Saving for souls: Sending a missionary out can be cheaper than leaving them at home

Published: Friday, Dec. 28 2012 11:40 a.m. MST

Sister Missionaries react to the news that new sisters can enter the mission field at the age of 19. The announcement was made during the Saturday morning session of General Conference Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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KAYSVILLE — David and Nicole Saunders have two sons on missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Brian Saunders is in Tallahassee, Fla. and Daniel Saunders is serving in Washington, D.C. All the finances were worked out. All the timelines were set in place.

But that was before LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced in October an age change for missionaries. Instead of males having to wait until they were 19 years old to qualify for missionary service, they could now apply to serve at 18 — if they will have graduated from high school. The age requirement for women was lowered from 21 to 19.

The Saunders family was watching the announcement at their home in Kaysville, Utah. Before David Saunders even thought of all the implications, his high school-age son Ammon had already texted, "Great. Now I don't have to go to college (right away). I can go on my mission after high school."

This meant there would be three sons out on missions at the same time.

The Saunders are not alone in having their schedules and finances scrambled by this announcement. But for many parents contemplating how their children's missions would impact them financially, Scott C. Marsh has good news: Sending kids on missions is cheaper than having them at home.

Marsh, the owner of Scott Marsh Financial, a registered investment advisory firm based in Salt Lake City, and a professor of personal finance at BYU, recently asked young women in a large class if they were planning on serving missions before the announcement. He says 39 percent indicated they had planned on going. He then asked how many young women had changed their plans and decided to serve a mission after the announcement. An additional 39 percent had decided to serve.

Financial health first

Bryan Sudweeks, an associate teaching professor of finance at BYU, ties financial mission preparation into the overall financial health of a family.

Sudweeks recommends the website personalfinance.byu.edu for sound financial advice.

"It is important to get our financial houses in order to be an example for our kids," he says.

Jason Palmer, a financial planner with One Financial Advisors in Highland, recommends getting an emergency fund in place with 3 to 6 months worth of living expenses. He also says to begin living as if you have an extra $500 expense in the budget now — which will make it easier to save the money and make sending the money out less jarring when the time comes.

Marsh says having savings for a mission is a good idea because, like an emergency fund, it can prevent obstacles and financial surprises from getting in the way of accepting a call to serve.

He also says saving is good for the potential missionary because it leads them toward supporting themselves on the mission.

Palmer agrees.

"There's just something to being able to say to someone you are teaching, 'I paid my own way here.'" Palmer says. "Parents need to not overlook the value of that and the value of having the potential missionary tapping into his or her own savings."

But even though saving for a mission is a wise way to be prepared for financial surprises and to build a young person's self-esteem, having him or her away on a mission may not be the burden people expect it to be.

Saving souls and dollars

"If you actually do the numbers," Marsh says, "it is less expensive to have a kid on a mission than to have them at home."

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