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What I learned about financial independence as a Mormon missionary

By Ben Luthi

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Nov. 23 2013 9:00 a.m. MST

As a missionary, my visa didn’t allow me to get a job or open a bank account. That also meant I didn’t have access to take out loans. I had to do with the money allotted to me each month. So if I wanted to gorge myself on German pastries (which I did every day) or street bratwursts, I had to budget and save.

Ben Luthi

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Editor's note: A version of this post originally ran on the personal finance blog The Wealth Gospel. It has been reprinted here with permission.

My experience as a Mormon missionary in Germany was unforgettable. In addition to the spiritual experiences I had and the people I served, I had the pleasure of meeting a self-proclaimed vampire (complete with filed teeth) and a man who was convinced he was Jesus. I was spat on, yelled at and received death threats. So overall, it was a pretty warm welcome to the real world for someone who grew up in a tightly knit religious community.

Mormon missionaries don’t get paid for what they do. In fact, my parents paid for much of my two-year mission. The local mission office took care of the apartment and travel expenses, and I received a monthly stipend to cover groceries and whatever other expenses came up. As a 19-year-old dude fresh out of high school, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, so there were a lot of things I had to learn the hard way.

Debt was not an option

As a missionary, my visa didn’t allow me to get a job or open a bank account. That also meant I didn’t have access to take out loans. I had to do with the money allotted to me each month. So if I wanted to gorge myself on German pastries (which I did every day) or street bratwursts, I had to budget and save.

One month, my companion and I didn’t budget very well and we ran out of money before the end of the month. Our meals the last few days of the month consisted of rice, butter cheese, sour cream and some nasty, old Doritos. We weren’t starving, but for 19-year-olds used to having solid three meals a day, it sure felt like we were.

Because of that experience, I learned it’s possible to live without debt. My wife and I still have debt, but it’s now a last resort, not just an attractive alternative.

You reap what you sow.

As part of our proselyting efforts, we would go from door to door and talk to people on the street. And it was hard. It was much more fun to have appointments with people who were actually interested in what we had to say. But it didn’t take long to realize that we weren’t going to get appointments without going from door to door or talking to people on the street. That realization was particularly poignant one night when it was 30 below zero outside and we had no appointments. I wasn’t about to be a pansy and stay in our warm apartment, so we spent a few hours enjoying the sensation of my tears and snot freezing to our faces, which I’m sure was very appealing to the people we were talking to.

That night I learned that you reap what you sow. If I wanted to spend more time in people’s apartments having conversations with them about God, I had to do the work to get there, even though I hated doing it. The same goes for now. If I want to be financially secure, no one else is going to give that to me. I need to work for it. Sometimes, it’s really hard. Sometimes, I’m ridiculously impatient. Sometimes, I feel like a failure. But in the end, I know I’ll reach my goal because I’m putting the work in now.

The faster you become fluent, the easier it becomes.

When I arrived in Germany, I had only been studying the language for two months and had a pitiful vocabulary. When I got my first haircut, I didn’t know what to tell the barber, so I just said “shorter everywhere.” She said something that I didn’t understand and I was already terrified, so I just said yes.

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