You see that happy missionary family smiling out of the postcard on your fridge? Their marriage is probably hanging by a thread.


sad couple

Anybody can smile long enough for an updated newsletter photo

family photo (2)


I winced as the lights suddenly cut off.

“Really? Three nights in a row?” I thought to myself as my wife rounded the corner on the verge of tears.

“I can’t do this…I can’t do another night of no sleep!” she moaned. She was sick of the heat and the lack of air circulation every time the power cut out. In that moment, I should have hugged her but I wasn’t in the mood for complaints.

I scornfully shot back, “You are lucky to have running water! Most of the people in El Salvador would love to be in the circumstances that you are complaining about!”

I knew it was wrong but I hoped she would feel guilty enough to just suck it up. As this thought crossed my mind, my daughter’s voice rang out from the bathroom, “The water is out!”

Just like that, I went from being a smug jerk to choking on humble pie.


One of the things that shocked me when we began our ministry to missionaries in El Salvador was the number of missionaries struggling in their marriages. I was even more shocked when my own marriage began to suffer. Within two months, my wife and I went from having 2 to 3 big fights a year to having 2 to 3 fights a day.

Many people put missionaries up on pedestals and assume their marriages are perfect. The reality is that missionaries are just normal people like you and me. They have answered the call to leave everything to serve God. The thing is that they didn’t get to leave behind their selfish desires, annoying habits, and personal struggles. Not only are these issues along for the ride, but they are in a pressure cooker. Cracks become chasms and as people begin to boil over, their spouse is bound to get burned.

What the what????!!! You are telling me missionaries struggle in their marriages?

Nobody talks about how much pressure answering the call to missions puts on a marriage and few people understand the risk of their marriage imploding because they are on the field. We have seen this play out time and time again with deep hurt and severe consequences. If your missionary was brave enough to repost this blog then they are discerning enough to know the risks, and humble enough to understand the need for prayers and support.

What are the factors that cause marriages to fall apart and what can sending churches do about it? I have outlined some contributing factors below and usually several (or all) of these issues collide creating a perfect storm that threatens to undo the marriage.

  1. Spiritual Warfare

Most Christians pay lip service to the fact that Satan comes against us, but on the mission field it is in your face all day long everyday. Satan has come up with a great plan to destroy a ministry, the employees of the ministry, and the missionary family all with one blow. It is easy. All Satan needs to do is infiltrate and destroy one relationship…the marriage of a missionary couple. If the marriage fails, the family splits. If the family splits, they leave the field. National Christians, supporters, fellow missionaries, and especially their children are left with a shaken faith as they struggle to pick up the pieces.

What can you do?

The marriages of missionaries are in Satan’s crosshairs. As we outline some of these other factors you will see some of his strategies. They are targeted everyday. Pray for your missionaries, and then pray for them some more.

  1. Stress

Most of us are guilty of letting a bad day affect how we interact with our spouse. On the mission field everyday is circumstantially a “bad day.” You know how your day goes if your power goes out, or your car won’t start. You know how much it impacts your mood if you spend fruitless hours at the DMV, or if you are getting over a stomach bug and have to plan your day around toilet locations. You know the frustration of planning an event for weeks only to have no one show up. Any of these things alone can ruin your day. For a missionary, experiencing all of these situations over the course of just a few hours can mean it’s just another Wednesday. Add having to do all of these things in your second language while constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure you won’t get mugged while driving on sub-standard roads with major traffic, and well, you get the picture. Don’t you think you’d be pretty stressed out and cranky by the end of the day?

What can you do?

Make sure that your missionaries can mitigate as many issues as possible. Make sure they have a car that won’t break down and that they live in a secure home where things function more often than not. Make sure husbands and wives both have cell phones to deal with issues that arise. Give them ample time for language learning on the front end, and provide financial flexibility to fix things when they break. Find out what they need and send it to them if you can.

