Teaching Finance Through Stories
Ron Blue is a former CPA and financial advisor who loves spreadsheets. But when Ron teamed up with his daughter, Karen Guess, to write Ron’s latest financial book, she steered him against his natural writing style inclination. Karen had learned as a school teacher that it takes stories to hold people’s interest, and so she talked Ron into writing a book of financial stories. The result is Never Enough?: 3 Keys to Financial Contentment.
Ron and Karen write as Christians, but of different generations and probably of different ideological orientations. Ron is old school evangelical and his previous writing had a sermonic quality. Karen is the next generation and her writing has a certain social justice vibe. Ron lives in the suburbs and gives lots of money away. He encourages other Christians to give money away. It’s hard to measure his influence in encouraging generosity but it easily measures in the double-digit billions of dollars. His influence in helping to found the National Christian Foundation recently passed 7 billion dollars in giving, and it’s growing.
Karen and her husband live in a low-income community, by choice, among refugees. But unlike so many others that I have met (including a younger Jerry Bowyer) who live intentionally in low income neighborhoods for missional reasons, she does not project that more-authentic-than-thou edge which so many progressive evangelicals give off.
When I asked Ron and Karen for their favorite stories, they both gravitated towards the stories of poor people they’ve known who were able to get through tough times. Ron talks about a single mother getting no support from the father of her children, who worked multiple jobs but still couldn’t make ends meet, and the way the Providence supplied her needs.\
Karen remembers a financial professional who found herself in financial trouble suddenly and had to give to herself the kind of advice that she used to give to others about how to cut back.
Spreadsheets are well and good: I love them. But I think human beings are wired for stories, and since we don’t stop being human beings when we start talking about finance, teaching people about finance can be done much more effectively when stories are in the center. Sure, Ron managed to get a couple of simple tables in the book with some short calculations, but embedded in stories, they go down easy.
This is a book which almost unconsciously calls you to look at your own story. Do you have enough money? What would be enough? Given your orientation towards money, would any amount ever be enough? How can you be happy if you don’t have a financial satiety point? Is it possible to find a way to contentment no matter what wealth level you find yourself in?
I enjoyed Ron and Karen taking me on that journey, and I think you will too.
I sat down across a Skype line with Karen and (with the help of both her and his son) Ron recently to talk about their book, and about how the generosity seed which is planted by one generation matures in the next.
You can listen to the interview with Karen and Ron here. To read a partial transcript, look below. Both have been edited for clarity.
Note: While I do not have direct business dealings with Ron, I have spoken at events held by institutions with which he has been associated, such as Ronald Blue & Co. (which he founded but is no longer associated with), as well as Kingdom Advisors, and the Ronald Blue Institute at Indiana Wesleyan College. I have not received speaker’s fees from these events, though I did accept travel and lodging reimbursements.
Jerry Bowyer: Hi, I’m Jerry Bowyer. I want to thank you for joining us today.
We’re talking with Ron Blue, who is the founder of Ronald Blue & Co., Kingdom Advisors, and the Ron Blue Institute, and author of “Master Your Money”, and Karen Guess, who is daughter of Ron Blue, an educator. She was a teacher in Japan, teacher in Richmond, and in Atlanta. And she also works with the Ron Blue Institute on producing content for that institution.
By way of disclosure, I should point out that I swim in the world of Ron Blue and Ronald Blue & Co., and Kingdom Advisors, and Ronald Blue Institute. I’ve spoken at most — at events for all of these institutions and I’ve done some consulting with Ronald Blue & Co. and do some consulting with a company called Vident that also does some business with Ronald Blue & Co.
So disclosures out of the way, let’s get to our topic of the day, which is Ron Blue & Karen Guess’ new book, “Never Enough?: 3 Keys to Financial Contentment”.
Karen, Ron, thanks for joining us.
Ron Blue: Looking forward to it, Jerry.
Bowyer: I expected, when I picked up this book, to be bored by it, because I’ve heard the Ron Blue spiel. I’ve been to the conferences and shared the podium with you, Ron. And I thought well, I’ve heard all this before. But I found the book to be a real page-turner, and I found that I hadn’t heard most of it before.
And I think the reason for that is because you tell this book in the form of stories. And eternal principles might be unified in one principle, but a billion people can live out that principle in a different way and illustrate it. So I found it really interesting the way you told this in the form of stories.
Who made the decision to go in that direction? Was that you, Karen, or was that Ron? Who set the framework for this book?
Blue: Well, I’ll confess it wasn’t me.
Bowyer: Hmm, by process of elimination ‑‑
Karen Guess: It came about through a year-and-a-half-long conversation leading up to the book with the publisher and other folks who were interested parties, and between my dad and I. So it really was kind of a collective decision about how to frame it, and we decided that stories might be a good starting point.
Blue: Actually, Jerry, I got beaten into submission, okay, just to be honest with it.
Karen is a terrific writer, and she knows my stuff better than I know my stuff. And she had a way that she felt we needed to communicate. And we wrote the first chapter how many times, Karen?
