I know it drives people nuts when someone starts a conversations with “Back in my day….”, but if you’ll indulge me, I’ll start off today with “Back in my day and it was my first year of teaching….”
….I arrived in West Palm Beach at Berean Christian School where I was assigned 7 classes (with 7 unique preps) with six of them being English and one being Bible. I was handed 3 gallons of enamel paint, escorted to a classroom that was filled with brand new textbooks that had to be unpacked and inventoried, told to paint my class room by the end of the week (w/trim – and it was OIL-BASED paint – I had never painted a thing more complicated than a fence or a barn before) and as my supervisor was leaving, he mentioned that, “Oh yeah, and there’s orientation classes from 8-4 every day Monday through Thursday and Parent/Teacher orientation is at 7:00 on Friday.” I didn’t see him again the rest of the week.
That was my first 100-hour week in the ministry (and wouldn’t be my last) and for the assignment I was making the grand sum of $240 per week for a 40-week year. (That’s an annual salary of $9,200 per year.) My second year I was raised to the stunning sum of $9,600 per year and the third year I became the PRINCIPAL and was given a whopping $14,000 a year for a 52-week contract. I got married my second year and our combined salaries were less than $20K per year. We ate hamburger and macaroni off of a folding table and folding chairs in our little apartment and were as happy as if we had good sense. It was the mid-1980’s and I had no idea that this was anything but “par for the course” for Christian education ministry.
Please understand, I’m not complaining – I’m just telling you this background to give you some context. Working in ministry is usually done at some level of financial sacrifice. At the same time, I have never missed a meal, never missed a bill, never lacked for a car, have owned our own townhouse or house since our first year of marriage, paid over $100K in medical and family-related bills, have a retirement account and visit the mutant rodent in Orlando every few years with my family. How was that possible?
Let me share some thoughts with you on how you can gain financial independence while staying in the ministry….
Yep. It’s that simple. Tithing is part of my DNA and I’ve never had to really think about it thanks to the great upbringing I had, but I realize that not everyone has been taught the principle of tithing. Excuse me for waving off the tired old arguments presented about tithing being an “Old Testament” custom, a legalistic thing, etc… and just say, it is absolutely Biblical (OT andNT) and you will be blessed if you do it. I have never counseled a person in a quarter century of ministry who tithed and was in financial trouble. Conversely, most people I know who are in financial trouble don’t tithe. If you learn the discipline of living on 90% of your income (and yes, I believe in tithing from pre-tax dollars and have always practiced that), you’ll find that you’ll live better on 90% than you would on 100%. God will not bless us when we ignore His plan out of convenience, rationalization and laziness. Trust God. Tithe.
2. Use “Found” Money Wisely
I consider “found” money to be any money that comes into my budget from a source other than my salary. This would include tax refunds, birthday gifts, inheritance money, insurance payments, tips, bonuses, rewards, etc… Do one of two things with “found” money — save it (for at least 6 months before you spend it) or retire debt with it. Do not use it to “splurge”. Do not give into the temptation to “reward yourself” with it. Do not spend it on impulse. Get it out of your sight FAST.
Editorial note: The idea that we are doing something “patriotic” by taking President Bush’s tax rebate and spending it by “investing in the economy” is asinine. The reason we are in the problems we are in this country economically is because we keep borrowing more money than we make and it is stupid….STUPID….to buy into the line of reasoning that says we stimulate the economy by borrowing more money and then blowing it on big screen TV’s and dinners at Red Lobster. (Did I mention this was STUPID?)
3. Shop with a list
Always. Do not go shopping on a whim. Don’t recreationally shop. Keep a list on your refrigerator and add to it as things come to mind. Do not succumb to the corporate strategy of getting you to impulse buy at the end of every aisle, at the checkout counter and across the promotional aisles. If you think of something you forgot to put on your list, then make a second list….take it home with you and the NEXT time you go to the store, then buy it. (If you still think you need it then.) Discipline – it’s really a good thing.
You think I’m kidding, but I’m deadly serious. I know of an incredible single-mom teacher in a Christian school that makes loads of supplemental income buying delinquent rental units, emptying them into her garage and selling the stuff on EBay. What she doesn’t sell on EBay, she tries to sell in an occasional garage sale and if it doesn’t sell then, she throws it away.
I used to make $3-5K a year selling individual postcards on EBay that collectors wanted. I found them by buying large lots of postcards on EBay and then reselling them individually. I did this while I sat in my family room watching TV with my kids with my laptop on my knees. It’s how I paid for family vacations. I once sold a can of Spam from Korea on EBay for $54. I found a guy with several boxes of hummingbird feeders on Craigslist (a free online garage sale) and bought them for $50. I then sold 200 feeders at 5-10 bucks a piece on EBay and pocketed the difference. All of this using time that I had previously spent watching a video with the kids or doing something equally mindless.