  1. Long Hours and Large Workloads

The work is never done for missionaries who are passionate about what they do. Many deal with life or death issues, and all deal with people making choices with eternal implications. Many are burned out and exhausted by the poverty, abuse, and brokenness that they see everyday and they are always on call. Some live on their ministry sites and can’t separate home and work even if they wanted to. Missionaries burn out, give beyond what is healthy and come home with nothing left. Their spouse is neglected and distant especially if they are in a different role such as caring for young kids.

What can you do?

Help your missionaries come up with healthy limits on their involvement and put parameters on the hours they keep. Do not encourage a hero complex or give them the unhealthy view that everything depends on them. Make sure they have time to spend with God themselves, and time to invest in their spouse and kids.

  1. Temptation

“The grass is always greener” even on the mission field and there is temptation as missionaries interact daily with people of the opposite sex. A man is often idolized by the women he works with or serves, while his wife knows him and all of his shortcomings. She knows things aren’t as great as the newsletters portray. She knows their financial struggles, she knows he’s not perfect and she is often the one personally impacted when he falls short. She knows his actions don’t match his words and even though she loves him he seems to love his ministry far more than he loves her. She starts to think she’s not as lucky as everyone says and those thoughts come out in the form of nagging and criticism. Soon he becomes vulnerable to women who are amazed that he takes the time to talk to them and to serve them and he prefers their company to that of his wife.

Meanwhile, the wife may feel neglected as she struggles to manage the household and kids in a land where simple things are a battle. At the end of the day she goes to bed alone as her husband works late yet again to serve the ministry. He doesn’t know what she is going through, and one day an old friend reaches out through social media and he seems to care for her far more than her husband does. She begins to find value in a relationship outside of her marriage.

What can you do?

These vulnerable situations can begin innocently and grow into something that completely devastates a marriage and ministry. Make sure your missionaries have trusted people in place who will be able to detect when things are off balance. Ask what their boundaries are and hold them accountable to keeping them.

  1. Guilt

Missionaries feel guilty for taking time out with their spouse. They know their supporters are sacrificing for them to be there and they feel they will be judged for using resources for a date night or vacation. Because of a lack of opportunity to enjoy each other their marriages become stale and business-like as they struggle to survive another day.

What can you do?

You can make sure that the missionaries you support take time to invest in their marriage. They both need permission to take the time and resources needed to make this happen. Send them some extra money with the stipulation that they have to use it in the next month to take a weekend away together. Require them to have regular date nights as a condition of your support. When your team comes to volunteer, offer to watch their kids one night so that they can out together. This allows them to do what they need to keep their marriage healthy without feeling guilty about it.

  1. Financial Struggles

Men have the need to provide for their family, and women have a need to feel secure. The unrealistic budgets that many missionaries survive on means that neither of these needs are being met. On the mission field it’s not as simple as picking up a side job because of ministry demands and visa restrictions. For women, the pressure may be compounded if she feels her children are unsafe or are receiving a sub-standard education. All of this adds up to huge marital strain.

What can you do?

Make sure your missionaries are supported financially. Put yourself in their place…would you want your wife driving your kids through dangerous areas in an unreliable car? Would you want your kids to fall behind their U.S. peers academically and ruin their chances at college? Missionaries generally will not advocate for themselves, so you need to advocate for them. Understand the true costs and help your missionary to budget for plenty of cushion including things like health insurance and retirement. Keep in mind that life overseas is almost always more expensive than life in the U.S. and their budget should reflect that.

A closer look at financial issues missionaries face

  1. Missionary Kid Issues

Missionary kids face unique struggles that impact marriages. When your kids are homesick or depressed everyone suffers. Nothing is more troubling for a woman than to hear her kids accuse her of ruining their lives by bringing them to the mission field. Men are frustrated when their children are always the ones acting out. Some kids withdraw and rebel or become suicidal, others are always in trouble. Some families may be homeschooling; others may be battling the local school system trying to find something that works. Everyone is drained as the wife focuses her energy and time on the children, and the husband blames his wife for the kids’ unhappiness and bad behavior leaving her exhausted and unappreciated.

