There is tendency in our culture, and both of you have picked it up, to run everything to the edge. In other words, you tend to wait until the last moment to do something. You tend to spend what you have. You tend to wait until the gas gauge is past empty. You tend to think you can get from point A to point B in the perfect amount of time, etc. And the problem with all that is that life doesn’t work out perfectly (as I mentioned in the lesson I wrote on, “Forget Being On Time”).
But there’s a more important reason to create margin than just being on time/early. And that reason is your health, which could be more specifically called, “Your stress levels.” Believe it or not, stress takes a bigger toll on your lives than either of you are willing to admit. And stress doesn’t just cause headaches, it increases your susceptibility to colds, depression, heart disease, tooth and gum disease, ulcers, diabetes, it impairs cognitive functioning and it even increases abdominal fat. Any way you add it up, stress is just bad.
And the amazing thing about stress is that the two of you have far more control over the amount of it you experience than you’re willing to own up to. Yes, I know both of you are Ps (Perceivers in Myers-Briggs language) so you like to be spontaneous. But personality typologies are not meant to be prescriptive, just descriptive (i.e. they’re not meant to be excuses).
So, if you’d like to live a more full and enjoyable life—with a whole lot less stress—I’d encourage you to make a commitment to creating a life filled with margin in everything you do. For example
1. Create margin with your money. If you read the post on Money Management 101, you should have noticed that I suggested having at least three month’s living expenses in your checking/savings account. This is margin. On the other hand, when you run your balance in your account to near zero, every day is stressful. “Can I make this purchase?” “Can I afford to go out to dinner with my friends?” “WIll I have enough money to pay my rent this month?” Etc. That’s all stress. The easy way to alleviate all that stress is to simply create some money margin.
2. Create margin with your gas. You’ve heard me say this a hundred times, but running on empty is always a bad idea. Treat a quarter tank or an eighth of a tank as an empty tank. Fill up before you ever hit “E” and you’ll never wonder if you have enough gas to get to your next appointment or if you’ll be the sad motorist on the side of the road waiting for AAA to come by while everyone else looks on thinking, “Loser. Sure glad that’s not me!”
3. Create margin with your time. I keep hammering this because there’s nothing wrong with arriving early. No one gets marked as a, “Loser!” because they arrive early. In fact, just the opposite is true. When you arrive early, you’re seen as a winner. Plus, you’ve just eliminated all that stress of wondering if you’re going to be on time (and of getting upset with that slow driver or that big truck or those “stupid traffic lights that are conspiring against me.” :-)
4. Create margin with your sleep. I know this may come as a surprise, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good night’s sleep—really.There is no law that says that if you’re a certain age, like 18 -21, that you have to stay up until at least 2:00 a.m. Get the rest your body requires (6-8 hours) and you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel all day long.
5. Create margin with your relationships. Invest time in your relationships before conflict arises. Keep short accounts. Ask more questions. Send more notes. Etc. Our ethnic history (Italian) has a principle worth remembering, “We always want to be owed more favors than we owe.” Or as Harvey MacKay puts it in his book on networking and relationships, “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty.“
6. Create margin for yourself. The good news is that both of you have good hearts and love helping other people. The bad news is that you can become so focused on helping others that you don’t create time for yourselves—to replenish your emotional tanks. But Jesus’ words are clear, ”Love your neighbor as yourself.“ In other words, loving others is predicated on you loving yourself first. You can’t keep giving out, if you don’t take care of you first. So make sure you create time for just you, every day!
Margin-less living is no fun—It’s stressful, and it’s terrible for your health. Instead, make a decision, starting today, to create more margin in everything you do. You will not get in trouble by having excess time or money or rest or emotional energy. In fact, the opposite will happen. You’ll reap all kinds of rewards for having lots of margin in your life–including a lot less stress and a whole lot more joy!
There is a natural tendency within all of us that wants to put off dealing with anything uncomfortable–yet following that tendency almost always makes the situation worse (especially in the long run). It’s far better to push through the short term “pain” or uncomfortableness and do what needs to be done, than it is to simply avoid doing what needs to be done, as long as possible.
- Paying your bills. Don’t wait until the last moment and then risk late fees and interest charges. Always pay them with a few days margin. And of your bills, the three most important bills are your rent/mortgage (you always want a roof over your head), your credit card bill (this will usually be your largest bill and the interest on this alone will kill you if you don’t pay it off every month) and your insurance bill (if you miss by a day they may cancel your insurance and then you’ll really pay through the roof–always, always pay your insurance bill early)
- Seeing the doctor. If you notice a spot or feel something unusual, don’t wait. Go see the doctor. Avoiding seeing a doctor is never a wise strategy. This principle also applies to the dentist.
