"Rich Youth Pastor" is an oxymoron of sorts (at least when talking about monetary riches), but nobody goes into ministry for the great salary and benefits. I think that's why personal finances are all the more important for us to talk about. There wasn't a course in college that properly prepared me for how incredibly tight my family's personal, monthly budget would be at times.

Coming up with a budget isn't the issue. In fact, on paper, our finances look fine. The only trouble is there isn't a whole lot of wiggle room. And inevitably, every month produces at least one random, usually very expensive emergency. And I'm not talking about the I-need-a-Playstation-in-order-to-better-relate-to-teens emergency (my wife still doesn't think it's an emergency). I'm talking the major my-roof-is-leaking-and-my-dog-just-ate-a-pack-of-batteries-and-oh-no-I-forgot-to-pay-the-electric-bill-last-month emergency. It doesn't take much for your monthly budget to quickly become more useless than Aquaman on land (or in the sea for that matter). 

Instead of just griping about how poor youth leaders are, I figured I would share some smart ways to save money from month to month. Some of these are common sense things that you've probably figured out already, but hopefully there will be something here that can help you save.

Use Store Bonus Cards

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can save you a lot over time. A lot of stores offer free bonus cards (or customer loyalty or discount cards) nowadays. You surrender some personal information in exchange for discounts, occasional coupons, and special offers. The card I use most is at the grocery store. In addition to saving some money on food, some places offer gas points every time you shop there. I've accrued as many as 180 gas points before which translates to $1.80 off every gallon of gas (this varies at different places). So if the original price was 3.50/gal., I only spent $1.70/ per gallon. If you put 12 gallons in your car, you save over 20 dollars. Not bad at all for buying stuff I needed in the first place. 

Here's another trick to saving with store cards. As a youth leader, you probably spend a fair amount of time shopping for youth events (retreats, pizza parties, snacks for youth group, etc.). You may be using a church credit card for these shopping trips or submitting receipts for reimbursement; either way, double check with your pastor or church finance person and make sure it's alright to use your personal store bonus cards for those shopping trips. Chances are they know how much (or little) you make and won't have a problem with it. Plus, in addition to benefiting yourself, you'll be saving the church money.

Use Coupons

Okay, this one really is a no brainer. I'm not advocating so-called extreme couponing (sure you might pay $8 for $700 of food, but you're losing your soul. Plus, what are you gonna do with 76 bottles of Barbeque Sauce?). By the way, if you call it couponing, then you might already have a problem. It's not a recreational hobby!

I'll admit, coupons can be a pretty big pain. They have expiration dates. They're the size of a postage stamp. They're only saving you 17 cents on something you don't even need. Sometimes they're a lot of hassle for very little reward. But there are exceptions, and those are the coupons to be on the lookout for. You don't need a coupon filing system that requires an associates degree to understand. Just flip through the weekly junk mailings and set aside coupons you know you'll use. Some examples: $1.00 off two boxes of Lucky Charms - keep it (because they're magically delicious). 35 cents off when you buy five gallons of prune juice - skip it (unless you need that much prune juice).

Are you too lazy to go through your junk mail? Not a problem... the invention of the internet has made valuable coupons just a few clicks away. And not just grocery store coupons. Are you planning to go to T.G.I. Friday's after church this Sunday? A quick Google search for "T.G.I. Friday's coupons" and BAM! I found a printable coupon for $5 off a $15 dollar purchase.