Planning a Mission Trip: Setting the Budget

picked the perfect location for your mission trip, the next thing you need to do is to figure out the financial part.  Setting the budget can be one of the most important steps in this process, because a few errors or oversights can mean thousands of dollars that your budget wasn’t expecting.  Since there are so many things to consider when it comes to finances, let me just share with you a list of questions you should consider as you set your budget.

  1. What is the ceiling for what I charge students? At what point do I lose students because the cost is too high?
  2. What will it cost to travel to this location? We drive to all our locations, so I figure out mileage to and from, gas prices, gas mileage of our bus, and how many students I think will attend to get a cost per student number for my budget.  You also have to take into account any vehicle costs, toll roads, etc.
  3. What will the materials cost for this project? We typically try to “pay” for whatever work we will be doing.  That way, we can be both a physical blessing and a financial blessing at the same time.  Ask your contact to give you an honest assessment of what they need financially.
  4. What will it cost to feed your group as well as “extras?” Food is a pretty large expense that can sometimes be overlooked.  We have a “pro” cook who does an amazing job with our food, and I trust her implicitly.  She usually budgets about $1500 for our group of around 50 to eat for a week.  In addition, she always makes extra food, because often people you’ve been working with will join you, sometimes unexpectedly.
  5. What are some expenses you might incur while you are there? Over the years, we have spent a lot of money on crazy things.  Bus repairs on the road, additional food when plans change, fees to shower at a fitness center, cost of tools we didn’t know we’d need until we got there, additional travel and tolls we didn’t foresee, and more.  Give yourself a cushion, and give generously.
  6. What will it cost to take my adults without charging them? I don’t know if this is a “norm” in your ministry, but we never charge our adults to go on a trip.  They are already taking a week off from work, sometimes costing them a week’s pay.  We usually ask them to pay for their meals while we travel, but that’s about it.
  7. How can I be a blessing to those who helped make the trip a success? Often, we will try to bless the people who blessed us.  If a church hosts us, we will leave a “love offering” to cover additional electricity they are paying for, additional cost of heating the building, and so on.  If I can leave some money with the ministry we are working with, I will.  Factor that in when you plan so that you don’t find yourself in a pinch later and incapable of being generous.
  IMG_1979With those questions in mind, here are some great ways you can cut cost on your own mission trip.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the most I’ve ever charged for a high school Spring Break mission trip is $225.  Here are a few ways you can make that happen in your ministry as well.
  1. Plan your own trip from top to bottom. Don’t rely on an organization or agency to plan your trip.  You plan it, answer the detail questions from top to bottom, and put in the hard work.  It’s worth it, and your students will gain a lot from it.
  2. Travel cheap. We happen to own our own buses, which makes the transportation question easy to answer.  We drive everywhere we go, which saves a great deal of money.  Airfare is REALLY expensive.  We spend a LOT of hours on a bus, but honestly, our students look forward to the trip.  It’s a great bonding time, so use it wisely.
  3. Eat cheap. Find someone who knows their way around a kitchen, and has some leadership skills.  Luanne Reitzel is our kitchen guru.  I give her $1500 for the week, and she handles the rest.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost every day are cooked with love.  This year, she did meals for $2.85 per person roughly.
  4. Stay cheap. Hotels are expensive, and so are retreat centers.  Plan to rough it by staying in a church nearby.  Air mattresses and sleeping bags will work just fine.  Don’t forget to figure out showers.
  5. Plan ahead. Know the scope of your project, and send money ahead of time.  For our most recent trip, I sent $2000 ahead to help pay for the drywall we would hang and materials we would need.  This enables our contact to get the materials ahead of time, but also helps you gauge your budget.  Also, by planning ahead, you can take most of the things you need instead of having to pay for them when you arrive.  I always take about $500 in cash just in case something comes up.
  6. Invest in what matters. For our most recent trip, I spent the most on transportation, meals, and building materials.  I spent considerably less on T-shirts (thanks www.amb3r.com), booklets, sightseeing opportunities, and “fun stuff.”  Put your money where it has the most impact.
  7. Ask boldly when budget time rolls around.  I had about $2000 set aside out of our budget for this mission trip.  This helps us to pay for our adults, to pay for students who cannot afford to attend, and to cover unexpected expenses.  Your leadership will never know your need if you don’t ask.
I hope this post will help you make the most of your next mission trip financially.  No matter what your budget size, these tips will help you to make a great, affordable trip that your students will not soon forget. What budgeting issues have you had when it comes to planning mission trips?  How have you cut costs for your mission trips?
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12 Comments

