Stewardship programs can do a great job of providing information, tools, and even Biblical background to help members of your congregation grow in the area of Christian Stewardship. But some members of your body need more than information, inspiration, and tools. They’re deep enough in crisis that they need a trusted guide to walk with them on the path toward financial stability. That’s where a budget coaching ministry comes in.
Budget coaches (or financial coaches) can help individuals in your congregation grasp where they are financially and wrestle with the issues they need to resolve in order to grow as faithful stewards. Coaches can provide a listening ear, Biblical guidance, and accountability to encourage people on the journey. They can help people understand their own tendencies and strategize ways to overcome bad spending habits. They can guide people into greater intentionality with their finances, leading to more God-honoring money management.
A Budget Coaching Ministry equips, trains, and “sends out” budget coaches to help members in the congregation who need this assistance. In this article, we’ll examine the role of the Budget Coaching Ministry and of budget coaches and highlight some key areas of equipping.
What a Budget Coach Is Not
Before diving into what a budget coach is and does, we need to set the right boundaries and expectations. This is foundationally important for the coaching ministry and it’s also important in setting expectations with clients of the coaches.
A budget coach is not…
- A Financial Planner. A coach may or may not have expertise in this area (it’s not required!), but in their relationship with clients of the coaching ministry, their role is not to offer financial advice. Instead, their role is to follow an established process to help clients determine and pursue a path toward financial stability. In fact, budget coaches should be prohibited from selling or recommending any services, in order to protect the integrity of the ministry.
- A Benevolence Provider. Coaches should not personally financially assist their clients. Not only does this cloud the relationship, but it fails to encourage the client to move forward on a sustainable path to financial stability. Instead, providing such assistance creates dependence and unrealistic (and unhealthy) expectations.
- A Counsellor. Hopefully over time, coaches will develop trusting relationships with their clients. This may lead some clients to confide non-financial problems or ask for guidance in areas other than finance. Unless the coach has specific expertise in these areas, it’s best to involve other ministries when things like this come up. For example, a couple in financial trouble may reveal some significant marital stress. This is an issue for the marriage ministry, not the budget coaching ministry. While a coach should certainly be compassionate in these areas, offering advice or guidance goes beyond the boundaries of the coaching ministry.
Clearly defining the boundaries of the coaching ministry and the coaching relationships benefits the ministry, the coaches, and the clients. The ministry benefits by providing a clear set of expectations for the process. The ministry gains a reputation for integrity by operating within defined boundaries and not trying to overstep. Coaches themselves understand what they’re “on the hook” for in terms of how they relate to clients. And clients gain confidence from a well-defined understanding of the relationship and process.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). As in any ministry endeavor, budget coaches benefit from being part of a community of coaches who can encourage them. Together, coaches can work through difficult problems (while maintaining strict confidentiality with their clients’ information). A coaching ministry provides community, equipping, and training for coaches, helping them to be fruitful in their coaching relationships.
Setting Up A Budget Coaching Ministry
A Budget Coaching Ministry needs a few key elements:
- An Intake process for identifying and connecting with clients
- An administrative process for assigning and tracking coaching relationships.
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Identifying and Training Coaches
“Where do Budget Coaches come from?” you might be asking. The answer is – “From anywhere!” Budget coaches don’t have to be financial planners, accountants, or mathematicians. They come from all walks of life – younger and older, men and women, married and single. Some may be relatively well-off financially; others may be more average.
What budget coaches have in common is that they are themselves faithful stewards. A budget coach is a disciple-maker with a specific focus on finances. And in order to be a disciple-maker, the coach must first be a disciple. The coach must see stewardship as part of overall discipleship and they have a desire to make a kingdom impact in people’s lives through their coaching.
Here are a few red flags to consider:
- Debt problems. This doesn’t mean that a coach can’t have a mortgage; but if a potential coach has significant consumer debt (usually, credit cards), this may evidence a lack of personal financial discipline. Such a person should get their own house in order before trying to help others.