What can you do?

Encourage your missionaries, and make sure the whole family is prepared before they go and supported while they are there. Find out special things to do for the kids, and cut everyone some slack when they are home on furlough. Kids may be jet-lagged, and out of the environment that they are used to. Let missionaries know it’s normal, and that you care about their whole family.

  1. Too Much Family Time

While some missionaries don’t get enough time with their family, some are in the opposite situation where they do everything together, everyday, all the time. Couples used to having separate jobs and routines clash as they adjust to the constant togetherness. Women lose their independence, especially if the family only budgeted for one car or it’s too dangerous to drive on her own. A man may see his family as a burden, and something keeping him from doing ministry.

We struggled with this ourselves when we arrived on the mission field. El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the world, and we live an hour from the city. If my wife wanted to do something in town, I had to drive her there and occupy the kids just so she could attend a Bible study or go shopping. One trip could waste half my day and I become frustrated with the inefficiency. Meanwhile all four of us were sleeping in one room. This made intimacy in our marriage a challenge…and not just in the most obvious way! We no longer had our own space to share our joys and struggles with listening ears lying just feet away. When we finally got another car and reconfigured our home it was amazing to see how much healthier our marriage felt.

What can you do?

Think through transportation and housing needs and how they affect the family. Make sure the wife has independence if she desires, and that they have adequate living space for healthy family relationships. Give them permission to wrestle through the changed family dynamics and remind them that it’s normal to struggle when family routines change.

  1. Destructive Coping Mechanisms

Missionaries are regular people, and sometimes they cope with stress in sinful, destructive ways. The difference for missionaries is that chronic stress, a foreign language, an ever-changing set of rules, and danger and corruption all add up to push them quickly to the breaking point. Some days missionaries are genuinely surprised that they made it through the day without some kind of crisis. They feel stressed and overwhelmed. They often feel like they can’t be honest about how drained they feel, or how traumatized they may be by the brokenness and loss they see around them everyday.

With no good outlet to process and debrief, they may turn to destructive coping mechanisms. Drug use, alcohol abuse, pornography, stress eating, and self-pity are very real on the mission field with constant triggers surrounding the missionary every day. Marriage issues caused by all the above factors may push missionaries farther down this destructive path and drive a greater wedge in their marriage.

What can you do?

Make sure that your missionaries have people they can reach out to without feeling judged. Missionaries may find it hard to seek help for the issues that they face. Many times their close friends and home church are also their financial supporters. They are afraid to share transparently for fear of losing their financial support and finding themselves in a worse situation. It is vital that missionaries are provided with a support team, as well as a mentor or counselor that they can reach out to in times of need.

In closing, keep in mind that missionaries are just normal, flawed people who have answered the call to live in very challenging situations. Think of all your issues and multiple them by 10. Satan wants missionary marriages to fail because he knows the damage he can do. He knows how powerfully a healthy marriage models Christ, and how easily a failed one can turn people from Him. You have the opportunity to make sure that he doesn’t succeed.

Pray for your missionaries, care for them, support them, and love them. You can do some of the practical things mentioned above to make sure the missionaries you are supporting remain strong. If we want to reach the world for Christ, we need to provide those serving on the front lines with a firm foundation. First, their ministry must be rooted in Christ, but we also want to help them build on the foundation of a healthy marriage.

Every time you look at that smiling family on that refrigerator magnet, think about the issues they are facing. Lift their marriage up in prayer, and think about tangible ways that you can cheer them on to success. There is too much at stake, and the mission they have been called to is far too important to fail.


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“Buy 1 missionary get 3 free” and other myths- Why it costs a lot more to send a family to the mission field than a young single.

