How Paying for Christian Education is More Than Pinching Pennies
Posted January 25th, 2018
“We might have to go into debt.”
“Will this really be worth the cost?”
These are just a few of the questions my wife and I asked before we started a long journey of paying for Christian education way back in 2005. You look at your finances, you check the budget, and you make a decision. But how do you know you can stay the course? What will the journey look like when you are finally done paying for most of the tuition costs?
It might seem daunting at first. After all, everything seems to cost more these days–health insurance, cars that don’t break down easily. Even a trip to Target is a bit shocking.
There is some good news, however. After sending all four of our kids to a private Christian high school and then letting all four of them pick a Christian college as well, I’m here to tell you that it is possible. In fact, we stayed debt-free. Our last child is now set to graduate from college in 2019. Along the way, we had to be strategic about our financial decisions. We set aside money to pay for the bills, and it was definitely a struggle at times. We had to avoid taking expensive trips to Florida and we drive cars that are not exactly stylish European sedans.
Yet for us, we decided to rely on a simple prayer life, a daily act of crying out to God and asking him to provide for all of our needs during the last 12 years or so.
Making it all work
My wife Rebecca and I started praying together as a couple around 2005, likely as a reaction to what we then perceived as “the difficult teen years” for our kids. We’d heard so many stories about kids getting into trouble in high school. That year, we sold our house and moved to a small town in Minnesota, sending our oldest to a Christian high school.
Each morning, we’d read the Bible and pray. We didn’t really talk about finances too often. Most days, we prayed as an act of worship and reverence. We praised God for how he had provided that day or that week. In our prayer life we wanted to put God at the center, not any of our troubles or challenges. It wasn’t about meeting our needs. It was about us realizing that God is the one who provides, and he is the one who deserves our attention and our praise.
I remember dozens of times in those early years–first when we sent our kids to private high school and then when one of our daughters attended Crown College as a freshman–when it didn’t seem like we would have quite enough to pay the bills. Yet we kept praying. We kept the focus on God as the provider. We sometimes even knelt at the kitchen table. It was amazing how there were times when we had plenty saved up for every month, and other times when God brought in just the right amount to cover the tuition costs. When that happened, we had even more reason to keep praising. We planned as much as possible, and we trusted even more.
Staying out of debt
What we learned during the process is to stay focused on God. It would have been easy to get distracted, thinking there is enough to buy a nicer car or go on a longer vacation. We never felt like we were “in need” during this time; mostly, we were “in trust” that God would provide.
You might think, does this really work?
For us, there wasn’t any other choice. I make an average wage, nothing that is close to a lavish existence. I’m successful in my job and we’re comfortable enough, but there are not exactly any margins when it comes to our budget each month. I like living that way. It has taught me to not expect a surplus. As the Apostle Paul noted in Philippians 4:12, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
If there’s any advice to give here, it is this: you can trust God to provide. We didn’t always know exactly how much we would need every month and every year. Yet, for 12 years in a row we had just the right amounts, sometimes down to the dollar. We did have to penny-pinch at times. Our kids also helped with some of the costs when needed, usually by taking out some smaller loans or by working while they were at college or during high school. They became part of the journey, and in the end, it helped them “own” their education.
Looking back, it also wasn’t all perfectly planned out. We didn’t save like we should have when they were younger. In other words, we’re not perfect. We learned that God still provides even when you are not perfect at budgeting and saving. It was an amazing experience, because in the end it strengthened our faith as we saw how the money would come in. We watched as our prayer lives–and our marriage–improved. We chose the right way to pay for tuition because it was a way that taught us to lean on God during the lean times and trust him even more.