking at this passage and pausing to think for a moment, we can see there are many profound implications from its teaching. The grace of God serves as the foundation that moves the Christian into this way of living and operating. This passage says “He who supplies the seed is the one who also supplies the bread.” Here’s what Paul’s doing in the text, he is breaking down the myth of ownership.

So some guys go, “Oh, I baked a loaf of bread.” “Well, where did you get the bread?” “Well I used the wheat and flour I had to make the bread.” “Where did you get the wheat and flour?” “I had to plant a seed.” “Well, where did you get the seed?” “A tree.” “Oh, where did the tree come from?” This will continue until we understand infinite regress is logically impossible and we know some uncaused-cause, or prime-mover, some divine Creator must have supplied the first tree. So, in this passage, God is attacking the myth of ownership. So grace is the foundation of our generosity, but that foundation is built upon the idea that we’re stewards, and not owners. Which means we do not really own anything; we simply steward what we’ve been given. This is a fundamental shift in thinking. The grace of God enlightens us to the mercy of God, and in turn we see ourselves as stewards. What do you have that is not ultimately His? What do you have that He has not given you? What do you have that He did not have a hand in providing? What do you have that He can’t rightly stand over and go, “That’s Mine?”

So the guy who is killing it at work these days, his business aptitude that let him do well, that was given to him by God. “Well, no it wasn’t. He went to business college.” Yeah, and he sat next to a few idiots in business college who are no longer in business or haven’t done well, didn’t he? Are you beginning to see yet, now we’re into this mystery. “Well they had hard luck.” That’s interesting… the idea of luck. “Well it just came more naturally to the one successful guy.” Oh, it came to him naturally? So in the evolutionary thing, he’s just higher on the food chain? What about people who create and play music? All you have, your aptitudes, your resilience, all these things were given to you by God, for God. We are stewards, not owners. Everything you possess, you’ve been given to steward, to be a manager of, to oversee, not to own.

Listen, this isn’t a pleasant thought, but you’re only a few years, maybe even just days away from dying, being painted up like a clown, and put in the ground. Now I know none of us like to think about that very often, but it’s not too far away. It’s coming. Now you do all the yoga, running, eating spinach, etc. that you want, but it’s coming. You’re going to die, they’re going to do a poor job of making you try to look normal, and then they’re going to lay you in a box, to shove you into the ground, you’re going to a dark hole in the ground… and you’re not taking anything with you. That’s coming for you, and it’s coming for me. You’re not going to avoid that unless Christ happens to return before death comes for you. But in that moment, the myth of ownership certainly disappears, doesn’t it? Right now, it’s hard for us to see that though, we live with this view that, “We own this, it’s ours!” That’s a silly myth.

Don’t parents hate it when their children act how we act towards God when it comes to this idea? Go ahead, if you have kids, test this out. Sometime soon, put your kid in the car, go to Wal-Mart or Target, or wherever, and buy them a PlayStation or Wii or some kind of game. Go buy them that toy and tell them, “I’m buying you this PS3/Wii because I love you.” Then let them hold it and carry it up to the counter, and then you pay for it. Let them hold it in the car on the way home. Let it sit on their lap, let them touch it, let them dream. Get home to your house, the house that you pay for, that you allow your kid(s) to live in. Hook up the PS3/Wii that you just bought them, to your television, in your living room. Get it all set up and let them play. Now go to the other room, eat a sandwich, get something to drink, whatever, and then come back in and go, “Can Daddy/Mommy get a turn?” What is all too often the response? “It’s mine!” “What?” “It’s mine, Dad/Mom.” “Yeah I know. I just bought it for you like 30 minutes ago at the store.” “I know, and I’m playing. It’s mine.” Nothing is theirs. They own nothing. In fact, the clothes they are wearing right now were provided for them. How do they get their lunch? Do they have a job?

