Fiscal Fitness


April is full of so many events and deadlines! Tax Day! End of the semester papers! Holy Week services! And for some pastors, late April and May also will include long overdue vacations and respite.

April is also Financial Awareness Month. Through our research with United Methodist pastors across North Carolina, we know that finances are an incredible stressor for clergy. Factors contributing to this stress include out-of-pocket moving expenses, expenses for the ordination process and the repayment of student loans, just to name a few. Whether pastors are single or married, caring for elderly parents and/or children, the call to ministry is likely to create moments where they feel emotionally AND financially depleted. It’s not just on a Hand Putting Deposit Into Piggy Bankpersonal level either; as church members move or lose jobs and church offerings dwindle, church expenses (and sometimes apportionments) typically remain the same.

There are lots of resources out there to help reduce the strain. One of these is the Society for Financial Awareness, otherwise known as SOFA. This California-based non-profit organization works throughout the country with a single mission: “to end financial illiteracy across America, one community at a time.” The SOFA website is user-friendly and includes short YouTube videos that further outline the organization’s purpose and the services it offers.

While many of you have no doubt taken steps to ensure your fiscal fitness, SOFA is equipped with financial professionals who work pro bono and conduct seminars nationwide to enhance financial awareness. Seminar topics include “Getting fiscally fit,” “Financial blunders: Lessons we never learn,” and “Exploring your options for a quality retirement,” among many others.

If this sounds like it would be a helpful tool for you to try with church members or a peer group, take a look at the SOFA seminars offered near your home or church.  A list of nearby speakers is available here.

Additional Financial Health resources can be found here:

A Baby Step in Saving

Total Money Makeover

Minty Fresh Financials

Free Financial Planning for UMC Clergy

– Angela M. MacDonald

Image by Flickr user Ken Teegarden, via CC

Free Financial Planning for UMC Clergy


check bookThe topic of managing personal finances can be daunting, and even depressing, for many pastors, particularly those who are just trying to stay afloat. On the United Methodist Communications website, there are some good tips on how to assess your church’s financial health, but what about your own?

I have some good news: the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is offering free financial planning services to all active participants, surviving spouses of clergy, and retired clergy with an account balance.

The General Board has partnered with Ernst and Young Financial Planning to offer support in the areas of:

  • making investment decisions
  • planning for retirement
  • managing debt
  • understanding your taxes

When I read about this offer on the General Board’s website, I admit that I was a little skeptical. Free financial planning in a time when everything costs you something?

However, I mentioned this resource to a pastor who had named financial health as an area she would like to work on as she plans for retirement. She came back with a glowing report:“The financial planner has been so helpful. I sent in my financial documents, and his encouragement and professionalism has really put my mind at ease about the future,” she said. The pastor also said that “taking action has given me something to work toward, one small step at a time.

piggy bankYou can call Ernst & Young directly at 1-800-360-2539, Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Central time.

Their brochure contains additional information.

To log onto the program website, visit the Ernst and Young Planning Center, using the login info below:

  • company code: gbophb
  • company program: gbophb

I encourage you to take advantage of this free opportunity to alleviate some financial stress and take care of yourself.


–Kelli Sittser

A baby step in saving


A few months ago, wellness advocate Ellie Poole wrote about the benefits of Minty Fresh Financials via the use of As we gear up for financial fitness alongside physical fitness, consider this savings idea that has been circulating throughout the internet over the past few weeks.

The 52 Week Money Challenge provides a simple way of saving at least $1,000 by the end of the year. Although the creator of the challenge remains unclear, there have been many people challenging themselves as well as friends and family to give it a try. The concept is simple: deposit money into a savings account (or piggy bank) based upon the number of the week for that year. For example, you would deposit $1 into the account for Week 1 of 2013. From there, your deposit increases based upon the week until you deposit $52 during week 52. According to, you can save $1,378 by the end of 2013 following this pattern.

Below is a chart that many have been printing out as a guideline for the year, crossing off each week and its corresponding deposit amount as they go.

This challenge is a great way to create an emergency fund or a good introduction into more disciplined saving habits. According to one 52 Week Money Challenge Facebook group,  some have modified the challenge a bit. Taking advantage of new energy around resolutions for 2013 as well as cash gifts they received for Christmas, some users have decided to take the challenge in reverse. Meaning that they would start with a $52 deposit for week one, working backwards to a $1 deposit in week 52. The end result is the same — a savings of more than $1,000 over the course of the year!