- Financial advisors or planners. A background like this can be helpful, but there can also be a tendency to view things through an investment lens (since that’s their day job). This lens isn’t typically helpful for people in financial crisis. Also, conflicts of interest can arise if clear boundaries have not been established. The credibility of a budget coaching ministry suffers if it becomes known as a ministry that promotes financial services.
- No established pattern of discipleship. Budget coaches, like the rest of us, should be consistently growing spiritually and engaged in community. A potential coach who isn’t a core member of the body probably has some work to do in other areas prior to becoming involved in budget coaching.
Think of a budget coach like you’d think of a small group leader or even a coach of small group leaders. That’s the kind of person you generally want to start with as a budget coach.
Once you’ve identified one or more candidates, the next step is to train them. Don’t assume that just because they’ve been through a stewardship program themselves they can automatically teach others. There are relational skills, analytical skills, and coaching skills that they’ll need.
Some churches find it helpful to use a training program developed outside the church and some find it helpful to develop their own. Using an already-developed program has the advantage that you can get up and running faster and can be reasonably sure that the curriculum is well-rounded. Developing your own program has the advantage that you can tailor it as you need to for your church’s specific needs.
Whichever route you choose, be sure that the training program you use includes some key elements:
- A relational approach. Personal finance is, well, personal – and many people guard their financial information very closely. Additionally, many who are in financial difficulty will feel a certain amount of guilt for poor decisions they’ve made in the past. The successful coach needs to be able to establish a relationship of trust with clients in order to help them on their financial journey.
- A Biblical foundation. Just like a stewardship curriculum needs a Biblical foundation, a coaches’ training program must be based squarely on Biblical financial principles. After all, the goal is financial discipleship – that is, honoring God with our finances. We won’t get there following secular guidance.
- An established, repeatable pattern. Everyone is different, and coaching relationships will reflect these differences. But just as there are some foundational principles for stewardship, there are also some standard, repeatable steps in a coaching process. Your training program should promote a consistent coaching process while allowing flexibility to deal with issues specific to each client relationship.
We’ll touch more deeply on each of these topics later in this article.
Identifying and Connecting with Clients
“But then, where do coaching clients come from?” Probably you already have some answers to this one, but here are a few possibilities:
- From the Benevolence Ministry, as a requirement of receiving a certain amount of benevolence or ongoing aid;
- From a church-wide stewardship training program, as a place for additional help for those who are struggling and need some ongoing guidance;
- From other church ministries, as leaders identify individuals and couples who may be struggling in this area.
But what do you do once you’re made aware of someone who wants or needs budget coaching? The intake process is one of the keys to success for a coaching relationship. And it begins with a detailed form for the potential client to fill out. We’ll call this form the Client Profile.
The importance of the Client Profile isn’t that it’s going to provide all the information needed for the coaching process to begin. Most of the time, at least some of the information will be incomplete – after all, most people who have complete information on their finances are actually managing them pretty well. Those who need coaching are not likely in that category. But the form serves a couple of major purposes:
- It serves as a starting point to help the coach understand a client’s financial situation.
- It evidences a client’s level of commitment to doing the work that the coaching process will require.
This second point cannot be overstated. The budget coaching process is going to take some time and it’s going to take work on the part of the client. In most cases, there isn’t going to be one simple adjustment to make everything come out OK. There will be difficult decisions to make, most likely including some sacrifices. If a potential client is not willing to do the work and make the commitment, then the coaching process will not likely help them.
The Client Profile should include detailed information in three major sections:
- Basic personal, family, and employment information
- Financial information, including assets and liabilities, income, and expenses
- An indication of what the client is looking for out of the relationship, as a starting point for agreeing on expectations.
You can download a sample Client Profile at the bottom of this article.
Assigning and Tracking Coaching Relationships
“So, how do a coach and a client get started working together?” you might be wondering. The answer is, the Coaching ministry assigns the relationships.
Having a client fill out a Profile and go find a coach is not ideal for several reasons – the client may not know who the coaches are, or may pick a coach who already has a couple of clients, or may pick someone who isn’t comfortable with their particular situation. These problems and others are forestalled by having the Coaching ministry administrator assign the cases.