  1. We used to drive 15-passenger vans into NYC from Indiana, payed for fuel and then parking in the city or found a place in the suburbs (but had to cover public transport costs to get our drivers out to the vehicles when needed). Recently we started using Megabus, their costs per person made our transport costs more reasonable, plus we didn't have to worry about drivers. If you're headed to a destination that you won't need to transport your group around much or could use the local public transportation (or foot!), check to see if Megabus could get you there. A little pre-planning can save some major bucks!
  2. We used to drive 15-passenger vans into NYC from Indiana, payed for fuel and then parking in the city or found a place in the suburbs (but had to cover public transport costs to get our drivers out to the vehicles when needed). Recently we started using Megabus, their costs per person made our transport costs more reasonable, plus we didn't have to worry about drivers. If you're headed to a destination that you won't need to transport your group around much or could use the local public transportation (or foot!), check to see if Megabus could get you there. A little pre-planning can save some major bucks!
  3. We used to drive 15-passenger vans into NYC from Indiana, payed for fuel and then parking in the city or found a place in the suburbs (but had to cover public transport costs to get our drivers out to the vehicles when needed). Recently we started using Megabus, their costs per person made our transport costs more reasonable, plus we didn't have to worry about drivers. If you're headed to a destination that you won't need to transport your group around much or could use the local public transportation (or foot!), check to see if Megabus could get you there. A little pre-planning can save some major bucks!
  4. This is a great post, Keith, and tips and wisdom I definitely need. We're doing an international trip this year, and the cost is ridiculous, and I know it will be life changing for our students, but will it really be that much MORE life changing than a cheaper option? Thanks for this
    • Great question, Ben. I think most trips with an agency / organization cost more simply because of the overhead involved in that organization. When you do a trip yourself, there isn't the overhead associated. Plus, you get to create something from the ground up designed specifically for your students. It will come across tailored to your group and your needs, and may actually be MORE life-changing than a pre-made trip. At least that's been my experience.
    • Ben, our youth ministry just took students to Mexico for Spring Break and as you can imagine the cost was very high. We do a rotation right now where we take students on a trip every year but rotate between domestic and international. I see impact in both types of trips. I can't say one is more life changing than the other but it is nice for students to get multiple experiences. For example, two years ago we took students to Mexico, it was a great life changing experience. Last year we took students to Tampa and worked with Common Ground. We had new students but also had some students who had been to Mexico. It was neat for them to experience the same type of poverty in the US as they did in Mexico and it really opened their eyes. I think most of the life change comes from how we prepare students and debrief them as we go through the week. To me, this happens in the States and out of it. I think sometimes you need to decide if your church is willing to help with the cost or not, ours is so we are able to take them on International trips. I hope this helps.
  5. This is a great post, Keith, and tips and wisdom I definitely need. We're doing an international trip this year, and the cost is ridiculous, and I know it will be life changing for our students, but will it really be that much MORE life changing than a cheaper option? Thanks for this
    • Great question, Ben. I think most trips with an agency / organization cost more simply because of the overhead involved in that organization. When you do a trip yourself, there isn't the overhead associated. Plus, you get to create something from the ground up designed specifically for your students. It will come across tailored to your group and your needs, and may actually be MORE life-changing than a pre-made trip. At least that's been my experience.
    • Ben, our youth ministry just took students to Mexico for Spring Break and as you can imagine the cost was very high. We do a rotation right now where we take students on a trip every year but rotate between domestic and international. I see impact in both types of trips. I can't say one is more life changing than the other but it is nice for students to get multiple experiences. For example, two years ago we took students to Mexico, it was a great life changing experience. Last year we took students to Tampa and worked with Common Ground. We had new students but also had some students who had been to Mexico. It was neat for them to experience the same type of poverty in the US as they did in Mexico and it really opened their eyes. I think most of the life change comes from how we prepare students and debrief them as we go through the week. To me, this happens in the States and out of it. I think sometimes you need to decide if your church is willing to help with the cost or not, ours is so we are able to take them on International trips. I hope this helps.

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