Thriving or Surviving: Making the Most of your Wages

by Rodney Harrison January 10, 2020

A study published in Christian Century confirmed what many already knew…pastors tend to make less than the median member in their churches.[1] Often finances prevent otherwise willing leaders from staying long enough to make a difference. For those seeking to turn around a declining church, the challenge of paying the bills is often daunting.

Assuming you practice biblical stewardship through the tithe and offerings, the next step tied to financial sustainability is stewardship through reduced spending.

To improve your bottom line requires making more or spending less. Making more is often not an option. Whatever the cause of a church or personal shortfall, having adequate resources to see the church through the restoration process is critical to success. To that end, here are 10 frequently overlooked ways to reduce your monthly expenses without impacting overall quality of life. In fact, some of these savings may actually increase your family's quality of life. As a bonus, at the end is a guaranteed step that will improve stewardship and, most likely, reduce your daily spending.

1. Eliminate cable/satellite TV ($60-80). Since the launch of digital television in 2007, the number of free channels available on antenna TV has skyrocketed. Even at our rural Missouri homestead, we have over 50 channels. Sure, you will miss ESPN and other favorites, but the time not spent watching the game at home can be spent with family, friends or another hobby. The good news is that free TV includes plenty of children's programming and classics from the past.

2. Eliminate streaming services, such as Hulu, Netflix, Prime, SiriusXM, etc…($10-25). Not only is the content of many shows less than circumspect, streaming services support habits such as binge-watching.

3. Transfer your mobile phone to a $10 per line talk and text service ($15-80). My wife and I both have older iPhones. We use PureTalk®, and our combined bill is $15 per month. There are many talk and text services that are $10 per line. Unlimited talk and text are still under $20 and can be the source of significant savings.

4. Shop around for lower-cost car and homeowners insurance ($5-100). I annually compare prices with at least four major carriers. This past year, we saved $275 on car insurance and a whopping $1300 on homeowner's by shopping around. Don't forget, if you find a better deal, you can cancel your current coverage at any time, not just when it is time to renew. Also, ask you carrier about better deals. Insurance prices are a major expense, so spend a few hours each year ensuring you are getting the best coverage for the lowest cost possible.

5. Set a goal and sell your clutter….little used or unused sports equipment, tools, bikes, etc. if you need $500 for a car repair, sell $600 worth of stuff. Most of us have stuff we don't use that someone else would like. From unused sporting and exercise equipment to camping gear that has not been out of the garage for a decade, you most likely have stuff that could be sold on Craigslist or at a garage sale. Larger items such as underused cars, boats, motorbikes, and trailers not only continue to depreciate, they usually cost money in the form of maintenance, taxes, and registration. Many items pastors own are simply are taking up space and adding clutter. Nothing is more freeing than eliminating stuff. If you can't sell it, give your stuff away. If no one wants it, throw it away.

6. Eliminate your corded phone ($25-40). If you still have a landline, why?

7. Reduce utility costs— set a goal of saving 10% ($10-20). I was in the parsonage of a church revitalizer one summer. It was 94 outdoors and 70 indoors. I asked him what his electric bills were like and he expressed outrage. After we discussed establishing energy cost savings goals, he and his wife agreed on 78 degrees and adding electric fans in the living room and bedroom. The monthly savings was nearly $100 per month. Many electric companies will assist with energy audits that will help you find additional savings. Make sure the older kids are part of those meetings.

8. Stop stopping at Starbucks ($20-100). This savory routine can add up to some serious spending. One $3 drink per day is $65 per month. A flavored drink and muffin come in at $175 per month. Even the $1 coffee at McDonald's adds up to over $20 per month. A brewed coffee or K-Cup at home is about 30 cents.

9. Order water with dinner ($15-60). Whether grabbing fast food or enjoying a well-deserved sit-down night out with your family, ordering water will reduce the spending significantly. For a family of four, the soft drinks or coffee will add anywhere from $8-12. Add tax and tip and you just raised the check to over $15.

10. Cancel magazine, newspapers and digital content subscriptions ($10-50). I love reading the morning news, but when our local paper raised the subscription price to over $35 per month, I realized an opportunity to save. I can still get all the news I need online, but the savings realized by canceling the newspaper, three magazine subscriptions and one digital blog added up to nearly $50 per month in savings.

Implementing the examples above results in monthly savings of between $170-515. Add to this the savings jump start from selling clutter through Craigslist or a garage sale and you are well on the way to a happier and more sustainable budget.

I will conclude my insights on cost-cutting with a sure-fire way for every reader to spend less and live better. This is accomplished by implementing a Pray before Purchase practice. As a young church planter in northern Minnesota, implementing this practice reduced grocery and incidental costs significantly. From roaming the aisles of a big box store to looking at the latest deals on Amazon, asking God to grant wisdom and discernment before putting an item in the cart or clicking Buy Now will most assuredly impact your bottom line.


  1. ^ C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long  Marler, Christian Century, What Pastors Get Paid and When It's Not Enough, June 6, 2019, accessed October 28. 2019.