Per Diems to Feed the Band


Here’s the video transcript:

“The band should pay for the band member’s meals (that are not provided by the venue) when on the road.”

This sounds like an easy concept, but it has frequently caused problems within bands. For example, what happens when one member consistently orders appetizers and steaks while other members order less expensive meals to hold expenses down? And, who exactly qualifies to have their meals paid for—roadies, merch maidens, spouses? What do you do when the band does not have enough money to cover the bill? If you eat at a nicer place—who pays the tip?

In a perfect world, we could all afford to eat whatever we want when we want, at the band’s expense. But music ministry is far from perfect and usually far from being able to pay for anything beyond basic needs.

So, how do we demonstrate our Christianity when it comes to money and food?

Do we argue in front of the waitress? Do we make everyone pay for themselves every time? Or, do we scrounge for whatever we can get, ignoring the fact that we need to eat healthy food to stay healthy while on the road? There is another way.

One solution that many bands use is called per diem, which means “per day” or “for each day.”

The idea is to set a budget before travelling which allows each band member a certain amount of money to spend on meals each day the band is on the road. If the band member spends more, it comes out of his or her pocket. It is generally accepted that money left over is also kept by the band member (although most band per diems are so low that it is never an issue).

Some bands give each member cash at the start of each day. Others give cash for a whole week or the whole tour. A few bands foot the entire food bill and settle up at the end of the tour. If you are in a band that does not have much cash for operating expenses, you will want to pay the members each day. Otherwise, feel free to use whatever payment system works best for your band—as long as you keep track of the payments in your accounting.

YES, once again, record keeping is essential. You must show the per diems as band expenses in the band’s accounting and claim it on band member’s personal income taxes. Your accountant will ask you about meals because, unlike other band expenses, only 50% is deductable.

So, how much is reasonable to pay for a per diem?

The answer primarily depends on how much money the band has and expects to make. Some bands pay as low as $5 per day, others go as high as $50. The government (General Services Administration) sets its per diem rates by location, assuming some parts of the country are more expensive than others. For example, in my area that rate is $47 per day. Obviously most Christian bands cannot even come close to that amount. Do what makes sense for your band. $5 per day is not much but it is better than nothing. A promise of $50 per day that the members do not actually receive is worse than $5 because the band members do not bring enough extra money to cover their food expenses. So, be realistic and truthful about how much the band can afford.

The most important thing is to discuss what you plan to do before the need to provide food arises. Be sure to include a discussion on who qualifies for per diems and when the band should pay for someone else’s meal. Agree on a plan and stick to it. When you get back from each tour, reevaluate the plan and revise it for the next time. You will eventually find the system that works best for your music ministry.

Our goal in deciding how to pay for band member’s meals should be to demonstrate love to our brothers. We, as ministers, need to do our best to take care of each other with integrity and honesty. When we communicate openly and make decisions together, we diffuse potential strife and discord. This binds us together in love and brings unity to our ministry.

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love…”

This article is an excerpt from The Christian Band Handbook.


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