I have never really understood why people blog, but two weeks ago I had some things I wanted to share with the missionaries we work with and it seemed to be the most convenient format so I decided to try this blogging thing.   I did not realize when I sat at down at my computer what I was getting myself into. I was taken aback to see my observations on the obscure topic of missionary support circulate around the world within hours. I thought the visitor stats must be wrong as it racked up 50,000 readers in the first week.

original post

It has been fascinating to see the range of reactions and emotions that this topic elicits.   I viewed the subject as budgeting 101 based on common sense and dull math computations. I quickly realized that I had stepped into a mine field with some looking to my words as validation of their reality, while others saw my suggestions as a damaging form of American imperialism, advocating comfort and privilege. There were several missionary families thanking me for saying what they couldn’t, lay people and pastors challenging me to rethink assumptions about how a missionary should live, and my favorite, the young single missionaries rebuking me (yes they used the word, rebuke) as a comfort seeking charlatan in it for the money. Even when I emphasized I was advocating for others, that we had nothing personal to gain as we do not raise personal support, they refused to believe it.  What really stood out to me is that when people think about what it should cost to send out a missionary, they generally think in terms of a single person. They take this amount and add another 25-50% if the missionary happened to have a family.

Most of the comments on the blog missed the very point I was writing about. It was to help educate people on how cheap things are in the US compared to the rest of the world. It is hard for people to make decisions or understand missionaries’ budgets if they don’t understand the cost structure missionaries have to contend with. My point of comparing things to the cost in San Diego was not to suggest that missionaries need to replicate their American lifestyle. It was to show that things in most poor countries are even more expensive than San Diego, a city most Americans view as an expensive place to live.

Productivity not Comfort

There are always tradeoffs when it comes to the family budget, but I think it is important to understand the opportunity cost of sending missionaries on a bare bones budget. Even on the tightest budget it is going to cost tens of thousands of dollars a year, so as good stewards we need to make sure that missionaries are equipped to have the greatest impact possible. It makes no sense to cut 20% from their budget if it is going to make them 50% less effective. This is not about comfort, but wise stewardship.

To those who think missionaries should not have cars or smart phones, you need to at least acknowledge the opportunity cost of your recommendation. You are saying we want the missionaries, that need thousands of dollars a month just to be in the country, to waste a lot of time riding a bus and looking for internet cafes. (Internet cafes are going the way of the pay phone, even in the developing world smart phones are everywhere). I bought a truck for my local helper here, not because I am worried about his comfort level, but because I want him to be productive. I also pay the monthly bill for him to have a smart phone so he can send me documents and pictures.  Even though his salary is a fraction of what it takes to send a missionary to the field, it still does not make sense to have him try to manage projects using the bus and not being able to communicate with me.

I was surprised that the strongest rebuke to my advocated budget came from young single missionaries. I quickly realized that their objections were directed more towards the economics of raising a family than they were to the standard of living I was advocating for. I know this because their own budgets that they thought were reasonable and austere, were usually higher on a per person basis than the one I was advocating for. Though many of them were blind to it, the disagreement was not due to deep theological or missiological issues, but the fact that they have never had to provide for a family. I totally understand why they see things so differently.   I spent time working with missionaries throughout the developing world right after I finished college. ( Had to throw in a shameless plug) I know that at that time my views were pretty similar to many of the young single commenters. When I replied to some of them, I felt like I was debating a 22 year old version of myself.

But I was told there would be no math.”

I went through the painstaking process of breaking the budget down for them. Yes, a family of 4 will have the same housing expenses as 4 single missionaries sharing a home. I showed that health care costs and insurance for a family of 4 is about 4x that of a young single missionary.   Kids need to be driven a lot of places, increasing car expenses. It costs just as much for a family of 4 with two cars as it would for 4 single missionaries sharing 2 cars.

