Growing up in the South we had a saying about working with a tight budget. It’s called “trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip.” That pretty much sums up what many of us are doing in our children’s ministries. We try to squeeze every last dime to make the most out of what we have, because no matter what size ministry you have, every children’s pastor wants the best for his or her kids.

In my first ministry experience I was given a grand total of $300…for the year. That was all I had to make it from January to December. That felt like squeezing blood out of a turnip, but in the end our ministry grew and kids’ lives changed. We were challenged by our budget, but we weren’t limited by it. What does that mean? No matter your budget size there are things you can’t do. That’s OK. Find what you can do and do it.

Here are 10 tips to help you get the most out of your budget:

  • Tip #1: Receive freely. This simply means don’t be afraid to look to other churches or organizations for help. Is a church in your denomination or community remodeling? Take some of those decor items off of their hands. A local store is going out of business. Take advantage by buying their display cases for cents on the dollar. Stock up on costumes after Halloween. You’d be surprised how many churches have a closet full of puppets they aren’t planning to use and would love to give you.
  • Tip #2: Give freely. It’s a spiritual principle. In Matthew 10:8 (NIrV) Jesus said, “You have received freely, so give freely.” When we give we open the door to blessing. The problem is that when you have very little in the budget you sometimes fear letting go of anything. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by what you don’t have, take inventory of what you do have. What are you not using that another church or ministry could benefit from? Give it away. It’s a step of faith, but one I believe God rewards.
  • Tip #3: Look for low cost curriculum options. When I started out with limited budgets I had to look for alternative curriculum options. Twenty years ago, though, there weren’t many free or low cost options. That’s why I turned to writing my own lessons. Today, there are tons of options for your ministry at all price points. Take advantage of those options. Wait for great sales and buy up or even borrow curriculum sets from another church (always check your end user licenses before doing this). You can also download free curriculum or utilize many of the free sample series offered. We began Equip KidMin to help churches by providing high impact curriculum at a low price. (Click here to purchase one of our series and download a free two week series)
  • Tip #4: Keep a well organized resource room. We’re blessed to have a great resource room where we collect and keep our costumes, props and supplies. The more you save, the less you’ll have to buy later. Recently, we had a special Rodeo Sunday in our children’s ministry (rodeos are big in Texas). We had give-aways for our elementary and preschool kids, but not nursery. At the last minute, we rummaged through the resource room and found enough bandanas to give one to all the babies and toddlers. Be sure to inventory and label your supplies or you’ll wind up buying multiples of things you already have…a budget killer.
  • Tip #5: Consider having families or church members tbecome sponsors or conduct a campaign to purchase items that go above your budget restraints. Want to buy a special puppet? Have families adopt a puppet. Want to get a new video camera? Make it a special giving project for your church. The key is to set the vision for the giving. You won’t get people excited to buy Goldfish crackers for your nursery. Use your budget for that. However, you can get people excited about giving to something that will help you reach lost kids in your community. People want to give to something larger than themselves.
  • Tip #6: Evaluate everything. Some ministries or activities are budget vampires and will suck everything they can get. If that ministry or activity isn’t accomplishing your mission or vision, it needs to go. Just because you’ve always done it doesn’t mean you should keep doing it. I once had a Wednesday night class that sucked away hundreds of dollars for things like badges and workbooks. It was a good class but didn’t really fit with where I felt the children’s ministry should go. The class was a vampire to time, resources and volunteers. What did I do? Kept it. Why? I was afraid to stop doing what we’d always done. Was that a mistake? Absolutely! There are and can never be sacred cows in our church. Kill them. Enjoy the steak and move on to what God is calling you to do.
  • Tip #7: Keep track of your spending. Most of us are in churches that employ either a full-time or part-time bookkeeper. Their job is to keep track of all of the church’s spending. However, I like to know my spending before the receipt even reaches the bookkeeper’s desk. Using a simple spreadsheet is a great way to track your yearly, monthly and event budgets. It also helps you avoid awkward conversations with your Senior Pastor.
  • Tip #8: Use offerings to supplement the budget. Some churches allow the children’s ministry to keep the offerings from their classrooms and use it to help with budgetary items. If yours doesn’t currently do this, then ask if it’s possible. You might just find the few extra dollars for that curriculum you want.
  • Tip #9: Look for free or low-cost software. You’d be amazed at the free software options available now. Can’t afford to buy Microsoft Word? Don’t bother. Use Google Docs instead. Many of the more expensive programs also offer discounts for nonprofits as well. When we purchased Adobe Multimedia Software in the past we used their nonprofit discount to save hundreds of dollars. There’s even free presentation software you can find with a simple Google search. Why pay full price when you can get it on a discount?
  • Tip #10: Pray. Yep, I saved the best and most effective budget tool for last. The single most valuable tool in your KidMin arsenal is prayer. George Mueller, a 19th-century minister, always found all he needed to minister. His source was not found in millionaires or large crowds. He simply trusted in God. One day he had no milk to serve the kids at the orphanage he ran. He didn’t  panic. He didn’t question God’s calling. George Mueller simply had all of the kids sit down and he prayed for God’s provision. At that moment a milk cart broke right in front of the orphanage. The driver came inside and asked Mueller if he could use the milk since it would spoil before he could fix the cart. God provided. I believe that God will provide for you, too.

What do you want to do that you feel you can’t because of your budget? What can you do differently to make it happen?