“Budgets cover all the costs of sending the missionary, not just what they need to live on.”

While the amount of money missionaries need to raise varies considerably, rarely is it limited to “how much do I need to live on?” Most missionary budgets include all the expenses of fielding the missionary. Besides a salary, budget categories generally include taxes, health and life insurance, retirement, travel expenses (including cost of furloughs), and administrative expenses (including the costs of communicating with supporters, and often a certain percentage that supports the mission agency’s home office). Many missionaries will need to raise funds for training costs (e.g. language school), purchase or rental of property, and/or 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, or inflation. Workers may also be asked to set up an emergency fund and/or purchase insurance that covers medical evacuation.

All this can add up to a daunting amount. Cutting corners is not worth the savings, though. Being well prepared will help the missionary family avoid some of the stress of getting to the field and not having what they need. 

Most mission agencies include some kind of “admin fee” in the amount a missionary is required to raise, and what these fees cover varies considerably. A high admin fee may include some of the expenses listed above, and a low one may suggest these items are listed elsewhere in the missionary’s budget.

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

Some online resources you may find helpful include sample missionary budgets and basic budgeting forms. See also this helpful article: How Much Is Enough?

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

“If married, count both of you as missionary workers who should get a salary.”

A candidate recently asked me if I though it was better for a married couple to both counted as legal employees or just the husband as some agencies do to simplify payroll even if both are working as missionaries. We’re both W-2 employees and we’re each issued a W-2 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 wife’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 is to your advantage to present the full force of your contribution i.e. two full-time workers. “The worker is worthy of his wages,” and 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. Most missionaries, even if they start under the traditional model of the man as the only breadwinner, evolve eventually to give the wife 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. When mission committees and business people there ask why should you earn so much money, “This is more than my pastor makes!” You have a good response to remind them that you are not just one pastor’s salary, but two salaries. 

The wife as an employee accrues Social Security credits, too. I’m not sure, but I believe this means she would probably have higher income in retirement than if she wasn’t an official employee. 

Another thing to consider is liability insurance, it is probably not going to extend to a non-employee legally as it would to employees. This could be an issue if there was legal trouble I also wonder about taxes too. CA state income tax has a safe harbor rule, meaning we can return under an employment contract to CA temp AND work there fundraising for 45 days without paying state income tax (12%). Non-employees wouldn’t be under that contract and shielded from further tax liability. Even if that is not the case, consider how taxation for expats has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. If you’re on the field for 20 years, it could change even more. Historically, tax rates have been much higher in past periods such as when we were born. I wouldn’t bet that it is going to stay as low as it is now.

Answer from Sam in Taiwan, who has served with Beyond and Joni and Friends for 13 years.