During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches. As we continue the series today, I am excited to welcome my friends Pastors Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich to the blog. They have very recently purchased their first home which led me to want to hear their story. In hearing it, I have decided that our conversation will make for a two-part series. Today’s post will shed light on how they as a couple have grown since getting married and attending seminary, especially related to talking about money together. The next post will be specifically about their experience of buying a new home.
Amanda and Jeremy with my wife Allison and I, after Amanda and Jeremy graduated from seminary.
Timothy (T): First of all, Amanda and Jeremy, thank you so much for being willing to share your story with me, reflecting on how you talk about faith and finances, and how those conversations have led you into very recently purchasing your first house.
Jeremy (J): We are excited to share our story, and hope it helps other young adults and young families in having these conversations.
T: Amanda and Jeremy, how do you have conversations about faith and finances? What challenges have you faced in having these conversations?
J: Good question Timothy. Having these conversations has been a growing process for sure. We each grew up with different understandings and familiarities when it comes to talking about and managing money.
Amanda (A): We had no clue what we were doing when we started.
J: I felt like I had some clue, but I admit, I didn’t know much. I think we were both raised with the idea that, ‘if you don’t have it, don’t spend it.’’ Because of this, we were naturally inclined to not want to spend, especially as we were paying for college and seminary. We were, and really are, inclined to want to save, and live frugally as much as we could. But that looked differently for both of us.
A: When we were first married, it was really difficult to have money conversations.
J: My dad and uncle invested for a long time, including investing in me. For example, growing up, I showed heifers (cows) at the county fair, and after showing they would be sold. All the money that was raised from those sales became scholarship money for me. This was an early opportunity for me to earn some income, and to do some good work by caring for the cows, walking and feeding them.
A: My sisters and I had an allowance growing up. At some point, once I became a teenager, my parents helped set up a checking and savings account for me.
A: After getting married, Jeremy and I didn’t have credit card until two years into marriage and seminary. I think the biggest reason why we didn’t get a credit card until then was because we were afraid of having a credit card. We changed our minds in large part because of financial counseling we received which moved us past our fears to the possibilities. We have learned that when intentional and careful with a credit card, and using it as a tool to build credit, and pay it off right away every month, having one can be a good thing. We actually now have two credit cards now- one used for purchases at a single store as well as for gas.
J: While in seminary we received coaching from a financial coach, and that was a very helpful thing which really helped us grow in our ability to talk about money. In fact, one of the things we did early on which was probably most helpful was that Amanda and I both created a financial autobiography. It was so helpful to hear and dig into our financial stories from growing up. That helped us understand each other so much more.
T: In looking at your finances, how often do you have conversations about them?
A: As a couple, we go over our finances, credit cards, checking accounts, etc., at least once a month. In fact, every transaction that we make I enter into a spread sheet, under a certain tabbed area. This helps us, review, make adjustments, and cut back as needed with our budget.
J: Even though we have figured this out, we still have conflict over finances. I am a bit more of a spender than Amanda, and more quick and willing to spend. In seminary, it was really difficult, because when shopping for something, Amanda and I sometimes had differing opinions about whether a purchase was really a need. These moments of conflict sometimes affected our respect and trust for each other. So it was important for us to talk it out and take some time.
A: For example, Jeremy really wants to get a treadmill. He wants to invest in his health. At first I didn’t see the need, but after talking it out with Jeremy, I have come to see the potential benefits.
J: Through our money conversations we have learned to compromise, but also to learn and hear each other’s opinion. Especially in seminary we tried to always avoid impulse buys, and any unplanned big expense. Now, we are slightly more lenient on that, but we definitely have price limits.
Pastors Jeremy and Amanda Ullrich
A: Perhaps the best thing that that has come from our conversations is that our communication between each other has definitely increased over the years.
T: What have you two learned in the process of having these money conversations?
J: We have learned that sometimes we aren’t in the right spot to talk about money. Sometimes it might actually be more painful to talk about than helpful. We have had to realize that these conversations also have to deal with conflict management. As finances are both stewardship and ministry, they also reflect one’s core values. What you spend your money on shows where your heart is. To reflect on this takes time and space. Sometimes we may not have the time or mental capacity to have that reflection together, because of stress from work and life. It’s important then to set a time to come back to the conversation with each other.
A: We have also really learned how to address conflict in a healthy way! By doing so, we don’t let conflict, or any potential conflict, create more distance between us. We have also been reminded over the years of the gifts of our friends, and have collaborated with them to help strategize and have these conversations.
T: Over the years, and with the purchase of your new home recently, what new questions about faith and finances have emerged for you?
A: We want to tithe to our congregations and give beyond that to different groups, causes, and nonprofits. We are still working to figure out the best model for us to have the most impact with our giving.
J: At the same time, we are facing the reality that a huge part of budget in our congregations is for our salaries. As pastors, we have to wrestle with what does it mean to steward the gifts we have as a congregation.
A: Trying to decide how much money to put down on the house was interesting. And I’ve been wondering especially about how to talk about these issues, and stories, in the pulpit more regularly.
J: I think about the story of the rich man, who is told by Jesus that he needs to sell all his possessions. What does it mean to have finances and still follow Jesus? That’s the point at which it becomes a tension. There seems to often be a fear or focus on finances and financial situations in tension with following God. For instance, who are really worshiping when we think about and use our finances?? God? A checkbook? A bank account? It can be a constant tension. I have come to believe that it is important to live into that tension.
T: What hopes and dreams do you two have?
J: I hope to have a growing family someday, and to be able to care for it well.
A: In addition to that, I hope to be able to pay it forward, as we’re both so grateful for all that we have received and do receive.
Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola
T: We will pick up the conversation in our next post as we turn to Amanda and Jeremy’s decision to buy their first home.
About the Interviewees: Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich are a clergy couple in West Texas, both serving their first congregational calls as ordained pastors. Their family currently includes their wonderful dog, Lola. Together they are tackling the world’s largest puzzle, which includes approximately 33,600 puzzle pieces, because “everything is bigger in Texas,” and “why not go big or go home.” While attending Luther Seminary, they lived next door to Allison and Timothy Siburg, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship.
This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.