I read a lot of personal finance blogs, and one of the most interesting discussions in the past few weeks was over at Money Saving Mom. Crystal posted a letter from a woman whose husband was earning $460/week as a youth pastor. They had three kids and another baby on the way. The woman said “We want to save and budget better but don’t know how to on such a small amount. We do not have cable, or internet at home and the only thing we do that we do extra is eat out due to our crazy ministry schedule.” She asked, “is it possible for us to live on $460 a week?“
Crystal (and folks posting the 200+ comments) had budget suggestions, and some people made a big deal about the restaurant meals, but others pointed out that, at some point, there’s nothing left to cut. This family needs more money coming in. The first approach to expanding their budget should be to apply for WIC coupons and SNAP (aka food stamps); the income eligibility level for a family of 6 is $3,249/month so they definitely qualify. After that, they can explore ways to earn more. (Crystal graciously suggested the letter writer read 168 Hours to find time to work at least a few hours per week).
The letter got me thinking, though, about the financial choices we make. First, it seems this church set the salary for this youth pastor job in a range that implies a young single sort just out of seminary — or perhaps someone with a working spouse but no kids. Earning $460/week works ok if there’s only one of you, or if your spouse is also earning $500 or so a week, this is more of a middle-class income. Yet at some point this couple decided this was the right job for a single-income family with multiple kids, or else they had multiple kids while he was working for this salary. The letter doesn’t say why — the economy has obviously been awful, so maybe that’s the only job the family could find — but in a more questionable decision, the family seems to be treating his work as a 2-person job (if the whole family is stretched for time because of the crazy ministry schedule). As some comments pointed out, this is just not going to work.
So what to do? A few suggestions from readers:
- Point out that the family is relying on public assistance and ask for a raise. While in general it’s not a good idea to frame raise requests in terms of one’s financial need, potentially church leaders would find this embarrassing enough that it would spur a change.
- If a raise can’t happen (or they won’t ask), ask to reduce total hours, since this church clearly can’t afford a full-time youth pastor. Dad can use the rest of his time to do something more lucrative, and/or he can take care of the kids so mom can get a job that pays more than $460/week.
- Ask for babysitting help from church members so mom can work at least part-time.
- Figure out ways to work from home/work flexibly a few hours per week (both parents!)
That last idea is in the news with a recent BusinessWeek feature on TaskRabbit and the distributed workforce. The author made some money ($50-100/day) though the work was pretty exhausting. People are quite interested in websites that offer gigs that anyone can do, but the more I study the free agent labor market the more I realize that the way to make it work is to do work that not everyone can do. In other words, if you’d like to mostly stay home with your kids, and you’re marrying someone who’s going to be earning a low wage, best to come up with a specialized skill and build a big network of clients before you need it. Then, someday, perhaps, you can earn $460/week working minutes per day. But I suspect these are the kinds of financial trains of thought many of us don’t pursue until the situation becomes more dire.
What would you recommend to a family of 6 bringing in $460/week?