Though this may seem overly formal, especially in a smaller congregation, this assignment process has several advantages. First, it ensures that a given coach isn’t overloaded with too many cases to manage effectively. Second, it helps match up clients with coaches who have experience with similar cases (this is more important in the most difficult cases). Third, it gives a coach the chance to review a profile and determine their comfort level handling a case based on that information.
For example, a 30-something single may not be comfortable working with an older couple in their retirement years based on the difference in life experiences, etc. A male coach, in most cases, is probably not the right choice for a single female client. A coach who is married may prefer to work with married couples.
You may not always be able to set up the ideal pairings, but by managing the coaching assignments centrally, you enable the best chance for success in the relationships.
Keys to Coaching: Foundational Principles
The successful coaching ministry will be based on several foundational principles. These principles guide the coaching relationships and process. Different clients will have different stories, different obstacles, and different needs. But following a set of principles will help keep these diverse coaching relationships on track.
The Goal: Creating Faithful Stewards
Most clients will come into a coaching relationship with their own set of objectives. It’s important to validate and hold up these objectives throughout the process. However, the overarching goal of the relationship is to encourage faithful stewardship. This foundational goal should underlie all the specific objectives and can be accomplished even if not all the client’s hopes for the relationship are met.
For example, a client may come into a coaching relationship with a goal in mind of getting out of debt. But realistically, most clients in financial crisis are not going to get completely out of debt over the course of a several-month process. However, over that period of time, a client can come to grips with how they got into debt and can make adjustments in earning and spending patterns that address those issues and put them on the path to financial stability.
Again, most clients in financial crisis likely will not be able to begin tithing immediately. But they can establish a priority on giving and begin to give systematically, developing a heart of generosity. Similarly, clients won’t be likely to establish a retirement fund during the coaching relationship. But they should begin to place a priority on saving as part of their overall financial plan.
A faithful steward is a diligent earner, a prudent spender, a generous giver, a wise saver, and a cautious debtor. (For more on these characteristics, see the linked article below.) It’s possible for a client to begin to embody this kind of relationship to money during the coaching process. This process will be a time of transition for the client – moving from poor stewardship to faithful stewardship. This is a long journey and will only be begun during the course of the coaching relationship.
Most clients will need several iterations of a Spending Plan to get to one that actually works (more on this later). And the plan will be a transitional one for a period of time. As the client moves closer and closer to financial stability, greater freedom develops to pursue key Biblical priorities such as giving and saving.
The Framework: Biblical Financial Principles
We can’t create faithful stewards by following secular financial principles. That seems obvious, but it can get lost in the practical aspects of coaching clients in financial distress. Consistently guiding the relationship with Biblical principles will help steer the client to faithful stewardship.
Key principles underpinning Biblical stewardship include:
- Ownership: God created and owns all things. He has placed some things in our care for a time to use for his glory and for our needs and enjoyment; but they all belong to God. (Psalm 24:1-2)
- Stewardship: Because everything belongs to God, we are stewards or trustees of the things he has put in our possession. We are called to manage them wisely and for God’s ultimate glory. (Matthew 25:14-30)
- Gratitude: Since everything we have comes from God (including the ability to create wealth), we receive and manage all things with a sense of gratitude to God for all he has provided. (Deuteronomy 8:17-18; James 1:17)
- Contentment: Knowing that God is our Provider, we learn to be content with what he has provided. This doesn’t mean that we never look for opportunities to increase our income, savings, etc. But it does mean that we don’t envy others their possessions and we don’t covet things beyond our reach. (Philippians 4:11-13; Luke 12:15)
This isn’t a dump truck of Biblical truth to be unloaded on a client – rather, it’s a set of foundational principles that will help coaches guide their clients over the course of the relationship.
The Mechanism: A Practical Toolset
Biblical principles are the “what” of faithful stewardship. A practical toolset is the “how”.
The coaching process needs a standard set of tools available to coaches and clients to empower them on the journey toward faithful stewardship. We’ve already discussed one of these tools: the Client Profile, which helps define the client’s current financial position and goals for the process. Other key tools include:
- Spending Plan: The Spending Plan is like a map, detailing how the client will get to where they want to go financially. By detailing amounts to be spent in each category, the Spending Plan reflects the client’s priorities and guides their actions.
