Not long ago a Seventh-day Adventist minister was unhappily bemoaning his lot in life. With two small children and a long list of bills to pay, it was essential that his wife subsidize their income by working outside the home. Chronically tired and overworked, she had little time for their children, much less involvement with the church.
Listening to his account, there was no wonder why he expressed frustration over his financial picture. However, it became apparent, as his story progressed, that his problem had begun many years earlier and was the result of a disregard for sound financial planning.
The couple had married soon after he graduated from seminary. Between them they owed nearly $25,000 in education bills. Although heavily in debt they promptly had a child, further complicating their financial situation. Before long they realized that they had not only lost control of their money, but even worse, money began controlling them. Because of debts, a vacation, no matter how inexpensive, was out of the question. Also the possibility of saving for a down payment on a home was gone. And the wife HAD to work outside the home, forfeiting the choice to be a full-time mother.
Now in contrast, let's consider the story of another couple—Mike and Anne.
Mike and Anne met in college and decided to marry after their graduation. Both worked during the summer and part-time during the school year. They determined not to marry until they were free of debt, a decision which helped them work harder so that the wedding didn't have to wait.
After their marriage Anne worked full-time while Mike attended seminary. He also held a part-time job. With youthful energy, a carefully budgeted income and no dependents, Mike and Anne were able to leave school with no debts. They had also managed to save several hundred dollars.
After leaving the seminary, Mike and Anne were earning two full-time paychecks. However, they agreed to live on only one. What they could not afford to purchase with one salary, they chose not to buy at all. After paying tithe and offerings and taking a small allowance from the second paycheck, the remainder was deposited into a joint savings account. From time to time, money was transferred to a certificate of deposit, which offered even more interest. Out of this bank account they purchased furniture and cars. They always payed cash. Seven years after graduating from seminary they had saved half the mortgage for a house. They purchased the house and decided it was time to begin planning a family.
As the children arrived, Anne was able to choose to be at home with them and enjoy them to the fullest. The couple was used to living on one paycheck, so there was no drastic adjustment to "losing" her income.
Seven years of saving, patience, and foresight are now paying off and will continue to do so for the remainder of their lives. While there are many frills this ministerial couple will do without, their basic needs are adequately met.
Ministerial couples acknowledge there are many benefits to being in the ministry, but perhaps pay is not one of them. Financial struggles, to some degree, are inevitable. But how much more sensible for the major struggles to occur before the children come, early in life when energy levels will never be higher.
If you are still at an early stage in your marriage, applying Mike and Anne's financial strategies can be very beneficial for you. But maybe you are ten, fifteen, or twenty years into married life and some or many of your financial decisions have been less than brilliant. You can't back up and begin again but there are things you can do to better your financial picture.
Prepare a budget.
Follow it strictly until it becomes a habit. Then you can relax a bit as the habit becomes ingrained for years to come. Secure a 5-inch by 8-inch ledger with several columns (3-6 per page), and keep a page for all the tax-related items: salary, contributions, medical, utilities, parsonage expenses, and automobiles. I also keep track of clothing expenses and magazine expenses with expiration dates. Keep a daily spending record for two months to determine your real budget and to get a handle on those miscellaneous expenditures that really add up. You'll be amazed at how much you spend on "little things."
Don't forget God wants us to be prosperous (3 John 2). Resist the temptation to use credit cards except as a convenience.
For example, gasoline credit cards are invaluable to those who are paid once a month and who need a handy, permanent record of gasoline purchases. Credit cards are also extremely useful in an emergency. However, using credit for transitory items like entertainment or eating out should be avoided. These pleasures are gone in a short amount of time, but the payments can last for what seems like an eternity. If you decide to use credit cards, do not pay just the minimum payment if at all possible, but rather pay them off in full every month.
Debts too big?
Get a smaller house, an older or smaller car. List payoff dates and monthly payments to each debt (except house). Keep that list on the top of your stack of bills, with a 3-inch by 5-inch card of your budget. Refer often to that list and keep reminding yourself of each step of financial freedom progress until you reach Financial Freedom Day.
Great savings vehicles available now.
Have the conference sign you up for a TSA (Tax-Sheltered Annuity) by deducting $100 a month from your paycheck. Even if you start at age 42, you'll be able to receive $1,000 a month when you retire.
Seven and a half years to financial freedom.
If both of you work after getting married, defer having children for seven years, live on one salary, save the rest. In seven years, the wife can "retire," have kids ("and really go to work"), buy a house virtually for cash, and never have to work outside the home again. And soon, there will be virtually no house payments or rent.
Church school plan.
Set aside an amount equal to church school tuition (currently about $150 a month) from the day a child is born. Save it for six years, with interest, twelve months of the year. When the child starts school, pay it to the school for ten months, add the other two months to savings. Adjust yearly for inflation.
By the time the child is ready for academy, there will be enough saved to put him through academy and college at the same $150 a month (adjusted for inflation) as you paid the elementary school, assuming the child earns half his expenses for academy and college. Getting scholarships will be a bonus!
Set aside some money for savings each month
Save each month no matter how small the amount. If you are a two-income family, try living on one income and saving the second one. A job paying only $5 per hour will yield about $750 per month after taxes. Deducting tithes, offerings, and a personal allowance of $75 per month will yield a savings income of about $6,000 per year. In seven years at seven percent compounded interest, the accumulated funds would amount to about $55,000.
And of course, ask for God's guidance and blessings as you do your best. A limited income is a shining challenge to exalt our limitless God.
So even if your financial situation looks rather dreary, with planning, prayer, and perseverance you can beat the greenback blues!