Have you ever stepped back to realize what we've gone through as a nation up to this point? Just in the 1900s alone we've seen dramatic rises and falls in the economy. Some businesses have found their way through the rough times and still exist today, while others were more of a feather in a storm and were quickly blown away. I'd say that most of us would be in agreement that those businesses that can weather the economic storms are certainly doing something right and can be trusted with our business.

Not only can general companies and firms be trusted with our business, but banks especially. When we hand over our hard earned dollars to the bank for safekeeping, we want to be sure it's safe. And, over the last couple of years many of us have come to the realization that just because we deposit our money into a credit union or bank doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be there when we get back.

When competition rises, companies have to do things better, or do more, or get more creative, and bank are certainly not excluded from this capitalist world. They need to continually get better and do more, especially since more and more banks are popping up every day. Just because a bank pops up in a neighborhood, it no longer means that that institution will thrive and grow. Nope, it not only has surrounding competition, but it also has competitors online that can offer higher interest on savings accounts and lower interest on loans because they don't have as much overhead invested into their establishment. After all, they're just an online presence. There's no need for a building or front line salespeople to take your cash. It's all electronic and automated!

When Was Your Bank Established?

If you have a fairly new bank, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're bad. But, without a history to go by, it certainly is more of a gamble. For me and my heard-earned money, I would rather deal with a bank that has been around a long time and knows what to do when the next financial storm hits (which might not be far off by the way).

Take a guess when Clydesdale Bank was started. Would you even believe me if I told you that this bank originated in 1838? That's right. If you're in the market to switch banks, I would strongly recommend them. Or, if you're looking at loan rates, be sure to take a look at the rates on Clydesdale Bank loans. They offer competitive rates, and they've been in business for almost 200 years!

Credit cards, if used responsibly, can be a great way to leverage the use of your money.  Over the last couple of years, I have been aggressively looking for opportunities to do just that. 

NOTE:  Your credit is one of your most important assets.  If you currently have a high level of credit card debt, I highly recommend your first focus be on eliminating that debt before pursuing new credit card options.

A big part of choosing the right credit card is in looking at what you want from that credit card.  I have a focus on maximizing our families travel opportunities, so my main focus has been on credit cards that can help me to reach some of these travel goals.  I do this, primarily, by looking for credit cards that will earn points or miles toward travel opportunities.  Depending upon your circumstances – your goals could be different:  maximize cash back, lower interest rate, earn points at a favorite store, tie in with your banking institution, etc. 

First, really decide what's important to you in what you get from the credit card company.  Next, look at how you will be using your credit card.  Will you use this for everyday purchase, or do you prefer cash?  Will you use this for bigger ticket items?  Will this be your primary credit card?  Do you want family members to be able to use this card?  Will it be for emergencies only?  Do you plan to pay the balance off each month (I highly recommend it)?  

Once you've determined how you'll be using your new credit card – now it's time to find a credit card that will maximize your possibilities for how you will be using that card. 

You may have noticed booths at different events you've been at, in airports, in shopping malls, etc.  The credit card companies who have these booths set up want you to make a quick, and not well thought out, decision and sign up on the spot.  These promotions may be good, but remember that without some research, you really don't know if it's the best available opportunity for that card (or for how you intend to use a credit card).  Note that if there's a booth setup and offering special incentives for signing up – there are, with almost complete certainty, those same incentives or better available online. 

And that leads into what I believe is a better way to search for credit card opportunities – using tools that are available online.  One method is to do basic Internet searches for credit card offers.  And then really spend some time checking them out and determining what each link offers.  Done thoroughly, this will give you excellent results.   However, the drawback is that it can be time-consuming (which may or may not be okay, depending upon your own personal circumstances).

Another option is to use an online comparison tool to evaluate the current list of credit card offers.  One such tool that I have found to be useful is Cardhub.  Cardhub's credit card comparison is a great tool in helping you to determine what credit card is best for you.  What I really like about this site is its ease of use.  You can choose to browse through the current available offers – and that's a nice feature.  What's even more powerful, though, is how you can easily limit down the list of credit cards based upon your own personal circumstances.  And once you have narrowed down your choices, the display of credit card option is a quick snapshot of the card features and any bonuses available.  That's powerful!  With a quick glance, you can see what each card offers.  There is more to each credit card, though, and there's even more functionality once you drill into each one – including reader submitted personal experiences (which I believe are a strong indicator of card experience).  So, this is a great option for viewing credit card options in one consolidated place.  If you find an option that works for you, there's also a link to take you directly to the application form.

Once again – your credit is one your most important assets.  Any decision to get a credit card should be well thought out.  Used with diligence, though, a credit card can be powerful way to leverage your money and reap some benefits from its use.

by Lance Ekum

photo by: 401(K) 2012

It's amazing how the human mind can contain so many conflicting ideas at once and yet still be able to function as a whole. Ethical and moral ideals are constantly battling one another and shifting from one plane to the next. Computers could never keep up with the complexities that our right and left hemispheres are capable of.

The Mind's Material

A few nights ago, I stopped amidst the outpour of my regularly occurring thoughts to analyze my mental process when it comes to the topic of money. I realized that most days I go about my daily routine on auto-pilot, with the idea of money filed away somewhere in the back of my mind. I don't think much of it—Money is here and there. Rent was paid. My cell phone bill is due next week. I'm extra hungry today, so I'm buying lunch early. No big deal. There may be fleeting thoughts of career goals, my financial future or my next paycheck, but most days there are no continuous, trumping thoughts about the importance of money in my life.

However, there are those occasional slots of time, while driving late at night or chatting with friends, where the topic of money strangely shifts to the forefront of my thoughts. The thoughts are usually deep, philosophical conundrums about how important money is in my life and it's usually a brief conversation with myself.

