SMI on the Radio: Indispensable Things to Know About Money (audio & transcript)

May 22, 2023

The most important things to know about money and possessions aren't complex or difficult to discover.

SMI's executive editor Mark Biller explained what they are — and where to find them — as he spoke with host Rob West a few days ago on the radio program Faith & Finance.

Mark also fielded a call about the U.S. dollar possibly losing ground as the world's reserve currency, and he discussed the challenges and benefits of owning gold.

Click the arrow below to listen. Scroll down for the transcript.

Faith & Finance (formerly MoneyWise) airs weekday mornings on American Family Radio. A different version airs each weekday afternoon on Moody Radio.

(For more radio appearances by members of the SMI team, visit our Resources page.)


Rob West:
Did you know that Slinkies are 82 feet long if you stretch them out? It's an interesting factoid, but is it really worth knowing?

<laugh> Hi, I'm Rob West. The world is full of useless information. Some of it's fun to learn, but it won't help you reach your goals — especially your investing goals. So today I'll talk with Mark Biller about some "things that are worth knowing."

And then it's on to your calls at 800-525-7000. This is Faith & Finance on American Family Radio — biblical wisdom for your financial decisions. (theme music ends)

Well, Mark Biller is our guest again today. He's executive editor at Sound Mind Investing, where they know a lot of stuff — and I guess I would say all of it is useful. Mark, great to have you back with us.

Mark Biller:
Thanks, Rob. I don't know about all of it, but hopefully at least some of it

Rob West:
<laugh> Absolutely. By the way, did you know that Slinkies are 82 feet long?

Mark Biller:
I did not know that.

Rob West:
Okay. Well, you have something you can share with your kids when you get home tonight. <laugh>

The whole point here is that not all information is worth knowing. But you have an article in the latest SMI newsletter called Things Worth Knowing, and that's what we want to find out about today.

So, Mark, where do we begin?

Mark Biller:
Well, Rob, it really starts with a question that we've often asked to open conversations with potential new investors over the last 30 years. And that question is, "What is the number one financial mistake that a lot of Christians make?"

And in our opinion, the answer is that they ignore biblical wisdom when they're managing their money and they follow secular advice instead. Unfortunately, a lot of that secular advice — y'know, the things you hear on financial shows and so forth — is relatively useless information. And sometimes, it's even worse than useless because it can actually cause you to make mistakes with your investing.

So SMI has long taught that if you use God's protective biblical principles as your guide, you're going to manage your money more wisely and prudently and glorify God at the same time.

Rob West:
Well, I totally agree, and that's of course a big part of what SMI and FaithFi have in common.

You have a story in this article regarding SMI founder Austin Pryor that he unpacks a bit more about this. Share that with us.

Mark Biller:
SMI's founder Austin Pryor came by this knowledge the hard way — and the story just tells about how from the early '70s to the mid-'80s, he was relying on his own skills and intellect for making his financial and investing decisions. And he tells about some of the success, but also a lot of the failures, of relying on himself and relying on his own wisdom, if you will.

And then in the late '80s, Austin turned to the teachings of his longtime friend Larry Burkett, who a lot of your listeners were very familiar with. Larry had, you know, become a leading voice on the importance of Christians applying biblical wisdom to managing their finances. So, long story short, as Austin got in sync with God's ways instead of his own wisdom, that really laid the foundation for his future financial success. And that experience from 30-plus years ago still influences the way that we publish content at SMI today.

Rob West:
So how do you determine what investors really need to know, Mark?

Mark Biller:
It's tricky. You know, we do a ton of financial reading here at SMI, and we're constantly asking ourselves, "Is this something our members should be aware of? Is this really worth knowing?"

You know, there's so much constantly being written and discussed about the economy and the market-specific investment choices. And, of course, we do comment on all of these things to a certain extent, but we try to never lose sight of our purpose. And we view SMI as a discipling tool with a special focus that comes right out if Ephesians 4: " prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up and become mature."

