Stretching Your Home Budget
How to make the most of your money in a bad economy
Amid rising inflation and a looming recession, Americans are experiencing financial stress. Higher prices on consumer goods are straining monthly budgets, forcing many to trim expenses to make ends meet.
According to a report from Moody’s Analytics, the typical U.S. household in October 2022 needed $445 more per month to purchase the same amount of goods and services they bought 12 months earlier.
Assemblies of God (AG) ministers — who receive an average ministry compensation of $38,511, including benefits — are feeling the strain.
Many ministers take on extra work to supplement their incomes. A 2016 survey commissioned by the AG Empowering Stewardship program revealed that 4 in 10 AG ministers are bivocational.
Few ministers in the survey had adequate personal savings to weather unexpected expenses or a significant increase in daily living expenses. In fact, 83% of respondents reported less than $2,000 in personal savings.
Most ministers (86%) carried some type of debt. About 7 in 10 (69%) had non-mortgage debt, such as student loans, medical bills, and credit card balances. The average non-mortgage debt load was nearly $40,000.
It is not surprising, then, that three-quarters of ministers said they put off activities like home repairs, health care, and vacations during the previous year due to a lack of funds.
Concern for future expenses — including retirement, emergencies, and children’s college education — were among the most common stressors in the lives of respondents.
Many AG ministers expressed concern about the state of their personal finances in 2016, and 40% did not have confidence their financial situations would improve over the next 10 years. Seven years later, these concerns likely remain for our ministers.
If you can relate, we recommend six ways to make the most of your money during difficult times.
1. Reign in Spending
There are two ways to stretch a budget when finances are tight: increasing revenue or reducing expenses.
To increase revenue, you can take on a second job or sell some of your belongings. However, reducing expenses is often the most logical place to start.
First, look through your monthly expenses and determine which ones are must-haves (needs) versus nice-to-have (wants).
Review any recurring expenses in the “wants” category. Until the economy rebounds, it may be necessary to eliminate some, if not all, of these expenses.
Carrying a thermos of coffee or tea from home rather than making daily coffee shop visits is an obvious way to cut monthly costs. Packing your lunch instead of eating out is another.
Sometimes expense items overlap between the “needs” and “wants” categories. For instance, while a vehicle may be necessary to get to work, consider whether you really need to purchase the latest model, especially if it means going into debt. Perhaps you could shop around for a reasonably priced used car, keep your older vehicle going for another year, or share a ride with a co-worker.
Over the past year, we carefully evaluated what expenses were necessary. As a result, we have become less spontaneous with purchases, putting off things we may want until they become things we absolutely need.
Look through your
and determine which
ones are must-haves
(needs) versus nice-
2. Look for Discounts
For expenses you can’t avoid, there may be creative ways to lower their costs. Contact vendors and request a discount for being a loyal customer.
If you have credit card or medical debt, reach out to the service providers and ask for a lower interest rate. In some cases, you can negotiate a lower balance for an immediate payoff.
Where there are contractual agreements, discounts are not always possible. However, you should review your fixed expenses at least annually to determine whether lower-cost options are available. You might be able to find a better deal on your phone service, auto insurance, internet, or gym membership.
Keep an eye on store flyers and advertisements to take advantage of discounts, coupons, and price-matching offers.
3. Shop Smarter
Buying generic or store-brand items is a time-honored way to save money. But you can also reduce costs by making changes to the kinds of items you purchase.
During times of inflation, not all goods and services rise at the same rate. In 2022, for example, sweets, cereal products, and bakery goods increased in price more than fresh produce. Picking up a bag of oranges in place of cupcakes could lead to cost savings and better health.
Likewise, preparing meals and snacks from scratch is usually less expensive and more nutritious than purchasing processed foods or eating out. Getting kids involved in the planning and prep work is a great way to spend some family time together.
Buying in bulk can save on per unit prices, but it may require extra storage space.
To avoid purchasing items you don’t really need, make a weekly menu and shopping list before heading to the grocery store. We have discovered the worst thing we can do is shop on an empty stomach, with no real plan in place.
If you have margin in your monthly budget to save some cash, invest those funds wisely. While interest and dividend rates on checking and savings accounts are still relatively low, there are other options for higher rates.
AG Financial and the Assemblies of God Credit Union offer competitive demand and term certificates of deposit. The U.S. government is offering the Federal Series I savings bonds (I bonds) at 6.89%.
If you have sizable assets, consider working with a financial expert who can help you maximize your investments.
5. Remain Generous
Generosity is a biblical principle. So even as we tighten our belts, we need to help others.
Proverbs 11:24–25 speaks of the blessings of giving: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
And Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”
Ministers must lead by example, including in the areas of giving and showing generosity.
6. Utilize Resources
For more on managing personal finances successfully, read Balanced Budget, Balanced Life: 10 Steps to Transforming Your Finances. Appendix A lists 102 ways to earn more, spend less, and create more margin.
For a limited time, AG ministers can get a free copy of this book by visiting EmpoweringStewardship.com/requests.
Additionally, AG ministers are eligible for financial grants of up to $1,500 to help start a retirement fund, pay medical bills, pay down student loan debt, or reduce financial stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information on these grants, visit EmpoweringStewardship.com/grants.
This article appears in the Winter 2023 issue of Influence magazine.