I am the proud father of two independent, strong, self-sufficient, intelligent young women. Both of them have graduated college and are moving forward in their chosen profession, and I imagine that having me as their father must have been challenging for my daughters at times. Not only was I a pastor in full-time ministry most of their lives, but I am also a huge proponent of managing money in a way that I believe best honors God. That meant we did not spend more than we made using a zero-based budget. That means my wife and I looked at every expense to find ways to lower costs. While we cannot control utility rates, we can control the use of the utilities. Yes, I was the dad reminding everyone to turn off the lights when leaving a room. But, turning off the lights was not enough; we needed a more substantial, more drastic option – we decided to stop using the air conditioner. Did I mention we live in the Inland Empire area of Southern California? In the summer, it can reach temperatures well into the 100s. All that to say, I can see why, when my oldest daughter moved out on her own, she decided never to be uncomfortable again and run her air conditioner all the time. She was so cool and comfortable her first month out – then she received the electric bill. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the current inflation rate of 8.3% is hitting everyone hard, but utilities increased even higher than other areas at 11%. Now she can decide to adjust her budget by reducing other areas to accommodate her desire for cooler temperatures or use her air conditioning less.
When you think about it, church budgeting isn’t all that different than a personal budget; it’s about balancing what is appropriate with what the church can afford. Of course, a church in the desert should run its air conditioning, and a church in the northeast should run its heat in the winter. Even as frugal as I am, I ran my heater or air conditioner in my home when company came over. But, how much should the church spend on utilities? According to Smart Church Solutions, utilities should run about $1.00-$1.50 per square foot for a church facility annually. That means a 15,000 sq. ft. church facility should spend between $15,000 and $22,500 per year for all utilities – electricity, gas, water, etc. If your church exceeds this “best practice” threshold, here are a few considerations to tame that line item of the budget.
- HVAC units consume approximately 50% of the electricity bill. Investing in ways to control your HVAC units could prove to have a significant impact on the life of the units and electricity costs. Investigate programmable thermostats and other control options to maximize efficiency and minimize use.
- Switch to drought-tolerant landscaping. In Southern California, lush green grass is a thing of the past. It takes just over a half gallon of water per square foot to cover a lawn with one inch of water. Drip lines target specific plants and use only a fraction of the water it takes to maintain a lawn.
- Switch old fluorescent T12 lighting to T8. T8 bulbs and fixtures use about 35% less electricity to produce the same amount of light as a T12. Caution: Even though it fits, placing a T8 bulb in a T12 ballast will shorten the life of the T8 bulb and reduce the overall savings on electricity.
When my daughter moved out on her own, she wasn’t sure how much to budget for electricity. This lack of information enabled her to make decisions like running her air conditioner continually without understanding the consequences. Receiving a much larger-than-expected electric bill solved that information gap abruptly. Avoid that mistake when creating the church budget by using prior utility bills to help project future expenses, factor inflation rates into the estimation, and use the $1.00-$1.25 per square foot rule to calculate if your church is overspending on utilities. Even if your church is within the best practices range, investigate and apply cost-saving measures whenever possible; the return on the investment may put the budget back on track.