One of my favorite financial quotes is “Live below, not within, your means.” I'm not sure who originally started it but I have noticed posted in several pieces of literature over the last year. For most my life, I thought simply being able to make ends meet each month and not going into debt was sufficient. Then, I realized my wife & I should be doing more. Should we only muddle through life hoping to get a trophy and pizza party or get the Olympic gold medal instead?
Why “Making Ends Meet” Isn't Enough
Until I heard that quote, I thought that living within my means was an expression with 49 shades of gray. Simply put, living within your means might not be much different than living paycheck to paycheck. You are essentially treading water while waiting for the current to wash you ashore.
Don't get me wrong, being able to make ends meet financially, relationally, and professionally is great. When ends don't meet, it might mean debt, divorce, rebellious, or getting fired. Life stinks when these things happen. I have experienced two of the items on this list & can personally say that sometimes “making ends meet” simply isn't enough.
You & I might be able to go years or decades before we finally meet our stumbling block. You might be recover quickly, but is it a risk you want to take?
The GPA Analogy
In the Money Buffalo household, the concept of living within our means is like being happy to get a “C” during school. It's good enough to pass, but not a report card that you would want your parents to hang on the fridge (unless it's Chemistry & Algebra II, or another really tough subject). By only doing the bare minimum to pass, if you unexpectedly failed a test, you might have failed the class and had to retake it during summer school or next year. A C is good as long you do not receive any failing grades.
You probably wanted to make the honor roll in school for a reward or recognition.
Do you want to make the honor roll in other areas of life?
I will be the first to admit that I have plenty of room to grow in all aspects of life. Just ask my wife if you need verification.
We have read several books (I recommend Blueprint for Life) and listened to several small group studies together about various topics, whether it's finance, relationships, parenting, or work. Both of us have family & friends that have made shocking announcements about divorce and other life-changing events that made us wonder “What went wrong?”
Each situation is different and we haven't walked in their shoes, but our shoes aren't spotless either.
How To Improve Your GPA (or How To Live Below Your Means)
Did you only strive to invest the bare minimum to receive a 2.0 (C) average through school or did you put the extra effort to get a better grade?
What about in life? Unlike school where grades are important but really don't matter once, failure in the “real world” has real consequences that might last a lifetime. Most troubles do not happen overnight and, therefore, cannot be corrected overnight.
My advice? Strive to make a 4.0 average. Shoot for the moon and be happy to reach the stars. Be proactive instead of reactive. Make goals and achieve them. For starters, read motivational books such as Your Blueprint for Life or The Purpose Driven Life to help your life purpose.
This is a financial blog so I will elaborate on that side for a second. For many years the savings rate in America has been near zero percent. Many people have swapped saving for the future with a lifestyle fueled by instant gratification (Keeping Up With The Joneses). Beyond finance, instant gratification boils into other areas of life like relationships, careers, etc.
Marriages “thrive” until money woes hit. People need to find jobs that pay overtime to pay off debt. Parents miss out on being effective parents because they think constantly buying experiences makes good children.
We all need money to live in order to pay the bills, invest in the future, save for emergencies, and have fun. It is a blessing to live in the first-world, but sometimes, we are all a little over-spoiled by living in a world where the average low-income family still has better living conditions than most ancient kings.
Money and personal finance are really the “tip of the iceberg” for many life topics. Personal wealth is, unfortunately, a measurement of success in many circles because it is the most visible sign of earthly success. It is an automatic assumption that people with shiny automobiles and McMansions are swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. In reality, it is far from the truth. Living within your means can look very different for each person.
Getting back to the GPA analogy. The people in high school who seemed to skate through with a “C” average definitely probably weren't the most respected among students in academic circles. For some, their largest ambition might have been to survive four years of school and bounce from job to job to pay the bills and stay out of trouble due to an overall lack of ambition and goals. Other students just might not have cared about school, but have worked real hard and become successful business owners, parents, etc. Maybe you fall into the latter group.
Students earned a 3.0 or 4.0 average because they studied instead of partying or playing video games. Good grades didn't just happen. These “bookworms” still had fun, but they were intentional about being “above average” in academics. If you have failed in the past, think of today as a fresh start. Unlike a class that only lasts a semester, life lasts a lot longer. Think of today as a fresh start, and an opportunity to become above average in anything you do.
Being “above average” is when you are able to live below your means. This means being intentional about saving and investing. Reducing expenses, talking to mentors, and spending quality time with your family the “old-fashioned way.” This might mean not being wrapped up with youth sports 8 days a week, saving for purchases instead of buying on credit, and enjoying what you have already.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but, sometimes the more you have, the less you have. It is very easy to chase wealth and prestige more & more. It's human nature, we are never satisfied with what we have. Ask anybody a month or two after they receive a pay raise and want another.
Sometimes the more you have, the less you have.
Instead, be intentional with what you have. It is okay to have some luxuries. Teach your children the value of work and setting goals. Put your family before a job. Make do with less.
Why It's Okay to be a “Rudy”
You might be feeling overwhelmed and cannot find a way to live below your means. Admittedly, it's not easy. We are building a house and I changed careers a year ago and took a significant paycut. Living below your means is a lot more difficult when you have debt or don't make a lot of money.
I recommend watching the movie Rudy for a true underdog story. If it has been several years, it aired in 1993, you should watch it again.
For a brief refresher, Rudy walked onto the Notre Dame football team. He didn't get the chance to play until the last game of his college career because he lacked the talent to start for a major football program. His coach let him play because he put 110% effort into every practice (the coach admonishes the rest of the very talented team for not trying nearly as hard as Rudy who has virtually no talent).
The important thing is to try your hardest to live a new & improved life. Sometimes progress can take years to fix your finances and relationships.
If you think everything is fine now, I encourage you to look again. You very soon might be departing Kansas.
Being intentional about anything in life will pay dividends for anybody. You might not be like a student who can sleep through class and still ace the test, but just like Rudy, hard work will also help you find a way to escape the herd mentality and to overachieve in multiple ways. Remember, there is more to life than money.
What intentional actions have you taken to live below your means, financially or non-financially?
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.