- Spending Record: The Spending Record tracks all of a client’s expenditures, including the regular monthly expenses (like bills) and the daily expenses (like groceries, gas, and clothes). Most clients got into crisis partially because they haven’t been keeping good records of what they’re spending, and in most cases the Client Profile will be missing several expenses and underestimating others. If the Spending Plan is a map, then the Spending Record is the GPS, letting the client know whether they’re on the right route to reach their destination.
- Debt Reduction Plan: Clients in financial crisis will almost always need a Debt Reduction Plan. This plan shows how they will pay down each debt until they are paid off. By focusing repayment efforts intentionally, the Debt Reduction Plan maximizes the client’s chances for success and keeps the client on the path toward financial stability.
These are the basic tools that every client will need. Other supporting items, such as a calendar of events and gifts, will give clients the details they need to maximize effectiveness of these key tools.
The Relationship: Gracious Guidance
The success of the coaching process depends more than anything else on the nature of the relationship between coach and client. We’ve already looked at some boundaries that should guide the relationship; here are some further keys:
- Grace, not judgment. Most clients will feel guilt and embarrassment over their financial situation – guilt for bad decisions and patterns, embarrassment over needing help. Clients need coaches to encourage them, not disparage them.
- Trust and confidentiality. Clients need to develop trust in their coaches, and one of the key elements of that trust is confidentiality. Coaches should not discuss client specifics with anyone, including other coaches or the coaching ministry administrator, unless they have first asked the client’s permission.
- Mutual commitment. Both coach and client need to commit themselves to the process and to each other. On the coach’s part, this means showing up prepared, offering their expertise, and praying regularly for the client. On the client’s part, showing up prepared is also key. Clients need to commit to completing their assignments between meetings.
- Navigation, not steering. The coach needs to avoid answering questions for the client (“This is how much you should be saving, spending, etc.”) Instead, the coach should be leading with questions rather than answers (“What would it take to get you to a viable Emergency Savings fund?”). Allowing the client to determine the answers emphasizes the client’s ownership in the process, and increases the chances that they’ll follow through on commitments.
Keys to Coaching: A Relational Approach
As we mentioned above, financial expertise is not the most important qualification for a budget coach. The key requirement is the ability to establish trusting relationships with clients. Clients will pursue faithful stewardship more readily with a trusted guide than with an “expert”.
We’ve touched on a couple keys to establishing a trusting relationship: an approach of grace rather than judgment and a commitment to confidentiality. Here we’ll examine some practices that implement these keys.
There are many good books on listening skills and we won’t try to summarize all that content here. But here are a few good starting points:
- Focus on the client. A coach should keep the focus on the client, not on themselves. This includes avoiding the temptation to tell their own story, even if that story closely mirrors the client’s experience. When a coach focuses on their own experiences, the client will not likely feel heard or understood.
- Mirror facts and emotions. Restating what the client has said indicates that the coach is listening and gives the client opportunity to correct anything that the coach misunderstands. And acknowledging the emotions behind those statements (“It sounds like you’re really discouraged about not making progress on getting out of debt”) makes a client feel truly understood.
- Show attention. There are many ways for a coach to show a client that they’re paying attention, including both of the above. Others include: taking notes (with the client’s permission), and body language that shows engagement.
- Let the client lead. The temptation is to steer the conversation into “relevant” topics or directions that meet the goals of a given meeting. And while some conversations will need to be steered back on track, in general it’s best to let the client lead the conversation after asking a key question. The coach will learn more and will get to understand the client better by following the client’s thought processes rather than imposing a conversational direction.
Budget coaching is not a “one-size-fits-all” relationship. While there are some key goals to work toward and some helpful tools to introduce, there’s not a foolproof sequence for directing the coaching meetings. One client may need more help understanding and maintaining a Spending Record; another client may find that this comes naturally but may struggle with concepts like generosity and contentment.
