Mental Health Expenses

I’ve been gone for two weeks:  one for vacation and one for study leave – although HH and I were leaders at that Continuing Education event.  Also we lost a car and a phone but that’s for another post.

I learned at the Clergy Couples Conference at Massanetta from financial advisor Brad Barnett that:

  • The average family of four spends $568-$650 a month on food (at least that’s the “thrifty plan.”)
  • Brad’s family of four spends $360 a month on food.  (Note:  Brad is probably not a foodie.)
  • The average monthly car payment is about $500.
  • If people starting at age 30 until age 67 save $5.50 a day instead of spending it at a coffee shop, they will have $700,000 by retirement.

Of the Big Three expenses that human beings have in this country, the average breakdown of one’s income goes like this:

  • Housing 33% of income
  • Transportation 17% of income
  • Food 13% of income

. . . which leaves 37% for sharing, saving, paying off debts, clothing, educational expenses, medical expenses, hobbies, vacation, pet expenses, gifts, and an occasional coffee out. In a perfect world.

Some of those things I’d call mental health expenses.  And I’m not just talking about what we pay the therapist.

Almost everybody – regardless of income level – spends money on items that bring us calm/sanity.  For some, it’s individual cigarettes. For others it’s weekly pedicures.  For a blessed few it’s an annual vacation to a sunny venue with tropical adult beverages.

[Note:  There’s a fine line between self-destructive behavior and self-care behavior.  One person’s Friday glass of wine is another person’s weekend binge.]

But what if eating out and/or buying coffee in a comforting cafe offers a slice of mental respite?  I have a sun roof in my car expressly because it feels like a little vacation every time I take the wheel.  And I consider an occasional bouquet of flowers to be good for my soul.

People with financial discipline are to be admired and emulated.  No dinners out = vacation money.  I get it and good for you if you don’t even drink coffee.  But there is deep joy and nourishment in using a little money for something that we can savor in a moment of peace whether it’s expensive cheese or a foot massage.

Clearly, this is not a post for those with absolutely no financial wiggle room.  College debts and lifelong poverty – among other things – makes much of this a fantasy.  Many clergy couples I know have both seminary debts and children, and their incomes hover just above the poverty line.  Most first call pastors make “the minimum” established by their Mid-Councils.  Or they earn less because they are “part-time” which is church talk for Full Time Ministry on the Cheap.

Talking about money is not my favorite thing.  HH and I returned home and looked over our own expenses and we can do better.  Not $360-a-month-for-food better, but better.

I learned so many things while away over the past two weeks.  One was that my soul needs flowers and an occasional cup of coffee out with friends.  What are you learning this summer?

Image of a $3.99 bouquet from Trader Joe’s.  

4 responses to “Mental Health Expenses

  1. I always want to know what young adult is going out for coffee *every day.* I don’t know many 20 or 30somethings who can afford a Starbucks stop seven days a week. Or five days a week even. Unless someone else is reloading their Starbucks card, in which case it isn’t money they have to save anyway. Those examples always feel like a way to shame us for our one little luxury in the midst of the financial disaster that is young adulthood these days. My one caramel macchiato a week isn’t what will keep me from retiring. It’s the difference in housing costs, educational costs, and the fact that old white guys hold on to the only jobs that pay a living wage, while simultaneously perpetuating a system where the rest of us have to struggle just to get by.
    (Aside: I am in far better financial shape now that I have moved out of the country into a different system of paying ministers than I have ever been. Though retirement will still be a good 38 years away, at least now it’s on the horizon when it used to be an impossibility.)

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I realize this was a Clergy Couple event, but even at BOP events all their data and examples is usually based on a couple and/or a family. The life of a single clergy person is much different in terms of dollars and how those extra dollars (where there are some) are allocated.


  3. We started saving when we were young, even though we didn’t have any money. $25 a month was hard for us to find, but we did it. That account now is worth a lot. I don’t think we appreciate the value of compounding interest nearly enough.
    And then by the time we have the money to save, it doesn’t have enough time to really work for us.
    We were helping our son set up his budget as he starts law school. And we encouraged him to start saving now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Today is a mental health day for me–spending the day with 3 other retired school teachers, taking a short trip to a special place for lunch. We will laugh, talk, and commiserate. Best medicine for what ails me.

    Liked by 1 person

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