Dec 22, 2014

Crazy-ish budget things we did to make it through seminary

Kelly and I moved to Dallas in the summer of 2012 and lived there for two years while we went to seminary. My class load was at least 10 credit hours per semester. And considering this was graduate level work, those 10 credit hours were very tough.

We got jobs in retail because they allowed for a flexible schedule that worked around classes. I worked around 30 hours each week, and sometimes Kelly worked even more than that. This flexibility also meant a constantly changing schedule from week to week for each of us.

It was important for us to go to seminary without taking on any new debt for education. So we made some choices about things we could do without or with less of. I'll list out the main things we did to help cut costs.
  • We used a cheaper phone service called Ting
  • We had just one car for 9 months
  • We lived in a 700 sq ft apartment year one, followed by a 500 sq ft apartment 
I'll go into detail on these a little bit. With Ting, you only pay for what you use each month. So if you use a small amount of texts, data, and minutes your bill for two people can be under $40 each month. Thankfully we were able to do this most months.  We made an extra effort to use Skype more often, turned off cellular data for most of our apps, and used WiFi connections wherever we could.

The issue with Ting is that you don't get any subsidy discount on your phone. You pay the whole amount for your phone. So if you want the latest and greatest smartphone, expect to pay $500-800 a piece. No thank you! So we bought two basic smartphones for about $200 each. This meant we paid about $400 to start off using Ting, but we sold our iPhones that weren't compatible on Ting's network (they used only Sprint's network at the time). After selling our iPhones, we actually broke even on phone costs. We had been paying about $140 a month for our AT&T bill. With Ting we spent about $40 which meant we were saving $100 a month. Over the 24 months we were in seminary, that means we saved around $2,400 on our cell phone service alone.

We sold Kelly's Toyota Yaris. This was a tough decision. We did it for the extra cash and to help cut auto insurance and gas costs. But it also had the miserable consequence of leading Kelly and I into exhaustion. There were mornings when Kelly had to work at 5am and I had to work at 9am. Rather than walk or bike into work, I would sometimes just have Kelly drop me off at work right before her shift. The Whole Foods where I worked actually had a "quiet room" with a couch you could take a nap on. Which I ended up doing on several occasions. Other nights, Kelly had to pick me up at 11pm at the end of my shift. Thinking back on that time, I really don't know how we did it. After 9 months of just one car, we were exhausted by this kind of schedule. So we went out and bought an old beater car for me to drive back and forth from work and school. Our schedules just didn't line up enough to try and make only one car work. I don't think I'd recommend this for many people, unless as a last resort.

Finally, we lived in smaller apartments that were close by our work and seminary. The idea was to help us save both time in our commutes and save money on gas. Overall, I think this was a good decision. In the process of downsizing apartments, Kelly helped me learn to give up old things I didn't need that I was keeping like a pack rat.

Decisions like these and the effort they required really helped me appreciate the value of our money. That hard earned perspective will stick with me the rest of my life. We still use Ting today. But we have two cars and will for the foreseeable future. At least until my commute shrinks from 25 miles one way to under 1 mile. Also, our apartment size is now around 900 sq ft which feels ginormous compared to our 500 sq ft place.

Seminary was a great growth experience for us. It had its many challenges but I think God used it to grow us in a number of ways. If you're thinking about going to seminary realize that God will use the time to help you strip away the non-essential. And that can be a painful process. But if you get more of him, isn't that worth it?

If your interested in Ting, I have a referral code that will give you a $25 credit towards a phone or your bill. Fair warning, I get a referral bonus myself. (Referral Code: )

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