Being a missionary can be expensive. There isn’t a lot of good information out there to educate potential senior missionaries on some of the financial considerations to which one many never have given any thought. This post is to share our experiences in this area.
Missionaries in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pay their own way. So, while the Diehls are serving in Virginia, we are expected to pay for our living expenses, just as we would at home. There is a caveat, however. The cost of living in some places in the world is much more expensive than others. To allow seniors to better plan financially, the Church has placed a cap of $1,400 per month on housing and utilities. In London, for example, it’s hard to find a flat for under $2,500 per month without utilities. So, a missionary couple going there would only pay $1,400. Someone going to the Philippines might be paying considerably less.
We decided that we would put our possessions in storage while we served our mission. From a financial standpoint, that is not optimal. First, you have to get it packed, and that’s a lot of work. Second, you have to rent a truck to haul it to the storage place. You need to have a crew at each end to load and unload the truck. Most storage facilities are not climate controlled nor are they in the best parts of town. It is difficult to know how many cubic feet of space you will need. This may result in having to rent multiple units. Storage facilities typically operate on a month-to-month basis and don’t know if there will be a vacant unit until someone tells them they are moving out. This makes planning very difficult. That’s one of the reasons we decided to use ZippyShell, as mentioned in a previous post. Even with all the things we discarded or donated to charity, we still had a lot of stuff. Our storage bill is over $7,000 per year. We did make a deal with them to get a better rate by paying one year in advance, so negotiate if you can.
Another expense with storage is packing materials. We haven’t totaled it yet, but would estimate that we spent around $1,300 on boxes, tape, bubble wrap, furniture pads (these are expensive and one may need a lot of them), plastic wrap, and other packing materials. You can try to pack things in old newspapers and boxes you get at the supermarket, but we don’t think you will be happy with the results. By the way, Home Depot had the least expensive packing materials and a great selection. For furniture pads, the best prices were found on the internet.
The optimal solution is to get a relative or a very trusted friend to look after the place, allowing you to move some personal items out of the way, but leaving the household mostly intact. I would advise this only with someone that is very, very trusted (or that you can exclude from your will if disaster strikes).
An alternative solution is to lock up the house and walk away. You will need to hire someone to check up on the place regularly. In a place like Colorado, where burst pipes happen with sub-zero temperatures, it could be very expensive to leave the place unattended. You will also need to hire someone to shovel the snow in the winter and do the yard during the other seasons. Get some light timers to make the place looked lived in. With utility bills and yard upkeep, I’m not sure this is the most cost-effective solution.
There will be some medical expenses that might not be covered by insurance. We are on Medicare, supplemented by the program for retired military personnel, Tricare for Life (TFL). There are a lot of things that Medicare doesn’t cover and one’s supplemental insurance may not, either. The Church requires that immunizations be up to date, which fortunately for us, ours were. Shingles vaccine is one that is highly recommended and costs around $200. If you have ever known anyone afflicted with shingles (caused by the chickenpox virus that we all got as kids, which reactivates as shingles in the 60+ crowd), you will know that the vaccine is worth every penny. Another one is for hepatitis A and B. This is a series of shots, not covered by Medicare, which will run around $150.
Medicare does not cover any dental work. The group dental insurance one gets at work is a real bargain. Dental insurance in the marketplace will typically cost around $80 per month for a couple. It can be found for less through unions, professional associations, etc. It’s a good idea to get any dental work done before one retires and still has inexpensive dental insurance.
Travel expenses are paid for by the Church. For international travel, that means plane tickets to where you need to be. In North America, you are expected to take your automobile to the field of your mission labors. You will be reimbursed for gasoline, meals, and lodging on your journey. It is done by a formula and you will receive your reimbursement check while in the MTC. It won’t cover everything during travel, but I think ours was fair and we broke even on our travel expenses.
We had more stuff that we felt we needed than we were able to cram into our car. We packed 13 small book boxes with these things. The least expensive way to send them was via the Post Office. It still cost several hundred dollars, plus the pleasure of waiting in line there. It was a mistake. We should have paid more to send them via UPS or FedEx or with a moving company.
Every one of the boxes was damaged (and not just a little bit damaged). Fortunately, many contained clothing, bedding, and towels which were not damaged. All the boxes were handled in a careless and neglectful manner. One box, that contained books, arrived in tatters. When we opened the box, it was only half full (it had been completely full). On examining the contents, most of them were not ours. It was obvious that, somewhere along the way, these (and other people’s boxes) were tossed and burst open. Our highly skilled post office employees just scooped up a bunch of stuff, put it back in the box, and taped it. Some of the things were very personal items that I know their owners did not want to lose.
The book box was one we had insured, but now the Post Office officials (who were pretty snotty), say we have to have the original receipts to make a claim. Some of these books were purchased years ago, so we don’t have the receipts. Discussions with the Post Office are ongoing, but our advice is to not trust them with anything of value.
In the Mission Field
We live in a very nice two bedroom apartment (more on this in a future post). It is furnished with all the necessities for modern living. The furniture is nothing fancy (I’d never have any of it in my home), but it more than meets our needs. The apartment came with a washer and dryer, a microwave oven, a toaster, a blender, a vacuum cleaner, a mop and broom, dishes and glasses, pots and pans, and cooking utensils. It is well furnished – but not perfectly furnished. There are always things that one finds that one needs.
We knew we needed to supply our own towels. We also needed to get shower curtains, bathmats, and some area rugs. We found we also needed a bigger desk than the one provided as well as a larger bookcase. That meant getting a table lamp for the desk. We also had to supply our own bedding. Since the beds in the apartment are queen size and we sleep on king size at home, we had stuff to buy (and it isn’t cheap). Our apartment has blinds, but no drapes. It felt way too Spartan since we would be here for nearly two years, so add drapes, sheers, and drapery rods to the shopping list.
Entertainment is another expense. Entertainment?? That doesn’t seem right for a missionary. Well, it is. Depending on the missionary assignment, duties may be from 8:00 – 5:00, Monday through Friday (that almost sounds like work). Senior missionaries are allowed to have internet and TV. Although we brought a small television and DVD player, we aren’t hooked up to cable or satellite. We have a stack of LDS-themed movies and documentaries that we never seemed to have time to watch at home. We also chose to have high-speed internet which adds another $55 to the monthly expenses.
Our mission president counseled us to have regular date nights and to see the historic sites in the area (Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown, etc.) when our duties allow. We will wait for the weather to improve a bit before exploring the area, but some of these items will involve expense.
The point is that there may be expensive items for which one cannot adequately plan. One might need everything from a doormat to clothes hangers, but won’t know it until one is living there. Allow something in the mission budget for both the known and the unexpected.