Can I afford seminary?

The fact is that seminary is expensive.

So, when trying to make the decision on going to seminary, it is important to spend some time crunching the numbers. Now, this isn’t the determining factor, but it is certainly one you must consider before making this decision.

So, what should you do?

Well, first, you need to figure out you current cost of living. This means taking ALL your monthly expenses and get them on paper. Here is a list to get you thinking. List how much you spend per month on:

  • Rent/Mortgage
  • Groceries
  • Power
  • Water
  • Trash
  • Internet
  • Cable
  • Auto Insurance
  • Car Payment
  • Gasoline
  • Student loans
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • Eating out
  • Tithe/Donations
  • and so on…

Now, if you don’t know exactly how much you spend per month, then estimate. The key here is to estimate HIGH. So, if you think you spend $100 a month clothes, but you aren’t sure… go ahead and estimate $125.

Once you have it all listed out… add it up. This is a good idea of your current cost of living.

Now, the fun part. Ask yourself how you plan to pay the bills when you go to seminary. Here you need to be realistic. You’re not going to be working a 40 hour a week job making $60K while you’re in seminary. The coursework will be grueling. I estimate (current seminarians help me on this one) that you can work 20 +/- hours a week. This alone will limit your job options. So, honestly evaluate your income potential on a monthly basis. Here, again, you might need to estimate. This time, however, estimate low. Better safe then sorry. Also, if your spouse plans on working, figure that it too. Add it all up and you have your estimated monthly income.

Now, take your estimate monthly income and subtract your current cost of living. This number might scare you… it’s probably a negative. That means you won’t make enough to support your current lifestyle while at seminary.

Now, don’t take that to mean seminary is out of the picture for you. Now the fun begins.

Take your current monthly living expense and begin to trim the fat. What areas can you cut down? Entertainment and eating out are the first easy targets. However, don’t be foolish and drop them to zero. Unless you are super-human, you’ll eat out from time to time… or at least get a coffee or tea. To say zero is just dumb. Be rational and cut the excess, but don’t drop to zero.

Now, I’m not going to talk about all the ways to cut cost (I’ll do that on another post) but you get the picture. As you cut the cost you’ll notice you’re inching closer and closer to making that negative a positive.

Now, as our decreasing the gap here, (warning, bad news ahead) don’t forget to add some of the expenses that might not have been on your first list… like books, health insurance, tuition, etc. These are certainly going impact the monthly budget.

Now, what happens if you’ve cut all you think you can legitimately cut and the numbers still don’t work? Well, I can’t tell you exactly. This is where prayer, council, and discernment kick in. Just because it doesn’t work on paper doesn’t mean it is out the window. Pray and be wise.

For me… well, the paper (aka the “can this work” excel spreadsheet) says no. We’re about $700 a month short. However, we’ve decided to take the step of faith. We’ll have some equity to cushion us for a bit to test the water, so our decision is not reckless… but it isn’t ‘safe’. But I feel like that is part of the experience. Stepping out and trusting God. It isn’t for everyone (you know what I mean)… just do your homework.

Written by
Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns is a past Marketing Manager at Faithlife and now works at Redemption Hill Church in Richmond, VA.

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Written by Ryan Burns
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