A Missionary Budget: What Costs Does it Include?

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A missionary budget may include all the expenses of fielding the missionary. Besides a salary, budget categories might include

  • taxes
  • health and life insurance
  • retirement
  • travel expenses (including cost of home assignments)
  • administrative expenses (including the costs of communicating with supporters, and often a certain percentage that supports the mission agency’s home office)
  • training costs (e.g. language school)
  • purchase or rental of property
  • purchase and maintenance of a vehicle.

It’s also wise to include some kind of surplus account, or perhaps a 5% buffer built right into the budget in anticipation of

  • lost support, cost of living increases
  • changing exchange rates
  • inflation
  • an emergency fund and/or insurance that covers medical evacuation

All this can add up to a daunting amount.

But trust me: Cutting corners is not worth the savings.

Being well prepared will help you and your family avoid some of the stress of arriving on the field and not having what you need. 

Most mission agencies include some kind of “admin fee.” What these fees cover varies considerably. A high admin fee may include some of the expenses listed above. A low one may suggest these items are listed elsewhere in your budget.

Editor’s note: If you’re considering going without a sending agency (and budgeting is one of your reasons), be sure to check out our series on the pros and cons.

It’s tempting to cut out things like contingency and retirement funds, but if missions is your career, you may regret neglecting such things.

Online resources you may find helpful: sample missionary budgets, basic budgeting forms, and How Much Is Enough?

Answer from Marti, who’s served as a mission mobilizer since 1995, including more than ten years with Pioneers.

“If married, both should get a salary.”

A missionary candidate recently asked me if I thought it was better for a married couple to both be counted as legal employees. Should just the serving member of the couple be paid, to simplify payroll even if both are working as missionaries?

Our organization issues W-2’s to my wife and I with half of our total income per year. I think it’s more respectful of our partnership to do it that way and honor my spouse’s major contributions to the work. That was our original reason.

We’ve discovered strong financial reasons along the way too.

When you are negotiating your budget with your agency and others, it’s to your advantage to present the full force of your contribution i.e. two full-time workers. Although people might remember there are two of us, it is to your financial advantage to remind them of the income you both are earning together.

For the Scripture says…“The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18)

Many missionaries, even if they start under the traditional model of only one marriage partner as the breadwinner, evolve eventually to give both spouses a significant responsibility in the work. There can be a tendency for some to forget that you are working not just 40 hours but 80+ hours as two workers.

Employing both partners accrues Social Security credits for that partner, too. I’m not sure, but I believe this means she’d have higher income in retirement than if she wasn’t an official employee.

Consider, too, that liability insurance and taxation “safe harbor laws” (allowing return to your home state for a number of days without being taxed) likely don’t extend to a non-employee legally.

Answer from Sam in Taiwan, who has served with Beyond and Joni and Friends for well over a decade.

“your MISSIONARY budget is hopefully designed for your longevity on the field, from veterans who’ve realistically counted the cost.”

Raising an amount so much higher than a salary may surprise you. Why’s this necessary? You may be raising the actual costs it takes a business to employ a person (which can be an additional 100-180% of a salary)–plus costs intrinsic to being a successful global worker. 

These expenses may include costs like

  • overhead for project costs for your ministry. For example, if you hope to run a supply distribution for at-risk children, you may be raising costs to maintain that programming. The more independent your project is from your sending organization, the more likely you may need to raise those project costs.
  • travel expenses.
  • your computer, software, internet, desk, chair, phone, office space, etc. Some agencies don’t already provide these.
  • member care. These costs cover critical mental and emotional support for the challenges of living cross-culturally and more challenging circumstances. There are a vital component to your longevity, and should be factored into your budget (or your organization’s).

Editor’s note: When considering what to relate to potential financial supporters about your own budget, see this post, “RAISING SUPPORT: 2 COMMANDMENTS OF SHARING BUDGET NEEDS”. Sometimes missionary budgets are difficult for non-missionaries to understand without passing undue judgment.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS FOR A MISSIONARY BUDGET

Obviously, lower administrative fees in a missionary budget help reduce your overall budget. But typically, more moderate to high admin fees include more benefits and services that help keep you going on the mission field.

Other thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Different sending organizations have very different philosophies of budget-setting (ranging from frugal to robust, job-based or needs-based). They also have varying levels of control over budget-setting.
  • Ask your organization about categories or aspects of a budget you don’t understand.
  • Keep in mind that the amount may seem overwhelming when you’re raising a high support goal. But your budget is hopefully designed for your longevity on the field, from veterans who’ve realistically counted the cost.
  • It’s also far easier to raise support before your first departure–and much harder to raise from the field and even during travel back to your passport culture. So go well-funded from the start!

Answer from John, the Human Resources director for Engineering Ministries’ International’s offices around the world.

Like this post? You might like

How to Overcome Obstacles and Get Fully Funded

“Is there any way other than begging for financial support?”

The Fix: For What Might Be Broken in Your Fundraising

 

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