Thursday, May 3, 2007

10 WAYS TO SAVE $2,000 A YEAR!

The Bible tells us the last shall be first-the corollary is that the best careers are often the least-compensated. That means many ministry families feel forced to overextend or even leave their church positions in search of a living wage. They clip coupons, raise their deductibles, and make powdered mac and cheese a staple.

Well, after 11 years in youth ministry, my wife and I have discovered ways to cut corners without living like martyrs. Here are 10 ways to save up to an additional $2,000 per year in your family budget. It takes discipline, but it's well worth it. Our budget-cutting strategies have also united us even more as a team.

1 BE A GIFT GRINCH-For years, Christmas pulverized our budget. Between office exchanges and Sunday school parties, we just couldn't rein in the outflow. In an effort to teach our kids the meaning of service, we started offering acts of kindness as gifts. At first it sounded like a cheap way out, but I'll never go back. My dad would say the greatest gift he ever received was having his grandson help him paint a fence on a Saturday afternoon.

Minimum Savings: $100

2 WET YOUR WHISTLE WITH WATER-The average American consumes six cans of soda or specialty drinks per day. I'm not saying you should totally eliminate fun drinksthat's not necessary. But eight glasses of water every day will not only help your wallet, it will also boost your overall health.

Minimum Savings: $300

3 MAKE YOUR HOME A BARBERSHOP-My wife learned to cut my hair almost 10 years ago. After a few nicks here and there, she grew into quite a stylist. We purchased our own equipment for $20. A home haircut might not look so hot on a CEO, but somehow it looks cool on a youth pastor.

Minimum Savings: $150

4 BE YOUR OWN GREASE GORILLA-Avoid vehicle maintenance plans. Mechanics ridiculously overcharge for basic services and lead customers to believe that old antifreeze may blow up your car. Untrue. Learning the basics (oil change, tire rotation, changing spark plugs) can save you a bundle.

Minimum Savings: $150

5 EAT DOUGH; SAVE DOUGH-As bread outlet stores grow in popularity, so do cost-saving opportunities. You can buy most loaves at half the cost, and they're still fresh when you bring them home.

Minimum Savings: $100

6 SHELTER YOUR LOOT-Many church employers offer flexible spending accounts that allow staffers to set aside money from their paychecks to cover medical and dependent-care expenses that are not reimbursable pretax. You can set aside up to $5,000 for dependent care.

Minimum Savings: $250

7 SUPPORT BRAIN POWER-Most families try to make annual financial contributions outside of church giving. If you're faced with a choice between agencies, consider giving to universities within your state because your donations can be deducted on both federal and state taxes.

Minimum Savings: $50

8 FUEL YOUR BUDGET-As fuel costs continue to break records, take advantage of credit card features that offer a percentage reduction off every gallon of gas you pump2 (of course, you have to pay off your monthly statement to avoid finance charges). Also, fill up your vehicle prior to the weekend because many gas stations increase rates by at least a nickel on Fridays.

Minimum Savings: $200 per vehicle

9 GO WIRELESS-Soon homebased telephones may become obsolete. If you boost your monthly cell phone minutes you can discontinue your household service line.

Minimum Savings: $300

10 SAVE THE LEFTOVERS, BABY-Young parents often face suddenly shrinking incomes and growing budgets. For our infants, my wife ground up leftovers, froze them in ice cube trays, and thawed food cubes before meals. Babies don't care if their food isn't in a jar-at least, they never told me so.

Minimum Savings: $200

I've almost accepted the fact that mansions, fancy jewelry, and luxurious travel will never grace my future. But according to my wife and kids, we're content with what the Lord has given us, and they make me feel like royalty.

DAVID LONG is a veteran youth pastor in Indiana.

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