Coaches should give some latitude both for individual conversations and in the direction of the relationship. Some clients will need to spend more time developing trust in a coach; whereas others may be more ready to dive right in to the work. Some clients may show interest in going more deeply into Biblical principles; others may grasp those principles intuitively.
This is not to say that the relationship shouldn’t follow some established patterns and a repeatable process; in fact, we’ll talk more about that in the next section. But when a coach emphasizes relationship over process and heart change over numbers, clients tend to experience greater success.
Lead with questions
We’ve touched on this before, but coaches need to guide their clients with questions rather than steer them with answers. It can be tempting for coaches to give advice based on their expertise and experience with other clients. But every client is a bit different, and each client needs to be listened to. Proverbs 18:13 tells us, “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.” A relationship of trust will be built by developing an understanding of the client’s situation rather than by spouting directions.
So, for example, we might agree that the tithe is a good Biblical benchmark for giving. But a client in crisis will not likely be in a position to reach that benchmark for a while, and there may be guilt associated with that. A question like, “How do you feel about your giving?” can help the client wrestle with their giving and give the coach an understanding of where the client is on this journey. The client that feels guilty for not giving more doesn’t need to be cajoled – they already want to give more. The client that has no heart for giving won’t be convinced to move in the direction of the tithe; they need prayer for God to touch their heart.
Similarly, while most clients are likely in financial stress due to overspending and piling up consumer debt, this won’t always be the case. Perhaps student loans or an unexpected medical emergency plunged the client into a crisis situation. Asking good questions creates the framework for understanding and walking together.
Good questions are open-ended. That is to say, they can’t be answered with one or two words; they require some thought. So, a question like “Do you feel like you’re giving enough?” is less effective than “How do you feel about your giving?” The former question can be answered with a simple yes or no, but the latter question requires a deeper response.
One caveat here. While questions are better than statements for developing an understanding of the client, it’s possible to guide the conversation too closely. Remember what we said earlier: often it’s best to let the client talk and determine the direction of the conversation rather than to interrupt with questions. This is especially true in early meetings, where trust is being established.
Keys to Coaching: An Established Process
As we mentioned above, each client will be a bit different and it’s important not to treat the coaching process as a “one size fits all” set of steps. At the same time, an established process is important, since it gives coaches a framework to work within. The process should emphasize key major steps rather than specific milestones.
Generally, there are three major components to the coaching process:
- Identification and assignment of clients to coaches
- Preparation for and conducting of the first client meeting
- Ongoing coaching
We’ll look at each of these components in a bit more detail.
Identifying and assigning clients
We discussed briefly above the client intake process. Your ministry needs a way to identify coaching clients. They may come from a stewardship program, from the benevolence ministry, or as recommendations from other ministries (such as pre-marital counseling). Once a potential client is identified, two things need to happen.
First, as we mentioned above, the potential client needs to fill out a Client Profile. This provides the ministry with the information needed to assign the client to a coach, gives the coach a starting point for understanding the client’s financial picture, and evidences the client’s willingness to put in the work needed in the coaching process. Additionally, the Client Profile will help a client understand the level of detail needed in order to manage money as a faithful steward. It’s more than just making sure the bank balance is going up and the credit card balances are going down!
Matching up clients with coaches is more of an art than a science, and coaches need to be given the latitude to decline a client if they’re not comfortable. As much as possible, try to match clients with coaches in a similar or later phase in life. This will help both the client and the coach feel comfortable with the coach’s ability to help. If the client is single, try to pair them with a coach of the same gender.
If the client is married, both spouses should participate in the coaching sessions. This may mean that child care is needed. Having only one spouse participating could be a red flag that the other spouse is not in agreement with going through budget coaching; such an environment will tend to be counter-productive for the marriage and won’t likely produce faithful stewards out of the process. Even if both spouses agree to the process, it’s still important for both of them to be present at the meetings so that they hear the same thing and get a chance to interact together with the coach. Otherwise, the coach will get a limited understanding of the couple’s relationship and financial condition.
The first client meeting
The first meeting is critically important in the coaching relationship. This meeting will create first impressions, set the tone for the relationship, and establish the cadence of the ongoing coaching process.