So loving parents engage that in their children, don’t they? No loving parent just hopes that all works itself out and leaves the room. They sit down and try to explain, and they try to teach them graciousness, generosity, and the value of sharing. Isn’t that what good parents do? They discipline, they shape and they mold their kids well. But what they’re doing is the same thing we’re doing to the Lord when you look at anything you own and go, “That’s mine!”And God’s going, “No, I just got that for you.” “Nope! That’s mine. You gave it to me.” “I know, I gave it to you for a reason.” “Well, I don’t care about Your reason, it’s mine.” So the way some of our children act that drives many of us so crazy is how we often act with God, specifically under this idea of ownership. So for the believer in Christ, they understand that all they have is God’s, that it’s not really theirs.

Now this actually creates an unreal amount of freedom. Here’s why. My car doesn’t define me. I do not feel better about myself or worse about myself depending on the vehicle I drive. My home does not define me. Does any of that make sense? When we don’t allow ourselves to be defined by the world, by the advertisements and social climate of our culture, then all of a sudden our money and resources are freed up to care for the poor, to love on the less fortunate, to gladly serve and do life with others; rather than us killing ourselves by overworking just to earn enough money to buy more of what we really already posses. So my shoes, my haircut, my home, etc. does not make me feel better about or worse about myself. That’s not how it works. No, we are to be a steward of those things. We should use those things for the ministry of reconciliation.

Looking back at passage from 2nd Corinthians, it is the grace of God in Christ that is the foundation, which moves the Christian into an understanding that we are stewards (not owners) of anything, and which leads us to a more enriched life. I also love the book of Ecclesiastes, because the whole book of Ecclesiastes is simply Solomon unpacking that if you put your hope in and pursue anything under the sun, your life is vanity and meaningless. And you can try to boil it down any way you want, but in the end, it all ends up being meaningless. And he has this exhaustive list of things that you can do under the sun that in the end don’t work out for you. Let’s say you spend your whole life building an incredible Fortune 500 company, you’re the greatest CEO in the country, everybody loves you, you overcome all these different obstacles, turn your business into this amazing thriving company, and you celebrate record profits… and then you retire. Ecclesiastes and thousands of years of history will tell us that within a couple of weeks, no one cares that you were ever there to begin with. Because a new CEO has new problems to overcome and the new CEO has new things to celebrate, neither of which involve you anymore. So a few years later, you’ll die and hardly anyone from the company will even show up at your funeral. It’s really quite the chipper little book, Ecclesiastes is…

King Solomon goes on to say, “Go ahead, gather all the money you want; you’re going to die, and have to leave it to your children, and maybe your children are stupid. So all that you worked so hard for is squandered on your idiot children.” So, what if your kid is a fool? Then what? And if your kids aren’t fools, maybe their kids are absolute fools. You don’t have to be much of a sociologist to see what wealth does to the next generation, or the one after that. All you have to do is just watch a little television or read a couple articles online. And we could go over thing after thing after thing, whether that’s the pursuit of pleasure, whether it’s the pursuit of comfort, whether that’s the pursuit of wealth, whether it’s the pursuit of power… the book of Ecclesiastes just knocks it down and says, “In the end, none of that works.”

Don’t get me wrong though, there is nothing wrong with having nice things, and I’m certainly not advocating that we all live like hippies and pool our collective wealth. I have definitely not escaped the struggles of materialism or the false sense of ownership. Stuff is intoxicating. I mean, new clothes can make you feel more beautiful and handsome, make you feel more desirable and worthy of affection. A new car can make you feel happy and cool. (I confess, I even wrote this blog on my iPhone 4s, which I certainly did not need.) But shouldn’t this give us pause, that stuff can affect us this way, that it can alter our mood deeply in such varying degrees? Shouldn’t this concern us a little? I mean, we haven’t really changed when we wear new jeans, the logo on our pants has. We aren’t any better of a person, our car just goes faster. You’re still you, you just have more stuff to play with in the moment. And all that stuff we have, nothing we own isn’t just 40-50 years away from being thrown in a landfill. Maybe you have some nice furniture you’ll hand down, but eventually, it’s all getting thrown out.

