Playing to Win

Written by Maria Michalowski

When I was a little girl, my family liked to go camping, and once the sun had set and the campground got dark, one of our favorite ways to pass the time was playing cards — Hearts.  If you aren’t familiar with the game, very simply you play hands of cards, trying not to win any hands that contain hearts. The person with the fewest hearts at the end, wins.

At first, I played the cards as I got them, thinking only of the cards in front of me.  My dad would strategize. He watched what cards the other players were playing. He counted cards.  He planned ahead. And most of the time, he won. One of his favorite strategies was to “Shoot the Moon”, which involves turning the tables and winning ALL the hands with hearts in them so that everyone else loses!  Often, my sister and I would end up in tears. I didn’t understand how you could plan ahead when you don’t know what cards are where. My father didn’t offer many tips. I had to learn how to strategize the hard way.  It was frustrating and nerve wracking. Today, I can play better and often win, but I can still remember how that tension in my chest felt, especially when you drew the “whammy card” (the Queen of Spades, worth “13 hearts”!!).

Many people today treat their household budget much like I treated the card game.  They think only of the income and expenses in front of them, without looking ahead, beyond the here and now.  They don’t know how to strategize and count the costs. The analogy between cards and finances breaks down here. When it comes to your personal finances, you can’t just toss your cards and walk away from the table crying. Well, you can, but in both cards and finances, you can’t win that way.

Today, going into debt in order to solve financial problems, or to get things that you want, is not only acceptable, it’s encouraged.  Although there is a variety of tools available to help, many people continue to learn financial lessons the hard way. Consider these “average American” statistics

  • $8,000+ in credit card debt  
  • mortgage/rental payment of $1400+.  
  • Two-car families (but they don’t actually OWN them)
  • Living paycheck-to-paycheck
  • Little-to-no savings for emergencies

Then there is the “Queen of Spades” of the financial card game — the “whammy” cards:  job loss, sickness, accidents, breakdowns. Scary stuff. Especially if you are an “average American”.  In order to win the game, and live a life with less tension and tears – you simply must strategize. Everyone has to play this game.  No one is immune to financial struggles. You can learn to strategize by getting some tips, tools, and advice:

  • A Personal Financial Coach:  The Network of Hope offers this FREE service.  An experienced financial coach who will assist you with your individual circumstances.
  • Financial Peace University:  This program is offered several times a year at Allison Park Church.  The course materials will help you see the big picture and develop a winning strategy.  There is a cost for the curriculum and, after purchasing, you can attend future courses free of charge to continue improving your strategic skills.

You don’t have to live with that tension in your chest. You can learn. You can “win”! (HINT: It’s a whole lot easier to learn strategies BEFORE you get into trouble!)

Contact Allison Park Church:  412-487-7220 or

Maria Michalowski is the Pastoral Care Coordinator at Allison Park Church.  She has attended APC with her husband since 1980 (married in 1983) and enjoys favorite books, places, and people.