THE SECRET KEY TO SUCCESS

THE SECRET KEY TO SUCCESS

“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;

I possess knowledge and discretion. [1]

“How have you ridden motorcycles for forty years and never been hurt when seven of my friends have been badly injured or killed on them?” The more I thought about my young friend’s question, the more safety precautions I listed. But then I realized it boils down to one thing, and that one thing is the secret to everything. It’s the secret to motorcycle safety and economic security. It’s the secret to physical health and psychological wellbeing. It’s the secret to a successful life, and it is baked into the universe as surely as gravity.

The secret is margin.

The old word for it is prudence, and its spiritual roots go back to the Garden of Eden when our first parents decided they could do life without God in their hubris. “Cursed is the ground for your sake,” said God. “In pain, you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it will grow for you. By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread till you return to the ground.” The need for margin was born that day—the cosmic Murphy’s Law—and whoever observes it reaps the benefits.

An airline pilot and flight instructor who was retiring after fifty accident-free years (we never hear about those guys, do we?) boiled it all down to one simple principle: Always fly with the idea that if anything can go wrong, it will and work hard to prepare for it. For example, most general aviation accidents result from fuel exhaustion. The veteran’s advice? Never assume the gages are correct. Always know exactly how much you put in before you launch and exactly how many gallons per hour that ship burns. Then land and refuel when you think you have one hour of flying time remaining. Simple right? Impose a one-hour fuel margin and NEVER break it. That’s prudence. That’s margin.

It is the same with money. We live in a world of economic hazards. Anything can go wrong and usually will at the worst possible moment. A tornado can blow your house down or flood it. A pandemic can destroy your job. Yet few operate with any self-imposed financial margins. We fly along on credit with little to no reserve, assuming that all will be well. Until the bottom drops out, the sky closes in, and our economic engines start to sputter. Safe landings are hard to come by in those situations.

But the biblical principle (see Proverbs 6:6-11) is simple: Work hard, spend less than you earn, set aside funds for future contingencies, and do it consistently, year after year. Then the poverty tsunami cannot catch you, nor the scarcity bandit overpower you.  

Margin. Prudence. Marriages need it, churches need it, and people need it. With it, we have enough to make it through the inevitable tough times brought on by the fall. Without it, we fall apart.


[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Pr 8:12). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

ADVICE TO AUTOMOTIVE WIDOWS & ORPHANS

 

You know your kids are growing up when they write and say, “Dad, I’m beginning to see the wisdom of a mini-van. How can I find a good one?”

My kids aren’t the only people who ask car questions. I’m meeting one of our congregation’s widows today to advise her about her next car. Last week I checked out another member’s car, one of the most terrifying examples of automotive inspection malpractice I’ve ever seen.

My church knows that I was an ASE certified technician before I was ordained. I like helping people with their cars and I really hate it when unscrupulous dealers and technicians take advantage of my friends.

Car buying is one of the most stressful things Americans do. It is also one of the most costly. If you’d like to know how to save money and get an excellent used car, this article is for you.

The first step to saving money and having an excellent ride is, well, saving money.

Pay Cash If You Can, Borrow Smart if You Can’t

The late Larry Burkett had a great maxim for car buyers, “The cheapest car you will ever own is the one you’re driving right now.” I’ve seen the exception, but the exceptions prove the rule.

The costs of operating a car in this country will continue to rise. Borrowing money to finance a new car over many years will cost much more than the average repair bills for the same car if you keep it five to ten years after it is paid off.

Cash is the best way to pay for a car. Driving isn’t free, so why pay the bank and kiss off all that interest? Make car payments to yourself, even after you pay off the one you’re driving now. In five years you will be able to afford a nicer used car. If you can’t pay cash, borrow smart. Home equity loans usually have better interest rates than car loans. Credit Unions are also good bets. Shop the lenders and remember most used car lots that provide their own financing make more money loaning money than they do selling cars. The interest rates are exorbitant. You don’t have to pay them if you’re willing to shop.

Shop Smart

Most private sellers have migrated to CraigsList. My two favorite sites are Autolist, which has a very usable smartphone app, and AutoTrader, which doesn’t.

Tap the net for reliability ratings. Consumer reports.org offers a one-month subscription to its auto ratings web-site. Their reliability ratings are the best and most objective in the business. Look for red bubbles under engine, transmission, brakes, and air conditioning, as these are the most expensive repair items. Stay away from any cars with black bubbles in those areas. The higher the rating, the less the car will cost in the long run. Also, the higher the mechanical reliability, the higher mileage car you can purchase. A ten-year-old car with 110,000 miles on the clock can be 25% less than a six-year-old car with 90,000 miles on it, and the difference in quality and reliability is negligible. Older cars are also cheaper to insure and incur lower taxes.

Look for ‘One-Owners.’ When buying from a dealer check the CARFAX and look for one owner cars with no damage history, clean titles, from low corrosion, low flood probability parts of the country.

The best used cars come from the best owners. A guy who bought it new and had all the maintenance done as per ‘the book’ is rare, but he is the best because he can substantiate its history.

Talk to the owner. The seller’s character is as much a part of the deal as the new tires he may have installed as incentive. Take someone along who is a good judge of character if you aren’t. You aren’t just buying a car; you’re buying a maintenance history. After I’ve picked a make and model I shop for the guy who’s been taking care of it for me for the past six or eight years.

Run Smart

Have it inspected by a competent technician. Have him provide a list of potential problems and costs. If he has any serious reservations, walk away from the deal. Also, use him for regular oil changes and ask him to keep an eye on critical systems. He will save you money and increase reliability by doing required maintenance that can be budgeted and scheduled, rather than waiting for an expensive breakdown.

You can save thousands of dollars per year on the costs of driving. You don’t have to be a mechanic, and you don’t have to drive a ‘junker’ to do it. All it takes is a little homework and a little discipline and you can enjoy a great car as well as a higher standard of living.