I worked my way through the budget showing the impact of additional family members on every line item. Yes, feeding a family of 4 costs almost 4x as much. Yes, it costs 4 times as much to go out to eat. Yes, your emergency savings will be needed 4x as often. There were only 3 real exceptions. Two expenses that kids do not incur, cell phones and retirement contributions combined for $280 per adult in my budget. The third item is school tuition which the adults do not incur at $450 per kid.   For my efforts, I was rebuked for the fact that I was using math in my budget instead of purely using scripture. Though I am guided by scripture there is a biblical basis for the valid use of math. Even Jesus used it.

I am a visual person so I thought it might be helpful to see side by side what a budget that provides a similar standard of living would look like for different size families. That way we can compare apples to apples. If you think my budget is too high for singles and large families, then we can have a productive conversation about it. If you think that the family budget is ridiculous, but think the budget for singles is reasonable then maybe we have found a blind spot. Those of you who read the first blog may notice that the budget below for a family of 4 is about 10% less than the one I advocated for in my original budget. (For those of you who were all geared up to rebuke me don’t worry, it still reaches 6 figures). The below budget reflects the bare minimum required without sacrificing health, effectiveness, and wise long- term planning for most families in El Salvador. The one I previously advocated for, provided for more complete health insurance and a little more flexibility, but since this seemed to distract from the points I was trying to get across, I have cut out all the “luxury”.


Keep in mind that these include all costs, as if the missionary had to pay them. If a supporter provides housing and a car when missionaries are on furlough than you know that part of the budget expense is covered. If you plan on being in the field for less than 5 years than you might not need to put away for retirement. If your sending org raises money separately to cover overhead, than you may not have org fees to pay directly. If a supporter buys you a car than they are covering part of that expense directly. The point is to accurately portray what the real costs are so you can make informed decisions about the wisdom of certain actions. Just because somebody pays for an expense, it does not take that out of the calculation of what your family needs to live on.  Too often in ministry we pretend that costs don’t exist if another person or ministry outside our budget is picking up the tab. This causes most missionaries to severely underestimate their true costs and skews proper analysis of the effectiveness and productivity in their ministry. If you would not spend your own budget on something, than you should be just as careful before encouraging somebody else to spend their money on it. This is true not just for projects and personal overhead, but also staff. If you invite a missionary nanny to come down so you can homeschool and she has to raise $14,000 to cover her expense, then the cost to support your family did not go down $10,800 it went up $3,200 (14,000 raised for nanny – $10,800 saved in school tuition). We need to be honest and address the numbers straight on with full disclosure since it is all God’s and He has entrusted us to be good stewards. The downside of this is that when we are completely transparent and honest the numbers can look scary, especially when it comes to sending missionary families. People often react emotionally instead of logically saying things like “that is more than I make”. It is much easier to split off half the expenses into other categories and say it costs $50,000 to send a family than it is to include them all in a transparent way and tell people a missionary needs 6 figures. I am a firm believer that any time you play with the numbers to justify an action, it leads to poorly made decisions.


All that said, here are the real numbers and the reason it costs 3-5x as much to send a family of 4 to the field as it does a single. The knee jerk reaction is to say well we just should only send singles. We should always look at all the factors involved, and cost is definitely one of them. We do need to remember that families offer life experience and stability that is often different from what singles bring to the field. These considerations are not much different in the corporate world where it cost several times as much to send an employee with a family than it does a single. Companies usually consider this, but they often still choose to send those with families because they see the value in their experience and stability.



Transportation Shared Corolla Corolla Pickup truck&Corolla truck&Corolla truck&Corolla truck&Sienna truck&Sienna
Housing Furn Room 200sq ft Studio 400sq ft 1 BR 650sq ft 2 BR 750sq ft 3 BR 850sq ft 3 BR 900sq ft 3 BR 950 sq ft 3 BR 1000sq ft
young single Single 32+ Married 1 kid 2 kids 3 kids 4 kids 5 kids
Rent                              300.00                          400.00                500.00                        600.00                        700.00                        725.00                  750.00                        775.00
Electric included  