Preparing for the meeting
The coach should prepare for the first meeting with a thorough review of the Client Profile, making notes about points to affirm, questions to ask, and clarifications to gain. Coaches should think through key questions as they review the Client Profile, such as:
- What are the client’s goals for the relationship?
- Does the client have family situations that impact their finances?
- What is the client’s net worth (assets minus liabilities)? Is it suitable for their stage in life?
- Is the client earning to their potential? Is their income steady?
- What does the client’s cash flow look like?
- Have they identified all their expenses, or are several missing? Do some expenses look to be significantly underestimated?
- What is the client’s debt situation?
The coach should also identify, based on the Client Profile, what they want the client to bring to the first meeting. For example, if there are questions about the client’s income, the coach should ask the client to bring the last several paycheck stubs. If several expenses appear to be missing or underestimated, the coach should ask the client to bring the last couple of months of bank and credit card statements.
When contacting the client to set up the first meeting, the coach needs to be discreet and thoughtful. If leaving a voicemail or if someone other than the client answers the phone, the coach should keep the conversation general; the client may not want others to know that they’re getting budget coaching. A discreet message such as, “This is Joe from church. Please contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx any evening” is best.
When talking to the client to arrange the first meeting, the coach should be cordial and warm, and help clarify expectations for the meeting. Remember: the client has not likely done this before, so they won’t know what to expect. Establishing expectations for the first meeting is key to setting the client at ease. A few key points include:
- Arrange a date and time for the meeting. If the client is married, ensure that both spouses are available. A neutral setting that offers privacy is best. Have the client plan on about 2 hours for the first meeting.
- Let the client know what they need to bring.
- Explain key goals for the first meeting: getting to know the client, establishing an understanding of their financial picture, and identifying next steps.
- The coach should give the client their phone number, in case the client needs to reschedule for some reason.
Conducting the meeting
The first client meeting may vary by client as to how much can be accomplished. The most important thing is to get the relationship off to a good start. Opening the time in prayer is a great start – the coach should consistently seek God’s guidance and provision on behalf of the client. Getting to know the client through some personal questions should be the main focus of the first part of the meeting. Though a coach may want to dive right in to financial details, understanding the family situation can often give insight that won’t come out just by looking at numbers.
For example, a single mom with a toddler likely has childcare expenses that she won’t have once the toddler reaches school age. A couple making ends meet by having both of them work significant overtime is in a different place than a couple who earns enough in a regular work week.
As we mentioned before, allowing the client to guide the conversation after asking a good question will usually reveal information that the coach wouldn’t get otherwise. The coach should let the client decide where to take a question (within reason, of course); this will often open up other avenues of discussion that the coach would not think of on their own.
At some point, the conversation should take on more of a financial focus. This is, after all, what the client signed up for. Key elements of this part of the conversation include:
- Budget Coaching Covenant. The coach and the client (both spouses, if married) should sign a covenant together. This makes the relationship more “official” and increases the level of commitment on both sides. The covenant should outline expectations at a high level but should stay above the level of details. For example, a good expectation for the client is, “I will complete assigned tasks between each meeting.” On the other hand, “I will complete a Spending Record within the first two weeks” is probably too specific to be beneficial.
- Client Profile. The coach and client should review the Client Profile together, giving the coach an opportunity to ask any questions identified as part of the preparation.
- Spending Record. The coach should introduce and explain the Spending Record form to the client, emphasizing the importance of knowing where the money is going in order to steward it wisely. The client should be given a chance to ask any questions. Ideally, the client should walk away from the first meeting confident that they can maintain good records until the next meeting.
As the meeting wraps up, the coach should assign action items for the next meeting (such as, update the Spending Record daily), set up the next meeting, and pray again with the client.
It’s possible that not all of these steps will fit into the meeting timeframe. It’s important for the coach to end the meeting on time, especially if child care is involved, so some items may need to be postponed to the following meeting. Due to the importance of getting the client started on the Spending Record, if time is running short, the coach should postpone the review of the Client Profile for the second meeting in favor of explaining the Spending Record.