5. Get a second job
It has been said that you earn a living by what you do from 8-5. You become a success by what you do from 5-8. I’ve always looked for ways to earn extra money outside of my regular job. Over the years I’ve tutored, given piano lessons, Ebay’d, written articles for magazines, done public speaking and other little things. I’ve been doing that for 20 years and ALWAYS make at least $5,000 a year by doing this kind of stuff. That may not sound like much – but does $100,000 sound like a lot to you? I’ve easily made that and more during the time that other people gossip on the phone, watch Seinfeld reruns and take naps. And for the record – I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t expect his wife to wait on him hand and foot, so yes, I sometimes cook dinner, watch the kids and help around the house. Get a second job and bank that money for a down payment on your house or to put into retirement. Again – don’t spend it if you can avoid it.
6. Hate your credit cards
Have only one. I don’t care what kind of “great deal” they are giving you at Kohl’s, Macy’s or USAirways to get “their” card, only have one credit card. Find one without an annual fee, btw….they are out there. Then pay it off EVERY month. No exceptions. If you don’t pay it off in full one month, do not allow yourself to use it again until you have paid it off.
7. Have “funds”
Set up envelopes or a spread sheet and bank ahead for things you know you will have to spend money on in the future. Have a Christmas/Birthday gift fund, a vacation fund, a car repair fund and an emergency fund. Put something…anything…in those funds every pay period without fail. Even if it’s only $25 per fund, let it accumulate. When the time comes and you need the money, you’ll be glad you did!
8. Bank your raises
The next time you get a raise, take some or all of it and have it sent to a savings account and try to continue to live on what you have been making. Even if you take a portion of each raise, over time it will add up. Many people adjust their lifestyle with each pay increase and then wonder why they never get ahead.
9. Don’t eat out
Seriously, eating out is one of the biggest wastes of money there is. If you “must” eat out, limit yourself to once a week. Pack lunches. Bring leftovers to work. Wait until you get home. Again, we “rationalize” spending money – “I’ve had a rough day”, “I’m too tired….”, “Someone was mean to me today and I need to self-comfort with a big ol’ bucket of Kentucky Fried Heart Attack.” C’mon. And by the way, have you noticed that you feel the same when you hit the “full” level whether you’ve filled yourself with filet mignon or Taco Bell? So take that into consideration as well.
10. Pay God and yourself first.
I have always had my tithe deducted either by my employer or by bank draft immediately. I’m paying God before I pay the cable guy. I’ve also set it up where I save 10%. So the first 10% goes to God, the second 10% goes to Dan and I live on whatever the government allows me to keep of the remainder. It is tight the first year or two, but once you are used to living on that….it gets easier year after year. Again, keep in mind that I’ve been at this for 25 years. But it is so fun to wait until that 10% savings hits an amount and then I can use it (not spend it, but invest it) on something that will grow even more. Once I bought silver coins (today they have doubled in value). Once I bought some stocks (that wasn’t smart, but I gave it a shot.) I even did this long enough that I was able to buy a rental house and I’ve watched it appreciate in value while my tenant paid the mortgage for me. But the key to saving was to never let it hit my checking account. Out of sight, out of mind. Otherwise, I know myself….I would have headed to the Red Lobster if I had seen a little extra cash in my account.
11. Use Cash
I know they give you frequent flier miles to put it on your credit card. Dumb idea. Save up for your ticket. It’ll be cheaper in the long run. Don’t use credit, don’t use your debit card. FORCE yourself to pull that $20 bill out of your pocket and plunk it down for an over-priced cup of java and realize that you are taking your real, hard-earned CASH and spending it on something that you can make for yourself at home for 1/10th the cost or better yet, you really don’t need at all. You’ll find it is a LOT easier to spend money you “can’t see” than it is to spend money that you actually have to touch as you say goodbye to it.
12. Be excellent
Let’s face it…it’s the American way. If you are the best employee around, if you are getting your job done with excellence and people love you, if you are known to go “above and beyond”, if you add value to the ministry by being faithful and compassionate and reaching out to others, if you are dependable and LOYAL and POSITIVE…..the “powers that be” are going to do their dead level best to keep you on their team. You don’t need to be the annual “if-I-don’t-get-a-big-ol’-honkin’-raise-I’m-gonna’-cause-a-problem” type. But by doing the extra, getting that advanced degree, volunteering to go the second mile, solving the problems before they go up the chain, positive example of excellence, you’ll be surprised at how the Lord will honor that with additional opportunities.
13. Stick it out
People who “job hop” are almost always at the lower end of the pay scale. It’s just the way it is. Don’t be fooled into “promises” of “greener grass”. Stick with it. Ask your supervisor how you can advance. Get that extra degree. Participate fully and joyfully. Put down roots. Bloom where you are planted and watch what happens.
This has been long, I realize….but I hope it is also practical for you. You don’t have to be poor to be spiritual and wealth is not a sign that God loves you more than He loves someone else. But God will give you more than you think if you’ll follow His plans and principles. At the end of the day, the poorest person who reads this is still probably in the top 20% of people economically in the world.
For more ideas, I highly recommend Crown Financial Ministries as well as Dave Ramsey’s stuff. Take the time to learn how to handle your money wisely and make it work for you. It’s a resource God has given you – He expects you to treat it like the investment that it is.