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Fearing not

Charity | Giving away your money is key to true financial freedom

Issue: "Wealth and poverty," March 14, 2009

Financial advisors are in the business of helping their clients make money. When they are successful, they stand to make a lot of money themselves.

And by almost any measure financial advisor Tim Mohns was successful. His practice was growing rapidly, his clients were making money, and two years ago the then 39-year-old was making more than a quarter of a million dollars a year.

That's when he and his wife heard something that changed their lives: "It's not how much you make that defines financial freedom," Mohns said. "It's how much you give away that defines financial freedom." So they decided to cap their income at $125,000 a year, and everything they made over that amount they would give away.

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Mohns was inspired in part by stories he heard at a Generous Giving conference. These conferences, hosted by the Chattanooga-based MacLellan Foundation, often feature speakers who have made similar lifestyle decisions. The role model for this style of giving-and a frequent speaker at Generous Giving conferences-is Randy Alcorn. In 1990, Alcorn was a young pastor, author, and pro-life activist, when an abortion facility sued him because of his protests. "I was arrested on a number of occasions," Alcorn said. "An abortion clinic won a court judgment against me and a few dozen others. I told a judge I would pay anybody anything I owed them, but one thing I wouldn't do was hand over money to people who would use it to kill babies."

So the court ruled that one-quarter of Alcorn's salary as pastor would be garnished to satisfy the court judgment. The only way to prevent the garnishment: If Alcorn made minimum wage. So in 1991, just as his writing career was taking off, Alcorn started paying himself minimum wage-and donating his book royalties, now in excess of $4 million, to Christian ministries.

Such stories both inspired and convicted Mohns, and now-two years later-Mohns' own story is inspiring his peers in the financial services industry, an industry where the idea of a salary cap is often mocked.

But Mohns said it's made him a better financial advisor. "It's completely liberated me to talk straight with my clients," Mohns said. "A few clients more or less have no impact on my income. So I tell current clients exactly what I think they need to hear, whether they want to hear it or not. It's brought a sense of calling back into my work. I speak into other people's lives without fear."

Kingdom Advisors, a group of Christian financial advisors, held its annual conference in Atlanta on Feb. 11-13, and the group named Mohns its "Kingdom Advisor of the Year." Christian financial guru Ron Blue, who founded Kingdom Advisors, presented Mohns with this award and told the more than 400 advisors gathered for the event, "Financial freedom doesn't mean having more money to indulge consumerism and materialism. It means freedom from fear."

Mohns, for his part, admits that the $125,000 his family is living on is not exactly poverty wages. "The last thing I want is for people to look at me and say we're suffering," Mohns said. "We're not suffering. Just the opposite. We're now experiencing great freedom and joy."

Ron Blue underscored this idea. "The door to financial freedom is generosity," Blue said. "You can be generous with what you have only when you truly believe that God will provide for you tomorrow. The Bible says 'fear not' more than 90 times. I believe that means"-and here Blue paused for emphasis-"to 'fear not.'"

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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