Costs of group work

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about are the actual costs of group work – in terms of both time and financial cost. I’m not talking about paying for training, mind you – just about the other things that go into it. With rising gas prices and other costs, I’ve seen more discussion of this in people looking for groups, but there are very few specifics out there.

Now, obviously, I have one set of experiences: the numbers below are not going to reflect everyone’s experience. But I do want to put some concrete numbers out there (along with where they come from) so that other people can get a general idea of some patterns.

(This gets very long, so you click on to read the details)

Some assumptions:

Before getting into details, I want to lay out some basic assumptions.

Number of group events:

My guess is that most members of groups will be at 4-6 events a month most months (an Esbat, a Sabbat, a few classes or social events.) Group leaders may have more – I was averaging 8-10 while doing leadership work in my former group, between initiate classes, leadership meetings, as well as teaching some of the student classes and being at ritual.

My personal situation:

Currently, my covenmate and I alternate who hosts, thus splitting the driving. We’re meeting on average once a week for scheduled coven things (though I also see a lot of her socially, so there’s also a lot of random other conversation.) She lives about 5 miles from me, so 10 miles round trip.

My car gets about 28 miles to the gallon (though I round down to 25: it makes the math easier), and I’m already paying insurance, etc. in order to get to work, so I generally only consider the gas cost in terms of what it costs for me to get other places.

General Group Work:

Getting there:

Public transit is a good option in some areas, but it doesn’t always work. For example, my former covenstead is not very bus accessible on weekends (the closest buses involve a 2-3 mile walk, and run irregularly.)

Bus or light rail fares here run from $1 (disability) to $4 (rush hour) for a round trip. People who are frequent bus riders probably have a monthly pass that help with costs as well (and means that ‘additional’ trips beyond what someone was already doing to get to work, etc. don’t cost any more than they were already paying. For 6 trips, that’s somewhere between $6 and $24, and I think more likely somewhere in the mid-teens.

Driving: (again, based on the assumptions above)

To and from my covenmate’s is 10 miles.

  • At $4 a gallon gas, each trip is about $1.60.
  • 4 trips is $6.40 a month. 10 trips at $4 a gallon is $16.
  • If gas goes up to $5 a gallon, those turn into $8 for 4 trips, or $20 for 10.

Bear in mind that we’re rotating where we meet, so in practice, I’m looking at 2-3 trips in a month. (for coven work, not social outings) a month, rather than 6+, even if we get together a lot. Call it $5 in practice, maybe less.

To my former covenstead, about 15 miles from my current home (30 miles round trip)

  • Each trip comes out to about $4.80 a trip.
  • Four trips is $19.20, and ten trips is $48
  • If gas goes up to $5, that becomes $24 for four trips, and $60 for ten.

(And yes, there were months in which I was doing ten trips up there.)

This, yes, is a lot more: ten trips would be better than half my current gas budget now, and if I were still going up there all the time, I would have needed to find ways to work something out – probably fewer trips. Six would be doable, in ways that 10 is really pushing it. On the other hand, there’s always looking at other alternatives: for example, my move last summer (out of that covenstead) reduced my drive to work from 15 miles to 5: the money saved that way went back into paying higher fuel costs when I was going back out there.

A long drive:

Someone driving 90 miles, with $4 a gallon gas is looking at $14.40 one way, or about $30 for both ways at current gas prices. And yes, that is a lot. However, if you can figure it out so that you’re doing that one weekend a month, or split the cost with someone else on the way, there are ways to get the costs down.


Part of many ritual groups is bringing food for potluck. This doesn’t usually happen at every event, but in the group I trained in was common for post-ritual time (say, twice a month) plus sometimes for longer class days.

I’ll be honest here, and say that one of the reasons I got into breadmaking is that it is a *very* cheap potluck food, once you make fairly minimal investment in supplies. (I plan a post about breadbaking as we get a little closer to Lammas, with photos.) Each loaf runs about $1.50 to $2 to make, plus some time.

Pasta salad, hummus, veggies and dip, fresh fruit, and some soups can be done very inexpensively. Stews, sandwich makings, or interesting things to drink can get pricier, but there are ways around those. Deli salads are a great option for people who can’t cook in advance, and run $5-8 for enough for a potluck contribution.

Obviously there’s a huge range here, but there are plenty of options for under $10 per potluck.

Group costs:

There are a number of costs that go along with group work (and they’re outlined below.) This doesn’t include costs for teaching (which is a whole other complex discussion I’m not going into here) – think of this as ‘group incidental costs’.

Some groups ask for donations to help cover these. Some have a specific number that covers these expenses. Many groups will have some option (often extra work towards group events – the tedious stuff no one really wants to do like basic cleaning or collating photocopies of something) for people where money is a real issue. Common numbers I’ve seen are in the $5-10 a month per person range, but this can go up quite a bit if space is rented for group events.

Phoenix Song, my coven, does not charge for incidental expenses (my theory is that I’d be using candles, incense, etc. for my own rituals, even if no one else was there) but we do consider contributions towards shared items a good way to share in the energy and support of the group.

Tools and supplies:

Over time, you’re going to want to accumulate your own personal tools. You’re also going to have some expenses for ongoing personal work – candles, incense, personal offerings, etc.

