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I have been around for a while now, almost 70 years. I’ve read a lot of books and seen and met a lot of pretty successful and unsuccessful people along the way. You get some insights about that stuff as you put some years on, and one really big takeaway from all of my experience is in the end actually pretty obvious. It’s something that you know almost from your childhood and those years like the ones I’m talking about simply reinforce what you know each day, over and over. And it is simply this: Everyone wants financial security, everyone!
My experience is that it’s the “how to achieve financial security?” question that is the core of all the hub-bub about it, more than just the who, what, when, or why questions. We can all agree on those questions but it’s the “how” that mostly stumps us. So many opinions.
When I look at that question nowadays, it truly amazes me. I guess age has made at least one positive thing in my life better than youth has ever done.
I can’t get down on those groundballs and make a great throw to first base anymore, but I sure can see one thing clearer than ever. It’s the “how” to obtain financial security and it’s pretty damned straightforward and awesome!
The Secret is “Living Within Your Means”
You can read all about theories on investing, building a business, being a minimalist, frugality, and having alternate streams of income plus dozens of other strategies on how to build your finances and become financially secure…even financially independent. Start reading about it today and pretty soon you’ll be my age and maybe still trying to solve that puzzle. So if you’re willing to take a real shortcut to get to that goal here it is: “Live within your means.”
The simple truth is that if you do it, you’ll reap at least three major benefits from it. They are what I call the Triple Threat of Benefits:
- It controls and eliminates your debt over time giving you that financial security and freedom you so badly want
- It provides the extra resources (money you have now by not spending it) for savings and building college, emergency, and retirement funds
- It can improve your credit rating which helps save you more money when that time comes for mortgages or other loans by getting you the best interest rates and terms
Each of those three factors brings you closer and closer to your goal. And it doesn’t require any special skill or training either. It, ironically, all comes down to developing good habits, some good disciplines, and an ability to prioritize the important things in life. It means almost everyone has this ability to reach financial security!
Dealing with the Biggies in Life
If you think about your biggest matters in life, they are: career, family (spouse and children…if any), housing, taxes, education, transportation, and your health. So when you think and deal with those issues you are starting the wheel spinning where it counts the most, and everything else becomes secondary.
Society seems to have always had this quest backwards. Instead of always spending more money for bigger, fancier, nicer things to attain your happiness, we should actually be going in reverse to see what the minimum amount of spending on stuff is that is required for us to be happy.
How many people do you know actively try to minimize what they have? Not many I’m sure and I am not talking extreme stuff like living in a 300 sq. ft. home and being a true minimalist! That does cut the cost of living and might lead you to financial security. But I am also connecting “happiness” here and for many of us, that’s not it.
It’s not just living small and frugally. That’s hard to do when we’re younger and in the accumulation phase of our lives. When you are in the middle ages and beyond of your life, it’s much easier to appreciate the merits of simplicity. This is why you see many retired folks sell their single family homes to live in a downsized environment.
Finding more happiness with less is one of the biggest takeaways I’ve garnered from my retirement. I have a feeling that a large number of people who are working long and hard are trying way too hard to find some way to achieve some elusive financial goal they think will make them feel secure. We really don’t need all that stuff when we no longer have to work because there are so many amazing activities that don’t require much stuff at all.
Surprise, you can also apply that same principle when you are younger.
Begin with Knowing Your Income and Expenses
The first thing you need to know is what’s coming in and what’s going out. Make a list of any and all income you have from your job, side work, pension, or anywhere else. Then make a list of every bill you have, from rent to car payments. (Don’t forget bills that may not arrive monthly, like car insurance or real estate taxes.) These are your fixed expenses—the ones you have limited control over.
The difference between your income and fixed expenses is what’s left for the expenses you can control—your variable and discretionary expenses.
To keep tabs on your progress, or lack thereof, you’ll need to track your money as you spend it. This used to involve the laborious process of writing down everything you spent, dividing the expenditures into categories, adding them up, and comparing those totals with your plan. But today online tracking services make the process easy.
If you want to live within your means and reach your goals, you have to track where your money’s going. It’s the only way to nip the problems in the bud.
When it comes to shopping, knowing the difference between a want and a need will help keep you out of debt and living within your means. When you shop always ask yourself if you really need it. If you don’t, then wait before you buy. It’s called the 48-hour rule. If you still feel you need it after two days, then you buy it. More often than not, you will change your mind and skip it.
You’re Not Here to Compete with Everyone
Don’t compete. Don’t fall victim to the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. Do your friends or neighbors drive nicer cars, have the newest technology, or take expensive vacations?
Think of it this way: Your neighbors probably have financed that Mercedes, put the new flat-screen on a credit card, and taken out a personal loan to pay for the great vacation. You’re not a lemming, so don’t follow that group off the cliff into fiscal demise.
If You Can, Pay in Cash
It isn’t always easy or immediately gratifying, but adopting a pay-in-cash lifestyle can save you from falling into a debt trap. If you can’t afford to buy something now, don’t pull out the plastic. Instead, save up and pay for it in cash when you actually have the money.
If you’re struggling to live within your means, take a hard look at your expenses. There is probably something you can cut out or at least cut back on. For example:
Gym memberships, hair and nail salons, cable TV, and smartphone plans just to name a few. Owning an economy car means less spent—all the time. From gas purchases to monthly payments and taxes and fees you will save hundreds of dollars.
Your food-are you going out for lunch every day and in the high rent district? Packing your lunch will consistently save you 50% more or less and that is a huge deal. Go through all of your bills and cancel any service you don’t use frequently. For the stuff you do use, call the providers and see if you can get a better deal.
Saving money will stop you overextending yourself financially.
The simple practice of something like never walking into the grocery store without a prepared shopping list, coupons, the weekly sales circular, and your store discount loyalty card makes a huge difference. I estimate I save about $30-$40 every week this way.
With just a few good habits you can avoid ever paying full retail. Sign up for store’s newsletters and e-mails to get coupons and sales info. When shopping online, always compare prices at several sites and look for a coupon or promotional code. Sites like Dealnews, Savings.com and RetailMeNot will help you find the best deals.
Income Boosting—The “Other Way” to Financial Security
If all else fails in trying to minimize expenses without living in a cardboard box, then boost your income. The simplest and most gratifying way is to make more at your current job by getting a raise. But that may not be in the cards and routinely you may find yourself struggling to make ends meet. That might be time to look for a better-paying job. That’s possible but cutting expenses is much more in your own control!
Of course, there are other ways to increase your income, from selling your old stuff to side jobs to turning a hobby into a business. Where there’s a will, there’s usually a way. Side hustles like some I have done have added thousands to my annual income and those thousands have gone right into cancelling my debt and then into my retirement funds.
When you hear terms like “living within your means”, especially when combined with words like “budget”, it’s natural to think about deprivation. You might think there’s no difference between “budget” and “diet”. They’re both about deprivation, right?
Wrong. A diet is deprivation: Cottage cheese isn’t anything close to ice cream. But living within your means, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be about deprivation. Spending less doesn’t automatically negatively impact your life.
In short, you can live within your means and still really enjoy life. The trick is substituting your imagination for money. Think about what you really enjoy—then find a way to get it for less or even for free! Life is so much more than material possessions! We just have to find out “how little we really need to be happy”.
Are you someone who constantly stresses trying to reach the goal of financial security? Is that effort ruining your satisfaction with your life? Can you picture yourself “living within your means” and then feeling greater security for you and your family?