Blue: Five times, and I finally said you know what, I accept your way.
The stories were her idea, and I have to confess also that I think it makes it much, much more readable than the book that I would have written all by myself.
Bowyer: Why did you resist such a good idea?
Blue: Because I’m seventy-five years old and stubborn. Okay?
Now, you wanted the truth, but I’ve written twenty-something books, and spoken, and so forth and so on, so I have a way and a style of communication. I was resistant because it wasn’t my style. I wasn’t resistant because it was anything wrong with it; it just didn’t sound like me. And I finally realized that Karen and I were going to write this together.
Add the reality is, in retrospect, that a finance book really written by a woman communicates with really the audience that buys Christian books. And I think I’ve heard that eighty-six percent of all Christian books are bought by women.
So God’s providence and his sovereignty allowed the book to be written this way. And I can’t tell you what it means to hear from you that it’s readable. You have read a lot, and you enjoyed it, that’s quite a statement, Jerry. And I will give all the honor and glory to the Lord and to Karen.
Bowyer: Well, I read a lot of books, and often they take a focus of the will to get through them. This one, I found it took more of a focus of the will to put it down and turn out the lights and go to sleep. And I think it’s that compelling nature of stories that really did that.
Karen, tell us about that a little bit. How did you know to approach this from a story point of view? Is that how you write in general? I read your blog a little bit; you’re a story person.
Guess: I am a story person, yes. And I’m not a numbers person. So I like to talk about this book as being kind of money without numbers, because I think numbers people will naturally want to read books about money, but people who aren’t numbers people might be a little intimidated.
So in my former life, I taught English and mostly U.S. history to high school students. And you kind of have to tell stories to keep students engaged. And I think it’s a good way to let people kind of connect themselves sideways with principles, rather than head on. So seeing yourself in somebody else’s story lets you recognize maybe where there might be opportunities for shifts in your own life, I think, especially for somebody who’s potentially easily intimidated by financial stuff. As I am.
Bowyer: And that intimidation actually proved to be an advantage, because other people are intimidated. So if you make it palatable and interesting to you, then you make it palatable and interesting to everyone else who suffers from the same disconnect from the world of numbers.
Bowyer: Just an observation: your father and I come from sort of a background of a preaching culture, right, not necessarily a story-telling culture. And so here’s a principle; obey the principle or ‑‑ here’s a principle: believe the principle; obey the principle.
Bowyer: And I’m seeing a shift in the evangelical tribe. And I think that party is women who are bringing that about towards more of a story-telling culture.
Guess: Yeah, that’s interesting.
Blue: I think, also, isn’t that interesting, Jerry, when you make that, because that observation is Jesus was a storyteller and communicated that way, and it was interesting. So we can go back to his stories just over and over and over again. So to me, the whole money conversation can get mired down in the numbers, but when you’re dealing with principles, principles transcend the numbers, and the number’s just a reflection of the principles. And I think, perhaps, myself and a lot of males, perhaps, like the Excel spreadsheet; I like to say I know that God invented Excel for me, because I love to manipulate the numbers. And my wife says don’t ever put me on a spreadsheet, and I don’t want to see your numbers.
Bowyer: Which is each of your favorite stories in the book? Either one of you can jump in: the story that you most like telling.
Blue: Yeah. I’ll go first just because Karen knows all the stories. The one that I remember well because I lived a part of this story: our last three children went to one school, and one of their classmates was one of three boys of a single mom. And she was a teacher, and she also delivered papers, and she supported those three boys through school as a single mom, getting essentially no help from her ex-husband. And she just left a phenomenal example of not being defeated, if you will, by her circumstances.
And since I lived it with them, and one of their boys spent considerable time with us — he was a tennis player, and our younger son was the tennis player. And so that, to me, is a favorite just because when I think of it, I see the people and I realize the price that she paid ‑‑ they went from home to home, Jerry, because they could live in homes for free that were ‑‑ waiting for it to sell. Somebody just wanted somebody in the house. And they would just go from place to place. They lived in multiple places as they were going about and ‑‑ that story, showed me that if you’ve got the desire, you can do it.
Guess: Yeah, I was going to actually say that was my favorite story too. Mostly because it’s Brad’s story. Brad and I worked together as adults for several years teaching. We even co-taught a class. And he’s just a man of faith, great faith in the sense that he walks by faith every day and has allowed the Lord to use his life on a daily basis. And cumulatively that’s put him in a position of great influence in a church ‑‑ he pastors young adults. And I think about his mom ‑‑ just her daily faith and her daily recognition, the story in the book is about one day they didn’t have detergent to wash their clothes, and all three of the boys did sports. And so she went to the mailbox and some detergent was there, and Brad said to me none of us knew the Lord at the time; it was just provision in the mailbox. And I think his daily kind of very simple faith is beautiful to watch. And I think seeing that God can plant seeds of that in a provision way before we even know that he’s taking care of us is powerful to me.
Originally published on Forbes.