After the meeting, the coach should fill out a Client Progress Report, including any notes from the conversation, items assigned for the next meeting, and details about the next get-together (date/time, place, etc.). The notes should include not only the items discussed but observations about the client’s behavior, including areas of discussion that made the client uncomfortable or clues as to the client’s spiritual condition.
The path of the continuing coaching meetings will vary by client, but there are some general guidelines to follow.
Generally, a two-week cadence is preferable for ongoing meetings. This allows enough time for the client to complete any assignments from the previous meeting while maintaining enough frequency to keep the momentum going. After the initial conversation, plan for 90-minute meetings for the first few months, shortening the timeframe over time as the client progresses.
The coach should hold the client accountable to complete assignments between meetings. At some points, the coach may need to test the client’s resolve in order to ensure that they remain committed to the relationship and to the process. For example, the coach may reschedule a meeting if the client hasn’t completed assignments from the previous meeting. While the coach provides guidance and direction, the client must do the work in order for the coaching process to be successful.
The coach should provide ongoing encouragement, guidance, and accountability throughout the coaching relationship. Especially important is affirming the client’s progress along the way. Think of a crowd cheering on marathon runners. They don’t all congregate at Mile 26 to congratulate the runners on a job well done. They spread out through the course, offering encouragement in the difficult middle as well as at the end. Likewise, the coach should consistently affirm good choices, completed assignments, and financial progress.
Finally, the coach should encourage and affirm the client’s spiritual growth. Remember – financial stewardship is just one key area of Christian discipleship. As clients learn to steward their resources faithfully, they are growing in discipleship. They’re allowing God to shape their hearts and their habits, and submitting a key area of their lives to his lordship. This is all evidence of significant spiritual growth.
After introducing the Spending Record in the first meeting, there are a couple of other key tools to introduce to the clients.
The first is the Spending Plan, where the client outlines their priorities for earning and spending. The Spending Plan is actually very similar to part of the Client Profile. The difference is that in the profile, the client was estimating what they actually spend in each category. In the Spending Plan, the client plans in advance what they will spend in each category.
Creating a workable Spending Plan requires an accurate Spending Record as the primary input. Planning effectively requires a realistic picture of actual spending. But a client needs more than just a month’s worth of expenses to create a realistic plan. The client must also create a list of less frequent expenses. This list should include annual expenses, such as birthday and Christmas gifts; occasional expenses, such as vacations and special events; and bills that occur less frequently than monthly, such as home or auto insurance, property taxes (if not paid from escrow), etc. Non-monthly expenses like clothes and major purchases like furniture and appliances should also be incorporated as needed.
An often-overlooked area here is subscriptions (such as music or streaming services, purchasing memberships, and apps) that are charged automatically. Because the client never interacts with these expenses, they may forget to include them in the Spending Record and Spending Plan.
Typically, the initial Spending Plan will miss some items and underestimate others (like the Client Profile). The plan will require updating based on the Spending Record over a few months in order to accurately reflect actual spending.
Most clients will also require a Debt Reduction Plan in addition to the Spending Plan. Where the Spending Plan specifies an amount that will be devoted to debt reduction each month, the Debt Reduction Plan specifies exactly how that debt reduction money will be spent.
The Debt Reduction Plan starts with identifying the minimum payments on all debts. The total of these minimum payments represents the minimum that can be devoted to debt reduction in the Spending Plan; hopefully, the client has made enough of a priority out of reducing debt that they’re devoting more than just the minimum total to this area.
Once the minimums are established, an accelerated debt repayment amount is determined. The debt reduction amount in the Spending Plan should be the total of all the minimum payments and the accelerated debt repayment amount.
The accelerated debt repayment amount should be devoted to the debt with the lowest balance. Intuitively, most people would assign their accelerated repayment to the account with the highest interest rate. However, experience has shown that the psychological benefit of getting quick wins typically outweighs the small amount of savings from attacking the highest interest rate first. The client who begins to see real progress by eliminating debt bills is far more likely to stay the course.
Biblical Financial Principles
Remember how we discussed Biblical financial principles as the foundation for the coaching relationship? These principles guide the conversation and the direction of ongoing coaching. Here are a few examples.
