We are living in a very difficult economic time. Unemployment is high at over 8% in the USA. Underemployment is even higher. The realities are settling in that this may be the first generation in American history to not retire better off than their parents did. In addition to that, employment has entered a permanent state of instability. Long gone are the days of expecting to work for the same company from young adulthood to retirement. Even worse, the youth of our time must plan on making two or three changes in their type of employment during their working lifetime, each requiring extensive reeducation.
I will soon celebrate my fifty seventh birthday. I have been a credentialed minister for thirty eight of those years. I have taught at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary for twenty five years (ten as an adjunct professor and fifteen as a full time professor). Cheryl has been a full time professor at our seminary since 1986. We have served as pastors of the New Covenant Church of God for over twenty one years. Our employment history is about as stable as it gets and our income is sufficient to meet our needs. We are blessed.
Yet, I freely note that we are not well off. Our debts are way too high for two professionals at our stage in life. This is the cumulative effect of being called to theological education. (As I noted in an earlier blog I once calculated our doctorates cost us $270,000.00 in expenses and lost revenue; money that would never be recouped.) We have for thirty six years of marriage been grossly over employed and significantly under paid. Last week I heard a report on the benefits of getting a bachelors degree; according to that report the average person with a four year college degree today makes more than we do with doctorates.
While I am in the mood, let me tell our woe-is-us story. We’ll skip over the Wheaton days; you wouldn’t believe me any way. I got my first full time ministry position in 1976 as a teacher at Northwest Bible College. My salary was $7,200.00 dollars for the year. That’s $600.00 per month. We rented a mobile home from the college for $200.00 per month. Our car payment was $137.00 per month leaving $263.00 to pay tithes, pay our educational loans, pay car insurance, and, oh yes, buy groceries and have a baby (without insurance). To be fair, Cheryl did make a few hundred dollars the first year teaching part time and our income doubled the next year when she was hired full time.
After three years we returned to school and our income dropped to part time employees. Then in 1984 I was hired by the Westmore Church of God as Minister of Christian Education. My salary was over $16,000.00. I made more money that year than we had ever made together in a single year. In 1986 Cheryl was hired full time at the seminary and things got even better. Putting it under a different lens, until he retired my Dad made significantly more money every year than mine and Cheryl’s combined incomes.
I am really not inviting you to my pity party. I’m setting the context and creating the drama. My point is that most of my adult life has been marked by very close finances. We have juggled payments, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. We have sweated getting pay checks deposited quickly to cover written checks and not always making it in time. Like most Americans we have lived just slightly beyond our means and accumulated unsecured consumer debt (It’s all on very low interest.) Cheryl’s car is eleven years old and has over 327,000 miles on it and my truck is going on ten years old.
But in recent years we are watching our debt go down at a steady pace. Our house should be paid off in six years or so. We have a small emergency fund set aside. Our retirement accounts are smaller than we would like but on track to provide a middle class standard of living when we retire, provided we continue to contribute and we get out of debt. Barring any major setbacks we should retire better off than our parents.
What I am thankful for this evening is that we have a steady income that is sufficient to meet our needs and provide a comfortable living. I cannot remember the last time I bounced a check or was late on a payment. I do not have everything I want (Goldwing, Silverado), but I certainly have abundantly more than I need. I am aware that we are only a few months from bankruptcy should one of us to lose our job. But I don’t have to worry about the electricity or the phones being disconnected, at least not before my contract is renewed next July 1. My concern is losing weight, not whether there will be food in the house. I am blessed and I am thankful.
September 15, 2010