Art of Being Cheap: Furnishing Office

What percent of your week do you spend at work? For me, it’s right around 40% of my waking hours that I’m in my office for the typical week. With so much of my life being spent in my office, it seems foolish to not make my office a pleasant space to be. As soon as I moved from a cubicle to an office, I have always tried to make my office my own. In recent years I’ve taken it to the next level as you’ll see in the video.

The first thing you need to know: You have permission to design your workspace. For church workers, you may not necessarily have permission to spend money to design it, but you should take ownership of your office. Once I took ownership of my space, I accepted the responsibility for making it my own…which sometimes meant spending my own money on things I wanted.

There’s some simple and pretty much free things you can do to design your workspace.

  1. Imagine how you want to feel and how you want others to feel when they enter your office.
  2. Feel free to unload stuff you inherited from the previous resident. Whether it goes to storage or the dump, either works.
  3. Experiment with rearranging the furniture…especially they position of your desk if that’s your main workspace.
  4. Look for stuff in excess in your home that would add to your office.

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Art of Being Cheap: Cutting Paper Use

Honestly, when cutting your paper use, you’re not going to save a lot of money usually. Cutting paper will save more time and energy than money. Think about it. When you do a mailing, how much does it cost? Usually it’s 1¢ per sheet of printed paper. The stamp costs 55¢. Think about the time it takes to print and fold and stuff and address and stamp that mailing. The other day, I had a mailing of just 160 pieces when the folding machine broke down. I just about wanted to quit the day the folding machine quit.

So…I have an aversion to messing with too much paper. Here’s the places where I see good opportunities to cut paper usage:

  • Printing: I’m surprised how many people don’t seem to be aware that paper has two sides. You can probably save a couple of reams of paper each year by printing on both sides or reusing paper.
  • Opt In Mailings: For mass mailings, sometimes we’re afraid to switch to digital because we know someone that doesn’t use a computer. This is our excuse for sending paper to everyone. Well…why not just have those people that want paper let you know?
  • 2+ Computer Screens: This one isn’t saving money, but it does save some paper. It also makes you more efficient because you’re not running back and forth to the printer as much.
  • The Bulletin: The short lifespan of a bulletin does not justify all the time and money that go into it. I would guess over 90% of church bulletins are never looked at again after the benediction. This makes a church app or a simplified bulletin seem like a better idea.

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Art of Being Cheap: DIY Software

For years and years I’ve played around with trying to create an Excel-based accounting system. Here’s what I’ve learned: DIY is at best functional but is almost never user friendly. Few if any have the time and skills to build a good system that is usable by anyone but the creator.

Does that mean you should never try to create your own system? No! In fact, I often build templates to share with folks. I even put together another version of my Excel-based accounting system (linked below). Keep this in mind: besides the time you’re spending to create, you need about an equal amount of time for:

  • Polishing: You’re going to need time to make it look nice. You’re also need to make it easy to use. A lot of times when I build a spreadsheet, I highlight the cells that people need to fill in. Sometimes I lock the ones I don’t want changed.
  • Documenting: This is the least enjoyable part of the creative process. You either spend your time documenting (writing instructions for use), or you spend twice as much time answer the same questions over and over again.

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Employee Retention Credit for Churches

Disclaimer: This is general tax advice so don’t sue me. It seems like every other month there’s a government handout for churches. I don’t know about you, but the abbreviations and the paperwork can become overwhelming. Well…here’s another one. The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is actually an older program that was overshadowed by the PPP Loans. If you never heard it or have forgotten about it, join the club. This is a credit you can receive to help retain employees even though your ministry is being impacted by COVID.

Here’s the gist of it:

  • Payroll Tax Credit: This is like the FFCRA in that it is a refundable credit to your payroll taxes. That means you applye for it through the Form 941.
  • $7,000/Employee: For the first half of 2021, you can receive up to $7,000 per employee per quarter. Doesn’t apply to clergy employees though.
  • Negatively Impacted: You need to have 1)had a 20% decrease in Gross Receipts in a quarter when compared to 2020, or 2)had operations fully or partially suspended due to government orders.
  • No Overlapping: If you receive a second PPP Loan, the wages covered by that loan aren’t eligible for ERC.

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Art of Being Cheap: Saving on Software

When my youngest, Gus, was about four years old, he gave me two pennies to go to Papa Murphy’s to buy him some cookie dough. Guess what. I took pity on him and bough him the cookie dough. What does this have to do with being cheap and saving on software? Sometimes being pitiful can get you software for cheap. That’s probably not a good rule to live by for a church, but it might be helpful in the area of office and administration.

Since many see the need for churches and nonprofits to save in the area of software, here are the first places to look for savings:

  • Free Version: Many software companies offer free or lite versions of their software. Their hope is that they can eventually entice you to buy the full or pro version. Don’t fall for it! If free works, stick with it!
  • Freeware: There are number of companies or open source communities that provide free software. Some of them do this to stick it to the man (usually Microsoft). Some of them have other reasons. I linked to a few of these below.
  • QuickBooks: It was common for many churches to use special church accounting software. A lot of church accounting software is great…except pretty much no one has ever been trained on it. This steep learning curve and lack of user community increase the overall cost of church accounting software compared to QuickBooks.
  • TechSoup: TechSoup’s mission is basically to help those organizations that most benefit society have access to great technology. Translation: cheap software for churches and other nonprofits. I’m sure they do other great things too, but…they had me at cheap.

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FFCRA Tax Credit: What about the vaccine?

Disclaimer: This is general tax advice so don’t sue me. I personally have been slow about getting the vaccine. I can justify it that I’m relatively young and healthy. I already have had COVID and still have antibodies (verified every two months when I donate blood). But the real reason is I’m not looking forward to getting sick from the vaccine. The listed side effects are: fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, nausea, vomiting, and fever. A couple of my friends had a harder time with the vaccine than they did with COVID.

But now there is some economic incentive to getting vaccinated! I recently found out that the time you take off to get vaccinated as well as the time you need to recover falls under the FFCRA tax credit. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Employees: Track any time you had to take off to get vaccinated or to recover. Report it to whoever does your payroll.
  • Self-Employed & Clergy: Track any time you had to take off to get vaccinated or to recover. Report this to your tax preparer…next January.

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Art of Being Cheap: Thrifty Travel

Some people might brag about saving a couple hundred dollars on an airline ticket or getting a good deal on a hotel or Airbnb. In the church world, these kinds of trips are usually few and far between. By tweaking some of your habits in your regular travel, you might be able to save thousands dollars instead of just hundreds. And some of the changes may make for a better travel experience anyway.

When traveling for work, there are three main areas of expense to consider: 1)Transportation, 2)Meals, 3)Spending the Night.

  • Transportation: Instead of reimbursing mileage at 56¢/mile, consider a cheap business vehicle. This makes sense if you’re travelling 10,000 miles or more for work. Depending on how cheap the vehicle is, you could save close to $2,000/year at 10,000 miles.
  • Meals: Instead of paying for on the road, consider packing a lunch. It’s cheaper and probably healthier. For pastors, sometimes a lot of ministry happens at the cafe so always packing a lunch may not make sense. But perhaps ministry could happen at the park with a lunch sometimes as well.
  • Spending the Night: Instead of paying for a hotel, consider sleeping at a friends house. In the Dakotas where it seems that we’re all one big family, you usually know someone at your travel destination. You can save a lot of money, usually sleep better, and build your relationship if you reach out and ask to stay with a friend…or potential friend.

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