We’re only two weeks into the year — it would easy to catch up if you want to give it a try.  What an easy baby step to implement with a clear (and substantial) ending point!

-Angela M. MacDonald

(Images courtesy of and

Book Review: Total Money Makeover


See if this sounds familiar.

We navigate the beautiful, busy Christmas season, with its joy, excitement, reminiscence, gifts (and possibly negatives too, but that’s the subject of another post).  After the holiday festivities settle back into normalcy, and we sit down to balance our checkbooks like the responsible adults that we are, the cold hard numbers staring back at us are daunting. As it turns out, we went slightly over budget this year.

If that’s been your experience, you’re not alone.

Finances continue to be the number one stressor in households, and we feel the pinch most acutely over the Christmas season.  That’s when the combination of daily expenses (day care, tuition, utilities and/or car maintenance) and holiday gifts and/or travel delivers a one-two punch that can do a real number on a pastor’s sense of wonder and holiday cheer.

Despite housing allowances and other UMC benefits, some pastors still grapple with concerns about (1) mortgages on family homes not occupied due to very distant church appointments; (2) college tuition; (3) retirement planning; and (4) personal funds used to subsidize a church’s financial needs. And what if you have to deal with a sudden pastoral move and  associated costs that may or may not be covered by the denomination?  Below is an image courtesy of that shows how these financial issues can cause fear, embarrassment and/or stress:

Given that those pesky household bills don’t take a well-deserved holiday themselves, Dave Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover can provide helpful insight about how to get wayward finances back on track.

Although Ramsey is also creator of the highly recommended Financial Peace University program, Total Money Makeover is a much more accessible reference tool for beginning financial resuscitation. This book can be purchased, but can also be checked out at your local library if you want to skim through it before making a purchase. One item included in the book is Ramsey’s Seven Baby Steps that provide a general road map that can be followed.

Below are some pros and cons about the book:


• It’s very simple to follow — there’s no financial jargon.
• Ramsey is upfront and direct about what his book is about and what it’s not.
• It’s motivational.
• It includes true life stories, including Ramsey’s own.
• It includes many worksheets.


• He seems to put an emphasis on mutual funds, although he does state that his book should not be treated as an investment book.
• You may or may not agree with the theology included, depending on your hermeneutic or understanding of the Bible.

Theology aside, Total Money Makeover offers a logical approach to financial fitness, therefore stress reduction.

– Angela M. MacDonald

(Images courtesy of and

Making Changes for 2013


The weeks leading up to Advent and Christmas come with a flurry of activity, and your healthcare benefits may be the farthest thing from your mind.  But whether you have a choice in health plans or not (or have a brief window of open enrollment in which to make changes), thinking ahead to how you’ll use your benefits can save you money in the coming year.

Ready to dive in? Below are some things to consider:

Read up on all plans offered
Ask for plan materials from your benefits administrator, and check out the websites of any health plans that are offered.  Your benefits administrator may have an online tool to help you compare plan choices, too.  If it’s available, use it!

Premium increases
Look to see whether your share of the monthly premium for employer-based health insurance is increasing.  That’s the amount of money taken directly from your wages.  If you can’t afford the premium for your current plan, consider less expensive coverage options from your employer or an individually-purchased plan.

Deductibles, copays and out-of-pocket costs
Since your real health care costs involve more than just monthly premiums, check to see whether your plan’s copayment amounts for prescription drugs or office visits have changed.  Look at the annual deductible too, and your annual out-of-pocket maximum.  Sometimes rising premiums are offset by increasing your liability in other cost-sharing categories.  (Cost saving tip: be sure to ask the doctors who prescribe your medications whether there is a generic version of the drug you are taking, and if so, whether it is a good alternative for you.  Generics are typically less expensive than brand drugs.)

Changes to your benefits  
As a result of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, you may now be eligible to receive additional benefits and options, such as keeping your child on your health plan until the age of 26.  Find out what is changing, and when.  Also: know your rights and protections.  Find out what insurance companies can and cannot do when it comes to changing or cancelling your coverage.