So within our little personal finance and investing niche, that means learning to set financial priorities that honor God and point to the attainment of God-given goals. And given that, the things that are really worth knowing — and the things that we try to emphasize at SMI — are first and foremost going to be rooted in God's Word.

Rob West:
Hmm. That's powerful. What are some of those key verses that help you decide what information is important and worth knowing as you think through the content you all are preparing at SMI?

Mark Biller:
Well, the first one, Rob, would be from 2 Timothy 3:16, which tells us that "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." So we think that the starting point is looking primarily to God's wisdom — which is found in His Word — rather than the world's conventional wisdom for the principles that we need to guide our financial decision-making.

Rob West:
What would be another key passage?

Mark Biller:
Well, 1 Corinthians 4:2 tells us, "Now it's required that those who've been given a trust must prove faithful." So it's worth knowing that each of us has to take personal responsibility for making knowledgeable, biblically consistent financial decisions.

Now, if we don't know how to do that, we need to get help, whether that's from a service like SMI or finding an advisor who can assist us. But even if we do that, ultimately we need to recognize that we are still responsible for our financial decisions.

Rob West:
All right. We're going to continue this conversation with Mark, but let's get a few of your calls into the mix here today. We've got a few lines open at 800-525-7000.

Let's begin in Pennsylvania. Fred, go right ahead, sir.

Good morning! I thank you for taking my call. My question is — I'm not a big investor, I don't understand a lot of investments. I have someone that I pay to do that for me — a financial advisor.

But right, right now, with the concerns of the value of the dollar with other countries looking to [trade in other currencies], that's gonna play a big part in the devaluing of our dollar. Does it make sense to buy gold and is it — I really just learned about gold mutual [funds] — is that something that's worth looking into?

Rob West:
Mark your thoughts on both items, just kind of the state of the economy and the U.S. dollar, the desirability of owning gold in your portfolio, and then how to do it.

Mark Biller:
Yeah, for sure. Well, Fred a few things there. One, you know, the whole dollar issue is definitely one that gets a lot of attention. And a lot of times it is given attention particularly by people who are interested in gold or who are selling gold and gold-type products. Because it is kind of a scary thing, and it's kind of hard for anybody to say definitively this will happen or this won't happen.

The thing that I would encourage listeners with in this regard is that a lot of the information around the dollar — and dollar-devaluation in particular — strikes me as being very fear-based. And unfortunately, a lot of marketing is based on appealing to people's fear or greed. Those are the two primary emotions that button pushers are trying to press. And the dollar story is one that really can get us feeling fearful.

The thing I would encourage people with is, as you look around the world — with the state of the world, all the geopolitical questions, and so forth — if you were a person with money to invest, is there really any place else in the world today that you would prefer to send your money to, to take risk with as an investment, than the United States?

Now granted, we've got plenty of problems here. We're all familiar with the warts that the U.S. has. But, nonetheless, we're resource-rich. We have the world's largest economy. We're protected on both sides by giant oceans, so there's really no direct military threat. We have the rule of law even though, you know, we get frustrated with things that we see in the news and things that are happening.

The big point, Fred, is just that the world's "cleanest dirty shirt" is still by far the United States.

And what we see is that even in periods during the last few years — when we've had inflation issues, all the geopolitical stress — the dollar has actually gone up against all the other world's currencies. It hasn't gone down. It's not that people have been fleeing the dollar because of all of these concerns. It's actually been a case that people have been flooding into dollars, pressing the value up.

So I would not take a lot of investment decisions based out of fear about what's gonna happen to the dollar, because it's always a question of the dollar relative to something else. And it's that "something else" that's really lacking. I don't think most people want to go into Chinese yuan. I don't think most people really want to go into Euros with the situation in Europe right now. And so there just aren't a lot of great alternatives.

Now that said, I do think there's a place in a portfolio for gold. We've been overweight our normal position in gold now for over a year. And I think that that is an attractive investment — but less about the dollar devaluing relative to other global currencies and more about really central-bank insurance and Federal Reserve insurance — and the chances that as these policy decisions are made here that influence both inflation and, as you mentioned, the value of the dollar, that gold does give you a little bit of a safety net, a safety reserve against bad decision making really in the government and the central bank decisions.

