The false perceptions of earning money and lifestyle working for a non-profit

For years I thought financial freedom was a result of more money.  In my mind there was this invisible line that existed in my bank account.  If I could earn enough money to surpass that invisible line than financial freedom would be the result. But like so many situations I had a skewed perception of freedom.  I assumed abundance equaled freedom.  Being in non-profit work I drafted a new budget every year increasing my pay to match inflation.  However, my pay increased but financial freedom actually decreased.  Every year.  In my mind it defied all accounting I had learned through public and liberal arts education.  Make more, have more.

The strange twist to the story is that I didn't begin to increase my net worth until I started making significantly less.

This was my favorite encouragement, "You really need to not have a scarcity mentality."  Which is the Christian way to say, "I think you're scared and not asking enough people for money."  But in reality I had too much to recognize how much I was wasting. In other words, it took the pressure of survival to see exactly how much I was throwing away.  And this happens in different places in our life, not just our finances.  Why do we believe if we make more than we will be worth more?

And that's exactly why.  Most of us in ministry are men and we feel like our value is equal to our pay.  Now, before you get to upset with me I don't think it's wrong to be compensated for work you do.  However, in the non-profit line of work eventually there will be a rub.  Have you ever heard Dave Ramsey use this phrase about small business owners - "Most have to outsell their stupidity." Well the same goes for many in non-profit work - they have to out-fundraise their stupidity.  I read a publication that shared the story of a non profit director saving over $20K by not having an office.  As if this is landmark advice?  That's called out-fundraising their stupidity.

The number of non-profits is booming causing a greater level of competition for over tithe dollars.  I used to know organizations that were non-profits.  Now I know people who are non-profits and you probably do to.  So we live in the cycle of thinking we need more money, which means we have to raise more money.  Are you exhausted by this financial hamster wheel?  In my opinion, here are ways to make less and be worth more:

1.  You own crap - Nothin you own won't be thrown away or sit in a box somewhere.  "What about fine jewelry," Someone would ask?  Unless you've sold that jewelry its not doing you any good.  This was landmark for me because I thought stuff had value...forever.  Not the clothes you wear, not stuff you have in your house, and not the car you drive.  In a few years theres a lottery chance that any of it will make you more wealthy.

2.  Savings accounts aren't sexy - Well, unless they have a bunch of zeros in them then they become one of the most fun things you can own.  In the beginning I hated putting money in the savings account.  HATED IT.  It felt like the biggest waste because my money was suppose to get me things to make me happy.  Remember, I wasn't experiencing financial freedom only the pressure to raise even more money so that I continue a pattern of spending more money.  Here's some advice I wish I would have learned early: Have multiple savings accounts.  When you have only one savings account the bigger the numbers get the more deceiving it can be.   You may have $15k in a savings account but when the car goes down, the heater breaks, and termites strike in the same month $15K is a drop in the bucket.  Pay yourself every month in different accounts.  I promise if you do it you will fall in love with growing your savings.

3.  I was a slave to name brands - Looking back I was fooled by advertising.  I truly believed that Kellog's Frosted Flakes were better than Malt-o-Meal Frosted Flakes.  In reality, I was willing to pay more so one company could have a box and a tiger I grew up with.  Brand names are more about my familiarity than the quality of product.  This is one of those, "I dare you," moments.  I dare you to shop for a month and pass on name brands and see if the quality of your life diminishes.

4.  My "poor" brain - I really believed I was poor and less fortunate than others.  So I made financial decisions as if the glass was half empty.  I bought myself a brand new SUV and legitimized the payments with the thought, "It's not like I'll ever be able to afford anything like this anyway so 60 months of payments is the way to go."  This mentality paralysis most in the non-profit realm.  We compare ourselves to our peers and measure their lifestyle against ours.  When in reality the whole thing is a farce.  I can have practically anything my peer may own, I just have to be more diligent and patient to save where as my peer can take on the debt in their monthly bottom line.

5.  The noose of debt - I didn't know the noose was around my neck.  I didn't realize I was tip-toeing towards the ledge.  But I came close to hanging both myself and my calling with debt.  But again, my "poor" brain had convinced me the non-profit lifestyle had to include debt to have a satisfactory style of living.  Yet those of us who work for non-profits have to realize living with debt is destructive because our personal finances are built on the generosity (and sometimes the expectations) of others. There is no guarantee employment equals full pay.  Don't play this risky game.  Get rid of every debt you have.  I would strongly suggest giving an ear to Dave Ramsey, either his radio show, a Total Money Makeover Event near you, or your church might even offer a Financial Peace Class.

"Doesn't this lifestyle mean I will have to live with far less than everyone else?"  Absolutely not.  It will look different from everyone else but it doesn't mean you will learn to live with suffering from without.  You will discover how awesome it is to pay for a car with cash.  Or to write a single check for something big added to your home.  You will sit on furniture you own instead of it owning your bank account.  You will come home from vacation and not keep paying for vacation over the next two years.  You won't quit your calling when the one big donor decides not to give this year.  You won't need to move from a place you love because you don't make enough as one of your peers in another city.

The secret to serving in a place you feel called does not have to be dependent on someone else it's dependent upon your own financial discipline.