Spouses and dependents
Make sure your employer is still extending coverage to spouses and dependents, or whether they have changed their contributions toward dependents’ monthly premiums.  If you have an adult child under the age of 26 on your plan, find out how much is contributed toward his or her monthly premiums and compare that with the price of other coverage options.  If your spouse has employer-sponsored coverage too, find out if it’s more cost-effective to insure all or certain family members under your spouse’s plan instead.

Learn plan features you do and don’t want
Try the Health Plan Matchmaker tool.  It helps you pick plan features that are most important to you.  Just thinking about your health needs outside of medical care covered under a standard plan — like dental or vision — can help you choose the right plan for all of your health care needs.

Make a list of the benefits you used (and didn’t use)
If, for example, you visit your family doctor much more often than specialists, a plan with referrals and lower costs may be your best option.  When you figure out what parts of your plan you use most (and what you don’t) you can spend your health care dollars where you really need them.

Your health care needs
Have your own or your family’s health care needs changed over the last year? If the answer is yes, it may be time to consider a health insurance plan with a different balance of benefits.  Find out which private insurance plans, public programs and community services are available to you.

Budget for future health care costs
Consider a health savings account (HSA) or a flexible spending account (FSA).  These are two types of health funds that let you save money to pay for certain medical expenses tax-free.  When deciding on the amount of money to put into the account for 2013, keep in mind that you have until December 31st of the same year to spend it on eligible expenses, or the remaining balance will be forfeited.

Explore all your benefits options
Even if you have only one choice for a health plan, look for anything else you’re entitled to.  For example, find out if your health plan offers discounts for services like dental care or eyewear.  These programs aren’t insurance.  But they can offer great savings on services you’re already paying for.

Here’s to a healthy 2013!

–Dwight Tucker (posted by Melanie Kolkin)

Photo by Alan Cleaver/Flickr

Seeing Church Problems, Looking for Church Solutions


“…you have an inner-city church with inner-city problems; might I suggest you quickly wise up and find an inner-city solution…”
(Archdeacon Robert, from the BBC TV Sitcom ‘Rev.’)

The BBC show “Rev.” is familiar to some, but may be new to many on this side of the pond. The show centers on the life of Rev. Adam Smallbone, the Anglican vicar (pastor) of a church located in downtown London. In the clip below, Rev. Adam is providing ideas to Archdeacon Robert (Rev. Adam’s District Superintendent-equivalent) about ways to pay for a window in the church that has been broken.

Like Rev. Adam, many pastors are faced with very real financial challenges, and it can be easy to assign them a label.  You may have a ‘rural’ church with ‘rural’ church problems or a ‘dying’ church with ‘dying’ church problems or an ‘apathetic’ church with ‘apathetic’ church problems. While these labels provide helpful context for what a pastor faces, they  typically serve as a reference point, not as an absolute descriptor of the challenges faced.

Regardless of how the issues are named, the solutions tend to require creativity, because pastors are finding it increasingly difficult to secure streams of revenue to sustain the churches they serve.  In addition to church yard sales, food sales or car washes, some churches now rent out their facilities to other churches or nonprofit organizations. Other churches have joined with neighboring congregations to sell popcorn, fruit baskets or Christmas wreaths. Still other churches pool resources to offer financial education programs such as Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University or Crown Financial. The rationale for focusing on family finances?  As the cash flow of members begins to stabilize and improve, so should the finances of the church.

How has your church creatively raised funds? Please share your ideas in the comments section!

May God bless our Church Universal and our pastors who continue to navigate their way through the stressors of church stewardship. May God provide them with the wisdom, strength and vision to keep serving our [insert label here] churches with their [insert label here] problems, while looking for [insert label here] solutions.

– Angela M. MacDonald

(Video clip courtesy of BBC TV, Episode 1; Season 2 ‘Inner City Church, Inner City Problems’)

Minty Fresh Financials


Tracking financial commitments can be a challenge. 

Whether I’m tallying my spending, setting savings goals, or trying to stay on top of recurring payments, it’s hard to keep all the moving pieces in front of me.

Recently, however, I learned about the free internet service known as With the same security providers as online banking systems and 7 million users, Mint provides a huge array of budgeting, saving, spending, and planning tools.

Mint links to each of your individual financial accounts so that you can track your money from multiple banks, lenders, and accounts in a central location.

If you want to freshen up your financial fitness, check out this 90-second video that shows how might help.

– Ellie Poole