But I would encourage people to not go wild with that. I think that for most people an allocation of maybe 5%, maybe up to 10%, of their portfolio on gold is probably plenty because there are long stretches — and we don't have to look back very far — y'know, in 2020 everyone was sure gold was gonna go to the moon because of the inflation that was just kicking off. And instead, we had the better part of two years where gold actually declined from a high of over $2,000 all the way down to $1,600. Now it's come back lately, and that's why we think there's a place for it in a portfolio. But I wouldn't go wild with that.

And, Fred, I wouldn't be overly fearful about the dollar and these changes. These tend to be very long, prolonged swings, not overnight-type changes in currency evaluations,

Rob West:
What are your thoughts on investing directly in gold — actually taking physical possession — versus maybe attracting ETF or a mutual fund?

Mark Biller:
Some of that Rob comes down to your motivation and your goals in terms of investing in gold. A lot of people who are investing in gold really are wanting it as, kind of like, "worst-case-scenario insurance." They want to have that on hand if things ever really got bad — for barter or those types of situations. And if that's the case, then obviously, an ETF or a gold mutual fund isn't going to be of a whole lot of help in that situation! So that puts you into the physical gold camp.

The two big drawbacks with physical gold are, of course, if you have it in any size, you've got a storage problem. You don't want to have a whole lot of gold in your house because you don't wanna make yourself a target. And then if you're putting it in a bank lockbox, you know, security box or whatever, then you have the same question of, "Could I get to it in an emergency?" So that can be a little tricky.

And also, you know, you usually lose a lot in fees to buy and sell physical gold. So I tend to look at the physical gold piece of somebody's holdings as more of a, probably, a "forever" holding. This is something you hope to never have to sell. Maybe you're passing on a coin or two to your kids or grandkids, that sort of thing. So I would lean Rob towards the relatively small physical allocation along those lines.

And then beyond that, that's where I think the gold ETFs — GLD, PHYS, items like those, those are tickers of gold ETFs that you can buy and sell — that's where those really come in handy. We actually use some of those gold ETFs in one of our strategies where we are adjusting the amount of gold exposure we have.

So I mentioned earlier we've been pretty heavily overweight gold now over the last year, but there'll come a day when our signals will say we need to lighten up. And that's where those ETFs are really handy because we can adjust our exposure just as easily as buying or selling any other stock or mutual fund.

So there's a little bit on the interplay between the physical versus the "paper" gold — the trading gold, if you will.

Rob West:
One follow-up on those ETFs — those tracking ETFs for any precious metal. Let's take one like GLD that tracks the price of gold. Is there real gold backing those, and how closely do they actually track the movement of the precious metal?

Mark Biller:
In my experience, they do track it quite closely. They do a good job with that. Now, from the very beginning, the very first days of the GLD ETF, there have been questions and rumors circulating around, "Is all of the gold that supposedly backs these ETFs really there?" In theory, those ETFs are backed by physical gold 100%, but, you know, they're always gonna be questions.

And again, it's always hard to know because the gold industry, in particular, is super prone to conspiracy theory, and a lot of product is sold along those lines. So anybody who's trying to sell something other than these gold ETFs is, of course. gonna play up the questions about the actual gold.

One of the ones that I mentioned just a moment ago — PHYS — we've actually liked that one just a tick better than GLD lately because we have a little bit more confidence in the claims of the actual physical gold being there. But I don't have anything concrete to suggest that GLD does not have the gold that they say they do, and they are being audited all the time on these, and somebody's signing off on that. So really there's no good reason to question that that is the case.

But there are some things you can do even to take a step or two further with some of the physical gold-specific ETFs that make even more strong claims about their physical gold holdings.

Rob West:
Well, thanks for that Mark. That was a really helpful primer on gold, how we should think about it in our portfolios, and the practical side of actually owning it as well.

Going back to the article, Mark, as we talk about these verses, there are some that really hit on the core tenets of biblical financial stewardship — which, of course, is what we're called to after we surrender our lives to Jesus. So tell us about those.