- Earning. Work is part of being made in God’s image and was designed for people before the Fall (Genesis 2:15; John 5:17). But some clients may not be working to their potential and may need to make some adjustments here. For example, the client who is deeply in debt may need to take on more work in order to repay that debt. The couple struggling with debt may need one spouse to put a pause on college and both spouses to work for a time.
- Spending. If a client is overspending (and this is a realization for the client to make, not the coach), then discovering the reasons behind that overspending is important. If materialism or emotional gaps are driving the spending, these need to be addressed. At the same time, the client needs to commit to a spartan lifestyle for a period of time until they are out of crisis.
- Giving. The Bible presents the tithe as a benchmark for giving, but most clients won’t be able to reach that benchmark quickly. However, giving has the unique ability to break the hold that money has on us, freeing us to follow God wholeheartedly (contrast Zacchaeus with the rich young man). As a result, beginning to give something systematically should be a priority as part of the Spending Plan.
- Saving. The Bible counsels us to save wisely. Clients struggling with debt may not see this as a possibility, but establishing an Emergency Savings fund is one of the biggest keys to pursuing financial stability. Making a priority out of establishing this fund will help the client to avoid further debt when something unexpected comes up (and it will!). We recommend establishing this fund to a minimum of 2% of annual gross income even before accelerating debt repayment.
- Debt. Scripture tells us that the borrower is slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7), and most clients will feel this keenly. Once the Emergency Savings fund is established, clients need to maximize debt repayment in order to get to stability. Using a Debt Reduction Plan like the one mentioned above, clients should prioritize this area until sufficient margin is reached that they are stable from month to month.
Closing the case
Coaching relationships aren’t designed to last forever. At some point, the client needs to become self-sustaining both for their own good and to free up the coach to work with another client.
Although there’s no magic formula for the exact length of a coaching relationship, a good rule of thumb is about 4-6 months. This allows 1-2 months to establish a Spending Plan and a Debt Reduction Plan, 1-2 months to make adjustments as needed, and a couple of months to review progress, give encouragement, and answer any questions.
Most clients will not be out of debt in 6 months. Retiring all debt should not be the measure of success of a coaching relationship (otherwise, most relationships would take years!). Nor should an arbitrary milestone, such as a percentage of giving or an amount of savings. Instead, success should be measured based on key behavioral adjustments:
- The client is learning and following Biblical financial principles
- The client has created a viable (balanced) Spending Plan and is working the plan
- The client is maintaining an accurate, detailed Spending Record as part of stewarding God’s resources wisely.
Not all coaching relationships will end in success, and this isn’t usually the coach’s fault. Some clients are not committed enough to the work needed in order to make real change. But even an “unsuccessful” relationship can produce positive results – experience shows that many of these same clients come back later for another attempt, this time better prepared and more committed to the process.
The Why of Coaching
Matthew records Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20). This is the “marching orders” of the church. And one key area of discipleship is financial stewardship. It’s no accident that when Jesus contrasted serving God with serving anything else, the “anything else” he chose was money (Matthew 6:24). Money has become the chief rival god in our society.
Some members of our congregations are trapped in serving money. Trapped by bad past decisions, by materialism and spending habits stemming from emotional needs, trapped into a financial cycle of just trying to stay afloat. Believers in this situation struggle not only financially; the financial stress causes emotional, relational, and mental struggles. And it limits the believer’s freedom to pursue discipleship and kingdom impact.
A Budget Coaching Ministry can address this key issue by walking alongside believers trapped in their finances. As they learn to honor God with their finances, they find themselves freed from serving money and freed to serve God wholeheartedly.
Not only are the lives of individuals changed; the church’s impact can be greatly multiplied when more believers are freed up to focus their time and energy on making kingdom impact. Impact in their homes, their schools, their places of work, their neighborhoods. Budget coaching is not about making individuals more comfortable; it’s a key aspect of making disciples and increasing the church’s impact.
If you’re looking for a program to train Budget Coaches for your Stewardship ministry, check out our Good Sense Coaches training program!