Working with a Limited Budget

I had an opportunity a while back to go to a meeting at a mega-church in my area.  I had never been to their place before then.  As soon as I turned into their campus, I was utterly amazed.  For starters, I had to park in a parking garage.  Then, as I walked in to the building, I felt that I had just entered a convention center.  It was huge!  In fact, it was so big that in order to get to my meeting, I had to check the floor map – you know, one of those things you find at a mall to find the store you are looking for.  Really?!?  Once I check the map, I was able to navigate the floors to make it to the Youth Room in time for my meeting.

Once I got to the youth room, I was blown away.  It seemed more like a Youth Club than a Youth Group Room.  They had pinball machines and real arcade games (seriously, old school Pac-Man and Dig Dug were 2 of games – how cool is that!).  In addition, they had a nice stage with band equipment, plenty of tables and chairs for people to sit, a kitchen attached, and tons of other great things that youth would love.  And, this was the middle school room!

I am so glad they have this place.  It was truly amazing and I hope that they use it all for the glory of Christ.  But, in the same light, I cannot imagine ever having this kind of money to spend in my budget.  Sure, it would be nice to have these things and I would never say no to any of it.  But I have been doing full time youth ministry for over 12 years now and the most money I have ever had to spend in a given year is $15,000.  I have had as little as $4,000 when I was a Middle School Director and this past year was the first year I have ever had more than $12,000.  Whether or not this seems like a lot to you, the fact is that most budgets at small to medium size churches are very limited and no matter what we do or try, we will never be able to duplicate what mega-churches can.

How, then, do you make the most out of your budget?  After all, you have dreams to do great events and provide a great environment for your students just like mega-churches are able to do.  What do you do with the, often times, limited budget and resources at your disposal?  Here are a few ways that I have been able to work with a limited budget and make the most with the resources I have.

Plan ahead. Before you can start thinking about your budget for each event, you have to look at what you want to do over the course of the year.  What events do you want to offer and what environment do you want your students to walk into?  If you are not used to planning ahead, this can seem overwhelming to plan a whole year but in the long run, you and your students will benefit greatly from it.

As I have mentioned before, at Cedar Run, we plan a few key events every year.  One example is our annual Super Bowl Bash.  Every year, we put on a great event filled with tons of games, lots of food, testimonials and some surprises.  If we wanted to do all that was possible for this event, we would end up spending a lot of our budget.  We cannot afford to do that in the 4th month of our budget.  By properly planning ahead, we keep the long-range goal in mind.  We realize that what we do for that one event, will not make or break our year.  God is bigger than that.  So, as we plan the year, we try to strategically place events, therefore, not getting caught up overspending on any one event.  It is a huge benefit for us to plan ahead.

Think creatively. Once we have planned out our key events and identify some budget drainers, we then have to start thinking creatively.  How can we pull off these events with the least amount of money used?  How can we offer the best experience with the limited funds we have available?  It takes creativity and I am fortunate to have a good team of volunteers to help me process and organize.  In the same way, you have to think creatively.  There are events you probably want to do that, if you do all that you want, will probably cost your budget an arm and a leg.  But, if you get a team of people together, usually great, creative ideas come out of that time.  Now remember, if you do not have a team of volunteers, surround yourself with some students, adults or even parents to help you think creatively.

Now, there are definitely times you want to splurge a little and spend some extra money.  But, you have to identify what are those things or events you want to splurge on.  For example, when I take students out 1-on-1, most of the time, I will treat them.  I like to treat them for a variety of reasons but, that is just me.  You may decide to spend your youth budget differently and that is perfectly fine.  The key is to identify where you want to splurge and stick to it.

Get parents involved. When we started doing our 5th Quarter event on Friday nights in the fall, we realized quickly that we were spending entirely too much money each week on food.  If we were going to have any money left over in the spring, we knew we had to get parents involved.  Therefore, we organized a food needs list and sent it out to the parents in our church and a funny thing happened – they sent an overabundance of food in!  By the time 5th Quarter was over for the fall, we ended up having so much non-perishable food left over, we were able to use it for extra youth events throughout the winter!  Parents are eager and willing to help, especially for a good event that their children are benefiting from.  If you get them a list, they will help out.

Don’t be afraid to charge students money. Very, very few things in life are free.  Whatever youth do today, there is usually a cost.  So, do not be afraid to charge your youth money for events you put on.  You do not need to break even for your event; you just need to get some of the money back.  Otherwise, you will not have very much money left over by the time the summer comes.

These are just some of the ideas you can conserve money so that you do not overspend and have to tighten your spending as spring and summer approaches.

What are some things worth spending money on?

Even with a limited budget, I believe that there are a few things worth spending money on.

  • Treat students to food. This is not the same as charging for youth events.  I like to treat students for food when I am hanging out with them 1-on-1.  I do this for a few reasons.  For starters, I treat because there is something about food that makes conversation go better.  I cannot explain it, but if students have a drink or food in front of them, it usually makes for better conversation. In addition, money can be scarce at their home and I don’t want anyone to ever turn down an invitation because of money.  So, I make it clear to students that whenever I ask them to lunch or dinner, it is my treat.

  • Prizes (especially at big events).  At every major event we do, we offer a prize(s) that is a draw so it adds an additional attraction for the students coming to an event.  For instance, we have given away a few iPods Nanos and $50 gift cards before.  They are not cheap but when someone hears about the giveaway, it gives them one more hook to come to your event.  And, who knows, maybe the Holy Spirit will work in their life that night and be drawn back to your church and begin to follow Christ.

  • Safety first.  Thinking conservatively is great, but when safety is involved, it is always best to splurge.  For example, we have a church van that has given us fits and we have recently deemed as unsafe.  Therefore, in our effort to conserve money, we tried to borrow vans from members of our church.  Although it was a good idea in our effort to conserve money, we finally decided that it was in the best interest of our students and church to rent a van from a rental company.  Safety is always important, so do not skim on providing safe equipment and a safe environment for your students.

There may be more things that are worth spending money on, but these are three that I believe are important.  What you deem as non-negotiable may look different than what I suggested and that is perfectly fine.

My hope is to encourage and help you work with the limited resources smaller and medium size churches usually have to deal with.  Over the past 6 years at Cedar Run, I have been under budget in all but 1 year.  The reason I was over budget that one year was because I lost focus and I did a poor job of planning.  I hope and pray that you can stay focused and plan ahead well enough so that you can use the resources that God has blessed you with and help provide an environment and events that will give hope to students and praises to God.

TAKE A MINUTE and….

  1. Start looking ahead to the fall and plan a few key events and identify where you will spend money.   The summer is the perfect opportunity for you to begin planning and focus on what you want to accomplish for the year.  If you are eager and so incline, start planning the spring as well.
  2. With your planning started, begin to look at our potential budget for the new fiscal year.  What did you spend last year?  With what you want to do in the fall and spring cause an increase in your budget?  If so, make sure you have just cause and there is a reason behind the increase so that you can defend your increase to you budget committee.

Questions, experiences or thoughts?  Feel free to post them here so we can be encouraging each other.

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