We didn’t enter this profession with the expectation of making a lot of money. At the same time, especially if we have a family, we do feel a responsibility to provide for our family. It is not unusual for financial issues and the lack of sufficient funds to cause tension within the family. Even if we don’t want to be, we can easily be caught in the cultural trap of measuring our worth according to our income. Sometimes we also face the daunting reality of not having enough money to pay our basic bills. That has caused some clergy to leave the ministry altogether.
There are a couple of things that we can do to nurture our financial health. The first thing would be to ask the presbytery or judicatory body above us to arrange for someone to come in to talk about the financial reality of the ministry and some of the ways we can respond positively. In the Presbyterian Church, the Board of Pensions has developed some good material in this area. It is also likely that there is a lay person in the church who has financial skills and would be pleased to develop a program around these areas. It would be important for someone to sit down with that person ahead of time and educate him as to some of those realities.
A FINANCIAL DIARY
Many years ago I read an article by a group called “Smoke Enders.” The first step that they recommended was to raise one’s awareness as to when and how often they had a cigarette. They suggested that a smoker place a small note card in his packet of cigarettes and each time s/he had a cigarette, they mark down the time and date of that smoke. I think the same approach might be helpful for a person who wanted to bring more discipline to their financial situation.
Go purchase a small, inexpensive pocket calendar. Tear out the week’s page and place it in your wallet or purse. Then for that week, every time you spend any money on even the smallest thing, mark down when and what it was. What you are doing is building a financial diary of your small expenditures. Keep this record for at least a month.
Now review your financial diary. Are there times of the day or week that you are more likely to spend some money. You are building an awareness of where the “pocket change” goes. Small expenditures are not wrong, but becoming aware of where and how can enable you to begin to make choices. You might also be surprised at how some spending is affected by the time of day or week.
EMOTIONS AFFECT SPENDING
Now we look at how emotions affect our spending patterns.
Start a new month of keeping a financial diary. Only this time, note the feelings that accompany each expenditure. Remember this is a private dairy so you can be completely honest with the process. Are you more likely to buy that expensive cup of coffee in the morning because you need a lift to start the day? Is there a tendency to buy a candy bar near the end of the week because you are growing weary of the grind? Do you tend to reward yourself with a little treat when you have just endured a hard interchange or even when you have accomplished a significant task? Somebody coined the phrase “small indulgences” to explain some of our decisions. I’ve finished this really challenging project. I “deserve” to treat myself to a pair of shoes, a hot fudge sundae, a movie, etc. None of the above is wrong in itself, but it can easily become a pattern that causes a problem. By keeping the emotional-financial diary, you are able to evaluate your own emotional response to how you are spending your money.
HAVING A PLAN HELPS
Once you have this information, consider scheduling a meeting with a financial planner who can look at your situation and help you develop a good plan. If we feel as if our financial picture is overwhelming us, it raises our anxiety level. If someone with financial experience can help us develop a solid plan, it can reduce our anxiety. Most communities have some agency that provides budget and financial counseling to help establish good spending practices.
You may not be rich but you can improve your ability to not let finances be such a burden.