Archive for the ‘Loose Change’ Category

Sacrifice and Personal Benefit

By definition sacrifice is not easy.  It costs you something of value.  Most of our sacrifices are made with an expectation of some benefit at the end.  Without a reward, it seems like an exercise in futility.

No sacrifice is easy, but easiest one to make is when you expect some personal benefit in exchange for your efforts.  You may forego certain foods, pay money at a gym and spend your time exercising.  All of these cost you time and money, but the prospect of healthy and fit body make it worthwhile.

The next easiest sacrifice to make is one made for someone you love and care about.  Parents make sacrifices on a daily basis for their children, yet they do it willingly and happily, because they love their kids and want them to have a better life.  Although you may not personally benefit, it’s worth it to see someone you love reap the rewards.

The most difficult sacrifice to make is the one you make for someone you don’t even know; to lay down your life for a cause you believe in without any benefit to you or our family.  This describes the sacrifice that so many of our soldiers have made serving our country.  Thousands of soldiers gave up their lives on behalf of complete strangers.

Consequently,  Memorial Day should be more than just another day off from work, a long weekend or the unofficial start of summer.  Memorial Day ought to be the day we honor the soldiers who died during military service.  They, and their families, made the ultimate sacrifice obtaining, securing and defending our freedoms.

For many of them, they sacrificed their lives with no personal benefit.  Now… don’t’ read what I’m not writing.  I’m not suggesting that they died in vain, nor were their lives cut short for no reason.  On the contrary… they made a tremendous sacrifice for someone else’s benefit… not their own.

Their names may be inscribed on a Memorial somewhere, but most of those who gave their life are not known or recognized outside of their family and friends.  A certificate and impeccably folded flag may be all that a family has to acknowledge the sacrifice they made.  Few of them received a Silver Star, Medal of Honor, were buried at Arlington National Cemetery or will have their names recorded in the annals of history for their acts of bravery.  Yet, everyone who gave their life committed a great act of bravery.

I would even posit that those who are relatively unknown made a sacrifice with no personal benefit.   It’s amazing when you consider the number of men and women who have given their lives in a rather anonymous way.  Their sacrifice should be highly honored.  You can honor them any day, but Memorial Day is a special time when we as a nation honor those who sacrificed with no personal benefit.

Celebrate Memorial Day… and take a few minutes to remember and honor the people you will never know who sacrificed their lives for you and I.

Giving Thanks in Troubled Times

Today is the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.  Many other countries also observe a Thanksgiving holiday at different times of the year.

As you know, our modern Thanksgiving holiday has its roots with the Pilgrim settlers in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  The first Thanksgiving in 1621 was not intended to be holiday, but a typical post-harvest celebration.  The feast at the Plymouth Plantation included the Native Wampanoag, who had shared their stores of food with the settlers during the previous winter.

Although there were various other Thanksgiving celebrations and declarations throughout the early history of our nation, Thanksgiving became an official holiday in 1863.  In the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

In 1941, Congress passed a law recognizing the fourth Thursday of November as a national day of Thanksgiving.  The change in dates was economically motivated.  At that time it was considered inappropriate to engage in any Christmas advertising before Thanksgiving.  An earlier Thanksgiving gave retailers more time to sell Christmas merchandise, which could be an economic boost in the middle of the Great Depression.

There is nothing inherently sacred about the day Thanksgiving is celebrated, but changing the date is a reflection of the heart and attitude of the American people.  The original Thanksgiving celebrations and proclamations were born out of adversity and tribulations.  Modern Thanksgivings seem more focused on launching Christmas shopping, than a day of reflection and giving thanks.

Take a moment and reflect upon the first Thanksgiving and the Lincoln proclamation.  The Pilgrims had experienced a very difficult first winter in America.  Many died, and without the help of the Wampanoag, more would have perished.  Yet a few months later, they were celebrating a bountiful harvest.  Although many had suffered greatly, they still had much to be thankful for.

Same goes for Lincoln.  In 1863, America was in the middle of a bloody civil war.  Although the war efforts were turning in favor of the Union, fighting was still very fierce. The Battle of Gettysburg had been fought less than five months previously.  As citizens and families fought each other, Abraham Lincoln still believed it was important for the nation to give thanks.

Being thankful is determined by your attitude, not your circumstances.  Giving thanks is not a denial of your situation.  You may be in the midst of a great battle or tragedy, just like the Pilgrims and Abraham Lincoln.  Without denying your current state, I believe you can still give thanks.  With very few exceptions, you don’t have to look far to find someone who is experiencing a greater loss.  I’m not trying to minimize your pain, loss or suffering.  I’m just trying to help you have a perspective that will allow you to be thankful.

It’s easy to be thankful when you’re in a season of plenty or life is fantastic.  It’s much harder to give thanks in troubled times.  When you have a thankful heart and spirit, you can give thanks in all situations.

I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving and take a few moments to reflect and give thanks… even in troubled times.

The illions – What is a million, billion, trillion?

Politicians, newscasters, business people, and citizens frequently speak of millions, billions and trillions of dollars.  These terms have become such a part of our daily vernacular that it seems we no longer have grasp of the vast magnitude of the difference between these amounts.