So the enriched life comes for the believer in what I’ve already attempted to describe: we understand that we don’t really own, we merely steward. So as God brings blessing, we’re not overwhelmed by it, and as God takes things away, we’re not threatened by it. This is an enriched life free from the myth of ownership. Do you have any idea how many of your fears, how much of the complexity of your life, and how much stress revolves around the issue of money, this accumulation of stuff? And many of us live in an unbelievably dangerous place when it comes to this idea. Because what we’re supposed to have and provide for our family here in America is ridiculous.

“I just want to give my kid every opportunity.” Have you ever been around a kid that’s literally gotten every opportunity? Congratulations, no one likes that kid. Am I lying? Kids who have never been told “no,” do you know how they turn out? On the news usually. “I just want to give them every opportunity.” Please don’t. When has that ever been healthy for anyone ever? Train them, educate them, discipline them, that’s what we need to do. And then there’s all the pressure to look a certain way and to drive a certain way. There’s this ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality that’s not overt but covert, which makes it more dangerous. Do you realize how silly it is that you feel better about yourself by what you drive, what you wear, and where you live? Are you really happy letting those things define you? Do you know how silly and sad that is? Did none of us really move past the high school social realm?

The enriched, grace-driven life is one that understands that God has dealt graciously and generously with us. So we become stewards, not owners, which frees us up from a thousand shallow trivialities that choke the life out of most. So we’re not in the constant quest for more, more, more and more, not in regards to trinkets. I mean, it’s all really going to be in a landfill or a garage sale sooner or later. So instead, we become stewards of the ministry of reconciliation, heralders of the great news of Christ, and that’s an enriching thing. So my house is a tool given to me and my wife by God to make much of Him. The money that He has given me has been given to me to make much of Him. And on and on and on we could go. So we live enriched, purposeful lives. Everything has eternal significance. Every dollar spent has eternal significance.

So, that’s why people are to be generous. Please think about this, everything you have, everything from the money in your wallet, the car you drive, the house/apt you live in, to the credit line that you have, everything that you have was ultimately given to you by a Holy Sovereign God with the expectation that you would steward it well. So many of the parables of Jesus have a king returning to see what his servants have done with the resources he had entrusted them with. You are a steward with the things of God, and this isn’t just a financial thing, this is gifts and talents, natural ability, time, your family, spouse, children, home, car, pets, etc.

We should give credit where credit is due. We should give all honor, praise, and glory to the uncaused-cause, to the prime-mover, to the God who created and sustains us, for He alone is who deserves all of our greatest affection. Praise should not ultimately terminate on us or any created beings.

I’ve mentioned this on here before, but even if you’ve already read that, think about this again with me. Do we celebrate and think much of the basketball player Michael Jordan, or do we simply admire his shoes, his jersey, the basketball he used? Would those things have any real value apart from him, or without relation to his numerous achievements in the game of basketball? What about Joe Montana? Do we think much of him, or merely care about the shoes he wore, the jersey he played in, and the footballs he once threw?

What about a hammer, blue-prints, a screw-driver, measuring tape, paint brush, a drawing table, wrench, etc? Are those tools greater than the construction worker, the engineer, and the architect who uses them to envision and build a building? Is an x-ray machine, prescription medicine, stethoscope, needle, etc. greater than the doctor who uses them to help heal patients? Would we consider the guitar, piano, drums, microphone, speakers, etc. to be of greater importance than the musician or singer who uses them to create music? Do we praise the tool or instrument, or the one(s) who wields, employs, and uses them? Would we rather have a deep, vibrant relationship with that person, or simply settle for having some of their things for a little while instead?

As Paul writes in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” So in the end, God is due all honor, glory, praise, and recognition for anything good that you have or have done. We do not really “own” anything…

Related recommended passages:

Ecclesiastes 5:10
Matthew 6:24
1st Timothy 6:10
Hebrews 13:5-6