The money crunch

MoneyCrunchWe’re having a crunch month. It seems like during every calendar year there is one time when the vacuum cleaner has been attached to our accounts and we suddenly find ourselves going from “feeling comfortable” to “How much do they give for blood these days?” That’s about how things are for our family right now.

  • Semi-annual and annual bills just got paid.
  • All the regular bills paid, but were higher than budgeted.
  • Bought a car. (paid cash, huge win!)
  • Silly kids are growing and needed clothes!
  • Travel expenses, haven’t been reimbursed yet.

Even as a family who lives rather simply we come on tough financial times from time-to-time. In this case, we got through it because we had budgeted for it to happen and had the cash on hand to make it through. We’ve had times in the past where we didn’t plan so well and literally had to depend on the kindness of our church to eat. You live a little and you get a little wiser, I guess.

In some ways I wish we felt this crunch more often. These times in the calendar are refreshing! I rest in our routine. I rest in our budget. I rest in simple things. I rest knowing that when we make things even simpler it is better for our family. I rest knowing that we’re not touching our long-term savings to ride out a short-term crisis. I like wincing when we give to our church. I like scrutinizing what we spend. Actually, I kind of like even noticing what is being spent because all-too-often I get into habits where I don’t see how much we are spending.

Of course, I’m really thankful because I know three things are true. First, I know that things will go back up from here. We have an annual low point, this is it, and we can budget ourselves out of it again. Second, I know who provides for me. God sustains us no matter what. Kristen and I will never forget the mystery bags of vegetables we received in Oroville. God is our provider. Third, while we have less cash than we’d like we also have less debt than we had a year ago.

Church Leadership

3 Positive Effects of Recession on the Church


Nearly every day I encounter someone who tells me their churches budget was cut, people at their church are about to lose their jobs, or otherwise their church is encountering hard financial times.

That’s not purely a bad thing. Here are three positive things that a lack of money bring to a church.

1. A gut check for the staff. If you’ve worked in a church you know that there are people who are on staff because they are absolutely convinced God wants them there and there are people who are there because its a job. When budgets get slashed, programs get cut, and necessary and unnecessary stuff gets trimmed to cut costs… each staff member has to examine herself and ask, “Why am I here? Do I really want to be here?” Some will double down their efforts and some will check out. Both are positive for the church going forward.

2. A gut church for the parishoners. Along the same lines the people who attend the church have to face the same choice. When their beloved program is dismantled because of a lack of funding they have to ask themselves, “Am I here for that program, or am I here because this is where God wants me?” When they see a staff member lose benefits or their job or even their house, they re-examine their financial priorites automatically. “Am I being faithful to God with my money? Am I being a good steward of what I earn?” This is a positive outcome!

3. A gut check for the dreamers. I can’t help but think of the mid-2000’s boom in church growth. With the last coughs of the Field of Dreams model [If you build it, they will come… and give!] of church growth, congregations built massive additions, added satellite campuses, and even reached out to buy up struggling churches. For the most part this was done during good times and using credit. Now those churches see double digit decreases in giving and are stuck in a catch-22 scenario. Admit they were wrong to buy on credit and sell property or trim programs and staff to try to ride out the dip. This is a positive outcome for the church, even if it means they go bankrupt. The healthy and faithful congregations will make it. The ones who depended on their own talents will fail.

A bonus positive: A side effect of the extended recession is that I am seeing a massive wave of volunteerism in the church. As churches trim their budgets and people in the pews realize that they need to step up, the church as a whole is seeing an increase in volunteers in key church leadership positions.

hmm... thoughts

What’s Good About the Recession?

Our culture is inundated with the negative news of the recession. News outlets struggle to find fresh ways to accurately describe the words “the economy sucks” each hour of the day.

The church has followed right along with the negative news. A lot of blogs have cited a report that church participation is on a steep decline. Of course, people won’t admit that there is a tie between the recession and people leaving the church. Perhaps churches should have responded to help sooner? That’s another rant for another day.

Here are three good things the recession has done for my family:

A huge emphasis to live in the black. As I’ve documented before, we are working hard to get out of debt and build a little savings.

– A huge emphasis on what is important. Tough times lead people back to their roots and we are no different. A major focus for us has been on “cheap family fun.” We’ve kept the value of family time but re-tooled it to focus on the time and not the activity. There are lots of other areas where we are making values-based decisions as opposed to having little rhyme or reason as to why we do things.

– A huge emphasis on sustainability. Scaling things back and focusing just a tad more on thrift allows us to live within a sustainable budget. While we can’t predict the future (no one can) we can manage our house in a way that would allow us to sustain in thin times and thrive in good times.

I think these three things… live in the black, focus on your values, and practice sustainability are three things that every family, church, business, and institution should be learning during this recession. Without a doubt, these are tough times. But there is great good to come from it if we’ll learn hard lessons and apply them in the future!

Those who are hit hardest by this economy should resolve a “never again” attitude. We all made fun of our grandparents for saving everything and compulsive frugality. Who is laughing now?

family illustrations

Reigning in Christmas

This was the 3rd year where Kristen and I really controlled Christmas instead of Christmas controlling us. We’ve always had a desire to keep Christmas in it’s rightful place. It seems like it is finally sinking in and becoming a habit.

The good news is that anyone can control Christmas!

Practically, we are celebrating another Christmas paying for everything in cash. (Gasp! You can do that?) Around Thanksgiving Kristen and I discussed how much we wanted to spend and we did a good job sticking to our gift giving budget. (Our big splurge was the new TV. The crazy thing about that is it was the first TV I’d ever bought!)

We don’t have the best history as far as gift giving goes. Like a lot of couples, we completely overspent for years. In those earlier days of our marriage, when we had more cash flow than wisdom to handle it, we managed to spend way more than we could afford and got used to paying off Christmas debt well into Spring.

My only encouragement to those who want to make a change is plan early and pay cash. I don’t mean “buy early” as that’s not the best way to get deals. Just plan early and set aside some cash to buy gifts. From there, commit to not dipping into savings or using a credit card.

Here’s the kicker. We’re less stressed out about it and it gives us a chance to teach our kids about Jesus. Now that Christmas is over I have zero guilt about what we spent. The secret is that the kids are just as happy with fewer, smaller presents, as they were when we spent a lot! The Incarnation didn’t happen so we could get further entrapped! He came to fully release us from bondage. That means the bondage of sin. But it also means that Jesus’ taking on flesh is a reminder that we can be released from our other indebtedness.

A simpler Christmas is over the top fun. I just hope we can be even more disciplined in 2009.