This might be one of the most hypocritical posts that I’ve ever written and that’s saying something! I’m rubbish at handling money. I don’t care all that much about it and I don’t think all that much about it either. In fact, it was only when I really understood my serious lack of stewardship gifts that I handed the responsibility over to my wife and then we began to get straightened out.
I do, however, spend a lot of my time mentoring and coaching youth workers. That – along with my own disastrous financial experience – means I understand and have lived through many of the pressures and conflicts surrounding money in ministry. I don’t think we pay ministers enough for sure, and youth ministers are often at the bottom end of this – but this is the reality of our world that we need to learn to live within.
I’m fortunate now to work for a charity that wants to support me well for the work I do, but many youth workers don’t have this, and even those of us who do still struggle. When I was in my first youth ministry position, I thought I was paid quite well – that was until I discovered that we were in the bottom 10% in our area and were racking up more and more debt each month!
The bottom line is that we don’t get into ministry to be wealthy, and we are often paid less than many of people that we serve. This is the nature of the beast. Some of us also get into ministry quite young, want to start families, and hold the baggage of student debt to boot.
It was only a few years ago that my wife and I were still in almost £10,000 of debt. A better job, a clearer understanding, some generosity, and a lot of planning helped us clear this completely. Credit for this needs to go to my wife, but here are a few things that I picked along the way.
This is the one of the weirdest posts I’ve ever written, but the more time I spend with youth workers the more I realise that many of these basic skills and understandings are just often missing.
Hopefully these aren’t too condescending, and hopefully for some people they may be helpful too. Enjoy!
1. Make peace with the reality of your role
As a youth worker in the West, you should consider yourself a missionary. Your work primarily will be finding and winning souls in a culture foreign to your own. There is frugal mindset that comes along with being a missionary, and an acceptance that you’re not going to be exactly like the people who surround you. Thrift stores should be your friend and an old car your chariot.
I see many youth workers who still aim for the idyllic lifestyles of families with different resources surrounding them and assuming that’s what ‘normal’ looks like. Dates, houses, cars, strollers, supermarket choices etc. all try to follow in these lines. As a missionary you need to budget robustly, spend creatively, and prioritise clearly.
2. Don’t buy anything on credit
Every time I go to a youth worker gathering, I find myself wondering how so many fellow workers are driving newer cars. Then there’s top phones, branded clothes, and planned holidays. I’m one of the slightly better paid youth workers in the UK, which still means I take home less than an entry level teacher – so how are my brothers and sisters doing this?
In some cases, it could be two sources of income, generous gifts, or well-planned savings, but it’s unlikely to be these across the board. I started to ask around and it turns out that so much of it is bought on credit. Little is actually owned, and variable debt is piling up beyond the means to pay it back.
I think this comes from not having the mindset of the missionary and assuming that were supposed to be just like everybody else – and thus have what everybody else has. If at all possible then, avoid buying anything you don’t need to on credit. Consider, for instance, that buying a mobile phone out right – even brand new flagships – then having a sim-only contract works out at almost half the price of a ‘free’ phone under a regular contract.
Credit promotes false economy and dictates financial terms for years to come for the promise of instant fixes.
3. Become a jack-of-all-trades
Creativity goes a long way financially, and as youth workers, we should really be rocking this:
- Learn some basic mechanics and maintain your own car. YouTube is your friend.
- Use comparison websites, understand vacation calendars, and book ahead.
- Look for, save, and use coupons.
- Know how to squeeze the most from your computer – update the hardware and keep the software clean.
- Spend some time learning about different bank systems, savings accounts, investments, and long-term interest.
- Know which shops sell which products at the best prices – even if this means doing the weekly shop in four different places.
- Know which days and hours in a week are the best times to find bargains.
- Don’t pay people to ‘make things easier’. Learn how to do things yourself.
4. Save anything
For the longest time I said that we couldn’t save until we were out of debt. I then said we couldn’t save until we are in “a better place financially”. Both of these what are based on misinformation and poor assumptions.
Sending a standing order, even just £5 a month, into a savings account is worthwhile. By the end of the year, £10 a month might pay for Christmas. My wife and I started off with two very small savings accounts, with ludicrously small standing order amounts. The first would cover spending on holidays, or birthdays that we forgot about; the second we would never touch unless in an absolute emergency. Even the silly small amounts have made a difference to our budgeting and planning. We also save loose change in a jar for the occasional take-out or treat. The best thing about this is it’s not money we factor in and so it doesn’t affect our budget.
5. Budget everything
Have a look through your last year of accounts and find out everything you spent on beyond direct debits and standing orders. Chart all these out and put up some budget boundaries.
Just about everything we spend comes out of a carefully planned budget. Food, hygiene, coffeeshops, appointments, entertainment, streaming services, fuel – everything possible is budgeted! It even includes a little bit for pocket money and date nights. This took a long time to get right, but it’s so worth it.
6. Give cheerfully
A think it’s a biblical principle to give out from all we receive – and not to wait to give until we are able. My wife and I give regularly, in small amounts through standing order, and less regularly in large amounts a couple of times a year.
I believe it’s a poor and unfaithful decision two wait to give until you ‘feel’ secure. Although there are many ways of giving, it’s too easy to count out financial stewardship through fear.
7. Receive gratefully
Enjoy gratefully the help you get from friends, family and church. Speaking gifts, dinner at people’s houses, babysitting, old cars, or even help gardening are wonderful expressions that we should not be too proud to receive when offered cheerfully.
These things shouldn’t come with strings attached, and you shouldn’t let yourself create guilt-burdened links because of them. Say thank you, be thankful, and receive gratefully.
8. Shop smartly
EBay, facebook, gumtree, and charity shops are your friends. Don’t always buy new and know how to shop smartly. Read reviews carefully and make sensible choices for what you really need.
Last year I bought a new phone, and I really wanted a good one. I needed long battery life, durability, and a solid camera. Everyone was telling me to buy the new Samsung flagship, however, after careful reviews I bought the LGG6. Because this came at the same time as the Samsung, it was overshadowed by it, and was therefore much much cheaper. No one wanted it even though the package was almost identical, and in some areas better.
This also goes two ways, sell what you don’t need regularly. Don’t horde, and keep cash moving.
9. Automate it
If you’re like me, then you might be a little bit reckless, impulsive, and fearful when it comes to money. Setup standing orders and direct debits so you never forget to pay bills, pay off debt, save, and budget.
Automate everything so you’ll never get late payment fines or unplanned overdraft fees. Don’t just trust memory; instead use the systems that are available to you.
10. The best things in life are free
Enjoy the good things that don’t cost. Hang out with friends, go for walks, take up healthy sports that don’t require memberships or much equipment. There is a lot to enjoy in life that doesn’t require money – just a joyful spirit and a little creativity.
Enjoy – remember that we’re just passing through. 🙂