                   75.00                        100.00                        120.00                        130.00                  140.00                        150.00
Gas included                            10.00                    20.00                          30.00                          40.00                          45.00                          55.00                          55.00
Water included                            15.00                    25.00                          35.00  


                         55.00                          60.00                          65.00
Drinking Water                                    10.00                            10.00                    20.00                          30.00                          40.00                          50.00                          60.00                          70.00
internet included                            40.00                    40.00                          40.00                          40.00  


                         40.00                          40.00
Furnishings included                            75.00                125.00                        175.00                        200.00                        210.00  


transportation                                    300.00                          600.00                700.00                1,150.00                1,160.00                1,170.00              1,350.00  


cell phones                                    30.00                            60.00                120.00                        140.00                        150.00                        160.00                  165.00                   170.00
Household non food                                    25.00                            25.00                    50.00                          75.00                        100.00                        120.00                  135.00                   145.00
groceries                                    194.00                          194.00                357.00                        511.00                        649.00                        771.00                  925.00                1,022.00
eating out                                    20.00                            20.00                    40.00                          60.00                          80.00                        100.00                  120.00                        140.00
kids school tuition                                                  –                                  –                                  –                        450.00                        900.00                1,250.00              1,475.00                1,700.00
entertainment                                    20.00                            20.00                    40.00                          60.00                          80.00                        100.00                  120.00                    140.00
misc                                    60.00                            60.00                120.00                        180.00                        240.00                        300.00                  360.00                        420.00
retirement                                                  –                          200.00                400.00                        400.00                        400.00                        400.00                  400.00                        400.00
emergency savings                                    50.00                            50.00                100.00                        150.00                        200.00                        250.00                  300.00                        350.00
Total Monthly Spending                                1,009.00                      1,819.00            2,732.00                4,186.00                5,144.00                5,876.00              6,675.00                7,232.00
tithe                                    100.90                          181.90                273.20                        418.60                        514.40                        587.60                  667.50                        723.20
payroll taxes                                    169.81  


               459.80                        704.50                        865.74                        988.93              1,123.40                1,217.15
Health care                                    100.00                      200.00                400.00                        550.00                        700.00                        800.00                  850.00                        900.00
furlough                                    85.00                            85.00  


                       250.00                        325.00                        375.00                  425.00                        475.00
visa expense                                    10.00                            10.00                   20.00                          30.00                          40.00                          50.00                          60.00                          70.00
Total Monthly expenses                                1,474.71                      2,602.04           4,055.00                6,139.10                7,589.14                8,677.53              9,800.90            10,617.35
Org Fee                                    147.47                          260.20                405.50                  613.91                        758.91                        867.75                  980.09                1,061.73
Total Monthly                                1,622.19                      2,862.24            4,460.50                6,753.01              8,348.05                9,545.28            10,780.99            11,679.08
Total Yearly  


















Total Housing Expenses- “Living the Chinese dream”- I could not find any stats for El Salvador, but in China the average urban home provides 215 square feet per inhabitant. My above budget provides 212 square feet per person (based on family of 4). The average in the US is 828 square feet per person. In homes with more people, shared space can be used effectively which is why a family of 4 does not need twice as much as a couple. Families benefit from this economy of scale, but so do non-family members who chose to live together as roommates. This is why the budget expects that a young single choose the economical option of renting a room from a family. I have allocated a bigger budget to allow an older single to rent their own place. This takes into account that an older single is more likely to remain on the mission field (as a single). Many young singles are trying out missions after they finish school and are much less likely to remain long term. Plus they are at a stage in life where there are a lot of benefits to living with others. We feel it is reasonable to allow older singles the budget to find housing that allows for privacy and, for lack of a better term, the ability to live like an adult. Also note that drinking water has to be purchased, as tap water is not drinkable.



