One area where folks have not chosen to spend less since 2008, however, is education. In a quest to better themselves and/or their families, lots of Americans have chosen to take on even more educational debt - to the point where it is now in the trillions. Yes, trillions with a 'T.' (This includes students enrolled in programs of theological higher education who have the ability to obtain just as much student debt as those students in other programs.) Add to that a housing market that is on the rebound as well as consumer spending that is on the rise and you have another potentially volatile economic scenario – especially for those heading into full or part time ministry where career prospects are almost certain to pay less than others where a master’s level education is desired or required.
The good news is that whether one has consumer and/or student debt, simple living and careful stewardship of our finances can help us not be in debt’s stranglehold. I offer the following advice and tips from my own experience that has helped my family get out of debt fairly quickly, as well as remain debt free. I hope that what I’ve written can stir up conversation, debate, discussion, and imagination about how best to live simply (not to mention joyfully).
1.) Eat at home – Costs add up quickly when you go out to eat, even if just once a week. If you add ‘eating out’ expenses to your food budget, you may find that you will have to make significant sacrifices elsewhere. I’m not saying ‘NEVER eat out,’ just be aware of how much it really costs. And remember that, in general, you can cook healthier meals at home and have plenty of leftovers for a lot less cost than eating out.
2.) Make your own coffee and lunch – This is, of course, related to the first item, and can save you a TON of money. Again, I’m not saying ‘NEVER eat out’ or NEVER buy that coffee house latte or go out with your co-workers for lunch, just don’t do it every day. Make it something special. That daily $2 cup o’ joe at Starbucks can add up fast.
3.) Choose entertainment wisely and sparingly –Movie theatre tickets (along with popcorn, of course!) can be an expensive outing when the same movie will come out on home video (or at your local rental kiosk) 3-4 months later for a fraction of the cost. While you are waiting for your favorite movie to reach your local Redbox, find other things to do that don’t cost money such as going to the library or spending time in a park. And one really important suggestion: avoid shopping as a form of entertainment. Rarely will you go shopping “for fun” and not spend something.
4.) Save up for the things you want – Not all debt is bad or wrong. In some cases, short term debt can be useful and needed, such as borrowing a semester based loan that covers only tuition costs when your 6-month car insurance premium came due at the same time. In general, however, if you don’t have money to buy something, don’t buy it. Save and then spend. In the long run, this will save you lots of financial stress.
5.) Get rid of your cell phone – Gasp! Could I actually be suggesting this? Yes. I know some people have a phone issued to them for work, or need one for work, but in general, I believe that cell phones are NOT absolutely necessary. When my wife lost her job in 2010, this was one area where we decided we could save money. We traded an $80.00/mo. plan for a $15.00/mo. home phone plan and haven’t looked back since. Giving up our cell phone saved us nearly $1,000.00/year. When combined with our tax return money, these funds enabled us to rapidly pay down the rest of our student loans. Not only are we as connected as we were before (we still pay for the Internet at home after all), but we are less worrisome, get more sleep, and probably are safer drivers because we don’t have our phone constantly tethered to us.
Jeremy Shunk currently serves as Director of Financial Aid at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO and graduated from NTS in 2014.