Mark Biller:
Well, I'll rattle off four of those for you, Rob. The first is from Proverbs 22:7. It says, "The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is a servant to the lender." So it's worth knowing that debt can be enslaving and we should avoid it as much as possible.

The second one there is Proverbs 21:20 — "In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has." So this one tells us that maintaining a proper balance between our current spending and our long-term saving is actually a sign of wisdom.

Proverbs 20:15 tells us: "The plans of the diligent lead to profit, as surely as haste leads to poverty." So this one tells us we should consistently invest from a carefully considered long-term plan instead of making our decisions more impulsively on a case-by-case basis.

And the last one here, probably familiar to a lot of listeners, is Ecclesiastes is 11:2 — "Divide your portion to seven or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth." So this is the big diversification verse, and this tells us that rather than being preoccupied with the market — what it's doing, and trying to time the market as a means of controlling risk and protecting our capital — that diversification really ought to play the primary role there.

Rob West:
There's a verse that you all unpack in that article that has to do with seeking to be rich. Tell us about that.

Mark Biller:
Yeah, this is Proverbs 23:4. It says, "Do not wear yourself out to get rich. Have the wisdom to show restraint." And this one's important, tells us that we need to be on guard against greed and spending all of our energies in the attempt to constantly get more, whether that's striving in our careers and our work, or being overly focused on the highest possible investment returns.

And, you know, I can tell you as a fellow traveler that's sometimes prone to this type of thinking myself. "The wisdom to show restraint" is really a phrase that's, that's stuck with me.

Rob West:
Yeah, that's really good. Mark, from your vantage point, what's the difference between being entrusted with wealth and having a goal to pursue wealth for wealth's sake?

Mark Biller:
Oh man, that's a good one. That's a good question. You know, I think that it's really easy for us as Americans to think of ourselves as not being the rich person that's being talked about in all of these Bible passages, right? But the reality is that any of us — almost any of us listening today, if we put ourselves on the wealth scale of the whole world, and especially the whole world overall of time — man, we're way far out on that rich-guy spectrum.

So I think that helps us just to maybe reinterpret a little bit — as we're reading the Bible in our quiet times and hearing these scriptures — that these scriptures are talking about us. We've gotta really be careful.

But to directly to your question, you know, all of us have been entrusted with resources. We need to be good stewards. And I think that that's an appropriate biblical goal. I don't think we need to be going out and necessarily selling all we have. We need to try to be doing the best we can to manage [what we have] according to God's principles and according to his will.

And then it's another step when our focus is preoccupied with always more. How do I turn this into more? How do I get more, create more? Striving — you know, it's that striving aspect. That's where I think we're really crossing some lines and really need to be careful.

Rob West:
Yeah, that's well said, Mark. Well, as we wrap up today, what could our listeners expect to experience when they follow these principles and passages that you've been unpacking today?

Mark Biller:
Yeah, it's good news here, Rob. As we renew our minds with these guiding precepts — you can apply them, of course, to help make the day-to-day financial decisions that everyone faces. And as we follow 'em consistently, we can have confidence that whatever the short-term sacrifices might be, that we're making wise spending, saving, and investing choices.

And that really frees us to leave the results with God because like 1 Timothy 6 says, "Godliness with contentment is great gain."

Rob West:
Hmm. That's powerful. And I guess, Mark, that might mean that we need to turn down the voice of this world vis-a-vis the 24-hour news cycle and maybe turn up God's voice in our life, huh?

Mark Biller:
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. That's good advice right there.

Rob West:
Well, Mark, we appreciate you being with us, my friend. Thanks for stopping by as always and we'll look forward to having you back real soon.

Mark Biller:
Thanks, Rob. Always a pleasure to be with you.

Rob West:
That's Mark Biller. He's executive editor at Sound Mind Investing. He's joined us as our guest today.

And if you'd like to read this article or learn more at sound Mind Investing, you can do

Written by

Joseph Slife

Joseph Slife

Joseph Slife has been a news writer for the Associated Press, a college instructor, and a radio host. He and his wife Joye have three grown sons.