6 ways to save money in seminary

  1. Take it down a notch – Americans love their space. However, have you notice that the rest of the world is not so space obsessed. I am always humbled when I see images of other countries where entire families live in 1 and 2 bedroom houses. I am also reminded of how our grandparents and great grandparents used to live… 10-15 kids in a 2 or 3 bedroom house. However, many of us are now accustomed to having our own rooms… Well… maybe that needs to change. In fact, Just a Gal and I are pretty sure that in our new house Littleman and Sweetpea will be sharing a room. It feels odd since they have had their own rooms for a while now… but the rest of the world does it… so, lets save some money and downsize our space requirements.
  2. Live near school – Gas is EXPENSIVE. If you’re going to be traveling back and forth every day, it only makes sense to cut down on the commute. Living near the school could save up as much as $200 a month!
  3. Two words “Brown Bag” – That’s right. PB&J for lunch again. I know the chinese place across the street from campus has the best sesame chicken… but fight the urge. Packing a lunch could save you $300 or more a month!
  4. Go shopping – I know, sounds oxymoronic… but, it’ll help. Every year you need to shop your car insurance rates. Call your current provider and see if they’ll give you a better rate (I just called and save $8 a year – HA!). Then, don’t be afraid to hit up a couple of the online retailer. It really is true that 15 minutes could actually save you money. Last year I changed insurance and saved $200 a year.
  5. Lets make a deal – If you’re renting, homes have a slight advantage over apartments. Since most homes are rented out by individuals, you can typically negotiate your rental rate. If you’re married, always mention that. And also, mention that you are renting the house so that you can attend seminary. Sometimes people will hear those things and feel like you are going to be a better tenant who will take care of their property… which I hope is true. So, don’t be afraid to ask for a couple hundred dollars off their asking price. Asking never hurt! (quick story, shortly after Just a Gal and I got married, we asked a landlord if he’d rent us a $900 house for $550. It was typically rented to college kids. We mentioned that I worked at a church and that we wanted to plant flowers and clean it up a little. He agreed. We also painted the house and re-did the kitchen… we asked him to pay for the supplies and we’d do the work. We were both happy in the end… lesson… always ask!)
  6. Read the books – No, not your class books. Read your budget. Make sure that you review your spending habits and compare them to your budget. Make adjustments as needed.

Well, there are my six ideas… anyone else got some good ways to save money in seminary? Let’s hear ’em…

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Ryan Burns
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  • One thing my wife and I have found is making meals from scratch. It sounds complicated, but once you get used to it, it is not hard at all. I make pancakes and waffles from flour, sugar, eggs, and stuff all the time. I don’t use the box batter mix anymore. My wife has learned to make casseroles (sp?) and other things from scratch. A good cook book will help in this endeavor.

    What you will find is that you will eat healthier which will help to shed unwanted extra weight (you gain more when you just sit and read all day!) and you will spend less on more food. You figure a box of hamburger helper runs about 2-3 bucks and can only feed 2-3 people. If you buy all the ingredients for the same meal except you will find that you can make 4-5 meals that will leave left-overs for that lunch (not PB&J everyday!) you are now packing to save money.

  • 1. Shop around for your books!!!!! Try
    – half.com (part of eBay)
    – bigwords.com
    – college-textbooks.net
    Unless it is a commentary you will keep for life (see below) you do not need “new” books.

    2. Start building your commentary library — slowly, piece by piece. Try out commentaries in your seminary library first to see if they are what you need. Look online too (see above) but be careful. Most seminaries want real scholarship in your papers (which unless you preach to PhDs you will never need that level in your sermons). You want practical, but not devotional. This means…
    BUT NOT MATTHEW HENRY! Also get commentaries which use a translation that you will use (i.e. many of us don’t preach from King Jimmy any more…) and don’t think denominationally, unless you must. A lot of the best are not printed by a denominational publishing house.