For most of us, $1 million is still a lot of money.  According to the US Census Bureau, the median household income in 2007 was $50,223.  Thus, it will take a person/couple 20 years to earn $1 million.  If you are fortunate to be in the top 2% of all households, you earn at least $250,000 each year.  Assuming a 40-year work life, 50% of all households will earn less than $2 million in their lifetime, and 98% will earn less than $10 million, before taxes.

There was a day when you were rich if you had a net worth of $1 million.  Although $1 million may not be worth what it used to be, it’s still a lot of money.  In 2004, 90% of all US households had a net worth of less than $400,000, and given the recent economic turmoil, this probably hasn’t risen much in the past six years.  You may have a lifestyle that is well above average, but you won’t be living a life of the rich and famous with $1 million.

By simple math, a billion is 1,000 million. It would take you 20,000 years to earn $1 billion if you earn $50,000 per year.  If you had a $1 billion, and you lived 100 years, you would have to spend $27,397 every day of your life to spend it all. One billion dollars is a vast amount of money, but it’s still something that I can wrap my head around.

A trillion dollars is a different matter.  Want to know what a $1 trillion looks like?

According to another website, it would take a jet flying at the speed of sound, reeling out a roll of dollar bills behind it, 14 years before it reeled out a trillion one dollar bills. You can also check out to see other equivalents of $1 trillion.

The entire 2009 GDP of the US was approximately $14.3 trillion. Thus, $1 trillion is like taking 7 cents of every dollar spent in the US.  The federal government spends about $3.6 trillion a year, and $1 trillion equals about 28% of it.  This equates to about $14,000 of spending if you make $50,000.

The illions may sound a lot alike, but there is an exponential difference between a million and a trillion. 

Next time you hear someone talk about $1 billion or $1 trillion, take a step back and think about what they just said and the context.  It they are nonchalantly talking like it is pocket-money, there is a good chance they really don’t grasp the magnitude of what they said.

Keep this in mind when you read the post tomorrow about the size of the current U.S. budget deficit.

Sacrifice for a Cause

In honor of the upcoming celebration of the signing the Declaration of Independence, I thought it would be appropriate to honor some of the Founding Fathers by considering the significance of their signature on this historic document.

The part of the Declaration that most of us are familiar with is the first sentence of the Preamble, which states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  What we may be less familiar with is the last sentence which declares, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

By the time the Declaration was signed, the Revolutionary War had already started.  The Boston Tea Party and Battles of Lexington and Concord had already occurred.  It’s estimated that 200 copies of the Declaration were printed for publication and public reading.  The message of the Declaration resonated with the colonists and inspired many to join the Revolution against the English crown. 

Who were the 56 men who signed the Declaration?  Twenty-four were lawyers, jurists or studied law; eleven were merchants; ten were farmers and large plantation owners, four were physicians, four were politicians, two were clergy and one was a soldier.  They were highly educated and successful, but when they affixed their signature on the Declaration they were putting it all in jeopardy.  Those 56 men publicly rejected English Parliamentary rule over the colonies and renounced their allegiance to King George III.  Although the colonies were technically already at war, signing the Declaration could have been considered an act of treason punishable by hanging. 

Along with others who supported the fight for independence, many of the signers suffered greatly from the war.  Some had their homes ransacked or burned, witnessed the destruction of their business and lost loved ones in battle.  Their losses were not all directly attributable to their signing the Declaration; some were just the casualties of war.  However, these men had a lot to lose from declaring their independence from England.

Why would men who possessed influence, power and money, take such a risk?  They were willing to sacrifice their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for a cause they believed in – Freedom!  In some respects, I think that they were fighting for the freedom of other people more than for themselves.

These were men of means and influence.  Although they may not have liked all of the laws and taxes being imposed upon them by England, their lives were still very comfortable.  By remaining loyal to the crown, most of them would have retained their influence and enjoyed a great life.  However, they believed the cause was worth the potential sacrifice of everything they had.

Fortunately, most of us will never have to make the choice that those 56 men faced.  Their sacrifice and that of the thousands of other men and women throughout the ages who have fought and defended our freedom, means we don’t have to make that choice.  For that… I am very thankful.

We honor these heroes with an annual holiday, but I think there is more.   Beyond the traditional barbecues, parades and fireworks, we can also honor these men and women by having a cause that we are willing to sacrifice for as well.

We can’t personally thank or repay the Founding Fathers, yet we live every day with the benefits of their sacrifice.  Are you willing to sacrifice for someone who has no viable means to thank or repay you?

What’s the sacrifice?  That’s up to you to determine, but I would start with your two most valuable things… your time and money.  I think you’ll know a sacrifice when you feel it, but if it’s easy, convenient, and doesn’t change your life forever, it’s probably not a sacrifice.

There many great causes and needs that tug at my heart, but there are a couple which top the list.  Curious what they are?  I have a passion for the thousands of children in America who are bouncing around our foster care system with no likelihood of a permanent family to call home; I want to see the scourge of human trafficking, most of which involves children, eradicated from this world (yes… the US is included); and I want to help build water wells in countries where clean drinking water is a luxury. 

That’s me.  So what about you?

Have fun celebrating the Fourth of July weekend.  You may also give some time to honor the sacrifice of our Founding Fathers and to think about the cause to which you are willing to pledge your life, fortune and sacred honor.

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Categories: Loose Change