It’s not easy to juggle a church work career, family obligations, and unexpected life events. That means if finances are a source of stress, you’re hardly alone. Most people learn how to manage their personal finance through old-fashioned life experience. It’s deceptively easy to slip into bad habits or to find yourself wondering how to pay for that sudden, unpredictable expense.
Eustolio Gomez has advised church workers in matters of finance for more than forty years, both as the owner of a financial advising firm and as the Director of Education at Concordia Plan Services. He’s found that when it comes to personal finance, church workers have the same challenges as everyone else.
A common issue across the board is easy access to credit, which can entice people to live above their means. According to Gomez, the average American household has 14 credit cards. So, if you have two or three at your house, imagine the numbers that would lead to an average of 14. Gomez points to the many store-specific credit cards that bump up the average. People open store credit cards to save on a big purchase, and then forget to close them later. Even if the card is never used, it can have a negative impact on your credit score.
While Gomez doesn’t necessarily think credit cards are automatically a bad thing, this trend illustrates his number one piece of advice for church workers (or anyone really): pay close attention to your finances. It all starts with self-awareness.
“Everyone is different,” he explains. There’s no secret formula that will work for everyone. This can be challenging for church workers, when they see their friends or members of their congregations living a different lifestyle. But it’s impossible to know what exactly makes it possible for them to afford their car or home. This can contribute to pressure to “upgrade” your lifestyle, often with the support of credit.
The flip-side of this is actually good news. Since every family requires a different plan, you can decide what’s most important to you and prioritize accordingly.
Do the Math
Gomez often hears church workers express regret that personal finance wasn’t emphasized more heavily during their time at Seminary. However, during his tenure at Concordia Plan Services, he often taught seminars about personal finance, and he says, “I had reluctant attendees.”
He would also often hear people share the sentiment that the credit card companies were acting in a predatory manner. With some prodding though, participants would admit to opening credit cards without reading the fine print or doing the math.
For example, a credit card that advertises no interest for a year sounds like a good deal. And if you pay off the balance in a year, you won’t have to pay interest. But what doesn’t go on the post card is that after that first year, if you have a balance, you have to pay the first year of interest, in addition to the remaining balance. The fine print doesn’t usually get the same graphic treatment on the postcards marketing these deals, though.
Embrace Your Circumstances
It’s surprisingly easy to imagine that simply getting a raise or having more money would make financial problems disappear. However, for the majority of people, they need to learn to better manage what they have. Until they do that, they tend to simply make the same mistakes on a bigger scale when they get a new job or pay bump. The good news is, there are simple steps you can take to better manage your personal finances that don’t cost a lot of extra money.
Gomez suggests starting with a simple net worth statement. Add up all your assets (what you could sell your house for, the value of owned property, investments) and subtract your liabilities (credit card debt, your mortgage, car loans, etc.). If you have a positive number, that means you’re solvent.
If you’re not solvent yet, becoming solvent should become your first goal. If you find yourself in that situation, the good news is there are many ways you can work towards solvency. It starts with a monthly budget.
Taking a Positive Approach to the Budget
Most of us don’t have a positive connotation to the word “budget.” However, it can be as simple as making a plan for your money each month, and then seeing how you did at the end of the month. If you’re married, you can sit down with your spouse once a month and looking back at the past month and forward to the next month at the same time.
Padding the month’s budget to save money for unexpected things like car and home repairs can make it easier to avoid going into debt. If you have to take out a loan or put something urgent on a credit card, he recommends altering your budget to pay it off as quickly as possible.
If you have debt, to get rid of it, throw as much disposable income at it as you can. Even paying 10 to 20 percent over the minimum payment can make a difference.
Managing the Stress of Budgets and Personal Finance
Gomez also encourages people to take their financial burdens to the foot of the cross, just like other life challenges. Couples need to pray together and come to each other with support and encouragement, knowing that making mistakes doesn’t mean giving up.