Our total monthly budget for the foreseeable future is only $1650, covering the costs for all four of us.
We’ve begun a new work among the Antakarana people, based in the central location of Ambilobe in northwestern Madagascar. We live in a simple home in a crowded neighborhood, together with Antakarana people and Malagasy from other tribes, sharing the abundant life of Jesus with them through indigenous church-planting and sustainable small-scale community development. Because of our desire to live with the people where they’re at, some of our budget costs are higher and some are much lower, and it’s all explained in more detail below.
Here’s an average breakdown of our current monthly budget:
As you can see, our housing/lodging budget is fairly low at just $220 (13% of the total) a month. In Ambilobe, there are no nicer housing options available for expats or the upper-class, as most larger international African cities would have. Instead, we’ve found a simple home to rent in a crowded neighborhood, in an older part of town not too far from the main market and several schools. This gives us the chance to regularly converse with our neighbors and those we pass by on our regular walks throughout town. The budget also includes maintenance and locally-made furnishings for our home. In addition, the same budget is used for lodging in cheap local hotels when travelling within Madagascar for surveys, networking, and organizational needs.
Food, clothes, and basic needs are about $300 a month (18%). Ambilobe has a vibrant market life with many basic and fresh goods (according to the season) available at reasonable prices. We also occasionally have the opportunity to find imported or special items (like cheese!) in the larger cities of Madagascar, and we can bring them back for the enjoyment and nutritional variety of our family. Because of the rough local environment and the constant walking and challenging transport methods, we often have to replace or repair our clothes and sandals, so this budget helps us to replace items as necessary.
Education for our children is budgeted at about $50 (3%) a month. Living in one of the poorest countries in the world means that our children don’t have access to the high quality and free education that they would in the US. It does, however, open up other opportunities for education that are unique to them. Lora is currently homeschooling our children each afternoon and has developed their curriculum through a synthesis of several proven methods. We also send our oldest son to a local school in the neighborhood each morning, so that he can have good socialization time and fit in well with the local kids, learning the same things they learn. This budget helps pay both for the homeschooling materials and for the fees and supplies for Matimu to go to the local school each day.
We have $100 (6%) in our budget for communication each month. Being on the other side of the world from most our family and friends, it’s important to maintain communication as well as we can. Cell phone services and internet access (which relies on the cell networks) are often very expensive in Madagascar, but at least they are available and fairly reliable here in Ambilobe. This allows us to keep in touch regularly with local ministry partners as well as with our colleagues around the country and in other parts of the world, and of course with our supporters, friends, and family, like you, back home.
Our transport budget is $105 (7%) a month. Being located in Ambilobe means we have the opportunity (and necessity) of traveling often to visit the surrounding areas where many more Antakarana live and where we seek to do ministry. We rely on the local and simple public transport system (small crowded vans, the trailer-beds of small trucks, tractors, tuk-tuks, and anything else available!), where we’re literally “rubbing shoulders” with the rest of the Malagasy around us. It helps us to increase our network of relationships as well as to not appear too imposing when seeking out new areas for ministry. Though transport costs are increasing in Madagascar, using local public transport options also allows us to keep our transport budget lower, since we don’t have a personal vehicle to purchase or maintain!
We have $50 (3%) set aside for team ministry funds. We expect our new team in Ambilobe to be primarily composed of national Malagasy Christians who often don’t have access to the same amount of funding as we do. For that reason, we want to keep our ministry-specific budgets small and sustainable, so that local Malagasy people can have full participation and equal ownership of the work of God among their people! This also helps ensure that sudden changes in personnel won’t run the risk of ending any ongoing ministries.
We have $190.00 (12%) set aside monthly for our Health/Emergency account. International insurance is currently not feasible due to the very high cost and the difficulty of approving treatment at overseas facilities. We believe having our own savings account for medical expenses (including emergencies) is more effective for us to receive treatment in country (which is much cheaper) when available, and to be med-evac’d to another country for emergency higher-risk procedures. Neighboring African countries and islands (such as South Africa and Réunion) have a high quality of medical care but at significantly lower costs than America and we’ll be using them for any more serious medical conditions that might occur (such as when David was born). We already have a good medical/emergency savings account that we’ve already built up and we plan to continue this fund throughout our years in Madagascar. In our more than 7 years in Madagascar so far, this savings account method has worked very well and we’ve not yet been short of funds in an emergency.
All in all, you can see that our general living expenses in Madagascar are quite low, especially compared to those same expenses in other countries. Part of the reason is because of the much lower economy here, but the other reason is because of our lifestyle choices. Our goal throughout the years of our work in Madagascar is to live at or very near the same level as the people we’re living among and working with, whether urban or rural – living as they live, with or without electricity or running water or any of the other things we often take for granted as Americans. Jesus was born and lived his life as an average Jew, certainly not a wealthy one. He spoke the local Jewish language and was part of the Jewish culture and community, and through that ministered to the entire world and brought the Kingdom of God to earth. We believe we should also have the same general lifestyle as those we’re working for and with, together for the Kingdom of God.
Another consistent expense in our budget is savings for plane tickets / furlough (21% or $350 a month). To travel round-trip between the US and Madagascar can cost around $3000 a person; very expensive because Madagascar is mostly undeveloped and is not a popular destination. So, although this portion is one of the most expensive, it’s necessary so that we can accumulate enough to pay for the extra cost of travel. That way we can visit home every 3 years or so and maintain contact with our families, friends, churches, and supporters like you!
We also have regular expenses to pay for our residency visas in Madagascar (7% or $120 a month). This is unfortunately a necessity for us as foreigners to live and do ministry in Madagascar and the cost increases every year. As a developing country, Madagascar is constantly changing their procedures and fees for foreigners (like us) to live and work in Madagascar. This can make the process very frustrating and it means the actual costs fluctuate all the time. However, as we budget this much every month to go towards our visas in Madagascar, it’s usually enough to cover the direct and the associated costs for us to submit and process our paperwork and thus be approved by the Madagascar government.
Finally, one more thing that you can see in our budget is labeled “Malagasy Ministry.” We know that in order to do our work we’ll have to rely on financial contributions we receive from our supporters. But, rather than being receivers only, we want to also be constant givers, and not only of our time and efforts, but our finances as well. Therefore, at least 10% of our budget (or ~$165) each month will be set aside to support the efforts of Malagasy people who are devoting their lives to ministering to their neighbors and fellow countrymen. Most Malagasy people, including Christian workers, have no international connections and their national economy is poor enough that they can rarely receive financial support in-country. So, we’re doing what we can to help individual Malagasy people follow the call of God to minister in their own country.
If you have any further questions about our budget, don’t hesitate to ask! Click below to donate online or click here for more info on other ways to donate.