by Mike Kupferer
No youth ministry is immune to the economic hardship facing our country. In order to be better stewards of our resources (and possibly stay afloat), we all need to learn to save a few bucks.
Spending a youth ministry budget wisely encompasses a number of things. It’s the big things such as only renting two inflatables for the kick-off carnival or deciding that hiring an entire circus to entertain the kids is a bit much. It’s the planning things like not buying new curriculum or not attending more than one youth conference per year. And it’s the little things like not buying donuts and milk each week for the Sunday School classes. (Though it’s possible that would cause a revolt…people love donuts.)
Deciding how to spend wisely means you have to think about your purchases and not just buy impulsively. Stop and rethink your desire to purchase. If I see something that seems useful for the ministry, I’ll talk to one of my staff or volunteers about it first. Taking a little extra time to rethink whether the item is really needed has saved me from purchasing a lot of unnecessary items that would have gathered dust in my office after a few weeks of use. On the other hand, there have been occasions when I buy an item using my personal money knowing that it will occasionally be used for the ministry. If you make these “donations” to the youth ministry, make sure you aren’t making an impulsive decision.
When it comes to more expensive purchases, never buy anything without getting approval from the rest of the youth team and researching similar products to find the best option for your ministry. Additionally, watch for deals or sales that can save your ministry money.
For fun, here’s a piece of advice from Saturday Night Live on wise spending.

Where to Pinch the Pennies

Youth ministries across the country are struggling just like any other organization, company, or individual. People are making less; therefore, they are giving less to the church. When the overall church offering is down, each ministry has to reduce its expenses in order to help stay in the “black.”
Look into these areas when you need to think about saving some cash.
Obviously, this is the least popular place to cut your budget. But are you really being a good steward of your congregation’s resources with your salary? Can you afford to live on less?
Text Messaging
The vast majority of teenagers has a cell phone with text messaging. So it makes sense that the youth staff would need the ability to text teens. But what option do you use? Here are a few choices:

  • Tatango: starts at free and has option to send text from computer or cell phone
  • MinistryTxt: starts at $5 per month
  • SimplyTxt: starts at $10 month

Many major publishing companies offer great curriculum resources, and some offer them as a “bundle.” Check out Youth Specialties, Group, Standard, TEAMCE, and Cokesbury/Abingdon.
But if you really want to save money (and not spend any, either), try these options:
Online “Freebies”
There are tons of great freebies available on the internet. In addition to CYMT Resources, check out this top five list for examples. Don’t rely solely on freebies, though, and not do any curriculum development yourself. You know your students better than any author.
Curriculum swap with local churches
Find a congregation in your area that would be willing to swap their old stuff for your old stuff. You’ll each get new curriculum, plus you won’t have to find a place to store your old stuff.
Reuse older stuff
Reuse the older stuff with a new group within your congregation.
Rotate material
Use a four year scope/sequence for your high school ministry and rotate through material every four years. If you have a seventh and eighth grade class, then rotate every two years. Using this rotation model will help you save money and will help you be intentional about what you are teaching your students.
Students like getting stuff and youth ministers like giving it away. But it can get expensive to have prizes on a regular basis. How do you save money on prizes?
Buy from thrift stores, garage sales, or on clearance.
You can’t afford to have really cool (read: expensive) prizes every week. So don’t try. Just get some fun, old, or silly stuff to use and keep it in big box. Let the students grab one prize from the box.
Ask for donations
For bigger events, you might want a better prize to offer. In those cases, ask companies and individuals to donate prizes (or money to go toward buying prizes) for you to give away. This gets the community involved with the group, saves you money, and promotes your group at the same time.
Buy online
All youth ministers have things to buy: books, supplies, classroom material, water guns, whoopee cushions. Why not look into buying those items online? Try ebay,, Amazon, and Craigslist.
Involve more adults
Instead ordering pizza, catering all of your meals, and generally trying to do it all yourself, think about asking church members to help cook and serve the food, decorate for a special event, set up, etc. The parents of your students are a great resource—ask them to sign up to provide dinner for an evening—as well as other adults in the church who want to help. You have to take the first step and ask.
We all need items for the youth ministry: chairs, couches, lighting, sound equipment, electronics, and transportation. Instead of going out and buying these things, ask people to donate them. But be prepared to get people’s junk. Be very specific, simply say “no thanks,” or just throw it away later.
Think “in house”
When you’re planning an event, the two biggest costs are often the speaker and the band. Think about using someone from within your ministry to do the speaking or worship, or try to find someone local to cut down on travel costs.
Use Open Source software
Instead of paying full price for your software, look into some of the open source alternatives. Most of them are just as good as the expensive versions, and they are free. In some cases you will be saving hundreds of dollars per computer that will run the software.
Another benefit for some of the software is the ability to modify content on the internet without being tied to a specific computer, meaning you don’t have to be on your youth ministry computer to update your message for Sunday. If the software is internet-based, you can work on either a Mac or a PC, or both. Along with this feature, comes the ability to have multiple collaborators working on a project at the same time. You can add information to a document and any other collaborator will save the changes next time she opens the document. This cuts down on e-mailing updates and forgetting which file is the most recent edition.
Open Source (FREE!) Alternatives:
Word Processing:

Presentation Software:

  • Impress (in Open Office)
  • Presentation (in Google Docs)—some limitations when using offline

Photo Editing:

  • Gimp—The best alternative to Photoshop I have found. (Check out some of the available plug-ins, too.)

Video Editing:

Financial Software:

Check out Open Source Living; it’s a great site for finding more open source software.
Stop spending money
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But there are more than a few youth ministries that simply refuse to stop buying stuff. You don’t need that new Wii or flat screen TV. You may not really need new carpet right now; it could wait a year or two longer.

How to use your saved money

After you have spent your budget wisely, what do you do with the money you save? Use the money to sponsor a child through Compassion International or World Vision. Give the money to a local food bank, shelter, or community center. You might even know of another congregation or ministry in your area that could use the money for their ministry. The best thing you can do with your extra money is to help support another ministry. God does not want us to be good stewards of our resources to just be frivolous with the money we saved.
Missions to support
World Vision
Heifer International

Compassion International

International Justice Mission


Habitat for Humanity

Team Expansion

Pioneer Bible Translators
Ronald McDonald Houses
Local ministries (food bank, shelters, Pregnancy Care centers)
Your congregation’s missions committee