The costs here range enormously – but I’ve got to say, the only item that cost me more than $20 that’s a working tool on my altar is my athame (and it took me 5 years to find one I really liked. Yes, it was $180, but averaged over the number of years I expect to use it, that’s nothing.)

Tea lights and incense can run quite a lot if you use them all time. But a bag of 100 tealights is under $5 if you get them at Ikea or a few other places. Incense can be inexpensive, or pricier, but several of my favorite makers run $6-10 for 10-20 sticks. (I don’t burn incense very often due to allergies: I can’t handle it every day, so I don’t go through mine very fast.)

Finally, you are probably going to want to buy books every so often. You probably want to buy any required reading texts for a group, but there will be other things that catch your eye or meet a specific need or interest. Book prices, again, are all over the place, but you can find many copies used.

I’d say that you can probably do quite a lot with $10-15 a month, $25 if you want to buy a new book every month or two. This includes things like notepaper and other basic office supplies.

Special events:

Finally, there will sometimes be special events you may want to be at. Sometimes this is a lecture or workshop by an outside teacher. It might be a concert or performance that’s related to something you’re interested in.

There are also things like celebrations. For example, in my former group, everyone went out to eat somewhere after an initiation at a mid-range restaurant (TGIFriday’s or Appleby’s etc. since they were often the ones open late enough after we finished ritual and got changed and so on.) Again, these are not extravagent expenses, but can come to $15-20 an outing.

(Why go out? Eating after that kind of energy work is a good idea. However, everyone was busy enough preparing for the ritual that having someone try to plan to cook didn’t make a lot of sense.)

Running a group:

Running a group has its own costs – some of which are obvious, some of which are not so obvious.

Ritual supplies (candles, incense, wine, bread)

None of these things are huge expenses, but they are consistent ones.

  • Quarter candles: We use tealights, which are 5 cents each, or 20 cents per ritual.
  • Deity candles: My preference is for beeswax, which takes a long time to burn, but is pricier. (3x3s start around $10 and up, and we need four for our altar set-up: I’m currently using cheaper paraffin candles but will swap to beeswax when these burn through.) This comes out to 30-40 cents per hour of ritual per candle, or $1.50 or so for four per hour. Figure 5 hours of candles in a month with a Sabbat, and that’s $7.50.
  • Incense: Again, $6-10 for 10-20 really good quality sticks. One per ritual, or about $1, so $2 a month.
  • Wine: We’re very happy with the $5-10 dollar bottle range, honestly: there’s a number of good inexpensive wines available in our area. Call it $15 for two rituals a month.
  • Bread: $1.50 or so for a loaf that will be both ritual bread and post-ritual feast food.

This comes out to about $28 a month, although candle and incense purchases happen in clumps (with the remaining $18 being wine and bread). My covenmate and I currently split those – mostly, she buys the wine, and I make the bread, although she’s also a baker.

Altar tools:

We obviously have our own personal tools, but there are times group tools are useful. There are rituals in which the use of the sword is preferable to the athame, or where you want a larger cauldron. In many cases, there are viable alternatives.

It’s obviously very hard to put a price on this – these items tend to be fairly expensive, but they’re also one time costs that might be used for decades. I’m therefore not putting a number on this, more leaving it as a discussion point.

Currently, as a new group, we’ve invested about $30 in quarter candle holders (carved stone), $35 in a basket (storage and carrying of group tools), and contributed various other small items (candle holder, bowls, chalice) from things we already had. We have plans to make altar cloths this summer, which will have a fabric and dye cost – probably about $90 total, split between two people. We’ve also split the cost of the table we use for an altar in my home ($15 each)

Teaching supplies:

Another area of wide variation. Teaching supplies might use consumables (incense, candles) used for circles cast for class or teaching, but they also include photocopying of handouts, or small items used in teaching (simple pendulums, for example, or supplies for an ‘make your own incense’ class.)

On average, I’d probably say $1-5 per student, per month.

Personally, on the handouts, I’d rather provide them electronically, and people can print them as they wish: this both saves paper, and gives a backup copy for people who, like me, tend to lose pieces of paper.

Special items:

At times, groups may want to provide tokens as part of a ritual, or supplies for a ritual working. For example, our Beltane working involved making knotted bracelets out of embroidery floss, so we wanted to have a good selection of colors to work from. We asked everyone to bring a few colors, and I went out and bought about 15 general colors as well. We have quite a lot left, too, but floss is so inexpensive.

Other items might be more of an investment – for example, in our tradition, there’s a pendant given to each new initiate (and a new one given to 3rd degrees). Again, one time expense, but more substantial.

Space rental:

This is the trickiest one. Groups may rent spaces for some rituals, or no rituals, or all rituals. In the Twin Cities metro, there are a few free options (but with some fairly severe limitations, like not being able to dim/turn off lights, or use candles or incense) and there are some more expensive options ($50 and up for a park permit, and usually around $100 for a 4 hour segment in various other spaces.)

Otherwise, you have the living room option. I’m going to talk more about this in my upcoming discussion on what I think a covenstead is, but there are obvious limits – other people who live there can need to alter plans, you have limited space, and living rooms only hold so many people.


I’m not going to try and do some kind of grand total because there’s so much variation. But I do find looking at the numbers really interesting – some of this I’d broken down before, but some of it I hadn’t.

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