Working on a missionaries budget is usually the first time a missionary gets mad at me. Why is this? Usually it is because we have two goals. The missionary wants to get to the mission field as quickly as possible with as little support raising as possible and my goal is not to do this as fast as possible and to make sure the missionary has enough income to be able to stay on long-term. I have worked with dozens of missionaries who have lowballed their budget and have made the mistake of allowing it only to see them struggle and fail on the mission field do to the lack of needed support which usually ends in the missionary returning home and starting over or returning home for good. I have also seen missionary families destroyed. So this is not a light or easy topic. It is a massively important dialogue that needs to take place.
What a Budget Is
First we need to understand what a budget is. Dictionary.com defines it as –
When working on budgets with new missionaries I communicate with them the need really for two separate documents. The first is the actual monthly budget and the second is the one-time moving expenses. Some of these things overlap and please feel free to put items where it works best for you. But for example, say a new missionary is flying with their family to a foreign country. Some of their upfront costs (listed in the one-time budget) are the cost to furnish and apartment, first and last months rent, flights (this one will overlap), visas (this will overlap as well), shots, etc. Basically, all the one time expenses that you will face just by moving to a country. The monthly budget is the catchall for everything else. This is the primary budget you will be working with. On this budget you want to put everything you can think of – i.e. rent, food, utilities, furlough expenses (very important! I’ll talk more about this below.), rainy day expenses, etc.
What to put in the budget?
Figuring out what exactly goes in the budget is the hard part. Every country is different, every family is different and every ministry is different. The best thing you can do is ask as many questions as you can think of to anyone and everyone that has lived or is living where you are moving. In other words try to find other missionaries you can glean from. For example, some countries want you to pay a full years rent on an apartment. These issues are all going to be unique for each country and it’s your job as the missionary to find the answers.
There will be general thing to list on your budget that are obvious like rent and utilities. But things you need to be aware of are – how much money do you need to put aside for visa renewals? Furlough expenses? Are you planning on traveling home once a year or once every other year? These big chunks of cash need to be spread out over the course of the year. For example, if you are planning on traveling home once a year and it costs $6,000 to fly your family home you will need to budget $500 per-month to save for flights.
Honesty is Best
Remember that this is your life and this budget is simply trying to show the reality of living in a foreign country as a missionary. The worst thing you can do is fudge the numbers as that will only hurt you. Of course as missionaries we are called to live a life of sacrifice and that means you will probably be cutting a lot of luxury spending. But you need to be able to take care of the really important financial needs in order to be able to stay on the mission field.
This is always the place where the missionaries get mad at me. Because as I look at their budget I will challenge them on the reality of their budget and when a family of five try to tell me they only need $700 per-month to survive in England I gently show them how that is not even close to reality.
This is God’s Problem
“Where God guides He provides.” In other words, if God has called you to serve on the foreign mission field you simply hand Him the honest budget that you put together. It’s His job to bring in the needed support.
How do I know when to go?
This is often a question I get from missionaries. As a general rule I set their bare bones budget, meaning the least amount they need to survive, at 80%. Once they’ve reached that 80% they are free to purchase plane tickets. Of course 80% is not the final goal. The final goal is 100%. The reality is you will have a lot of donors that won’t start supporting you until you get to the mission field. However, the catch-22 is you need the support to get to the mission field. So we know that there are a group of people that will start supporting you once you get to the field which will hopefully boost up your percentage to 100%.