- Telling a boyfriend it’s over. Yes, you may care for him–but that doesn’t mean you should put off telling him it’s over. Dragging on a relationship with someone you really don’t want to be in a relationship with, just because you don’t want to have “the conversation,” with him isn’t a wise strategy. When it’s over, it’s over. Have the conversation.
- Having a crucial conversation. Every relationship has junk in it (not just boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife). As you’ve heard me say, “It’s impossible for two people who come from different backgrounds, who have different personalities, different likes and dislikes, and different experiences to be in a relationship with someone and not have conflict.” The question is never whether there’s going to be conflict. The only question is when (and over what). However, that said, it’s not the conflict that creates real relational problems. It’s avoiding those difficult conversations that does them in. So, don’t avoid conflict. Have the hard conversations as soon as possible.
- Fixing something on your car. Avoiding replacing tires that are worn out is always unwise. Or avoiding getting an oil change or a transmission fluid flush (minor costs when compared to having to replace an engine). Or avoiding to check your fluids. These are all minor issues compared to what could happen. So, don’t avoid what needs to be done on your car.
- Homework/Work Projects. Enough said! Since you both struggle with this one :-).
One of the core drivers in every human being is the desire to avoid pain. However, part of the maturation process is learning how to overcome that driver so that you’re able to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, so that short-term pain leads to long-term pleasure (and not the reverse). As hard as it may be, always remember that avoiding something uncomfortable is NOT in your best interest.
As you’ll notice as you go through life, most people will struggle with money and finances–and this is true regardless of how much they make or have. So, if you’d like to avoid that, you’ll want to follow a simple formula that, if followed, will ensure that you’ll never be in bondage to money and debt.
Now, I have to warn you, up front, that you and your friends will want to tip this formula on its head and follow it from the wrong direction–but don’t. Follow it as laid out and you’ll be richly blessed.
So, here’s the simple formula
- Give God the first 10% of what you make (from the gross amount)
- Put the second 10% in savings/investments
- Pay your taxes
- Pay your obligations (starting with your rent–and later, mortgage)
- Enjoy the rest
As I said, the temptation (which is what most people do) is to always reverse the order. Most people want to spend whatever they want on whatever they want, then they pay the least amount possible on their debts and obligations, then they begrudgingly pay their taxes, and then with what’s left over, they put a little away and maybe put a few dollars in the collection plate–and then they wonder why they’re in such a financial mess! Why? Because they reversed the order. So don’t!
Yes, it may be difficult at this stage to think about tithing (the first 10%) or of putting 10% of your money away for the future–but this is exactly when you need to learn to do this. If you don’t start tithing on $100, you won’t on $1,000 or $10,000 or $100,000 or $1,000,000. Remember, first you make your choices, then your choices make you.
Likewise, if you don’t start saving now, you won’t later. Remember, later never arrives. Also, the minimal amount of money that you ought to keep in your savings/checking account is three month’s worth of expenses (more is better). In other words, if your go through $2500/month right now, then you need to do everything you can to acquire $7,500 in your savings/checking account as soon as possible.
Why? Because life doesn’t always work out perfectly–and you want to be prepared for that. What happens if your job gets eliminated? Or your car breaks down and needs an expensive repair? Or you get sick and can’t work for awhile? You always want to be prepared ahead of time for the unexpected (which is called, life). Plus, when you do this, you’ll find that it’ll greatly reduce your stress. I’ve never understood why so many people choose to live paycheck by paycheck. You don’t want that–you want margin. And the more margin, the better (which, equates to less stress).
Now, if you’ve been following this argument, then you know that what this means is that you can’t simply spend what you want to spend on whatever you want to spend it on. What you get to spend (whether it’s on fast food or clothes or makeup or a car or a TV or …) is always based on the first four steps having been completed. In other words, if you haven’t honored God first or put money away second or paid your taxes third or paid off all your obligations fourth (starting with your rent/mortgage), then you shouldn’t be spending money going out with friends or buying a new outfit. You should only do those things with what’s left over AFTER the other four are met (not the other way around).
If you choose to follow this formula, you’ll be financially free. If you don’t, it’s your choice. But remember, first you make your choices, then your choices make you. So, choose wisely!