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A Youth Leader's Guide to Money

A Youth Leader's Guide to Money

"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.

Of course, be aware of spam and the like. More often than not, a deal that's too good to be true is. Does a coupon site look questionable? Google the URL (i.e. "") and you will find many consumers either singing the site's praises or condemning it to you know where. The same thing applies to coupon codes for your online shopping... 75% of the time you can find a way to save a few bucks.

Buy In Bulk

This one, like using coupons, is great in moderation. You don't want to end up on "Hoarders," but places like BJ's, Costco, and Sam's Club are great for buying stuff you know you'll use a lot (paper towels, laundry detergent, lunch meat). Sometimes, you can even find non-household items like electronics for a lot cheaper than you would elsewhere. Your church may even already have a group membership to a bulk store. Seek permission to use that membership for personal shopping in addition to ministry shopping. 

Sell Your Stuff

As I'm sure you're aware, the internet has gradually become one gigantic yard sale (except that on the internet, people aren't usually meandering onto your driveway at 5:00 am). There are people who make their living through EBay.  While you probably won't be able to afford a vacation home, there are other benefits to selling your stuff; in addition to making a few bucks, you will be getting rid of junk. That's right, I just called your 17-year-old X-men lunchbox with matching thermos junk (no, it's not a collectible).  As the saying goes, one person's junk is another person's treasure. Sites like Craigslist and Amazon have made it super easy to sell your stuff. In fact, with Amazon, you can ship all of your old books, CDs, and movies to them, set your own price, and they will take care of packing and shipping them as they sell (they take a cut from you, but talk about hassle free!). 

Become a Moocher

A lot of people in your congregation (or whatever ministry context you are serving in) will be more than willing to help you out. My wife and I had several people give us boxes of children's clothes and toys after we had our first son. When we were looking to buy our first house, we had a realtor from church helping us in our search. When we eventually bought one, he waived a ton of his usual fees.

Don't be afraid to put it out there if you need help with something. Perhaps somebody you know works at a car repair shop and you know they won't charge you $150 to replace a $15 part. While they're helping you, you are supporting their business as well. It's a win-win situation. Actually, I lied about becoming a moocher. Don't do that; moochers are obnoxious, because they only ever take and never give. Remember to be intentional about meeting the needs of others even as you seek help yourself. We are extremely blessed to live in a country where we are paid to be youth leaders. It is not a self-serving occupation, but it can become one when we forget to serve others. 

Get a Job

Of course, you already have a job/calling, be it in full, part-time, or volunteer ministry with youth. Whatever your case may be, an additional job could potentially be beneficial to both your personal budget and your ministry. Of course, seek permission from church leadership first, and ensure that your second job is flexible in light of our often wacky schedules.  The main benefit to a second job isn't even monetary; you get a chance to be in the world. As weird as it may sound, a ministry job can easily become very isolating from the world-at-large. We spend so much time training and preparing to teach youth about how to be a witness to their unchurched friends, we hardly realize that we don't have any unchurched friends of our own. A part time job can put you right in the trenches of ministry. Whether you wind up engaging co-workers or customers, you get to practice what you preach! 

I hope you've found something you can use in this article. I know there have been times where  my personal financial situation has made me question my call and affected how I do  ministry, and it's my hope that by implementing a few of these tips, you'll be able to refocus on what God has called you to, because despite my questioning, he has always been more than faithful! 

What are some things you do to save money? Let me know in the comments below!