    3. BORROW books – from your university library, from folks who are ahead of you, from recent graduates, from pastors you know. Don’t buy unless you are convinced you will keep it. Personally, I don’t keep the trendy books, or the ones my professors have written and sold…

    4. Get a good digital commentary library. I have the Logos software and keep ‘unlocking’ pieces of it as I need it. Worth HOURS of library time.


  • I can attest to the living close to school and brown bagging it. I came to seminary single and was given that advice. Fast forward five years, one wife, one child later. We lived only 2.5 miles from the church/seminary campus and it was great. We had to move last March because we needed more space due to having a child and because the rent was raised beyond what we could afford. We now live 9 miles from the campus and the fuel costs have definitely gone up. One of the things we did do was join Costco to save money on fuel (they have gas stations here in MN) and they are usually cheaper on their price per gallon by 8-10 cents and sometimes higher.

    Brown bagging it is also a money saver. When I lived close to school, I also lived close to work (3/10 of a mile) I could walk to work and I was also able to come home for lunch everyday which gave me some time with my wife and son. When we moved, no more coming home at lunch every day. So I bring my lunch to work and it has definitely been a money saver.

    When we moved we were able to find a larger place for $20 a month cheaper but we did sacrifice the distance factor. Now when our lease is up in 8 months, unless the rent stays the same, we may be forced to move again. Affordable housing on a seminary budget is very difficult unless one moves to a high crime bad neighborhood.

  • As an update – I think I broke almost every rule above! Ok, not every rule, but our new house is NOT near campus… nor is it smaller. In fact, it is 15 minutes away with no traffic. And gas around here is like $3+ a gallon… sheesh. So, why break the rule? Well, my brother and sister in law live near by. Just a Gal and I decided that we would sacrifice the convenience of living near the campus in order to spend time with family. I’d like to think that it is a Gospel centered decision. We are sacrificing our comfort in order to minister to those we love (they are Christians, but have no Christian friends and aren’t really involved in their church community). So, we broke the rule, but think the price (family and the gospel) are well worth it.

  • My best way to save money is a twist on another idea.
    Use the library.
    Now, the twist is this: WorldCat.org
    YOu can check any library and have things shipped to YOUR library. It is so cool.
    Second tip. Teach ONE class at your local community college in your area of expertise. You are faculty. You can now check out books for the whole semester.
    Third tip: Don’t buy your books until AFTER seminary.

    Oh, I can see you shutting down already. “But, I like books… I mean, I need to build a Pastor’s Library.” No you don’t. You need to LEARN your tools (Study methods, Biblical Understanding, Greek and Hebrew, if that is in your program… and yes, you will need some basics like Bibleworks or Logos). Then BUY books AFTER SEMINARY.

    Trust me on this last bit of advise. I worked in the Seminary bookstore while going to Seminary and could order books at cost. I was very frugal, and only bought the best of the best. But over 5 years, I had over 3,000 volume library. I am selling them all now. I used about one-fifth of what I purchased. Not bad… but for the time and energy I put into selecting these nuggets of gold, it was a huge waste.

    If I were to buy books now (15 years later), the library would look a LOT different. And I would have saved a bundle (and my wife would have been much happier in Seminary). That is the point. You can’t possibly know what you will need. Many churches and missions have books/aids in the budget. Your main focus now is to learn. Learn your basics… the details come later.

    “Oh, but I know I will need NICNT and NICOT!” OK, go buy them if you can handle it. But you don’t NEED to get them now.

    I have seen many a Seminary student fail just because of the expense quotient being higher than their income. I have seen wive’s and husbands in Seminary feeling like second rate to the struggles and expenses of Seminary. YOU HAVE GOT to invest in your wive’s (to men).

    So, my advice: use WorldCat, whenever your library doesn’t have it… and even when it does. Often students can check things out a month or two. But, that ain’t all semester. Then plan when that volume is due, and have an interlibrary load (thru WorldCat) coming when the first one is due. You will save a ton and I dare say, you will be happier.

    Build that library later.

Written by Ryan Burns