Transportation- We assume that a car is the most efficient way to get around, because it is in El Salvador.   There may be some who serve in places with decent public transport and their budget may be less. For reasons similar to our housing explanation we think it is practical for young single missionaries to share a car, but it is reasonable for established singles to have their own vehicle. This is in part because the older singles usually have a lot more ministry responsibilities and less flexibility to coordinate schedules with another person. It would be ideal for a couple to each have a car but it is easier for them to coordinate schedules so most can get by with one. Once you throw kids into the picture, especially if they are going to school, sharing becomes much more inefficient. As families get larger, there are some economies of scale on a per person basis, but they often need to buy larger more expensive vehicles.   Kids at different ages often have different schedules so bigger families drive more miles.


Cell Phones- younger singles can probably get by with cheaper prepaid phones as they generally have less ministry responsibility and no family to coordinate things with.   Those with more responsibility generally are more effective if they have smart phones. Larger families mean more things to communicate about.


Household nonfood- This means soap, shampoo, deodorant, laundry detergent, light bulbs, paper towels, toilet paper and the list goes on and on. Slight economies of scale in larger families who can buy bulk.


Groceries- Since food here in El Salvador is at least as expensive as it is in the US, I budgeted the amount people living in the US on food stamps are allotted. Many of you may have heard of the food stamp challenge (if you have not google it). Yep, we are challenging you to provide for missionaries at this luxurious level. Slight economies of scale for a larger family.


Eating out- Studies have shown that an average family of 4 in the US spends $225 a month eating out.   This budget for family of 4 is $80 a month. Keep in mind many times for ministry the family must travel, and grabbing a meal is most practical. Not really any economies of scale when it comes to eating out.


Tuition- We feel that missionary kids should be able to get a decent education that is not significantly below what they would receive in the States from a public school. An accredited bilingual school is $450 a month.   Yes, homeschooling works better for some families. We need to keep in mind the opportunity cost; if the wife is homeschooling it will greatly impact her ability to be a part of the ministry. Even if it cuts 15%-20% from the family budget, is it a wise choice if it cuts down on the hours available for ministry by 50%? Most schools give discounts if you have 3 or more students so there are some economies of scale. Obviously this is a huge expense that singles and couples with no kids do not have to contend with.


Entertainment- $20 per month per person. No economies of scale.


Misc. – This takes care of clothes, shoes, gifts, celebrations (MK’s have birthdays) books, printer paper, etc.


Retirement- Only applies to the adults. For young singles who are not going to be on the field long term it is probably ok to wait to start contributing to retirement. I would also say this is optional for people who plan on being on the field less than 5 years. Most people use the equity in their homes when they retire to help with their retirement. Missionaries rarely own their own home and must plan to pay either rent or a mortgage in their retirement. This makes planning ahead even more crucial. If a missionary put away $200 per month over a 30 year period their IRA account would provide them about $437 (in today’s dollars) a month during their retirement years. (Assumes money is invested earning a 7% return and 2% inflation. Withdrawals from the account, using the 4% rule that is the accepted norm among financial advisors). While I personally would suggest that missionaries will need more than that to supplement what they receive from Social Security, the reality is most are putting away nothing, so saving even at this level would be a huge improvement


Emergency savings- Bigger family means more emergencies. No real economies of scale.


Tithe- No economies of scale, based on income.


Payroll taxes (Social Security/ Medicare) – No economies of scale, based on income.


Healthcare- Slight economies of scale for families with 3 or more kids.


Furlough- Slight economies of scale for living expenses. No economies of scale on plane tickets.


Visa expense- Usually per person but some economies of scale for lawyer fees.


Org Fee- Based on percentage of total operating budget. No economies of scale unless sending org has a monthly cap in place.



If you disagree with some of my analysis or projections please specify the particular item and why you think it should be looked at differently. Statements such as “this is obscene” are easy to type but rarely lead to any sort of edifying discussion. I hope that this sheds some light on why families have to raise so much more than singles and that it helps people see that it is not about maintaining an American lifestyle or a life of luxury.  It is about providing a budget that allows a family to function in an efficient and impactful manner.