The Entrepreneur vs. the Spiritual Guru

In a nutshell, the conversation goes something like this:

“Man, I'm not getting any younger. I want to see the world, I want to live in luxury and do all the things I've always wanted to do. If only I had millions of dollars, I could do this. I could retire, discover my hobbies and focus on the things I really love.”

Almost immediately, an additional character—the devil's advocate in the form of some kind of wise spiritual guru—enters my mind and interrupts the previous thought with a calm smile and slow pretentious head shake:

“That is not the path. Money is only a distraction to the true essence of life and the important things. . . family, integrity, friends, creativity, culture, wisdom. Those are real. Cultivate those things.”

Living for Joy

Does this dialogue sound at all familiar? If so, I'd like to unofficially presume, without any sources, that you are like 99 percent of people in this country—stuck between the romantic notion of a life of excess and simple, practical living. Progressive pastor and writer Ed Young describes his book "Outrageous and Contagious Joy”:

“Most of us feel like we're missing something. We think that we could have a more exciting, rewarding life. We think that if we had the big bank account, the large house, the luxury car, the successful career, the buff body and youthful good looks, our lives would be just perfect. So we set out in pursuit of our dreams, working hard, living large—and we may even acquire some or all of these things. And then what? We're still not happy. So we move on to the next pursuit, still searching for happiness.”

There is no denying that Young is correct in that the pursuit of materialism as a means to an end is an empty search. As we've all heard time and time again, money is only temporary and cannot buy happiness. However, the pastor's next quote brings up a very sobering point:

“God wants more for us. Happiness is just a cheap imitation. God wants something so much greater than the fleeting and shallow feelings of happiness based on current circumstances; something beyond our imagination; something that is deeper, lasting, and real. He wants us to have absolute joy.”


Ed Young, a figurehead representing family and community, is not saying that we should not strive for material success, but rather we should strive for more. In essence, there should be some kind of balance between the pursuit of materialism and spiritual fulfillment in order to find true happiness. We should not be ashamed of money and material success, but we should not be absorbed in it either. By balancing physical, spiritual, emotional and financial health, we can achieve lasting joy and peace.

When I was in high school, I took part in a zillion organized community service events. I served as the school's Habitat for Humanity vice-chair. I led a fundraising campaign for Adoption Option. I swept litter off the streets in low-income neighborhoods. I went on summer volunteer trips to rural Appalachia and rural Pennsylvania.

But I never felt like I was producing something meaningful. Sure, I'd pick up litter, but the next day there would be more. I'd pound nails into a house, but the underlying factors that caused a family to rely on charity were still present. I wanted to create sustainable change, the kind of change that persists independent of my time and effort.

In college I joined a group that studied the feasibility of powering my university with renewable energy. Through that project, I learned two things: First, for change to be sustainable, it MUST be economically efficient. Money drives decision-making. Second, the average person has never been taught about how to control his or her own financial destiny. Fewer people would fall on hard times and be forced to ask for help if they harnessed the power of savings and investments during the good times.

Today I teach people how to take control of their money. I write about financial planning, budgeting, investing and growing wealth.

The cynical see this as the pursuit of greed. "Money's not important," they say. Au contraire. Money is the only thing that separates the middle-class from the impoverished. And who wants to set themselves and their children on a path to poverty?

On the contrary, every time I get an email from a reader that says, "you've inspired me to max out my IRA," "you've helped me pay off my debt," or "you've taught me how to create a stream of passive income," I feel like I've made a sustainable change.

It's not service in the traditional sense of the word. I'm no longer taking mission trips to Appalachia. But service isn't confined to such a narrow definition. Anything you can do to help someone help themselves – whether its offering advice, guidance, education, mentoring, or even a smile – is a form of service.

In my view, service is also how you respond to the outside world. Turning the other cheek when someone wrongs you is a type of service. Being the bigger, more noble person is a form of service.

When I was young, I thought service was something you did on Sunday. Now I see that it's a 24/7 way of life.

by Paula Pant

A Journey Of 1,000 Miles…

by Paula Pant

Society teaches us to visualize the end result. Imagine living in your dream house. Imagine having enough money to allow one parent to stay-at-home. Imagine having the funds to travel the world, launch a business, or retire young. The problem with this exercise? Visualizing a grandiose dream can leave us feeling overwhelmed. “Enough money to […]

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Vulnerability and the Buddha

by Paula Pant

There was once a man who constantly hurled insults at the Buddha. Every day he’d taunt and tease the Buddha. But the Buddha never seemed fazed. Someone asked the Buddha why the man’s insults never caused him offense. The Buddha replied: “When someone offers you a gift, and you refuse to accept it, to whom […]

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Awaken to the Value of Your Time

by Paula Pant

Trillions of dollars change hands around the world everyday. More items, services and goods are bought and sold each minute than you could possibly imagine. More currency changes hands than you can possibly fathom. Money, in other words, is virtually limitless. There’s more money in the world than you could ever need, want, acquire or […]

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Live Like No One Else

by Paula Pant

There’s a popular saying in the world of money management: “Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else.” Sound redundant? What it means is that in order to be prosperous, we must depart from the beaten path. Instead of doing conventional things with your money, do something extraordinary – […]

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Courage And A Story Of Two Men

by Paula Pant

I’m going to tell you a story of two men: Jared and Sam. These stories are true, although the names of the men, and certain identifying details, have been changed. Jared constantly worried that he’d fail. He never saw any characteristic within himself that pointed toward success. He was always an average student, never the […]

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Do You Love Your Money?

by Paula Pant

When I tell people that I write about money, some respond by crinkling their nose and saying, “Money? But that’s not what matters in life!” And then – more often than not – they’ll repeat that famous phrase, “money is the root of all evil.” Well, that’s not exactly how the saying goes. Although that […]

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